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The United States should not intervene in Venezuela

On February 20, 2014

If someone said the word "protest," most Americans would think of the recent events in the Ukraine. But there are demonstrations happening in another country that is much closer to the United States. Protests started last week in Caracas, Venezuela, where citizens unhappy about the decrease in standard of living, a shortage in basic household goods and a high crime rate took to the streets. The current president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, has characterized the protestors as Nazis, fascists and imperialists. There is a danger that some in Washington may wish to aid the demonstrators with funding or training in grassroots political organization as the United States has done in Egypt, the Ukraine and elsewhere. However, the ongoing situation in Venezuela is a rare case in which offering assistance would be a costly mistake. To understand why, it is best to understand the roots of the current civil unrest.
Economic factors are a large reason for the discontent. Inflation in Venezuela currently stands at 56 percent because the Central Bank of Venezuela has increased money printing to fund public spending on social welfare programs. The situation is further complicated by a system put in place years ago by former leader Hugo Chavez to manage Venezuelan's access to foreign currencies. Under this system Venezuelans must apply to the government in order to access currencies at an exchange rate determined by the Venezuelan government. The amount of money any given citizen can exchange is limited by set quotas. This has led to a black market where the exchange rate of US dollar to bolivar (Venezuela's national currency) is eight times the government mandated exchange rate. Some international airlines have suspended ticket sales because of the restrictive currency controls. Other businesses have suffered because of the both the high inflation and foreign currency restrictions. Ford, General Motors and Toyota have suspended production in Venezuela citing the difficulty in importing car parts due to the currency controls. 70 percent of Venezuela's goods are imported, leading to a shortage of food and toilet paper, as stores can no longer pay their suppliers abroad. Domestic producers such as Empresas Polar are struggling to make foodstuffs, in part because the government owes them hundreds of millions of dollars. In an effort to curb inflation, a new law was introduced which caps companies' profits at 30 percent of costs.
President Maduro is convinced that companies are conspiring against the government and issues threats such as, "Don't underestimate me, bourgeoisie. If I have to take over companies, I will." Statements such as these are typical from President Maduro. He has been consistently combative towards private businesses. When Toyota announced it was suspending production, the president said, "The manager of Toyota de Venezuela has the mentality of a parasite." Under Maduro's watch, the government has become more oppressive, blocking Twitter and temporarily banning NTN24, a Colombian news channel that covered the protests. Protestors have been shot and killed by mysterious masked men, whom they insist are acting on the behalf of the government. Over 100 demonstrators have been arrested. The leader of the protests, Leopolo Lopez, was taken away by the national guard in an armored personnel carrier after turning himself in to face charges of "inciting violence." At the same time President Maduro has riled his supporters into a frenzy by claiming that a coup is in progress, there is an assassination attempt on his life and the United States is responsible for everything.
The world is wondering how America will respond, but the best option for the United States is to do nothing other than issue statements condemning the violence. A key factor in this situation is that Venezuela, and South America in general, is deeply suspicious of the United States. If the United States gives support to the opposition it will unintentionally poison the movement and give Maduro the ammunition he needs to shift popular opinion against the demonstrators. On the other hand, if we stay away, Maduro's policy of defending Venezuelan currency will continue to bring the economy to further ruin. More Venezuelans will grow disillusioned with the government and join the protests. The momentum in Venezuela is already in the opposition's favor, the only thing that could change the game would be action by the United States. For the sake of Venezuela, let's not make that mistake.

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