Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal calling for a muscular U.S stance on Venezuela. In the op-ed, Senator Graham evokes President Ronald Reagan’s invasion of Grenada in 1983, pointing out that the intervention was a critical move to liberate Grenada from Cuban domination.
Graham also points out that the Venezuelan president responds to Cuban dictates.
If the U.S. were successful in pressuring Cuba to withdraw troops from Venezuela, the Maduro regime would collapse. If Cuba refuses, Senator Graham suggests mobilizing troops to the region.
In my last article, I also suggested the idea of moving troops to the region as a tool of intimidation against the Venezuelan Armed Forces. I pointed out that the deployment of U.S. troops to the Colombia-Venezuela border, in addition to a naval and aerial blockade, would be a powerful psychological weapon against the Venezuelan military and security forces. Such an action might make them reconsider whether it is worthwhile to continue to support the regime. It would also be necessary to offer guarantees to military and security officers that they would not be prosecuted if they agree to abandon Maduro.
It is in this sense that I agree with the Senator. However, there is one small point of contention I have with him, and it is that the removal of Cuban forces, while an important step, would not be sufficient.
Most recently, the investigative publication Insight Crime reported that a number of homes and businesses owned by critics of Maduro were graffitied with threatening messages. These signs carried the signature of the so-called “colectivos”, para-military groups armed by the Venezuelan government that engage in criminal activities, such as kidnapping, extortion, drug trafficking and murder.
Insight Crime rightly observes that these practices against political opponents are reminiscent of the activities carried out in Colombia by the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group. Italso notes that this may not be coincidental at all; members of the ELN are acting in coordination with the Venezuelan “colectivos” and have also trained them. The “colectivos” comprise former members of security corps, released common criminals, dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), radicalized youthand members of the Communist party. They are armed with Russian weapons, and many of them underwent training in Cuba.
I would also dare to speculate that they underwent training in the school of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), a Bolivia-based school aimed at providing military training to “soldiers of the revolution.” That school was inaugurated in 2016 with a special keynote address by the Iranian Defense minister. Reports of direct flights between Tehran and Caracas renewed early in April also raise suspicions that members of Hezbollah and other groups in the Middle East are involved with the “colectivos.”
The “colectivos” were created with the purpose of defending the “Bolivarian Revolution.” But over time, they have come to enjoy total freedom and impunity to commit crimes without any legal or political restrictions.
The “colectivos” are believed to respond to two nefarious and powerful figures in the regime: Diosdado Cabello and Freddy Bernal. Cabello is a former speaker of the National Assembly, while Bernal is a former Mayor of Caracas and the current national coordinator of the Local Committee for Supply and Production (CLAP), the agency in charge of distributing food. CLAP has also been accused by the Trump Administration of being an instrument of government corruption.
Perhaps most concerning is the possibility that, should the U.S. decide to launch a military operation, the “colectivos” may play a role similar to that of the Iraqi insurgency during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. In other words, the “colectivos” could act as guerillas in the same way that the Iraqi Fedayeen did, including through acts of terrorism and sabotage. They could use snipers and rocket propelled grenades, for example, to inflict casualties on American troops.
In fact, it was almost two decades ago, when Hugo Chavez was at the peak of his popularity, that the regime began preparing for a U.S. invasion scenario. The regime came up with the idea of adopting “asymmetric warfare”, a strategy supported by the army that consisted of basically emulating the methods of radical Islamic terrorist groups. That plan was adopted by the early 2000s.
So far, the focus of the opposition has been on the Venezuelan Armed Forces. After the April 30thevents, it is clear that the chances of persuading the army to defect are better than expected, despite the ultimate shortcomings of the day’s events. Therefore, I believe that Maduro has lost confidence in the military and will rely mainly on the para-military, which protect the regime, including by threatening officers suspected of collaboration with the opposition.
In conjunction with the above steps, it is now important to start cutting the weapons supply from Russia, flights from Iran, and any aid coming from China. A naval and aerial blockade, as we have already suggested, would be a good start.
In addition, the Venezuelan opposition and the U.S. should continue to insist on attracting key military officers to their side by offering incentives and thinking of ways to strategically target the “colectivos”.
The U.S. is doing the right thing by insisting on regime change in Venezuela; however, it must be done with thoughtful planning and careful analysis of Venezuela’s internal situation.