The prospects for the removal of Venezuelan embattled President Nicolás Maduro peacefully are growing bleaker by the day. The United States has been putting plans in place for the Pentagon to undermine the growing influence of Chinese, Russian and Cuban militaries with the Maduro regime, short of an invasion.
The Joint Staff and the Southern Command are putting together plans at the behest of National Security Advisor John Bolton to Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan. They are formulating plans to deter any additional involvement by the outside players in the region. These type of scenarios are frequently conducted to prepare for any development that may happen, however, given the rhetoric that has been talked about Venezuela for months, it shouldn’t be downplayed either.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Paraguay over the weekend and said that while “all options” remain on the table, “The strategy is not just an American strategy. It’s the Venezuelan people’s strategy.”
With the population increasingly growing disenchanted over Maduro’s rule, an economy utterly in the tank, from horrible mismanagement, graft, and U.S. sanctions, his authoritarian rule should be ripe for collapse. However, despite a growing number of military personnel defecting, he’s held on to power and maybe strengthening his hold after both Russia and China have increased their efforts to keep him in place.
Pompeo spoke about the Russian and Cuban influences with the Maduro government, “Sometimes people think Maduro is winning, and yet he’s handed over all of his power to the Cubans, to the Russians. This is weakness from Maduro. And so this weakness will ultimately lead to his departure, and democracy and prosperity will be restored in Venezuela.”
After over 100 Russian troops, characterized as a “rapid deployment force” by Gen. Vasily Tonkoshkurov, head of the mobilization directorate of Russia’s military forces arrived in Venezuela on March 24. Many analysts believe those Russian troops are there to improve the readiness of Venezuela’s S-300 Air Defense Missile System, which was supplied by their Russian allies. Rolling blackouts have damaged and hurt the effectiveness of their air defenses.
Russia has been a close ally of Venezuela since Hugo Chavez came to power in 1998. Since then they’ve sold billions of dollars of military equipment and have invested between $7-9 billion dollars in the mining and oil industries. And Maduro is now protected by a security team of Russian “mercenaries” from the Wagner Group which is basically a functioning part of the Russian government.
While President Trump insists that “all options are on the table” for Venezuela, the U.S. doesn’t want to invade Venezuela for a couple of good reasons. With U.S. troops already embroiled in long-term conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, the last thing the country needs is to get embroiled in another one.
And with a Latin America that would definitely denounce any more “Yankee imperialist” moves in the region, the surrounding countries would probably not join in any coalition that was going to be U.S. led in an incursion.
Compounding these matters is the growing influence of the Chinese. The Chinese are looking to counter U.S. influence at every turn and now are sinking billions of dollars in the collapsed Venezuelan economy all while conveniently blaming the United States.
Pompeo was quite harsh in his words about the Chinese influence in Venezuela and Latin America. “When China does business in places like Latin America, it often injects corrosive capital into the economic bloodstream, giving life to corruption and eroding good governance,” Pompeo said on April 12 while in Chile.
“China’s bankrolling of the Maduro regime helped to precipitate and prolong the crisis in that country. China invested over $60 billion … $60 billion … with no strings attached. Well, it’s no surprise that Maduro used the money to use for tasks like paying off cronies, crushing pro-democracy activists, and funding ineffective social programs. And you all know, better than anyone in America could know, the crushing, devastating results of that,” Pompeo said.
“I think there’s a lesson, a lesson to be learned for all of us: China and others are being hypocritical calling for non-intervention in Venezuela’s affairs. Their own financial interventions have helped destroy that country,” he added.
With the widespread blackouts that are hitting the country hard, China has come out accusing the United States of causing them by using cyber attacks according to Admiral Craig Faller, the Commander of the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM).
“China came out publicly, implying the blackouts were attributable to U.S. cyberattacks,” Faller said in Washington. “That is just such a blatant lie. The blackouts are attributed to Maduro’s inept leadership, corruption, inattention to his people, and lack of concern for any humanity.”
“I think the biggest threat to democracy and the way of life around the world is the trend that we see in China,” Faller said.
Much like the Russians, the Chinese are investing billions of dollars in Venezuela’s crumbled infrastructure with huge loans that the country would never be able to pay back. They began structuring huge loans for oil promises back in 2007.
The China Development Bank had loaned Maduro’s regime over $63 billion dollars by 2014 tied to oil production. With increasing economic control, the Chinese in effect have helped prop up the corrupt and failing regime for nearly two decades.
But at the time of the deal, the price of oil, which China insisted on as its payment has dropped from just over $100 a barrel to now just about $63 per barrel. It was as low as $36. Hence, Venezuela has to ship much more oil to China than the deal had previously had envisioned.
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a self-serving influx of cash that will have ruinous effects on Venezuela as it did in Sri Lanka who paid off their debt to China with a 99-year lease on a port facility. It is following a similar vein of infrastructure investment in Africa, targeting port facilities and their first-ever overseas military base.
According to Reuter’s reports from last fall, the Chinese are helping Maduro keep tabs on his population as well thru their information technology giant ZTE. They’ve created a new citizen ID cards where Maduro’s government can track citizen’s finances, medical history, and voting record.
Two weeks ago, Bejing sent 120 troops from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army to Margarita Island in Venezuela to deliver humanitarian aid and military supplies to the Maduro’s troops.
The Chinese wasted little time in blasting Pompeo’s remarks.
Lu Kang, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said at a press briefing Monday that Pompeo had “has wantonly slandered and deliberately provoked China-Latin America relations. It is irresponsible and utterly unjustifiable. We strongly oppose this.”
“It should be pointed out that for some time, some US politicians have been carrying the same version, the same script of slandering China all over the world, and fanning the flames and sowing discord everywhere. The words and deeds are despicable. But lies are lies, even if you say it a thousand times, they are still lies. Mr. Pompeo, you can stop,” he said.
The U.S. has attempted to deliver humanitarian aid to Venezuela thru Colombia; however, the Maduro regime contends that the purpose of these deliveries is to transport weapons to the opposition and in some cases even accused the U.S. of sending tainted food or medicine. They were blocked from entering the country.
Adding into the rogue’s gallery of Maduro supporters are up to 30,000 Cubans, both military and civilian who support the Venezuelan intelligence apparatus. There’s an Iranian influence as well. Hezbollah has a big presence in Venezuela as well as a smaller number of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds force (IRGC).
The Iranians are aiding Maduro’s forces to organize militias, the largest is the Bolivarian Militia to defend the government and to attack the popular opposition. The Iranians have based those on their militias created by the Quds forces in Iraq.
The protest movement by Juan Guaidó has totally lost momentum and his personal safety is in question if he returns to Venezuela now. The Russians and Chinese are banking on waiting out the opposition, something the Russians did in Syria with Assad. That is their best bet on keeping their ally and puppet Maduro in power.