Is Venezuela really a threat to Latin America and the Caribbean?

The accusation that Caracas is a ‘threat’ to the region is a political talking point rather than a demonstrable reality.

Maduro reuters
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro attends a gathering in support of his government in Caracas, Venezuela February 7, 2019 [Carlos Barria/Reuters]

In the last few years, amid an escalating political, economic and humanitarian crisis, the Venezuelan government has repeatedly been accused of posing a threat to the stability, prosperity and democratic integrity of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC).

These accusations gained momentum in recent months in light of the protests in Ecuador and Chile against price increases in the transportation sector. In both cases, incumbent authorities implied that Nicolas Maduro’s government is to blame for the chaos and destabilisation in their countries. The government of Colombia, meanwhile, accused the Venezuelan government this past August of threatening the country’s stability by supporting and financing the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) organisations that are classified as “terror” groups by the international community.

But do these accusations carry any weight? Is the Maduro government responsible for the protests that occurred in Ecuador and Chile? Is it responsible for the rearming of the FARC in Colombia? And perhaps most importantly, does Caracas really pose a “threat” to the stability of the LAC? The answer to all these questions is clearly a no.

In the case of Chile, the people are protesting against a socioeconomic system that is increasing social inequality. This is an issue that dates back to the times of Pinochet and which both left- and right-wing governments have repeatedly failed to resolve.

In Ecuador, the reason behind the protests is President Lenin Moreno‘s decision to adopt economic measures promoted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which led to an increase in fuel prices.

In Colombia, the resurgence of the FARC is caused not by any outside intervention but the mutual distrust between the FARC and the Democratic Centre Party founded by former president Alvaro Uribe. In 2018, Democratic Centre’s candidate Ivan Duque Marquez won Colombia’s presidency with a campaign which opposed the peace treaty with the FARC. 

It is, of course, impossible to deny that Venezuela has occasionally tried to intervene in the domestic affairs of these states with the aim of harming governments that are pursuing ideologies contradictory to its own.

This, however, is not a move specific to Venezuela. All states try and support the adversaries of their rivals from time to time in an attempt to rig the regional or global power balance in their favour. There is no demonstrable proof that Venezuela’s government is acting in a way that is significantly different from its regional rivals, many of whom openly and repeatedly made moves to topple Venezuelan governments. 

For instance, in 2002, the United States and other regional powers endorsed a coup attempt against Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez. And most recently, in 2017, 12 Latin American nations formed the “Lima group” to “bring a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Venezuela” – an action that can easily be interpreted as an attempt to bring down the Venezuelan government and interfere in the internal affairs of the country.

There are countless other examples of states intervening in each other’s affairs in the LAC. For example, when Paraguay’s President Fernando Lugo was impeached by the Senate in 2012, both Brazil and Venezuela strongly opposed the move.

Brazil and Venezuela, along with Argentina and Uruguay, also promoted Paraguay’s ban from Mercosur in response to the Senate’s decision. In other words, Venezuela is hardly the only country in the region that is trying to exert influence over other countries by meddling in their internal affairs.

On closer inspection, the accusation that the Venezuelan government is a threat to the survival, stability and democratic integrity of the countries in the LAC region appears to be an exaggeration. Caracas currently has neither the intention nor the military, economic or political power to take on any major political actor or alter the dynamics within the region.

Caracas’ petrol income has reached record lows and its economy is in a shambles. The Maduro government is incapable of providing for its own citizens let alone spending money abroad to hurt its political rivals. Moreover, Venezuela does not currently have the capacity to embark on a military intervention in another country. 

Perhaps the only credible accusation directed at the Venezuelan government on the regional level is that it is falling short of meeting the standards of representative, liberal democracy – the dominant political model in Latin America. It is true that the Chavista government has long been ignoring fundamental democratic principles, such as holding fair and free elections, acknowledging and protecting political minorities and respecting the rule of law. The current state of affairs in Venezuela, wherewith the passing of time there is less and less room for dialogue, negotiation and agreement, is indisputable proof that Maduro is no champion of democracy. 

Whether Maduro’s assault on democratic principles makes Venezuela a “threat” to the region, however, is questionable. The government’s democratic shortcomings hurt first and foremost the Venezuelan people and the damage they cause on the regional level is only incidental.

In conclusion, the accusation that Maduro’s government is a “threat” to the region is a political talking point used by his rivals to further isolate his regime rather than a demonstrable reality.

This line of discourse put forward by opposition leaders in Venezuela and right-wing governments in the region, has the potential to backfire and trigger an even more radicalised stance from Maduro against the “persecution” and “criminalisation” of his government.

The debate on the Chavista regime must keep its focus on the domestic issues being faced by Venezuelans and the possible solutions to the current situation in this country. If the focus shifts towards a regional scenario, the opportunities to solve this crisis may be wasted.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.