The tumultuous events of February 23 at the Colombian borders leave a few things clear for the world.
1) the regime is not that strong: it had to use its assault militia, "colectivos", to push back and burn trucks of humanitarian aid. The army apparently is not that reliable, as underlined by scores of military crossing over to Colombia.
2) the regime will do anything to remain in office. Murdering people in the most abject forms is not a problem for them, not even a brief qualm.
3) the choice now is between a strong move or letting Venezuela rot, infested with Colombian guerilla and drug traffickers with a new wave of emigration that this time could reach 5 millions within a couple of years. What would be the choice of the international community now that it is demonstrated that the opposition is a large majority who has tried any possible conventional political means, leaving hundreds of fallen?
The choice, if you can call that a choice, is between a direct intervention or some form of real blockade, not the fake embargo against Cuba.
Which would be the pros and cons of a direct intervention?
The first problem is that Venezuela is much bigger than Panama, Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, Korea, or any European country. This is made worse as large parts of the country have no adequate transport system and that the existing one is in sorry shape.
The second problem is that any invasion would have logistics problems of its own coupled with nightmare logistics for a population that cannot produce today a survival level of food.
A third problem is that Venezuela is plagued with large areas controlled by Colombian guerillas who, contrarily to Venezuelan troops, know how to fight wars.
The fourth problem is the denial of LatAm against any intervention on the grounds we can resolve issues ourselves when facts show otherwise.
A fifth problem harder to evaluate is how tough is the paramilitary apparatus of the regime (colectivos and militia).
But there are some pros.
First the same doubts on the resolve of paramilitary. I, for one, think that the bulk will quickly disperse, particularly with the militia. If it is true that colectivos are mere criminal gangs with no future when the rule of law returns, it implies that many of them will fight until death, but not all. Let's note that the regime is recruiting in jails.
The biggest asset to a foreign intervention is, like in Panama, that a large exhausted majority of the population will welcome it. Why else would the regime take so much pains in faking elections?
A second pro is that chavismo has centralized so much the country that taking off a few well targeted objectives might be enough to make the regime fall.
Is all that enough to justify an intervention? You can't say. Do not believe for a minute those who demand an immediate intervention, nor those who term an intervention a terrible mistake: they are both wrong. If you analyze with care, the success of a putative intervention relies more on timing than anything else.
But were intervention not a choice the remaining optio is a stern blockade, that may even require a limited intervention such as seizing a harbour. Blockades are expensive too and will make enemies of those that want to keep trading but at least they are less expensive than wars.
For a succesful blockade of Venezuela you would need most of the following:
- an agreement among many countries (not too difficult and necessary to bypass UN knee jerk objections).
- extending sanctions to more regime personnel AND to their families. This last one is important since few of these relatives have criticized the regime and are too happy spending the loot.
- an inspection of any ship that wants to get in or out of Venezuela. If they refuse inspection they cannot get in. Period. Russians and Chinese will have to agree if enough LatAm countries agree, if anything for the Chinese to protect their own investments in the area.
- only food and medicine are allowed in when genuine NGO are allowed to control distribution. The regime refusal will weaken it more at home.
- an active blockade inside Venezuelan waters to block drug traffic around the Orinoco delta and eastern waters. Including the shooting down of any airplane without proper flight permission. That would not stop drug traffic but maybe slow it bad enough for business that traffickers may drop Maduro to send away foreign ships.
- and more options along the line, including even the take over of La Guaira, not difficult to do and relatively easy to maintain for a few weeks putting great strain on the regime to keep control of Caracas.
These things need to be discussed openly now. The time of qualms and feel good sympathy is over.
And need I remind folks that if we have reached such bleak prospects it is because foreign powers could not be bothered before with chavismo even though many warnings were issued since 2003 (like from many Venezuelan blogs, just saying). They got their Munich, time to face up their mistake.