Francisco Rodriguez explains how the U.S. has helped Maduro to consolidate his hold on power with its harmful sanctions and regime change policy:
In weathering all these pressures, Maduro has benefited from the actions of an unsuspecting accomplice: the United States. Maduro can rightly blame Washington for contributing to the country’s economic crisis, pointing to the aggressive sanctions that the administration of US President Donald Trump has placed on Venezuela. The specter of a foreign aggressor has helped Maduro rally the military around his leadership. And the deepening economic crisis has only increased the power of the state over ordinary Venezuelans. US policymakers must grapple with the uncomfortable fact that they have abetted Maduro in maintaining his grip on power.
Sweeping sanctions typically hurt the most vulnerable, weaken the political opposition, and strengthen the government’s grip on power. This has happened several times before, and it will keep happening wherever these inhumane tactics are employed. The reasons for this are not hard to understand, but policymakers seem determined not to understand them. Corrupt, authoritarian governments are least susceptible to the effects of such sanctions because they are largely unresponsive to the needs of the people and because they are most concerned with looking after the interests of top officials and their cronies. The government and its cronies use their position to benefit from smuggling and other illegal activities, which become even more valuable to them as normal commerce disappears. As sanctions strangle an economy, they also make the rest of the population more dependent on whatever aid the government still provides. Far from aiding civil society and political dissidents, sanctions are frequently a death knell for both. Throttling the legitimate economy along with everything else impoverishes the opposition that the sanctions advocates claim to support, and exacerbating the existing economic problems encourages many young people to leave the country to find some way to make a living elsewhere. Because the sanctions are being imposed by the world’s superpower, it is extremely easy for the targeted government to whip up nationalist sentiment and resentment against foreign interference, and that in turn makes it easier for them to deflect blame and attention from their own role in the country’s ills. In trying to dislodge an authoritarian ruler with sanction, the US helps that ruler to entrench himself and his allies in their positions. This was entirely foreseeable, and many people warned that it would happen in Venezuela. We see the same results in Iran and Syria today, and we saw much the same thing in Iraq and Myanmar before that.
Trump’s push for regime change in Venezuela has been one of his worst policies, but it is also the one that has had the most support in Washington. Even though all signs pointed to the failure of “maximum pressure” in Venezuela from the start, there has been broad and bipartisan backing for this destructive policy from members of Congress and much of the foreign policy establishment. “Maximum pressure” on Venezuela is every bit as cruel and monstrous as the administration’s Iran policy, but for some reason it doesn’t receive the same amount attention or criticism. There have been a few notable exceptions to this reckless consensus. Sen. Bernie Sanders was one of a handful of members of Congress to speak out early on against the pursuit of regime change in Venezuela. His foreign policy adviser, Matt Duss, pointed this out again this week:
We were trying to tell you this while you were giving Trump's Venezuela policy standing ovations. https://t.co/zdWDdjlYJB
— Matt Duss (@mattduss) October 13, 2020
The standing ovation Duss refers to was the one given to Guaido during Trump’s State of the Union address at the start of this year. Our Venezuela policy over the last several years has been one of the more shameful episodes in recent US history, but as long as it can be dressed up as supporting democracy it will receive thunderous applause in Congress. The fact that the US is engaging in collective punishment against tens of millions of people does not seem to matter, and it is doubtful that many of the clapping politicians are even aware of what they are cheering on.