Judd Gregg: Venezuela, the Monroe Doctrine and the Roosevelt Corollary
In 1823, President Monroe set out what became known as the Monroe Doctrine in a message to Congress.
The Monroe Doctrine had a number of elements but its most notable was the declaration that if any European power attempted to oppress or control any nation in the Western Hemisphere, such action would be viewed by the United States as a hostile act.
The Western Hemisphere was to be kept clear of European intrigue or interference.
The doctrine went largely unnoticed until President Polk invoked it relative to Britain and Spain, and their attempts to secure influence over the west coast and Mexico.
Europe did not take the doctrine seriously until after the Civil War. By then it became clear that the United States had the capacity to not only proclaim the doctrine but to follow through with action.
The most interesting interpretation of the doctrine, however, came from President Theodore Roosevelt, who added what became known as the Roosevelt Corollary.
He essentially proclaimed that when there was flagrant or chaotic or despotic leadership of a Latin American country, the United States could intervene to re-establish the rule of law and democracy.
The United States would carry a big stick and speak loudly when it came to the countries south of us.
These related doctrines have been pursued across the years by numerous presidents.
President Franklin Roosevelt did not hesitate to invoke the Roosevelt Corollary. President Eisenhower and President Kennedy authorized and pursued the invasion of Cuba. President Reagan sent troops to Panama to eliminate a dictator and his regime, and to Grenada to avoid another Cuba-type regime. President Clinton sent American troops into Haiti.
American presidents have taken an expansive view of our role as a final arbiter of what constitutes acceptable governance in our hemisphere.
This approach has, of course, gained us considerable resentment from numerous sister nations and political groups in the region.
It has also been pursued with spotty results.
Cuba remains a communist, family-run dictatorship. Haiti continues to be an economic and social disaster. Panama and Grenada stand out as somewhat successful interventions, given that democracy was re-established and we departed.
Now we are confronted with Venezuela.
There can be no question but that Venezuela is being led by a tyrannical group of people.
The Nicolas Maduro government — to the extent it can be called a government rather than a criminal undertaking — stole its way to power.
It claims to be the legitimate successor to one of the worst recent leaders in our hemisphere, Hugo Chavez. He bankrupted his nation and threw his people into a desperate time in the name of socialism. But, to some extent, he did have a fair claim to being an elected leader.
Maduro and his band of thugs have no such claim as they continue to drive Venezuela and its people into poverty while they allegedly add to their wealth with drug money and stolen government funds.
The United States and numerous South American countries have recognized the young leader of the national assembly, Juan Guaido, as the rightful democratic president of Venezuela.
But it is fairly obvious that Maduro and his cadre are not departing. In fact, they appear to be doubling down on the oppression of the opposition.
They have arrested key leaders. They have frozen Guaido’s bank accounts and made his travel around the country difficult. Should the people who support change and democracy take to the streets, as is likely, Maduro will use force to break up such groups and demonstrations.
It could not be more apparent that if the Roosevelt Corollary is applied, the Maduro cabal qualifies for American intervention.
Venezuela is not a third world country. It historically has had a strong economy and an extremely productive people and culture.
We have no significant strategic interest in Venezuela. It is not North Korea, Iran or Afghanistan, where the need to contain people who may threaten us is paramount. The Maduro gang is no threat to the United States.
It might be argued that because Venezuela is rich in oil, its type of government should be a concern of ours. But we are now essentially energy-independent, so Venezuelan oil production is not a factor for deciding whether to engage there.
It would be appropriate if there were other nations in the hemisphere who would be able and willing to step in.
Large nations like Brazil, Mexico or Argentina, who have the capacity to act and could coordinate through the Organization of American States (OAS) should do this. But they will not.
Neither these nations nor the OAS have the fortitude to undertake such a course. For years they have left this type of action to us, not wishing to agitate their domestic dissenters. They will, one suspects, do that in this situation also.
In addition, the antipathy Trump has shown towards international organizations like OAS makes it almost impossible for him to bring other nations together to address issues like Venezuela.
One of the prices of his “go it alone” doctrine regarding alliances is that when you need other democratic nations’ assistance, it is rarely there.
We are left with very few options.
The conditions in Venezuela will continue to become more dangerous for those who seek relief from the dictatorial Maduro. There will be considerable violence and possibly some level of civil war.
When things get truly unbearable and the violence can no longer be ignored by responsible democracies in our hemisphere, we may feel compelled to engage to end the mayhem and restore the democratic government. This action, if taken unilaterally, will be vilified by leaders throughout the region.
Thus, more than a century after his time, Theodore Roosevelt may be recalled to action.
It is not really a good course, but it may be the only course — unless we are willing to tolerate having Venezuela descend into a nightmarish and dangerous chaos.
Judd Gregg (R) is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations subcommittee.