For those of you not following Latin American politics closely, you may have missed some important developments that could soon lead to U.S. military intervention in Latin America against Venezuela. The purpose of this post is to discuss when (if ever) that intervention is the morally correct course.
Please read this story.
To summarize: the Venezuelan government is led by a virtual dictator named Hugo Chavez. He hates the United States and is rallying leftists in Latin America and elsewhere, and he has increased ties with Iran and other terrorist states.
Right next door to him in Colombia is a U.S.-backed president named Alvaro Uribe. He is democratically elected and a hero in Colombia for forcefully taking on two large guerrilla groups called the FARC and the ELN. It is worth pointing out that both of these guerrilla groups started out as 1960s leftists but have basically become narco-terrorists, financing themselves with kidnappings and drug dealing. They control vast areas of the Colombian countryside, where they have created their own terrorist mini-states. Uribe is the first Colombian president to send the armed forces to effectively combat the narco-terrorists.
To the south of Colombia is Ecuador, where a Chavez ally named Rafael Correa was recently elected president. The FARC has a large camp just across the border in Ecuador where it retreats to escape the Colombian military.
Just a few days ago, the Colombian military entered Ecuadoran territory to pursue a FARC leader. They killed him and his followers and captured a significant amount of documentation that seems to prove that Chavez and Correa are allying themselves with the FARC to help overthrow the Colombian government. In addition, there is proof that the FARC was pursuing a “dirty bomb” weapon of mass destruction. There is also proof that Chavez is directly financing terrorism through the FARC. Chavez, feigning outrage, has said he will mobilize the Venezuelan army to “protect” Venezuela against Colombia.
This is a case straight out of the Book of Mormon. Gadiantons against innocent people. Terrorism and unrighteousness. Lots of lying and secret combinations.
Up until now, U.S. policy has basically been to 1)oppose the FARC and ELN and try to stop drug trafficking 2)support the Colombian government and 3)give moral support to democratic opponents of Chavez. On Dec. 2, Chavez lost a vote that would have allowed him to become a complete dictator (similar to Putin in Russia). Many Venezuelans fear Chavez is drumming up nationalistic fervor to overturn that vote and, claiming a “national emergency,” cede himself the unlimited power he craves.
There have been some calls for the U.S. to consider overthrowing Chavez because proof has come out that he is financing terrorists who are trying to buying nuclear dirty bombs and is trying to overthrow a neighboring country. The purpose of this post is to consider when if at all such a course is moral.
On one hand, there are those of you who will think that military action in Latin America is almost never moral. The U.S. has intervened in Latin American literally dozens of times, taking away Mexican territory, warring with Spain over Cuba and Puerto Rico, propping up various dictators. One of the most recent cases, of course, was the 1989 invasion of Panama, which I covered as a journalist. Noriega was very similar to Chavez. He made money by running drugs and guns and he had his thugs attack several U.S. citizens. Noriega was captured by U.S. forces and is currently in jail in Miami. Non-interventionists will argue that the most moral policy is to just let Latin Americans resolve their own problems, come what may.
Non-interventionists are somewhat short-sighted, however. Latin American policy does affect the United States. In addition to oil concerns, it is worth noting that the FARC and ELN were clearly founded as Communist groups devoted to worldwide imposition of Communism, starting with Colombia. They are by their very nature anti-U.S. terrorists. At the same time, Chavez, regardless of our policy, has been devoted to creating an anti-U.S. alliance in Latin America.
It is worth pointing out, again purely on a moral basis, that Panama today is a functioning democracy. The people in Panama are better off in every possible way than they were under Noriega. Our intervention served the greater good, getting rid of a ruthless killer and drug runner and replacing him with a democratic government that has brought prosperity to Panamanians.
Still, non-interventionists could argue quite cogently that the current conditions do not warrant any military intervention in Latin America. But they could not argue with any basic logic that there are never conditions that would justify U.S. action against Chavez. For example, what if the FARC did succeed in getting a dirty bomb and, working with Chavez, smuggled it into the United States? What if the threat was that, unless the U.S. convinced Colombia to set free hundreds of FARC prisoners, the dirty bomb would kill tens of thousands in New York? Clearly, there are some conditions that argue for some kind of military action in basic self-defense.
Moral interventionists, of which I am one, will argue that there are certain cases in which it is appropriate for U.S. forces to intervene. We will point out that our foreign and economic policy must be guided by moral concerns and try to support the greatest good for Latin Americans. Colombia is led by a popularly elected clearly democratic government that is fighting a “good war,” purely defensive, against narco-terrorists who kidnap, murder and extort. Two of its neighbors are helping those narco-terrorists. Now, evidence has surfaced that a nearby quasi-dictator is trying to overthrow a neighboring democratically elected government and financing a terrorist group to do it.
There are significant humanitarian concerns. Innocents are kidnapped and killed in Colombia today nearly every day by the FARC. The FARC is planning on using terror to kill even more innocents through the purchase of a dirty bomb. At the same time, there are obviously grave moral concerns with Chavez’s growing dictatorship. Correa has also taken measures toward creating his own dictatorship in Ecuador. From a moral perspective, promoting true democracy in Latin America is clearly the correct policy.
If Chavez declares war on Colombia and invades, the United States has a moral responsibility to try to negotiate a peaceful solution. If negotiations fail, I am in favor, purely on humanitarian grounds, of intervening militarily against Venezuelan troops inside Colombia, if we are invited by the Colombian military.
At the same time, we must ask ourselves when the most moral policy may be to detain and/or overthrow Chavez. His ties to the FARC have shown that he is clearly financing terrorism. He is trying to set himself up as a ruthless dictator in Venezuela. He is trying to spread terrorism throughout South America.
I am not convinced the time to do this is now. But I do feel that, purely on a moral basis, the time may be coming when such an action would be for the greater good. I am open to respectful, on-topic comments.