Op-Ed

Sen. Marco Rubio: Venezuelan military could help restore democracy

Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro has called elections for April 22.
Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro has called elections for April 22. Getty Images

No one should be fooled when Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro holds a fraudulent presidential election and seeks to force illegitimate legislative elections to replace the country’s democratically elected National Assembly on April 22. While the Castro-backed Maduro regime and his cronies cynically seek to use a sham vote to restore their international legitimacy, these “elections” will be unfree, unfair and completely rigged.

Maduro has banned virtually every opponent — including his strongest political rivals, Leopoldo López, María Corina Machado, Henrique Capriles and Antonio Ledezma — from running against him.

The regime will monitor how government workers and recipients of subsidized food vote, with the clear threat of losing their jobs or their food if they don’t vote for Maduro.

And the regime will not allow credible and transparent international monitors to observe the vote, allowing it to alter unfavorable polling outcomes, just like it did in the illegitimate Constituent Assembly elections of July 2017 and regional elections of October 2017.

In short, their sham “elections” will not be free, fair or transparent — Maduro would lose if they were.

Maduro is losing his grip on power. His ability to steal his country’s wealth and shower his inner circle of cronies and members of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) with money and other special benefits is greatly eroding as the United States, the European Union, and other like-minded countries increase targeted sanctions.

As the country’s economy implodes and its humanitarian crisis worsens due to Maduro’s mismanagement and corruption, Venezuelans suffer shortages of food, medicine and other basic goods.

A new study found that 90 percent of Venezuela’s estimated 31 million people live in poverty and citizens involuntarily lost, on average, nearly 24 pounds last year. Chronic and infectious diseases are rampant and hospitals lack adequate supplies to care for their patients. Inflation is now 4,000 percent, and even the Venezuelan military and those once loyal to Maduro are desperate for food.

In turn, an estimated 1.2 million refugees have fled Venezuela’s crisis for neighboring countries in the last two years.

The potential for popular uprising or violent protests to resume at any moment remains strong and palpable.

The Maduro regime’s massive food shortages and hyperinflation are also angering the already-demoralized Venezuelan police and military forces, and leading to more cases of insubordination and desertions.

The Venezuelan people and the rank and file members of its embattled military can be the ultimate instrument for ending the dictatorship and restoring Venezuela’s constitutional democracy.

History reminds us that despots rarely give up dictatorial power voluntarily. The most stable and peaceful path forward for Venezuela is for a united front of disaffected government insiders and military personnel, with popular support from the Venezuelan people, to remove Maduro and his inner circle from power.

A post-Maduro transitional government should follow. So long as it is taking steps toward the restoration of constitutional democracy, the United States and partner nations should step forward to provide food, medicine and other humanitarian aid to the Venezuelan people and fast relief to the country’s mismanaged economy.

Until the emergence of a post-Maduro Venezuela, the United States must continue to close loopholes in existing financial sanctions, consider sectoral energy sanctions, closing off all access to the U.S. financial system, and punish foreign financial institutions and other enablers who are helping the dictatorship to buy more time.

Maduro and his inner circle have destroyed democracy and replaced it with dictatorship. But the Venezuelan military, with the popular support of their citizenry, can end this dictatorship and restore their people’s freedom, dignity, and right to govern themselves. If, and when, they choose to, I believe they will enjoy overwhelming support from the United States and other free nations of the world.

Marco Rubio represents Florida in the U.S. Senate.

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