There is a looming catastrophe in South America that threatens the United States and every other country in the hemisphere. The crisis centers on Venezuela which is dangerously close to collapse.
Venezuela is in chaos because of hyperinflation that could hit 10 million percent in 2019 according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Moreover, Venezuela’s economy shrank by 50% in the past six years.
Conditions are so bad over one-third of Venezuelans eat just one meal a day because they cannot afford food, The Miami Herald reports. For instance, ham bread, a traditional Venezuelan Christmas dish costs 4,892 soberanos. Meanwhile, the minimum monthly salary in Venezuela is 4,500 soberanos.
Hyperinflation, Hunger, and Repression in Venezuela
To explain, soberanos are apparently the new national currency; adopted after the last currency the bolivar became worthless. Average Venezuelans can no longer afford food because their cash has no buying power.
The country’s autocratic President Nicolas Maduro has responded to the crisis with a combination of repression and bizarre economic experiments. For instance, Maduro is trying to create a national cryptocurrency and purge the military of his enemies.
In fact, Maduro’s thugs have detained and tortured military personnel, Human Rights Watch claims. Maduro is cracking down on the military after an assassination attempt in August.
Strangely, Maduro could trigger a coup because military officers fearing for their lives could try to kill him first. Historically coups in Latin America led to bloody repression. Examples include the Argentine “Dirty War” of the 1970s and the slaughter perpetrated by Augusto Pinochet in Chile in 1973.
Eight Million Refugees could flee Venezuela
The greatest danger from Venezuela is a refugee crisis provoked by hunger. Frighteningly, the Brookings Institution predicts up to eight million refugees could flee Venezuela, The Miami Herald reports.
Most of the refugees will go to neighboring Colombia but many could head to the United States. For example, large numbers of refugees could use boats to sail to Florida and the Gulf Coast of the United States.
Others could try to make their way to the Southern Border of the US on foot or by car. The torrent could head north if Colombia; already overwhelmed by a million refugees, closes its borders.
Hence, the already frenzied political debate over immigration in the United States could get worse. In particular, the demagogue in Chief Donald J. Trump (R-New York) will take advantage of the situation to demand more anti-immigrant actions.
Some observers fear a massive wave of Venezuelan refugees after Maduro’s January 10, 2019, inauguration. A particular fear is that Maduro will launch a new crackdown now that his new term is official.
Venezuela is ripping itself apart
Disturbingly, Maduro now has six more years to finish wrecking Venezuela.
Violent resistance and upheaval in Venezuela are likely because Maduro has a 13% approval rating, The Sydney Morning Post notes. Violent protests in 2017 left 157 people and led to 3,000 arrests.
Venezuela is on track to be the most violent country in Latin America, the Venezuela Observatory of Violence claims. For instance, there were 23,047 violent deaths in Venezuela in 2018. Furthermore, the Observatory blames 7,523 of those deaths on Chavez’s security forces.
Beyond homicides, bandits are taking over highways and looting vehicles in the Venezuelan countryside. Meanwhile, pirates; who may include renegade members of the country’s coast guard, are terrorizing the Caribbean off Venezuela’s north coast, Medium writer Erik Brown claims. In fact, pirates allegedly killed between 15 and 20 fishermen off Venezuela’s coast in 2018.
Will there be a war between Venezuela and Brazil?
Worst of all there could be a war between Venezuela and its largest neighbor Brazil that could involve the United States. Importantly Brazil’s new President Jair Bolsonaro pledged “do whatever is possible to see that government deposed” regarding Maduro in 2017, The Guardian reports.
Maduro himself has accused Brazilian Vice President Hamilton Mourão of plotting to invade Venezuela. However, Mourão has said, “it’s the Venezuelans who must solve the Venezuelans’ problems.”
Disturbingly, many observers like Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer believe Bolsonaro’s election could make a U.S.-backed coup in Venezuela more likely. To explain, President Trump has been hostile to Maduro for years. Notably, critics like the American Conservative’s Doug Bandow accuse Trump of plotting military intervention in Venezuela.
Will there be War between the United States and Venezuela?
Additionally, Oppenheimer notes that US and Brazilian forces invaded and occupied the Dominican Republic in the 1960s. Plus, Oppenheimer believes Trump could have other rationales for an attack on Venezuela.
“Still, an embattled Trump could start a foreign war to divert public attention from his self-created domestic troubles,” Oppenheimer muses.
A war between Brazil and Venezuela; or Venezuela and the United States, could be messy, bloody, and probably long and costly. For instance, a U.S. or Brazilian military occupation could degenerate into a long guerrilla war between Venezuela’s well-armed military and invaders.
Highly-experienced Communist FARC guerrillas from Colombia who would move into help their friend Maduro could make the situation worse. To complicate things, drug cartels will quickly capitalize on the chaos to set up bases and make extra cash by selling arms.
Another military scenario is Maduro launching preemptive strikes against the Brazilian or Colombian militaries. Colombia is a target because there are reports that the country’s military supports an action against Maduro.
Plus Maduro could arm leftwing guerrillas; like FARC, for attacks on Colombia and Brazil. A bad strategy that could trigger preemptive strikes by Maduro is the US, or Colombia, or Brazil, organizing or arming anti-Maduro guerrillas.
Is Brazil the Next Venezuela?
Nor is Venezuela the only country in South America to fear. The situation in Brazil is frighteningly similar to that in Venezuela.
Venezuela’s meltdown began when Venezuelans elected a radical ex-army officer with dictatorial tendencies; Hugo Chavez, president. To clarify, Chavez a Marxist wrecked Venezuela’s economy with radical socialist policies while undermining democracy with authoritarian measures.
Now a radical ex-army officer with dictatorial tendencies; Bolsonaro, is president of Brazil. Disturbingly, Bolsonaro looks like a right-wing version of Hugo Chavez.
Like Chavez, Bolsonaro is a former paratrooper who openly admires bloodthirsty tyrants. Chavez hero worshipped Fidel Castro; while Bolsonaro is nostalgic for Brazil’s military dictatorship of the 1960s and 1970s.
Will Bolsonaro Destabilize Brazil?
Moreover, like Chavez and Maduro, Bolsonaro has no respect for constitutions or human rights. Like Chavez, who died in 2013, Bolsonaro has many loony ideas.
For instance, Brazil’s new president calls indigenous people animals, denies climate change and wants a military alliance with the United States. For instance, Bolsonaro once allegedly said, “it’s a shame that the Brazilian cavalry wasn’t as efficient as the Americans, who exterminated their Indians.”
Furthermore, Bolsonaro’s administration is proposing policies that could destabilize Brazil. In particular, The Guardian alleges Bolsonaro is plotting genocide against indigenous tribes. With the tribes gone, Bolsonaro and his allies could sell their land to miners and agribusiness.
Obviously, such policies could lead to fighting between Brazil’s military and police and indigenous people. Notably, rebellious indigenous people would make perfect recruits for the guerilla war Maduro could launch against Bolsonaro.
Thus, a long-term worry is that Bolsonaro will destabilize Brazil in the way Maduro and Chavez destabilized Venezuela. Hence, America could have serious chaos to fear in its neighborhood.
Here Comes China
Finally, an aggressive imperialistic power can complicate the situation in South America. Surprisingly, that power is the People’s Republic of China–not the United States.
For instance, South American countries like Ecuador and Argentina are already deeply in debt to China. Notably, China will receive 80% of Ecuador’s oil for $19 billion in loans used to build a massive dam, The New York Times alleges.
That situation worries me because Britain and France used debt as a pretext for military actions against countries like Mexico in the 19th Century. What happens if the next Ecuadoran government tries to pull out of the oil for debt deal? Will we see Latin America’s first Chinese-backed military coup?
Beyond, Ecuador there’s Argentina where China operates a military base; disguised as a satellite and space mission control station, in Patagonia, The New York Times reports. China dominates Argentina because that nation is an economic basic case that needs currency swaps from the People’s Bank of China to survive.
Thus a conflict between China and the United States in Latin America is probably imminent. The situation is reminiscent of the Cold War when the United States backed right-wing dictators like Pinochet while the Soviets supported left-wing thugs like Fidel Castro and the Nicaraguan Sandinistas.
Will the New Cold War Turn Hot in South America?
Ominously, Foreign Policy warns of a “new Cold War” between the United States and China. Note, I think the situation is more dangerous than a Cold War because there is no ideological component as there was in the 20th Century Cold War.
To explain, a need for raw materials, not ideology motivates China’s adventures in Latin America. Hence, China; unlike the Soviet Union, can ally with any nation willing to accept its loans.
Oddly, Bolsonaro could heat the new Cold War up with plans for a US military base in Brazil. Ironically, Bolsonaro’s plans could trigger a pro-Chinese coup in Brazil; because military commanders oppose an American base, Reuters claims. China could back such a coup to guarantee access to Brazil’s natural resources.
Therefore, the situation in South America is complex and dangerous. Americans had better pay attention because chaos in South America will affect the United States.