A new United Nations investigation underscores the brutal nature of Nicolas Maduro’s government in Venezuela. As reported in the July 4 edition of the New York Times, UN investigators found that Venezuelan Special Action Forces “have carried out thousands of extrajudicial killings in the past 18 months and then manipulated crime scenes to make it look as if the victims had been resisting arrest.” In essence, government security units acted as death squads to eliminate regime opponents.
The death toll is shockingly large. Security forces “killed 5,287 people in 2018 and another 1,569 by mid-May of this year, in what are officially termed by the Venezuelan government ‘Operations for the Liberation of the People.’” The campaign of cold-blooded mass murder is made worse by the government’s cynical, Orwellian euphemism.
The UN document concludes that the actual number of killings may be even larger, noting that some independent reports put the total extrajudicial executions for “resistance to authority,” at well over 9,000. That higher number would come as no surprise to opponents of Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez. Critics have alleged for years that forces loyal to Maduro and Chavez have kidnapped, tortured, and murdered political adversaries.
In addition to the death squad outrages, the UN report confirms the Maduro government’s other crimes. Men and women detained for political reasons “were subjected to one or more forms of torture, including electric shock, suffocation with plastic bags, water boarding, beating and sexual violence.”
The UN revelations underscore an important distinction that critics of U.S. policy toward Venezuela must make. It is appropriate to criticize all forms of U.S. meddling in that country’s internal political affairs, including the continuation of U.S. economic sanctions that have worsened the misery of the already suffering Venezuelan people. Such sanctions merely inconvenience the country’s corrupt, socialist elite but have a much greater impact on ordinary citizens. Sanctions also give Maduro and his cronies a convenient, phony excuse for Venezuela’s mounting economic woes.
Americans certainly are justified in denouncing the trial balloons that the Trump administration has sent aloft about using military force to remove Maduro from power. By providing diplomatic and financial backing to the competing government of Juan Guaido, the United States already is excessively involved in Venezuela’s internal affairs. A military intervention would make matters even worse and could entangle the United States in yet another regime-change, nation-building quagmire. Maduro’s misguided supporters have the capability to mount a sustained resistance to a U.S.-led military occupation.
Opposing U.S. meddling, though, in no way requires critics to ignore, minimize, or excuse, the Maduro regime’s increasingly well-documented economic and human-rights abuses. Some left-wing opponents of Washington’s flirtation with another regime-change crusade are prone to conflate resistance to such a policy with acting as apologists for Maduro. The morally appropriate position is to oppose intervention but denounce Maduro for his corrupt, murderous dictatorship. The new UN report should erase all doubt about the shameful nature of his rule. If Guaido and his followers ultimately prevail (although that outcome is increasingly doubtful) decent people in the United States and around the world should rejoice that another regime that abuses human rights has ended up on the ash heap of history.