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Evaluating U.S. Policy On Venezuela


Let's talk more about the U.S. role in Venezuela with Eric Farnsworth. He's vice president of the Council of the Americas and the Americas Society. He worked in the U.S. State Department for many years, working on global policy issues.

Good morning.

ERIC FARNSWORTH: Good morning. It's great to be with you.

GREENE: Well, it's nice to have you. We appreciate it. Can you explain the U.S. strategy here?

FARNSWORTH: Well, the strategy seems to be creating circumstances by which most of the military and security forces of Venezuela will change their loyalty from Maduro to Guaido on the thinking - and I believe accurately so - that it's the military that really holds the key to the future of Venezuela. To have Mr. Maduro leave is going to require that the military ask him to do so.

GREENE: And what is the U.S. interest here in getting Maduro out and giving Guaido the interim presidency?

FARNSWORTH: Well, I think at the most basic level, this is a - what the Maduro government has created is the worst humanitarian crisis in the modern history of Latin America. We have over 10% of Venezuela's own citizens outside of the country. Food, basic medicine are unavailable to many citizens inside the country. The economy is in collapse, so there is a real humanitarian imperative here to act.

At the same time, there is a real democratic imperative. Under Venezuela's own constitution, Juan Guaido is the interim president. But there's a real inability - even under the Inter-American Democratic Charter and other vehicles like that - to really force democracy back to Venezuela. So it really tried to create conditions so the Venezuelans could do that themselves.

GREENE: Is there a risk of some kind of larger conflict here? I mean, I don't necessarily mean military but even a diplomatic conflict between countries like the United States and Russia, who are lining up on different sides?

FARNSWORTH: Well, I think we're already seeing that develop. Russia, Cuba, certainly China, Turkey, Iran - it's a real gallery of authoritarian countries - have lined up in support of Mr. Maduro, whereas the United States as well as over 50 other countries - primarily Democratic countries - support Mr. Guaido. So there is a real diversion or division here in the international community.

The question I have is, how fiercely do the Chinas and Russias of the world support Mr. Maduro? And when do they back off? I think Cuba is a different story. I think Cuba is really in for the full, you know - they're in - completely into Venezuela. And they're going to go down with the ship. So it really depends on which country we're talking about.

GREENE: This really has echoes of the Cold War in a way, doesn't it?

FARNSWORTH: It does, in some ways. And many people, including myself, are hoping that we don't get to that point. We're hoping that the circumstances change. There's also some possibility of violence on the ground in Venezuela among Venezuelans. We hope that doesn't occur, but that's a possibility.

GREENE: Is there a possibility that the U.S. exerting power here actually plays into Maduro's hand if he's able to say, this is the United States trying to do this. This is not an opposition leader in your own country?

FARNSWORTH: You know, that is clearly a risk. And, you know, we're mindful of that. I think people recognize history, and they recognize that there's something that they have to be mindful of. But that's why, I think, it's been so important to come alongside the Venezuelans and support what they're trying to do and not get in front of the Venezuelans themselves. It's a delicate situation but so far seems to be working.

GREENE: Eric Farnsworth worked in the State Department for many years. He's vice president of the Council of the Americas and the Americas Society.

Thanks so much for your time this morning.

FARNSWORTH: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.