While reports of the dramatic recent events in Venezuela have made headlines, many question the relevance of the situation to Taiwan. In my view, there are several major issues at stake in Venezuela that affect Taiwan’s national interests.
After what many believe was a rigged May 2018 election, a majority of Venezuela’s National Assembly contested the legitimacy of President Nicolas Maduro’s January 2019 inauguration and instead recognized National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó as Acting President until new elections can be held. The United States threw its weight behind Guaidó, drawing swift and harsh criticism from Maduro.
Initially, much of the commentary in Taiwan followed that of Trump critics in the US. Too many “experts” have propagated the false notion that the US is disengaging from the world, pulling back support for democracy movements, and leaving a void to be filled by China, Russia, and other illiberal forces. This misguided thinking leads even some friends abroad to question whether the US will honor security commitments and remain a reliable ally.
In reality, the Trump administration has pressed allies and regional partners to bring more of their own resources and capabilities to meet challenges in their near abroad, rather than relying on a disproportionate burden being placed on American families and institutions. Such an approach actually increases overall deterrent capabilities and leaves the US greater flexibility to surge when needed to meet extraordinary challenges. This is not isolationism. It is rational, balanced realism.
The second misconception that seems to have crept into international commentary about Venezuela is that US recognition of Acting President Juan Guaido is somehow at odds with the Trump Administration’s broader foreign policy of non-intervention. Critiques of US interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Libya certainly were central to Trump’s campaign and guiding principles in the President’s national security strategy. But opposition to injecting US military personnel into situations without well-defined metrics for victory and without reliable domestic partners willing and able to help themselves is not the same as total disinterest or disengagement. Short of open-ended military deployments and nation-building, the Trump Administration has proven willing to help those prepared to help themselves, and to use multiple tools of power to deter or punish those who threaten American interests and alliances.
It is important to recognize that populists and nationalists in the US (both Democrats and Republicans) are not isolationist. They are willing to help those who take risks to help themselves. They are willing to speak up for those who are right and against those who are wrong. They are willing to officially recognize legitimate leaders and denounce those who are illegitimate. These are important precedents that could apply to Taiwan under the right circumstances.
But for now, among the most powerful lessons to take away from the Venezuela experience is the absolute failure of socialism in action. This 16-year experiment with central planning, the fulfillment of the logic of socialism, has totally failed the Venezuelan people. They now suffer under runaway inflation, illegitimate elections, and squandered value of the natural resources with which the country was fortunate enough to be endowed.
The people of Taiwan should be heartened to see the courage and commitment of the people of Venezuela to stand up to their oppressors and the foreign powers who enable them (China, Russia and Iran). The people of Taiwan also should be reassured to see the US, along with other major powers in this hemisphere and around the world, stand by the Venezuelan people and punishing their oppressors.
There is much left to play out in this drama. But it is abundantly clear that the Taiwan people ought to be cheering on the success of Venezuela’s freedom fighters and the reliable allies who stand with them at this critical time. It is what Taiwan must hope for itself should China again initiate a crisis. In the near term though, defeat of the Bolivarian Revolution presents a significant setback for the anti-American axis in Latin America that also bought or bullied Taiwan’s allies away.
With the right outcome in Venezuela, Taiwan may find more partners in this hemisphere who support meaningful engagement, international space, and even diplomatic relations. Those are some powerful reasons for people in Taiwan to invest in the success of the good people of Venezuela struggling to take control of their own destiny in a far away land.