Venezuela: Overcoming Tragedy

We must publicly reject a U.S. military excursion there



No man is an island, nor can any country stand alone. If as “outsiders” we are to be of any help in overcoming Venezuela’s tragedy, we have some hard thinking to do. And since we are human beings, what and how we think is intertwined with our emotions and imagination. A recent discussion with a group of friends, activists with American Solidarity Party, suggests some critical themes for compassionate reflection.

First, we should try to put ourselves in the place of the Venezuelan people. They are in serious and worsening need of food, medicine, and basic civil stability. They are fleeing their homeland by the hundreds of thousands. All this they suffer with the memory of a national history of bloody revolutions. To put ourselves in their place of tragedy, even to some small extent, will require us to discipline our imaginations. That’s hard.

Second, we cannot “outsource” our thinking to experts. Yes, it makes sense to listen to informed commentators. Ironically, though, the “thought leaders” often go wrong because they are out of touch with ordinary people. We see this at home, and it is surely so abroad. Too often experts ignore the insights of folks who are “in the belly of the beast.” Let’s remind ourselves, too, that no amount of technical expertise makes one a “moral expert.”

The next step is to consider, in order to publicly reject, a U.S. military excursion in Venezuela. Military intervention would imperil non-combatants; it would very likely strengthen the hand of extremist partisans. Nor is true self-defense compatible with deliberate attacks on the innocent. There remains a place for humanitarian intervention, but its intention and goal must be transparent. (For Venezuelans and those who would join them, creative non-violence offers hope. Gene Sharp’s From Dictatorship to Democracy is an excellent resource.)

A fourth point to underscore is that neither we nor the people of Venezuela should let the tired (and manipulated) categories of left and right, socialist and capitalist, box us in. More and more these labels are “thought blockers.” Indeed, Rafael Caldera, twice president of Venezuela, stands out as a pioneer in developing a constructive “third way.”

Both as an intellectual and statesman, Caldera was an advocate of Christian Democracy. With the goal of integral human development, he championed the dignity of the person and the common good, together with the principle of subsidiarity. In 1987 John Paul II invited him to address the College of Cardinals on the 20th anniversary of Paul VI’s social justice encyclical On the Development of Peoples (Populorum Progressio). Political progress, of course, is fragile, as is justice itself. In 1999, at the end of Caldera’s second term as president, Hugo Chavez succeeded him. Then came Nicolás Maduro.

There is a last point. It is one that in our time few acknowledge. No state is sovereign in the unlimited way that every state takes itself to be sovereign. Nor can sovereignty excuse any state from honoring the human rights that solidarity demands. Here we must turn again to the wisdom of Scripture: “Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain” (Psalm 127: 1). It is this same Lord for whom nations, in their arrogance, are “accounted as rust on scales” (Isaiah 40:15).

Let us do what we can, and think as humanly as we can, to help overcome the tragedy in Venezuela. We’ve only just begun.


Jim Hanink is an independent scholar, albeit more independent than scholarly!

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