-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ — Accusing Democrats of seeking to ruin the United States with "radical socialism and open borders," President Donald Trump promised supporters at a rally last month in Las Vegas that he "won't allow the United States of America to become the next Venezuela." Sound familiar?

Yes, here in Colombia we're used to that kind of talk. Except that we're right next door to Venezuela. The United States isn't anywhere close, which is why hearing Trump harp on it for political purposes sounds so ludicrous. But it's also worrisome. Let's not forget, after all, that Trump earlier said he wouldn't discount the use of military force in Venezuela.

It's one thing to recognize that there's a problem in Venezuela, and agree that it shouldn't be completely ignored, the way former Jose Miguel Insulza did during his years as secretary-general of the Organization of American States (OAS). His successor, Luis Almagro, has been more proactive, and that's a good thing. But military intervention?

Trump said he wouldn't discount the use of military force in Venezuela.

The Lima Group, a multilateral body seeking a peaceful solution to the crisis in Venezuela, opposes it. But Colombia did not sign the group's recent declaration rejecting force. And our new ambassador in Washington, Francisco ("Pacho") Santos, seems to like the idea, which President Iván Duque, fortunately, has neutralized.

There's something macabre about the situation, like drunken youths deciding to play Russian roulette late at night. Don't forget, there's a real bullet in that pistol. Really? A military intervention in Venezuela? It could be a disaster, with Colombia on the front line of it.

Let us consider our tool box in this situation. Duque is right to condemn Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro's dismal regime. And he was right to threaten taking Maduro to the International Court at The Hague. All of that falls within international law.

Duque and Trump at the UN General Assembly on Sept. 25 — Photo: The White House

But Colombia cannot run the risk of making itself the head of a crusade against Maduro. It needs to be careful not to get caught up in some kind of macho-man pissing contest. Yes, let us have a united front against Maduro, but not with Colombia at the forefront, and certainly not as Washington's local sheriff.

Also, we should have a unified position on Venezuela domestically, which means putting and end to all that silly talk about how our last president, Juan Manuel Santos, was a "Castro-Chavista" — an ally of the Bolivarian regime. Colombia's rapprochement with Venezuela was entirely tactical, not ideological. It was clear to the Santos administration that Maduro's predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez, was an unavoidable condition for sitting FARC guerrillas at the negotiating table. And the strategy worked, as the eventual peace deal can attest.

Who would fight this war?

And if there were military action? What might it entail? Some think it could be a neat, surgical little operation like the removal of Panama's Manuel Noriega. But there's not guarantee of that. A lot depends on the Venezuelan military. If there is a reaction, it could start looking like Iraq, and if there are regional repercussions, we might envisage a Vietnam-type quagmire. Who would pay the price if not Colombia?

And who would fight this war? U.S. advisers and local peasants, as always. Or our rank-and-file soldiers, all from humble backgrounds. War is less ugly when viewed from the safe distance of your social club in the capital.

There's also the question what the ELN, the country's other, still-active guerilla army would do. Could this terrorist fifth column become stronger? And who else would be involved in the decision to launch military action? When it comes to using force, the United Nations has a say. Would China and Russia be on board? And what about Maduro's friends in the Arab world?

It's not a stretch, in other words, to say that military intervention in Venezuela risks sowing more seeds for a global confrontation. The best war, needless to say, is the one you do not have to fight.


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