In one of the great New Orleans Funk songs, Dr. John sang that he “…said the right thing but… must have used the wrong line.” This lyric encapsulates the Trump administration’s challenges in articulating and implementing its foreign policy regarding the ongoing political and economic crisis in Venezuela. Although some of the administration’s initial actions were a clear step in the right direction, the subsequent rollout and the messaging surrounding its implementation risk alienating potential allies. International, regional, and domestic allies will be necessary to carry out policy objectives of the administration and promote the return of democratic governance in Venezuela.
The Trump administration’s policy towards Venezuela tends to take one step forward, but two back. On one hand, the Trump administration was right to quickly recognize Juan Guaido as interim president of Venezuela. As other countries voiced their support of Guaido, the Trump administration amped up pressure on the Maduro regime by placing targeted sanctions on particularly corrupt and criminal regime officials. The administration is also expanding aid to Venezuela. However, in order to increase pressure on the Maduro regime, the Trump administration must garner support from the international community, specifically from within the Western Hemisphere, and from across the aisle. The Trump administration’s approach and rhetoric towards Venezuela stifles potential gains and risks estranging the very allies that the administration needs to pursue its policy. While they speak on the need for humanitarian assistance in Venezuela, much of the Trump administration’s rhetoric smacks of domestic political opportunism and historical errors rather than supporting a coalition that can create meaningful change in Venezuela.
At a February rally at Florida International University, Trump’s 2020 campaign was in full swing, from John Bolton discussing the “Troika of Tyranny” to Trump’s claims that the United States will never be a socialist country. If the administration can manage to divert its attention from the 2020 election, the United States will be in a better position to help Venezuelan citizens. While many of the actions taken by the administration receive bipartisan as well as regional and international support, President Trump and his coterie need to pay closer attention to the rhetoric and optics of their actions as they may lose the allies necessary to address the ongoing democratic crisis in Venezuela.
Although much of the international community was quick to recognize interim President Guaido, the Trump administration has not done enough to seek international support for addressing the crisis. Even though many European and Latin American states are calling for Maduro to step down, there has been little consensus among these states on how this should look. And while the Trump administration has threatened military action, the European Union and Latin American states are taking a substantially more cautious role and are calling for new elections in the country. Not finding a common voice among these nations creates room for the Maduro administration to operate and less international pressure than may otherwise be realized.
Additionally, the single most non-regional actor in Venezuela is going to be China. For the past decade, Beijing financed the Venezuelan government. China provided over $60 billion in loans to Venezuela between 2007 and 2016, of which Venezuela still owes nearly $20 billion. However, rather than seeking to develop a better working relationship with China and jointly pressuring for change in Venezuela, the Trump administration continues to bash the Chinese government over several issues. If the United States wants Maduro to step down peacefully, it will require the support of China in pressuring the administration and finding exit options. If the Trump administration continues to refuse to work with China on the issue however, the Maduro regime is likely to continue receiving funding and being able to retain the support of key domestic supporters despite mounting domestic and international pressure.
The administration’s unwillingness to work with China in the region relates to its continued invocation of the Monroe Doctrine, a policy initially outlined in 1823 that sought to limit the influence of extra-Hemispheric powers in the Americas. This approach and the invocation of the Monroe Doctrine risks losing the support of regional allies. The Monroe Doctrine was frequently used to justify U.S. intervention in Latin America and the Caribbean, making it a much-despised policy in many parts of the region. Despite this, multiple members of the Trump administration have made direct reference to the Monroe Doctrine in public statements about the administration’s policy towards Latin America. Given Maduro’s claims about U.S. Imperialism, the administration’s mentions of the Monroe Doctrine and threats of invasion bolster the regime, as well as alienates potential allies in the region. The administration’s appointment of Elliot Abrams further exacerbates this perception. Whether fair or not, Abrams’s reputation in the Americas is problematic given the role that he played in destabilizing the region during the Cold War. Abrams’ appointment is a statement towards the isolationist role the United States is currently taking.
Furthermore, recent comments from Miami Republicans, notably Marco Rubio, contradicts this goal. Rubio tweeted a side-by-side picture of notorious Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, before and after his death. He also tweeted out similar images of other dictators removed from power by the United States. Venezuelan Foreign Minister, Jorge Arreaza, used this as an example in front of United Nations Security Council as example of U.S. interventionism and of U.S. plans to intervene in his nation. Therefore, the United States should allow the Organization of American States and other nations in the region to take the lead in addressing the crisis in Venezuela and provide support to these efforts where it is appropriate. The United States needs to dial back on claims of being the region’s hero and find ways to work with others, such as Mexico who is acutely cognizant of U.S. interventionism. This will lend legitimacy to the actions taken by regional organizations and not smack of imperialism, as Maduro claims.
It is far easier for a U.S. President to successfully implement his foreign policy when he has bipartisan and Congressional support. However, despite the fact that prominent Democrats have voiced their support for Juan Guaido and Trump administration’s decision to act in Venezuela, Trump has sought to use the crisis for domestic political gain. He is tying the problems in Venezuela purely to “socialism” in much the same way that he ties the Democrats to “socialism” domestically. Furthermore, Trump’s claim to care for human rights and rule of law in Venezuela diverges from his position on human rights in other countries. This leads some pundits to question whether the Democrats should view Trump’s Venezuela policy through a purely domestic political lens. In fact, neither Donna Shalala, a staunch supporter for Venezuelan exiles, nor any of South Florida’s other Democrats were in attendance despite being in Miami at the time. This should not be the case and the United States should seek to speak for human rights around the world. Trump’s desire for domestic political gains and using the crisis to gain political points domestically risks undermining the administration’s policy and ensuring the longevity of the Maduro regime.
Written on the screen above Trump during a Miami rally in February, the words “Estamos con el pueblo Venezolano en su noble busqueda de libertad” were written, but chants of “USA” and “Trump” rang through the crowds. This visual highlights precisely what is wrong with Trump’s approach in Venezuela: despite claims that the administration is with the people of Venezuela, Trump’s rhetoric around the crisis highlight his own domestic political desires. These messages and optics of the rollout of the administration’s Venezuela policy risk alienating those domestic and international audiences that the administration needs to court in order to support the people of Venezuela in their quest for liberty.
About the authors: Adam Ratzlaff is a Ph.D. student in International Relations at Florida International University (FIU) and Staff Writer for the Young Professionals in Foreign Policy’s Charged Affairs. Prior to coming to FIU, he conducted research on Latin American public and foreign policy for a number of groups including the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. He holds an MA from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies. Wazim Mowla is a graduate student in History at Florida International University. His research interests include Guyanese public and foreign policy, U.S. relations with Latin America and the Caribbean, addressing immigration crises, and identity politics.
Photo caption: President Donald Trump holds a rally on Venezuela at Florida International University. Photo Credit: Wazim Mowla
But it’s difficult to think about value when we have no buoy for understanding it outside our traditional lenses: for example, our time, our job, and what others tell us they are worth in cash. This, largely, is the world’s paradigm for value so far. But understanding what value really means changes everything—and will be at the center of the decentralized revolution in global coordination that will unfold over the next decade. So, where do we begin?
Let’s start with gold.
Gold is an inherent value. When backing a market, gold allows us to grow a balanced economy well into the trillions. But why does it allow for massive stable markets to form around it? It is gold's permanence that creates stability. We understand that gold will always have value, because it is inherent in all of us, not just in one part of the world, but everywhere, not just today, but tomorrow and for the long haul.
In the 1930s when the gold standard was removed, we learned that the U.S. dollar didn’t need gold to back its economy to flourish. We learned that it was just a symbol for U.S. citizens to decentralize their coordination around the United States economy.
It turns out, common agreement is a philosophy for building shared economy.
And so it seems inherent value is a marker for us to begin exploring what the future could look like—a future beyond gold and the existing realm of credit. And so what else has inherent value? Is education as valuable as gold? What about healthcare? What about a vote that can’t be tampered with? What about an ID that can’t be stolen or erased? What about access to nutrition or clean water? You will find value everywhere you look.
It turns out, we’ve already done the legwork necessary to uncover the most elemental inherent values: The Sustainable Development Goals are commitments grown out of the drive to bring to life basic tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the closest possible social contract we have to a global, common agreement.
We’ve already agreed.
Our agreements are grounded in deep value centers that are globally shared, but undervalued and unfulfilled. The reason for this is our inability to quantify intangible value. All of these rich, inherent values are still nebulous and fragmented in implementation—largely existing as ideals and blueprints for deep, globally shared common agreement. That is, we all agree education, health, and equality have value, but we lack common units for understanding who and who is not contributing value—leaving us to fumble in our own, uncoordinated siloes as we chase the phantoms of impact. In essence, we lack common currencies for our common agreements.
Now we find ourselves at the nexus of the real paradigm of Blockchain, allowing us to fuse economics with inherent value by proving the participation of some great human effort, then quantifying the impact of that effort in unforgeable and decentralized ledgers. It allows us to build economic models for tomorrow, that create wholly new markets and economies for and around each of the richest of human endeavors.
In late 2017 at the height of the Bitcoin bubble, without individual coordination, planning, or the help of institutions, almost $1 trillion was infused into blockchain markets. This is remarkable, and the revolution has only just begun. When you realize that Blockchain is in a similar stage of development as the internet pre-AOL, you will see a glimpse of the global transformation to come.
Only twice in the information age have we had such a paradigm shift in global infrastructure reform—the computer and the internet. While the computer taught us how to store and process data, the Internet built off that ability and furthered the conversation by teaching us how to transfer that information. Blockchain takes another massive step forward—it builds off the internet, adding to the story of information storage and transfer—but, it teaches us a new, priceless and not yet understood skill: how to transfer value.
This third wave kicked off with a rough start—as happens with the birth of new technologies and their corresponding liberties. Blockchain has, thus far, been totally unregulated. Many, doubtless, have taken advantage. A young child, stretching their arms for the first couple times might knock over a cookie jar or two. Eventually, however, they learn to use their faculties—for evil or for good. As such, while it’s wise to be skeptical at this phase in blockchain’s evolution, it’s important not to be blind to its remarkable implications in a post-regulated world, so that we may wield its faculties like a surgeon’s scalpel—not for evil or snake-oil sales, but for the creation of more good, for the flourishing of commonwealth.
But what of the volatility in blockchain markets? People agree Bitcoin has value, but they don’t understand why they are in agreement, and so cryptomarkets fluctuate violently. Stable blockchain economies will require new symbolic gold standards that clearly articulate why someone would agree to support each market, to anchor common agreement with stability. The more globally shared these new value standards, the better.
Is education more valuable than gold? What about healthcare or nutrition or clean water?
We set out in 2018 to prove a hypothesis—we believe that if you back a cryptocurrency economy with a globally agreed upon inherent value like education, you can solve for volatility and stabilize a mature long lasting cryptomarket that awards everyone who adds value to that market in a decentralized way without the friction of individual partnerships.
What if education was a new gold standard?
And what if this new Learning Economy had protocols to award everyone who is helping to steward the growth of global education?
Education is a mountain. Everyone takes a different path to the top. Blockchain allows us to measure all of those unique learning pathways, online and in classrooms, into immutable blockchain Learning Ledgers.
By quantifying the true value of education, a whole economy can be built around it to pay students to learn, educators to create substantive courses, and stewards to help the Learning Economy grow. It was designed to provide a decentralized way for everyone adding value to global education to coordinate around the commonwealth without the friction of individual partnerships. Imagine the same for healthcare, nutrition, and our environment?
Imagine a world where we can pay refugees to learn languages as they find themselves in foreign lands, a world where we can pay those laid off by the tide of automation to retrain themselves for the new economy, a world where we can pay the next generation to prepare themselves for the unsolved problems of tomorrow.
Imagine new commonwealth economies that alleviate the global burdens of poverty, disease, hunger, inequality, ignorance, toxic water, and joblessness. Commonwealths that orbit inherent values, upheld by immutable blockchain protocols that reward anyone in the ecosystem stewarding the economy—whether that means feeding the hungry, providing aid for the global poor, delivering mosquito nets in malaria-ridden areas, or developing transformative technologies that can provide a Harvard-class education to anyone in the world willing to learn.
These worlds are not out of reach—we are only now opening our eyes to the horizons of blockchain, decentralized coordination, and new gold standards. Even though coordination is the last of the seventeen sustainable development goals, when solved, its tide will lift for the rest—a much-needed rocket fuel for global prosperity.
“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair.” —George Washington