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Out of Good Options for Venezuela

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Last week at a conference in Miami, the director for Western Hemisphere affairs at the National Security Council, Juan Cruz, took aim at the regime of President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela.

Mr. Cruz cited part of the Venezuelan Constitution, drafted under Mr. Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chávez, that says the people “shall disown any regime, legislation or authority that violates the values, principles and democratic guarantees or encroaches upon human rights.” He was directing his comments at the Venezuelan military, imploring its members to honor their commitment to the Constitution.

As when Rex Tillerson made similar statements in February as secretary of state, Mr. Cruz’s critics said that it was unwise for Washington to encourage a coup d’état.

But Mr. Cruz is merely facing facts. Mr. Maduro holds his power through the systematic violation of human rights and constitutional order, which has brought on an economic and social collapse and a refugee crisis that is affecting the whole continent. A regime steeped in corruption and narcotrafficking, whose violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in 2014 and 2017 left 200 dead and thousands injured, will never cede power voluntarily.

Rather than fear a coup, the international community should encourage all Venezuelans — including soldiers — to restore democracy.

The status quo is unacceptable. Starting in 1999, Mr. Chávez and Mr. Maduro co-opted and destroyed the independent legislature and courts; looted oil revenue and the national treasury; caused the collapse of the petroleum sector; wrecked the private economy; choked off the supply of food and medicines; and induced the exodus of 10 percent of the nation’s population.

Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly, the Organization of American States and the Group of Lima, made up of 14 regional governments, have condemned this appalling record.

President Trump has denounced Mr. Maduro and urged his counterparts in the region to take more concrete measures to press for change. But the United States cannot lead from behind when it comes to confronting the Venezuelan cabal that is managed by Cuba, bankrolled by China, armed by Russia, and exploited by Iran, Hezbollah and Colombian narco-terrorists. If the United States regards Mr. Maduro’s government as an illegitimate, criminal regime that threatens regional stability it should act accordingly.

While the Treasury Department has applied targeted sanctions against Mr. Maduro, Vice President Tareck El Aissami, and dozens of other senior officials implicated in human rights abuses and corruption, sanctions are no substitute for proactive engagement.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo should empower


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