Venezuela Economic Crisis

A customer gets new Venezuelan "sovereign bolivar" bank notes from a ATM in Maracaibo, Venezuela, Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018. The new currency has five fewer zeros in a bid to tame soaring inflation. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

Venezuela’s political crisis is now a refugee crisis. And if the United States is unwilling to open its doors to some of the thousands of Venezuelans who flee their collapsing home country every day, we should at least provide more substantial support to our South American allies being overwhelmed by mass migration.

More than 2 million Venezuelans — about 7 percent of the total population — have already fled the country over the past few years. Most of them settled in Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador and other nearby countries. Thousands with enough money to reach the United States have applied for asylum here.

Venezuelans seeking refuge in the United States face an increasingly anti-immigration stance from President Trump and his administration. But in Latin America, tensions have occasionally spilled over into violence.

Over the weekend, for example, about 1,200 Venezuelans were forced back over the Brazilian border by mobs in the northern town of Pacaraima. The small town of 12,000 residents has been flooded by hundreds of Venezuelans per day in recent months.

Isolated incidents of anti-immigrant violence have also been reported in Colombia, Peru and Ecuador. And the situation is likely to get worse in the near future.

This week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro officially released new bank notes, lopping five zeroes off of the severely devalued bolivar in order to fight back against inflation that some experts predict will hit 1 million percent by the end of the year.

It took stacks of thousands of the old bills to buy a cup of coffee or a can of tuna, rendering the money effectively useless.

He also raised the minimum wage by 3,000 percent, which could devastate business owners and further exacerbate inflation. Imagine if the lowest-paid workers in the United States started earning more than $200 per hour.

And Venezuela’s new “sovereign” bolivar will be pegged to a nebulous crypto currency called the “petro,” which is supposedly based on the value of a barrel of oil, although government officials haven’t offered many specifics about how it will actually work.

Mr. Maduro proudly exclaimed that his new monetary policy was created “without experts.” It shows.

But as troubling as it is to watch a once wealthy nation approach a total collapse, the United States should be wary of direct intervention.

Mr. Maduro has benefited politically, for instance, from a recent assassination attempt using a commercial drone packed with explosives. The attack offered an excuse to further crack down on the president’s opposition, which had already been effectively stripped of all political clout over the past few years.

Substantial U.S. intervention would further strengthen Mr. Maduro’s hand by lending credence to his preposterous claim that the economic crash is simply the result of an economic war waged by foreign antagonists.

Instead, the United States should dramatically step up aid and support to our South American allies to help them accommodate millions of Venezuelan refugees and avoid regional destabilization. Mr. Trump should also consider an emergency asylum program here in the United States to speed application processing, which can take years to complete.

Venezuela’s crisis was once a clash between political ideologies and a struggle to protect a fragile democracy and the rule of law. Now it is a fight for daily survival. We cannot simply look the other way.