Hopefully, civil war can be avoided

Venezuela is the 10th-biggest oil producer in the world. It may have larger petroleum reserves than any other country. Yet socialism has devastated the nation’s economy to the point that there are shortages of food.

About three million Venezuelans have fled their homeland during the past few years, in part because of the economic implosion but also because of repression by the regime headed by Nicolas Maduro.

Opposition to Maduro is growing, despite violent crackdowns on dissenters. Now, legislator Juan Guaido has declared he is Venezuela’s lawful president. Many agree with him that Maduro should step down.

But the dictator — which is what Maduro has become — says he will stay.

A large coalition of nations, including the United States, is on Guaido’s side. Maduro’s response is straight out of the tinhorn dictator’s playbook: He accuses President Donald Trump and other U.S. leaders of attempting to force out his lawful regime and install a puppet government. Any military intervention against him will result in “a Vietnam worse than can be imagined,” Maduro threatens.

Also familiar from the pages of history is the pro- and anti-Maduro lineup. Both Russia and China support him, while the vast majority of truly free nations do not. Russian leader Vladimir Putin even had a couple of Russian navy ships pay a call to a Venezuelan port to demonstrate his solidarity.

What should the United States do to help the people of Venezuela? We don’t know. But what not to do is very clear: Any form of U.S. military intervention could be a disaster for both Americans and Venezuelans. Maduro has no hesitation in spilling blood, and the fact that many in his army see their futures as linked with his works in his favor.

If there is to be a revolution in Venezuela, it has to be a home-grown uprising. Let us hope such can be accomplished soon — and without a vicious civil war.