We could also conduct flyovers of the Venezuelan capital by American fighter jets, to further increase the psychological pressure—and to convince Maduro not to interfere with the maritime blockade. There would be a certain amount of bluff involved in such an operation, however, and like most U.S. military threats in Syria over the years, its coercive intentions might not succeed.
Yet there is one last possibility to consider that could make sense if things get worse: the creation of a safe zone somewhere in the country’s west, perhaps, or elsewhere in the interior. This approach too would require armed force, but only for defensive purposes near and within the safe haven. This kind of location could be difficult for many Venezuelans to reach and could not possibly suffice for the systematic relief of the suffering of the nation’s population. But it could provide a sanctuary for dissidents, a possible safety valve for some of the deprived population, and potentially a location where a future opposition government could establish some degree of sovereign rule in what could temporarily become a divided country. This last element of the concept makes it highly fraught. But if Venezuela descends toward a state of not just large-scale hunger but widespread starvation, it could be our least bad option.
So let us consider a two-step approach: massive nationwide delivery of humanitarian aid with government assent if possible, and as a last resort, the possible creation of a safe zone inside Venezuela if that does not work and if the suffering of the Venezuelan people increases even further. The task before us could be quite substantial, but the need and the moral imperative are great. We may not be able to watch Venezuela self-destruct much longer.
Marcela Escobari was former assistant administrator for USAID in Latin America during the Obama administration. Michael O’Hanlon is a U.S. defense strategist. Both are senior fellows at the Brookings Institution.