Venezuela's people have exploded in rage against the socialist tyranny that has turned their country, which is rich in oil reserves, into an economic and social basket case.
It's been less than three weeks since the country's Supreme Court announced it was dissolving and taking over the constitutional powers of its elected legislature, amplifying the power of its would-be dictator.
At least three people have already died in a new wave of political violence, as protesters have been confronted by not only the state security services but also tens of thousands of red-shirt militiamen whom President Nicolas Maduro has armed and plans to deploy in much larger numbers.
The breakdown of the rule of law and the Maduro regime's use of street violence are far more serious problems than this week's decision to seize a General Motors' assembly plant in Carabobo and steal assets inside it. But this latest action should bring home to citizens in this country the gravity of the situation, and the need for Washington to play a decisive diplomatic role in preventing a humanitarian disaster in America's backyard.
Venezuelans have suffered horribly for years already under the rule of Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez. The staples of survival have all but disappeared from their nation's stores. Annual inflation is running at more than 400 percent. Industries and agriculture, many under government control, have nearly ground to a halt. Even sugar production, once abundant and a major source of national wealth, has collapsed to the point that Coca-Cola can no longer produce its signature drink in Venezuela.
The political opposition took supermajority control of the legislature in the 2015 election amid rising discontent with Maduro's rule. Opposition leaders attempted to force a recall election, collecting 10 times the required number of signatures, but Maduro loyalists in the government illegally blocked their efforts on the flimsy pretext that fraud had occurred in the previous election. Maduro has since jailed opposition leaders and revoked their right to travel outside the country. This was all before his loyalists on the Supreme Court attempted last month to strip the legislature of its powers.
How can President Trump intervene constructively, looking out for American interests without giving Maduro a foreign enemy to use for propaganda purposes? Maduro already insists that the mass protests against him are part of an American-led coup effort. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., one of Maduro's sharpest critics in the U.S. government, laid out the correct path in an interview with Fox News host Bret Baier when he called on Trump to ask the Organization of American States to expel Venezuela until it restores democracy.
"That may sound like diplomatic talk," Rubio said, "but it actually is the one thing that Venezuela is most sensitive to. They do not want to be ostracized. They do not want to be isolated in the hemisphere by fellow Latin American countries."
After two decades of socialist rule, despite its abundant natural resources, Venezuela is now entirely dependent on other countries and even smugglers for the goods it needs to keep its people alive. With grocery stores throughout his once-wealthy country barren, Maduro even announced with some apparent pride last month, on an episode of his four-hour Sunday program on state television, that "Comrade Trump" had offered to sell him food from the United States at "a good price."
So Trump has leverage in this relationship, which is something he can surely appreciate. He must now put it to good use. A regime that steals from American companies and encourages street violence against dissidents deserves to be cut off from the community of nations.