The Obama administration wants to make Venezuela the new Cuba.
In December, shortly after President Obama announced that he wanted to reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba, he ironically declared his intention to impose sanctions on Venezuelan officials. Then, in March, he signed an executive order stating that Venezuela constituted an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”
First, the facts. Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, is approximately 1,370 miles from Miami. The Venezuelan government does not possess any long-range missile systems and it has threatened neither the United States nor any other countries in the region.
So, what’s behind the sanctions? The penalties target military, security, and justice officials who the United States claims were involved in cracking down on anti-government demonstrators last February and March. However, these were not peaceful or even pro-democracy protesters. Groups burned building and schools, blocked highways, and even strung wire across roads, leading to several deaths. In the end, forty-three people from both political sides were killed during the agitation. A year later, the Obama administration imposed sanctions.
Interestingly, when faced with the disappearance of forty-three students by government forces in the state of Guerrero, Mexico, the Obama administration has largely remained silent. Obama even welcomed Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to the White House in January, providing political cover to an embattled leader.
The sanctions seem to have backfired. The government of Venezuela energetically condemned the measures and protests have taken place throughout the country. The Venezuelan opposition, which has openly lobbied for U.S. support, finds itself afraid of being seen as taking orders from Washington. One anti-government figure has publicly stated that the United States is doing the opposition no favors.
In Latin America, whose leaders are convening at a hemispheric summit in Panama this week, the United States finds itself alone once again. The 2012 Summit of the Americas proved a disaster for Obama due to his administration’s policy toward Cuba and its “war on drugs.”
The stage seems to be set for a repeat. Every regional body that does not include the United States, including the Union of South America (UNASUR) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), has condemned the sanctions. The Group of 77, an association of developing countries in the United Nations, has also denounced the measures. Washington sought to isolate Venezuela in Latin America, and it failed.
If normalizing relations with Cuba was intended to decrease U.S. unpopularity in Latin America and the rest of the world, the sanctions have tarnished that effort. Latin American countries have made clear that they will not support Washington’s efforts to make Venezuela the new Cuba.
Miguel Tinker Salas is a professor of history and Latin American studies at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., and the author and editor of a number of books on Latin America, including the just-published Venezuela: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press). He can be reached at email@example.com.