The myth of Washington’s lost influence in the Americas

Immigrants_998807cAfter last week’s vote in the OAS, where the United States lost to Venezuela in a vote to let Maria Corina Machado speak, the consensus in Venezuela has been that years of cheap oil to Caribbean countries has paid off nicely for the Chávez government.

The other consensus is that, if it ever comes into power, one of the first things the opposition would do is end the subsidies to Caribbean countries, starting with Cuba. Between this and the Esequibo becoming a non-issue, the Caribbean sealed an eternal enmity with the opposition last week.

The conventional wisdom would then be that Washington wants chavismo out, the Caribbean has no choice but to support it, and Washington has lost all influence in the region while Maduro, of all people, holds the chips.

But what if that conventional wisdom is wrong? What if Washington actually thinks Maduro … is the lesser of two evils?

As the economic crisis in Venezuela heats up, I’ve been reading more and more about the collapse of Cuba and the threat it poses to the US. This Politico story brought the issue home nicely. As I was reading it, it suddenly hit me: if the opposition were to unseat Maduro and cut off subsidies to the Caribbean, it would be a huge problem for the US.

Sure, Marco Rubio blasts Maduro on the Senate floor, Bob Menendez passes strongly-worded resolutions, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen basically wants Maduro’s head on a platter. But these aren’t the folks actually running foreign policy. They are legislators with very particular constituencies.

What if we’ve got it all wrong? What if Washington is just bluffing, and the votes at the OAS are coming out … exactly the way they want them to come out? What if Washington wants Maduro to stay in power while appearing to really want him not to?

I honestly doubt that Venezuela has now become more influential in the Caribbean than Washington has. Something doesn’t fit with that story, which may just mean … we’ve had it wrong all these years.

95 thoughts on “The myth of Washington’s lost influence in the Americas

  1. I don’t quite think that’s the issue here. Maybe the Obama administration is concerned much more about other things than the international stage, and the Russia-Crimea situation basically steals the the spotlight of the situation abroad. As you implied, the efforts made by those congressmen are not enough. Sure, Bill Nelson (D-FL) also co-sponsored Menendez’s bill, together with Mark Kirk (R-IL); yet it seems every other congressman doesn’t really care about the issue. And why is that? There are many answers: from the mid-terms election this year (in which Democrats expect heavy losses), the Russian Government, to the Obamacare factor that’s linked with the president’s national policies. Even traditional hawks like the John McCain (R-AZ) are mum about this issue and much more concerned of Putin than of Maduro. Just my guess.

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  2. Sorry Juan. Sounds too much like a conspiracy theory more suitable to a republican government. I think the US wants a healthy relationship with Venezuela and it won’t happen with Raul Castro at the helm. You guys give Maduro too much credit.

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  3. I applaud your willingness to consider alternative points of view, but I read the Politico piece yesterday and came away unimpressed.

    How big of problem will a Cuban collapse be to the US? The population of Cuba is equivalent to the all the illegal immigrants in the US, and they will not all go to Florida if Venezuela stops subsidizing Cuba.

    Puerto Rico is an even bigger problem and the US will have to pay for it.

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    • Curious: why is Puerto Rico a problem? From everything I hear and read, including a Puerto Rican coworker, the big controversy in Puerto Rico is: do we want to be a regular state in the USA, or continue with our current status?

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      • Nuts and bolts of it is that Puerto Rico has about the same financial management strategies as Venezuela. Which, nominally, would be okay if they had oil. They have, as I recall, effectively been in a recession for the last 8 years. The debate may continue about statehood, but, financially, I don’t think they could afford it because they’d be subject to the federal taxation regime and they are already up to their eyes in debt with ongoing negative cash flows. As it is now as a territory, they get all the benefits with few of the costs, of belonging to the U.S.

        The really bad part (externally, at least) is something like 77% of muni bond funds are holders of the $70+ billion in municipal debt issued by Puerto Rico. The territory of Puerto Rico cannot file bankruptcy, but the cities can, which would have a pretty gnarly effect on investors (most of whom are older, retired, and looking for tax free income).

        A Boricua friend once described PR as constantly going back and forth trying to decide whether to be the richest of the poor (in LatAm) or the poorest of the rich (as part of the U.S.).

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        • Oh gosh, no, Pitiyanqui. I’ve had to go over this for professional reasons — i.e., I was paid. Statehood would be probably be slightly good for Puerto Rico’s balance of payments although not by much. For the same reasons it would be a slight drain on the U.S. treasury, although not by much. And it might go the other way.

          The problem with statehood is that it would not be good for rich Puerto Ricans, who would have federal income taxes piled on top of their current Commonwealth taxes. It would be great for poor Puerto Ricans, who would collect the EITC and get out from the current work disincentives built into the tax systems. It would also be good for non-Puerto Rican investors on the islands.

          The debt issue is complex. Short version: finances fell apart because of the long recession and anybody who tells you that they can pinpoint the cause is bullshitting. Longer version: Puerto Rico probably won’t default because the economy can withstand even extreme austerity (especially with backdoor federal help) but the result will still be ugly.

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  4. I think the whole “we are concern about democracy and the Venezuelans” is BS. If that was the case they are many other counties in the world with a similar of worst situation that Venezuela and the US haven’t done anything.
    I think they are just using the axiom “Hay dos tipos de peos: tus peos y mis peos. Venezuela y sus habiatantes no es mi peo”.
    As soon as Venezuela stops sending oil or really interfering with the US somewhere else they will intervene.

    Ademas, este peo es nuestro y nosotros tenemos que resolverlo. No podemos esperar siempre que otros resulevan nuestras cagadas

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  5. I think otherwise.

    First of all: the “national interests” of a country such as the US don’t shift as quickly as some might think. They are the average of a lot of elements within the current government but also a lot of different agencies and private organisations. And although there are always many views and variations of those views, I think the prevailing, average view has been: don’t bother them as long as they give us the oil we still need.

    In fact: a Venezuela in shambles prevents any long term cooperation between Spanish Latin American countries. Not only is that great for Brazil but it is not bad for the US either.

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    • U.S. policy around the world is generally to support instability. Outcomes don’t matter, as long as nobody gets too big and they don’t stop buying US products (which nowadays mostly means guns).

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      • Come on, Setty, you are exagerating. The US exports much more than weapons (even if it is clearly the main weapons exporter):

        But evidently, a Spanish America with much more cooperation, real integration and sense of community trying to act as a block for commercial negotiations and scientific-economic cooperation would not be very good for the US or the EU or even messy Brazil to compete in the region and with the region.

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        • Facts say otherwise. Look at the Pacific Alliance conducting free trade agreements with the EU and US, making Americans and Europeans happier than ever. But yes, it’s clear that Brazil wants a South American integration leaded by Brazil, a united Spanish America with a cold attitude towards Brazil is the worst possible scenario for Brasília.

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      • Could argue your point further to say that USA would much rather be the weapons supplier to Venezuela than Russia as is the current arrangement. That requires a “healthy” relationship.

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        • Why fight over a small pie when it’s so much fun to make the pie bigger? Think of how many more guns you can sell to Colombia, Panama, Aruba, Guyana, Brazil and Trinidad & Tobago if they feel threatened by Venezuela!

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  6. Expressing it another way: is Putin good or bad for Lockheed-Martin and Booz Allen Hamilton? I think he is very good.

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  7. Yes, it is contradictory the stance and foreign policy of the U.S. towards the Americas in general, but there isn’t anything new in such. To add up to your “conspiracy theory” how about if the US simply doesn’t care about Maduro, Castro, Venezuelans or anything that is happening in this country? It’s difficult to swallow the idea that the U.S doesn’t care at all of the flagrant abuses of “supported and proved” Human Right’s violations, the deaths over 34 people in the last 30 days, over 1800 protesters illegaly detained; the rampant criminality who is taking control of the streets, under the protection and even sponsoring of the government, the massive persecution of the opposition leaders, some of them already jailed, the alarming inherence of cuban authorities in Venezuela’s political and economic oppression, having Venezuela one of the highest murder rates in our Globe, 50 x 100’000; and the worst, the “unarmed” Venezuelan citizen are simply been violently oppressed and killed by their own government. Venezuela is becoming an inception of a new Cuba, a new N.Korea before the nose of their “quite” neighbors, with the exception of Panama. So how come the U.S. is simply blindsided or playing the “fool” and allowing that such atrocities happen in that strategic country located 3 hours flying time away? International Human Rights NGO have loudly spoken about these aberrations and abuses…So, it might me that Washington is ONLY interested that Venezuela is seating above 290 billion of proven reserve of crude oil and 297.6 Trillion Cubic Feet of natural Gas; and the best of all, these reserves are in a “vault” safely kept way under ground. Hence, as long as these reserves are intact, so the Americans can come later on, on a “timely” and strategic base to these lands and “rescue” what is left of the country (mainly under ground)? regardless of what is presently happening to their citizens….To make things worst, the oppression of the government towards their people has been financed by petrodollars that are directly financing the procurement of weapons, ammunitions, tear gas, tanks, planes, civil disorder/ military equipment been used against the civil society bluntly! The U.S is actually buying close to US$ 30 billion worth of crude to this totalitarian regime, besides allowing CITGO Oil, a Venezuelan 100% owned U.S company retailing gasoline products throughout 14,000 gas stations, to freely sell gasoline within the U.S., generating to this Venezuelan company another whooping US$ 35 billion dollars a year. How come the U.S is allowing that Venezuela government to import “freely” over $4 billion worth of weapons “mainly” from Russia? Therefore, the U.S. is contributing to these imports by simply no imposing any kind of sanctions to this regime…There is a old phrase that says: Democracy (noun) “The freedom to elect our own dictators”…and this exactly what is going on in such country…What an oxymoron; what a contradiction…simply strategy? simply diplomacy/ or simply IRRESPONSIBILITY? You be the judge…

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    • Obama ‘ s whole purpose is non-intervention and Democrats in the U.S. favor leftist rulers south of our borders. There is no possibility that Obama will do anything overt or covert to unseat Maduro.

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    • Because that not how International Relations work, yes Human rights are a good argument against all the problem in the world but national interest come first (well, at least for countries who like it) so, please, tell us what would be US national interest on venezuela, because, from a policy-maker perspective, i don’t see what could interest US government on venezuela (Oil? nah, Shale+pemex new strategy+ canadian oil are further important than venezuela)

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        • Hahaha yeah right, Narcostate, a real narco-state is our neighbour Co-operative Republic of Guyana with his President, his son and the opposition leader all three acused of Drug smuggling. Surprise, USA got normal relations with them

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  8. Obviously, the US would not like a Cuban collapse which results in a vast refugee outflow to its shores, nor would it like to see a collapse-related export of Cuba’s entire military arsenal to, say, Colombia or Honduras. But you can be sure any President would like his (or her) resume to include the return of Cuba to freedom, or at least, “freedom”.

    There would be lots of business opportunities in a free Cuba, and lots of Americans want to start as soon as they can. So the US wants the Castros out, but a soft landing.

    You are right that those Florida politicians are preaching to the choir, and have little weight in foreign policy circles. Best not to listen to them too closely.

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    • but do keep an eye out for Marco Rubio who’s going after ‘chavistas en el imperio’ working off Casto Ocando’s book. They are also looking at the legal framework recently used against Russia.

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  9. I read that the US is avoiding meddling in Venezuela to not anger Brazil (too much to lose, i.e.: Brazil is the fourth largest market for Coca-Cola in the world, Brazil is the second largest market for Microsoft’s cloud computing in the world etc etc), you don’t want to alienate a partner like that. So the US is pretty much letting Brazil lead, just like a mother lets his 6-year-old hides his bike by himself while she’s 10 cm away ready to “assume control” of the situation if he falls.

    Biden talked to Rousseff in Chile, and after that Rousseff avoided taking part in a ceremony praising Maduro. http://uk.reuters.com/article/2014/03/28/uk-brazil-venezuela-idUKBREA2R0ZJ20140328

    Biden will meet Rousseff during the WC, probably to talk about Venezuela. http://uk.reuters.com/article/2014/03/28/uk-brazil-usa-biden-idUKBREA2R1PE20140328

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    • So I believe that since the guys running US foreign policy think that Brazil is priority 0 in the region (solely because of the size of the economy), and Venezuela is priority 5 (they will keep buying the oil with Maduro or without Maduro), the US will let Brazil decide what is right or wrong about Venezuela. If Brazil says that Maduro must resign, then the US will also say that Maduro must resign. If not, then not.

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  10. Post totally not relevant to what is critical for the opposition right now.

    Speculating on US motivations is just that , speculation.

    Common sense tells me there are bound to be mixed motives and feelings….just like for most other countries.

    As for the comment ” Don’t bother me, as long as I get oil” hahaha….

    If that were true the US would have voted ‘private’ in the OAS.
    If the US had voted in favor of the Chavista government it would further guarantee its stable supply OF oil…doing otherwise only causes more instability.

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    • “If that were true the US would have voted ‘private’ in the OAS.”
      You really try to deduce things from where you cannot deduce. Logic does not work like that.
      It didn’t need to vote for the status quo as that was assured. It didn’t have to pay the political cost.

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      • Kepler…we didn’t have to vote…why vote for MCM and put the stability guaranteed by the Cubans at risk by encouraging the opposition? If a secure supply is its goal then it doesn’t make sense to encourage the opposition to destabilize the country further by voting or MCM. Why encourage the opposition in anyway? The US should then throw its full support behind the government of Venezuela.

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      • Why have the US diplomats been complaining about human rights violations in Venezuela then? Why have they been risking the oil supply like that? There’s was no “political cost” in the table because Americans can’t even point out South America in a world map. The truth is that the US is not concerned with Venezuelan oil for two reasons: 1 – The US knows that Maduro desperately needs the oil revenue to suvive politcally, so the barrels will keep going to the US no matter what, 2 – In the very improbable scenario of Venezuela stopping selling oil to the US, the US can meet the demand by increasing orders from countries like Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

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        • I wish I could argue against all the american stereotypes about us not being able to point out Venezuela on a map. But it’s so true. My company had me leave Caracas once it became clear that things were not going to get better any time soon. Since being back home it’s so depressing how many people really have absolutely no idea about what is going on, let alone the geography. But I swear we’re not all that way! Heh.

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          • Melanie, I’ve been to the US many times, so I say this based on empirical experience… The people just don’t have a clue about the rest of the world, and this is not “good” or “bad”, it’s just a peculiar trait that Americans have. They tend to be self-centered (in a good way, of course, because they are concerned about the US), travel very little abroad, be monoglots, and you indeed won’t be concerned about what you don’t know/can’t understand. On the other hand, Europeans and even South-Americans feel a larger desire to discover new cultures and to travel to new countries.

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            • Pushing Democracy is an extremely important aspect of US foreign policy. Of course it is done for selfish motives, but so what, since living free cannot be beat,

              And Obama has proved it so many times that it is rediculous for it to be questioned here: in Egypt his speech that helped usher in the Arab Spring, moral support for the Iranian protesters(any more than that would have resulted in failure and would have been castastrophic for the protesters), his sactions on Iran that over time worked work, his strategy in Libya though many thought it was doomed to failure ended Dictator Quaddafi’s regime (friend of Maduro), his Syrian policy that resulted in eliminating most of the chemical weapons of another friend of Maduro’s, Obama’s patience in not becoming more involved in that country’s civil war unless or until a winning opening develops, and Joe Biden’s excellent moves that forced Maduro to not attend Bachelet’s inauguration.

              To another point, it is incorrect to say that the US doesn’t see whats happening in Venezuela. The Gringos are committed throughout SA, in so many different activites, that it would be hard for them to not be aware of what’s happening here. But this awareness could, with bad analysis, doom the truth. Even Venezuelans have differing interpretations of what’s happening. But, since Venezuela presently is a question of democracy vs. dictatorship there is absolutely only one way for the United States to go.

              Finally it is in the self interest of the United States for Chavism to die. For if it spread to Peru, my second home, I would be pissed, and so would Gringoland. Let’s not ignore the value of Peru. It has minerals-alot. Great people, but most important, the best food in the world.

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  11. I think many of you misunderstand Obama on domestic and foreign policy. He is a much shrewder politician than people give him credit. Here’s what he’s done on domestic policy: He lets the opposition have all of the bluster to the point that they lose credibility and he then comes in sounding reasonable and sane. He’s done this with budgeting and domestic policy in a big way to the point that the opposition was really hurt by their aggressive stands (Ted Cruz anyone?). I think he’s doing the same thing with Putin (he may look good at home, but on the world stage he comes off like a Bond villain) and with Maduro. As we all know, the more Maduro speaks, the sillier he looks (talking birds, sleeping in a tomb, Sos Venezuela, chuckies, etc.). Plus, the more he violates human rights, the more he loses politically in the region and the world. Everyone in their right mind understands that jailing Lopez and taking away the seat of an elected official is a clear violation of human rights and international convention. Venezuela smells right now and no one in power anywhere in the world save Havana and Iran want to be near the stink. They’ll buy the oil and take the money but run for the shadows to avoid association with the government of Venezuela. I think Obama’s got a hands off policy on Venezuela right now to let Maduro hang himself with Latin American and other world leaders. The more Maduro and crew act out and show the world the true colors of the leaders in Havana and Caracas, the more people will flee the sinking ship before they get brought down with it.

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  12. I don’t know. This nutbar/criminal regime that the USA is reliant on for oil has its finger on the self-destruct button, and what could come next could be much worse in terms of a reliable source of oil (i.e. protracted total chaos). What do you do with that?

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  13. The worse the coming shit show becomes, the cheaper big oil will eventually acquire leases and exploitation rights….’nough said.

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  14. I’ll say this: back in 2004-2008, there were good strategic reasons for Washington to want to see the end of chavismo. In a tight oil market, Venezuela was failing badly to add new barrels to global supply. And Chavez was, at times, popular enough that it didn’t seem entirely impossible to think you could get a kind of domino effect, with the whole of the region congealing into a hard-left block and setting off a kind of North-South civil war. If just a few votes had gone the other way in Mexico and AMLO had won, or if chavismo had managed to empower the hard left in Brazil (or, especially, both), imagine the strategic headache Venezuela would’ve been at the heart of.

    Today, neither of the main reasons for Venezuela’s strategic salience hold. Albertan and, especially, North Dakotan oil are threatening to make the Faja a strategic afterthought: soon the bottleneck in the U.S. will be in refining capacity for all that oil, not in crude supply. And chavismo’s hemispheric dream is a distant memory: nobody seriously envisions copying the economic model of a country that can’t even keep Toilet Paper on store shelves.

    Washington might still broadly prefer, for ideological reasons, to see a different kind of government in Caracas. But it’s on top of nobody’s list of priorities, save one GOP presidenciable trying to add some anti-commie lustre to his resumé ahead of the 2016 primaries…

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      • Rubio is full of shit. He whines about “human rights” while working in the US Senate, which continues to fund Guantanamo and drone strikes. If he wanted to do anything about Venezuela he wouldn’t limit himself to cutting off visas for a few bigwigs. He would call for an end to US purchases of Venezuelan crude. That would actually affect Maduro’s ability to govern. But Rubio has specifically taken that off the table. I assumed it was because it would affect US drivers, but your theory is also plausible — that it’s because he doesn’t actually want Maduro to fall.

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        • Setty:
          1. You assume way too much. Bad habit for the journalist that you are.
          2. My comment was partly in jest, and never hinged on Rubio not wanting Maduro to fall, in spite of your having transferred that theory to me, if that theory were even plausible: that one US senator could stay the dictatorship in Venezuela for mercantilist reasons.
          3. You appear to have no understanding of how things work, in reality, in a functioning society, with a relatively healthy government that follows protocol and allows opposing opinions. It’s called pragmatism. It’s called shades of grey. It’s called not dipping into juvenalia that depends on a black and white view. It’s called going bit-by-bit to achieve one’s needs, be those needs based on augmenting votes in future, and/or pointing out well thought out and carefully backed up turpitudes to a larger audience, unfamiliar with certain realities. It’s called being an adult and a politician. It’s called knowing the panorama, and knowing that Rome cannot be built in one day, when a 15-year media blur on Venezuela has caused ignorance in the body politic of the US.
          4. When on the same day that Rubio was alerting the Senate on the veiled turpitudes of the Maduro regime, veiled ad nauseam by your colleagues in the mainstream media — for years — a whiny Canadian professor of Political Science was interviewed on Canada’s CTV News, saying that there is no dictatorship in Venezuela. Just for this alone, I welcome Rubio’s lifting of the veil. It is a needed airing in a society dumbed down by media Kool-Aid that caters to the lowest common denominator (for ad revenue) when not blurring reality (for negotiated access).
          5. So, I welcome Rubio’s delivery and his pragmatic stance, perhaps designed to lessen the bloodshed and depraved governance, from those Venezuelans who are causing some of the worst harms, while not affecting US drivers. First things first.

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    • Agreed wholeheartedly except US politicos campaigning for sanctions are looking for final Cuban failure. Anti-commie lustre is secondary, even if they sound one and the same.

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      • I think this is very perceptive. Maybe not for quite the same reason. The thing about U.S. policy towards Cuba is that it’s really unclear just what is the U.S. national interest. It winds up being determined a lot like domestic politics … which means that both Prof. Nagel and his critics could easily both be right.

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  15. Interesting but please understand that the United States has no conscious foreign policy system. Things are just too complex. The Greeks had it right: the Fates decide. Obama, like the rest of us, is a confused reactor. Unfortunately, his ability to screw things up is dramatically greater than that of the rest of us. Just ask Bush junior. It is generally best the the United States president not decide until he absolutely has to. His will can set powers in motion no one can understand or contain. This just may be Venezuela’s chance to return to the real world. But American action or inaction will probably not make a difference and could very well make things worse. Venezuela created this mess; Venezuela must fix it. Gloria al bravo pueblo que el yugo lanzó!

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    • Or, as former Ambassador to Caracas Charles Shapiro tweeted to us yesterday:

      Charles Shapiro ‏@ioa_shapiro 16h
      @CaracasChron you’re assuming US is capable of strategic thinking.

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        • Well if Charles Shapiro says it, it must be true…hehe

          The problem is Juan the Americans are so stupid…they know nothing about geography and other countries, and have no mind for strategy… yada yada yada, and because of this:

          1. we chose an Ambassador like Charles Sharpiro
          2.Venezuela is the way it is, and it is the USA’s fault

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          • “Venezuela is the way it is, and it is the USA’s fault”

            Indeed it is, the same way the existence of a 50-year-old communist dictatorship just 90 miles away from the Florida coast is another example of American diplomacy utter fiasco. When you happen to be the richest and most powerful country in the world, it’s expected that you will do a little better than that. Just look at the G7 structure, with irrelevant countries like Australia, Canada and Italy, and the US making anything available to not include China, India and Brazil. Is that a smart and reasonable strategy?

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            • Marc,

              It was part of the agreement with the Soviet Union that the US would refrain from toppling the Castro government and that no Soviet Military or nuclear weapons would be kept in Cuba.

              Ironically it is somewhat similar to the deal made upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union in which Ukraine agreed to give up its nuclear weapons to the Russian government in exchange for a guarantee that its borders would be respected.This was not only signed by the Ukrainians and the Russians but also by the US and the UK.

              The Russians just set aside this commitment to invade Ukraine, perhaps its time for the US to set aside its agreement and do the same and get rid of the Castro’s regime once and for all.

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              • The Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991, I don’t want to believe that the Americans still base their foreign policies on somehting that doesn’t exist now for more than two decades. I reallly don’t.

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      • Several thoughts…

        Following some material published by @RobertaJacobson about Venezuela, you can read between the lines that there are some intense “high level” backstage negotiations among some players in the region, mainly: Chile, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, U.S. & CR. Nevertheless, the student movement in Venezuela has been in “crescendo” and it seems it has a mind of its own…and its not a political one, is plainly SOCIAL.

        Lately I have been seeing how people, from very low demographics, are getting involve backing the students, providing much needed support to the students in their “uneven” conflict against the military government forces. Encouraging.

        I disagree with Ambassador Shapiro, I do see some clear & capable strategy coming from Washington, not saying that its the right one. Someone wrote a good point of why the U.S. doesn’t impose sanctions via a temporary embargo to Venezuela’s crude oil exports ? Is the energy sector lobbying like a murder of crows darkening the skies?

        Venezuela, in the last two days, has voted in the U.N. frontally against the U.S. and its world’s stances against North Korea and Crimea, publicly carving its place in the “minuscule” world club of highly conflicted and controversial oppressed/totalitarian countries of the XXI century. Not surprises though.

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      • I don’t know much about Shapiro, but in spite of what comes out in the news for public consumption, the U.S. State Department does have some quality thinkers. It is easy to underestimate the U.S., because our political processes are messy. However, please be assured that there is a strategy, and it is a long-term one. I am sorry that that strategy does not help Venezuela with its immediate problems, but that is the way it is. Remember that nation-states do not have “friends”. They have “interests”.

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  16. The US foreign policy cognoscenti and foreign policy elite are generally sympathetic to the opposition and not happy with the perpetuation of Chavista rule in Venezuela . but because US policy when it come to any assertive action is dependent on its effect on domestic US politics , and because for the US public Venezuela hardly ever exists (save for a few minutes when something terribly eyecatching is televised ) there is little chance that the US will act decisively in favour of the opposition unless in the presence of some low hanging fruit , where a little overt assertiveness may allow them some good political or geopolitical yields . Oil is not much of a problem now because they have raised domestic production and will increasingly create devices that lower the consumption of oil . The only attention we get is because something brutal and dramatic is happening here which for a while attracts the attention of the media , e.g. the recent protests and the way the images of police brutality and rock throwing throngs get into the air waves or some pundits stories . if they can help the opposition they will do so but mainly pulling diplomatic strings with some of our beloved neighbors for whom having good relations with the US means lots more than having warm brotherly relations with the Venezuelan regime.even if they keep mum about it .

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  17. Dunno, I have seen a lot of the reactions on the situation on US-based blogs, and, besides the “CIA conspiracy” fringe lunatics that nobody likes*, there’s this deep seated fear that any aggresive act on part of the US means having another Iraq-or-Lybia-style intervention.

    I’m not going to argue whatever is justified or not, but that fear is there and Obama can’t simply afford to ignore it so easily. So, better try the subversive route, and this foreign thing called “independence of powers”** means that any unified act can seem slow sometimes

    *Most of them trolls. God I hope so.
    **Sigh.

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  18. A region with a GDP of Western Europe of the 70ties should be capable to resolve their internal issues.
    Brazil is much more important for Venezuela than the US. I believe the Obama administrations tries to convince the Brazilian Government to adopt a less maduro-friendly position. The Unasur mission might turn out fairer than first thought.

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  19. Juan,

    You, and a lot of others, are over-thinking this with the conspiracy theories. However, you are correct that U.S. foreign policy is not formed by a few legislators. It isn’t even formed by one president. The successful U.S. Cold War strategy was formulated under Harry S. Truman and was carried out to fruition under eight different presidents. What does the U.S. really want in Latin America? It wants stability and prosperity. The U.S. wants to expand its markets and have all of the Americas as its natural market for trade, etc., in the framework of long-term trade alliances. Ultimately, the U.S. envisions a political and economic union stretching from Tierra del Fuego to Nome, Alaska. About 30 years ago, it was realized that the Latin American states could not “grow up” and become responsible and stable democracies, so long as the U.S. was always going to intervene to save them from themselves. Furthermore, the U.S. finally realized that it could not succeed by supporting individual presidents or leaders. So, the policy of non-intervention was begun, with the long-term goal of allowing Latin America the time and space to sort itself out. As we have seen, one country after another has gone through its own unique political and social crisis and has emerged from that crisis stronger for the experience. Once they have established strong democratic institutions that can be counted upon, the U.S. is there, cautiously, to build on that with Free Trade Agreements, and other bi-lateral cooperation. Once Venezuelans have sorted out this crisis for themselves, the U.S. will slowly reengage. But, until real democracy is reestablished in Venezuela, you cannot count on anything from the U.S. other than moral support. Venezuela needs to grow up and stop looking for solutions from outside its borders.

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    • The problem with this idea of “stop looking for solutions from outside its borders.” is that inside our borders solutions are frequently found using guns. Will the international community look the other way if Venezuelans decide that the way to solve their problems is via a civil war? A coup? A dictatorship from either side? “Solve your own problem” is usually code for “leave Maduro alone, or else we will act.”

      We are all part of the international community, and we all have a responsibility to uphold the rule of law, both inside our borders and outside of them. The fact that Venezuela, of all places, is being told to solve their own issues is a tremendous irony, considering that if it were not for Venezuela, Chile’s Concertación would have found it much more difficult to gain power, and the wars in Central America would have lasted longer than they did.

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      • Juan,

        I think that we can count on some intervention from other Latin American countries, on a political level, to convince the regime of when the time has come to step aside. However, I do not think that it possible to avoid bloodshed. The divisions and hatred have been stoked for too long, and the armed gangs are not capable of being reasoned with. They will have to be dealt with by the military, once the succession issue has been dealt with. I don’t wish to sound negative, though… It is not going to be easy, but Venezuela will emerge from this a stronger country.

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        • I agree with Roy…other Latin countries are the best ones to support Venezuela but unfortunately they value money over Latin Brotherhood.The seem only have brotherhood to Unite against the US or embrace Castro in the Havana conference.

          I also think that the Venezuelan opposition has tolerated Chavismo for 15 years and given the impression to most outsiders that they were relatively content with the status quo and had high hopes of winning elections.Even now the protests are large, but relatively peaceful and happy.Only recently when the students started to show anger and with the government using repressive tactics against the opposition are people beginning to notice that something is terribly wrong with Venezuela.The opposition has only itself to blame for this, and should not begin to site conspiracy theories and place the blame or the solution where neither belong.

          If Venezuela wants attention it must show how unhappy it is with the status quo, at which point at their discretion other countries might be able to step up the pressure but this will take time…because for 15 there has been an incredible complacency.

          Sorry but it feels and looks a bit like scapegoating to harp on this theme.

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  20. I guess I’ll be a contrarian in this thread.

    Venezuela is THE ringleader of ALBA and PetroCaribe, and one of the main backers of UNASUR and CELAC. Which are initiatives aimed to limit the influence of the US in the region.

    On geopolitical terms, Venezuela has magnified the role of Cuba in the region and also acted as the beachhead for Chinese influence in the region, and to a lesser degree for Russian influence and Iranian influence. Before Chavismo, this part was played by Cuba, who didn’t have enough resources to proselytize properly. I don’t see any reason for the US to be happy about those four rivals (including some who are in hostile terms) gaining influence in their neighborhood (which includes more raw materials from the region to those rivals and more sales from those rivals to the region).

    Regarding trade, I find it self evident, that the US would prefer Latin American countries to be more like Colombia and less like Venezuela, to achieve something like the FTAA (ALCA), and increase the size of their markets. In the meantime, Venezuela was the strongest anti FTA force inside the Andean Comunity before leaving, and has now reinforced that stance inside MERCOSUR.

    Politically speaking, Venezuela is also financing the hard left in the region,which owes much of it’s spread to our petrodollars, and I also find it self evident that US would prefer it if the ones in power weren’t Evo Morales, Rafael Correa, Daniel Ortega, FMLN in El Salvador, Kirchner in Argentina, etc. Though it didn’t come to fruition, I don’t think the US would be pleased to have Lopez Obrador in Mexico, a Torrijano in Panama, etc.

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    • Let’s no forget, militarily, Ecuador and Honduras, while under Venezuelan influence, closed American military bases inside their countries. And that Russia has floated around the idea of opening military bases in either Cuba, Nicaragua or Venezuela. Venezuela, Is currently a long shot, but I don’t know about the other two.

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  21. I don’t buy it. A nation with a ghost president who vowed to bring down USA becoming friendly to rogue and communist nations, is a lesser evil than an opposition that would upset trade and immigration? No way.

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    • I don’t buy it either. Often times I wonder if Romney was the president, would the relationships be the same right now with Venezuela, Syria and Ukraine. I don’t think so, but off course, we will never know.

      The most amazing thing about this whole discussion is that while other countries have benefited from cheap oil there is no preferential treatment for Venezuelans, specially poor ones. Someone needs to show the poor people what some of the middle east countries have done with their oil revenues. That would speak volumes.

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      • I once tried and the answer was> “but the UAE has a smaller population”.

        As my old grandpa once said about an unfortunate European country> “3 or 4 generations must die before we start seeing any change. Just forget about it for now.”

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        • Wise words from your grandpa…I salute him. Nevertheless, Never, Never, Never, Never give up!…let’s keep the fight. This generation of the youngest is bravely fighting and conquering…small steps! Venezuela is NOT Cuba and this is the XXI century, not 1958.

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        • It’s not only UAE there are other countries with larger populations that have made great strides. Yes, most of them are authoritarian regimes, but their infrastructures are flourishing. Looking closer to home at Chile and Peru and they don’t have the oil resources we have. For the average poor Venezuelan that cannot afford to travel or have access to the internet it would be an eye opener.

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  22. Kinda OT.
    3 hours ago this tweet was sent by one who sounded the alarm that Chávez had died, before officialdom could admit to same:
    Noticiero de Verdad ‏@LucioQuincioC
    Lo ùltimo ; Fidel hospitalizado en el Cimeq con neumonia

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    • Oh my. Thanks for posting that. When he dies, and let’s hope soon, will anyone recall that this evil piece-of-crap could have been responsible for the extermination of the human race? Yup. Him. Not since the introduction of the black plague in the middle ages was humanity in greater danger than from the political power acquired by this despicable thug. During the height of the Cuban missile crises Fidel Castro pushed Nikita Khrushchev, both verbally and in writing, to strike at the United States with atomic weapons. Khrushchev himself was so shaken by what this slobbering imbecile was demanding that he quickly decided to scale down the Cold War rhetoric and begin a dialogue with the young President Kennedy. Kennedy saw the opening, removed the useless missiles from Turkey, and thus the world backed down from the brink of world annihilation in 1962. May Castro burn in hell……

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      • When the time comes, champagne sales may skyrocket in south Fla. — for symbolic reasons. I don’t think that much will change after this megalomaniac dies, at least not in the short term, after his passing. But I could be wrong.

        Otherwise, your history of the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 does not account for timelines, or the provocations started by your own country, against the Soviet Union. It was the US that positioned nuclear-tipped missiles in Turkey and Italy, pointed at Moscow. That and the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, generated by the US, is what motivated Moscow to position, in 1962, its R-12 intermediate-range nuclear ballistic missiles pointed at the US.

        It was an issue predominantly between Kruschev and Kennedy, which was thankfully solved. I doubt very much that the Soviet’s lackey, Castro, who proved unable to ever pay his way, would have had much weight with Kruschev.

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        • Syd,

          You are right that Fidel’s death, however belated, will be symbolic. However symbols are important. When I was in Cuba in ~’97 it seemed to me that Fidel being alive was the only thing that kept the Cubans from rebelling. For some reason, in spite of the economic ruin that he created of that country, the Cubans seemed to have some deep affection for him, and could not bring themselves to rebel against him. When he dies, that affection will not be transferred to Raul.

          Let us hope that with the death of Fidel, Latin America can start to move past the era of “larger than life” leaders, and start to put more faith in institutions instead of individuals.

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        • “I doubt very much that the Soviet’s lackey, Castro, who proved unable to ever pay his way, would have had much weight with Kruschev.”

          The point here, however, is NOT Kruschev’s lack of respect for Castro, but rather Castro’s erratic behavior and ability to draw the then Soviet Union into a real nuclear war. A lot of historians have looked at this point, including Kruschev’s son Sergei, and concluded that NIkita Kruschev step back from nuclear confrontation was as a direct result of his horror at observing Castro’s erratic behavior during the crises. It really did frighten him. Castro was indeed the proverbial “loose canon” …a despicable human being as well.

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  23. the usa will not do anything against the venezuelan government because obama is of the same cloth. Obama is going exactly where chavez took venezuela. way to many similarities. if you are not muslim or help the muslim agenda you are not that important to obama.

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  24. The strategy during the Cold War was also a mixture of confrontation and cooperation. Since the 60ties the Federal Republic of Germany imported more and more labour intensive products from the GDR, we gave them credit, etc., even if we despised their system and their human rights violations. At the end enough people were fed up enough to change their system. And after reunification it took us 20 years, shiploads of money, lots of patience, many misunderstandings, mutual disdain, before the country somehow really started to integrate. Most people know the heroic pictures from Berlin wall, but very little really know the very long and winding road after these events. Well, South Koreans showed interest and they learnt to become less enthusiastic about the future democratization of North Korea.
    In the European Union until today the overall situation in countries like Bulgaria, Romania and even Hungary still is quite worrying.
    If the US took a active stance in the Venezuelan conflicts, they would be in charge to provide help to smoothen the development path of your country. Stuff they kind of didn’t do enough in Iraq or Afghanistan. Do you believe, the US would be able to manage these issues in Venezuela? First they lack experience with such endeavor, than there is quite a lot Anti-American and Anti-Western sentiment in Latin American societies and the dynamics of transformation itself generates a lot of distrust, anger, misunderstandings, open conflicts and what not.

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    • Don’t want to sound too grumpy. You kind of have to work with whats there. I am more optimistic about the fissures inside Brazil and Uruguay. Chavismo is simply too crazy and is turning too violent and oppressive.

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    • Very good comment Lemmy.Building a Democracy is hard enough, but without trust impossible and you are right, there is way too much anti- Americanism in Venezuela for the US to help out.

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      • But then I invite you, Firepigette, to a “Gedanken Experiment”, german expression I heard first on an american english language blog on the internet, maybe this one. I actually like it.
        First read the end of Ciccariello-Mahers “Los Jacobinos y los Sansculottes”, where he talks about “brutalidad igualitaria, la dictadura radicalmente democrática de los condenados de la tierra”. Than read http://caracaschronicles.com/2014/03/22/19m-in-the-flesh/
        I find my comment very cynical after that.
        Hope that this chapter will end soon.

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        • Lemmy,

          Thanks for the article.

          I read you article and considered your ” thought Experiment ” and think I can glimpse where you are coming from here, and it certainly is a dilemma.After all these years of repression and the abuses they have done lately , they still present themselves as victims.You would think it was the students who were chasing the collectives, and not the other way around.

          Sometimes we have to chose between the lesser of evils, unfortunately this is very very nefasto.It’s really hard to know how to proceed.

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  25. Juan,

    Bellow you’ll find a paper on the effectiveness on vote buying at the UN with regards US foreign aid. The paper find a Stick and Carrot correlation between USAID contribution and strategic voting at the UNGA.
    https://bc.sas.upenn.edu/system/files/Stone_09.22.11_0.pdf

    Having said that, here’s the real question. We know that of the about 90 billion Venezuela receives for oil exports the only client really paying for it directly in cash is the US (Which amounts to roughly between 750K to 1 million barrels per day).

    Its also logical to asume that if the US chose to, as a foreign policy priority, it could outpunch and outspend Venezuela out of its sphere of influence dollar for dollar (notwithstanding budgetary and internal constituency issues) in the Caribbean, and pretty much everywhere else in the world.
    The fact that, not only they haven’t done so, but that they keep basically providing the cash that allows Venezuela to keep spending its oil on vote buying without suffering the consequences is mind bugling.

    However, are they interested in this sphere of influence?, my feeling is that they need us here as a comparison to their correct policies with the pacific alliance and NAFTA, and it keeps internal wolves at bay with regards to cuban embargo policies.

    You might have a point, I just can’t figure out what exactly would be the foreign policy reasons for it.

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  26. “What if we’ve got it all wrong? What if Washington is just bluffing, and the votes at the OAS are coming out … exactly the way they want them to come out? What if Washington wants Maduro to stay in power while appearing to really want him not to?”

    Welcome Juan! I was feeling very lonely in this room (check out the padding!) spinning theories much like yours. I propose we next take up the notion that Leopoldo is in cahoots with Diosdado in a scheme for Restoration. After that, we can discuss whether Eva Golinger is really a CIA mole and figure out who really killed Delgado Chalbaud.

    Sadly and hilariously, I am only about half-joking.

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  27. Let me opine on this one. Some estimates peg the number of Cuban coming to South Florida between 500,000 and 1,000,000. We are woefully unprepared. Mariel and even Hurricane Katrina showed us how unprepared we are. Our Coast Guard is not up to the task with too few and outdated cutters and not enough new vessels. But this is not a concern. Keep in mind we get tens of thousands of Cubans annually in South Florida as is. I have never heard this from the top American Cuba diplomats and experts that I have talked to. It’s the other way around, Cuba remains a ‘clear and present danger’ to US National Interests and Security so a Free Cuba is very much on everyone’s wish list.

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  28. Never infer malice where incompetence is sufficient,

    The Obama crowd is delusional about Venezuela and Cuba; they are predominantly left-wingers who buy into the myth of revolution and social justice. These people had “Che” posters in their college dorm rooms. The blatant oppression of recent years has made a limited impression on some of them, but all their instincts resist opposing the Cuba-Venezuela axis.

    On top of that, Obama’s foreign policy is incompetent. They aren’t paying much attention to what Cuba and Venezuela are up to, and they couldn’t manage an effective response if they tried.

    It’s certain they aren’t thinking ahead to possible consequences of Cuba collapsing. Being delusional about Cuba, they don’t even see that coming. (A previous generation of this crowd sneered at Reagan for predicting the fall of the USSR.)

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