Three views on why Venezuela’s plight is being ignored


(Disclaimer: I wrote this post last night; obviously, after today’s events, Venezuela is NOT being ignored in Washington, but I will post about this tonight)

By now, it has become common knowledge that Latin America simply does not care about the abuses heaped by the Maduro government on our people. Their main goal is to ensure “stability” in the country. In other words, all you people who dare protest, BUG OFF.

If Latin America is going to side with Maduro, the appropriate question to ask ourselves is … why? What does Latin America gain from coddling up to a bankrupt human rights violator with an empty noggin’?

In recent days, three experts chimed in.

Mario Vargas Llosa needs no introduction. The latest piece on Venezuela from the Nobel laureate – appropriately published in Spain’s El País, which serves as our region’s Grey-Lady-Of-Sorts – lays out his case: Latin American leaders are falling short with regards to Venezuela because they are all abysmal moral midgets.

Here’s his mouth-watering riff on Latin America’s Presidents:

What else can we expect from this pitiful collection of demagogues, corrupt politicians, ignorant fools, and dime-a-dozen Castro wannabes? That’s not to mention the Organization of American States, the most useless institution Latin America has ever produced in its history; it is safe to say that any time a Laitn American politician is elected Secretary General of that body, he or she becomes a pile of mush, succumbing to a sort of moral and ethical catatonia.

He then goes on to blame the left wing for the shame of not calling Maduro out:

The fight against under-development will always be threatened with failure and implosion as long as Latin America’s political leadership does not overcome the stupid inferiority complex that makes them lionize a left wing to which, in spite of the catastrophic credentials they bring in terms of the economy, political advancement, and human rights (are the examples of the Castros, Maduro, Morales, the Kirchners, Dilma Rousseff, Comandante Ortega and company not enough?), they concede some sort of moral superiority on issues of social justice and solidarity.

Ouch. Hasta a Dilma le salpicó

Along the same lines, Christopher Sabatini – former editor of Americas Quarterly – has a theory. Latin America’s silence with regards to Venezuela marks a turning point for the region, one caused by diverging political shifts and by the War on Terror.

During the nineties, Latin American countries sought to make the defense of democracy a cornerstone of regional diplomacy. This trend, given thrust by the fall of the Berlin Wall, reached its apex on September 11th, 2001, an ironic date that saw the signing of the Interamerican Democratic Charter.

After that, it has been the clear goal of most countries in the region to shift away from this paradigm. The countries in the region, most of them left wing, simply cannot be bothered to defend liberal democracy. Their priorities are elsewhere. Here is Sabatini:

Two trends explain the retreat (from common defense of democracy). The first was the growing political diversity in the region. If the 1990s were an era of political and economic convergence, with most major countries in the region agreeing on a shared definition of what a democracy means, the 2000s were an era of divergence, where countries adopted very different governance and economic models. Chávez in Venezuela and allies elsewhere adopted a more socialistic, autocratic interpretation of what a democracy looks like. Favorable global economic conditions and the election of more nationalistic governments in Brazil, Argentina, and Ecuador also brought a newfound diplomatic assertiveness in a region increasingly divided between nations that relied on a U.S.-oriented trade network and those that saw it as a competitive threat.

The second factor underlying the post-9/11 retreat from a democratic compact may have been the Bush administration up north, perceived to be a throwback to the overreaching imperio. The march to war in Iraq (which involved a lot of arm-twisting of Latin nations to join the coalition), the public focus on regime change in Cuba, and the initial endorsement of what turned out to be a coup in 2002 in Venezuela seemed a return to a time when the United States felt it could meddle at will in the region. The reaction throughout Latin America, both among well-meaning democracy advocates and among regimes eager to redefine democracy to suit their own purposes, was a diminished appetite for collective action to safeguard the rights of others. The effort had become tainted by association.

Sabatini quickly kills the idea that Latin American countries will stand tall to preserve democracy:

The ideal that democracy is a defining right of all Americans throughout the hemisphere has been lost, at least for this generation.

In spite of this dire position that we find ourselves in, efforts to exert pressure on the Maduro administration continue. This letter from former Latin American leaders is beginning to circulate, and I thought it was worth printing in a separate post.

Me? I think it’s a bit premature to lay to rest the idea that Latin America will stand up for democracy in the region. The leaders that espouse the view that every topic is an issue of “national soverignty” are either on their way out or greatly weakened. Perhaps, with the end of the commodity boom, times will change, and a new crop of leaders will pick up the banner of Interamerican defense of democracy.

The time for that may come, ans soon, but for now, we should not be disappointed when, once again, Latin American leaders advocate for the “stability” of the Maduro regime.

Finally, Bloomberg’s Mac Margolis weighs in:

“But the code of silence among Venezuela’s neighbors also speaks to less obvious concerns. Brazil is the regional wheelhouse, with nearly half of Latin America’s GDP and the ambitions of a global power broker. It also is among the most diffident governments when it comes to calling out a brutish neighbor or denouncing human rights abuses. Put another way, as former foreign minister Celso Amorim once told me, “We don’t give certificates of good behavior.”

True, the economic crisis next door has been a bonanza for Brazil, which has big-ticket construction contracts in Venezuela and a $6 billion trade surplus. That’s a powerful argument for circumspection. But imported goods and capital also are a lifeline for cash-strapped Venezuela, which means Brasilia could easily speak up without fear of losing a good thing.

Brazil’s quietism may be part of an unwritten contract. “By toning down criticism of its neighbors, Brazil strengthened its hand as a regional power,” Amherst College political scientist Javier Corrales told me. “It’s the idea that the rise of Brazil won’t threaten other emerging countries.”

They can have all the Cristinas and Evos, but at least we have people like Vargas Llosa on our side.

35 thoughts on “Three views on why Venezuela’s plight is being ignored

  1. “Brazil’s quietism may be part of an unwritten contract. “By toning down criticism of its neighbors, Brazil strengthened its hand as a regional power,” Amherst College political scientist Javier Corrales told me. “It’s the idea that the rise of Brazil won’t threaten other emerging countries.”

    That doesn’t make any sense as Brazil meddled A LOT in Honduras’ and Paraguay’s “internal affairs” when the circumstances changed and the new political agendas arising in these countries didn’t suit Brazil’s demagogue left-wing government’s interests.

    Javier Corrales is kidding himself if he thinks that Brazil would have any hesitation to loudly criticize and even ‘denounce’ any government they see it as ‘not progressist enough’.

    Corrales, did you hear that Brazil almost cut ties with an important emerging power like Indonesia because a Brazilian drugdealer was killed there?

    Corrales, did you hear that Brazil “was the driving force” behind Paraguay’s suspension from Mercosur when Lugo was – correctly and constituionally – impeached?

    Assuming you are a political scientist that studies Latin America, you probably know all that, right?

    So what the hell do you mean by:

    (1) ““By toning down criticism of its neighbors, Brazil strengthened its hand as a regional power” (2) “It’s the idea that the rise of Brazil won’t threaten other emerging countries.”

    is not very clear, Sir.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That doesn’t make any sense as Brazil meddled A LOT in Honduras’ and Paraguay’s “internal affairs” when the circumstances changed and the new political agendas arising in these countries didn’t suit Brazil’s demagogue left-wing government’s interests.

      You beat me to it.


  2. Marc, per your comment. You are quite right. Brazil has spoken out selectively, but mostly when a leftist has been ‘wronged’ or – more to the point – ousted (Zelaya, Lugo). This is what Corrales called incumbency bias, something he explained elsewhere in the same piece. That is, sitting governments can commit all sorts of horrors and shred constitutions, but Brasília draws the line at removing them, especially if they’re Bolivarian. Indonesia is expendiable because it has paltry trade, zero cultural ties and no shared history with Brazil.


  3. Why is the plight of Venezuela being ignored? I will speak only in the context of the small country of Belize but I suspect this could be said about many people in the Americas. (For the record – I divide my time between Washington and my home in the Cayo District, Belize, on the border with Guatemala. I follow the politics there closely and know many political figures in the country).
    First, there is a general feeling of goodwill towards Venezuela because in recent years Venezuela has contributed funds via PetroCaribe and other programs to help the people of Belize. Trips to Cuba for eye treatment, funded by Caracas, get positive publicity all the time. Although the U.S. does all sorts of programs as well, including building schools and the like, there just isn’t that kind of warm fuzzy feeling towards the U.S. like there is towards Venezuela. I’ve heard many people in Belize say how they “owe” Venezuela. So it’s no surprise that Belizean officials never, ever say anything negative about Venezuela in public. It just isn’t done. Same with the newspapers and their editors.
    Second, there is willful ignorance about what Venezuela is up to as a result of this situation, so there are rarely, if ever, stories about all the corruption, incompetence, criminality, etc., in the media and the Belizean society at large doesn’t ever discuss these issues amongst themselves. There cannot be any negative views when there is no negative information. The fact is that many people in Belize and the Americas simply don’t understand the plight of Venezuelans in the first place so they can’t feel bad for them.
    Third, there is still a strong penchant for Marxian socialism and there is the inability to see that it has failed and cannot be reformed. They praise Castro but never mention how his country is moving away from orthodox socialism to a market-oriented socialism, even as their patrons in Caracas are pushing ever deeper into policies the Cubans now admit don’t work and no longer follow themselves. People in Belize aren’t conscious to these contradictions and problems. When Castro admitted in September, 2010: “The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore,” that was never discussed by most people. They didn’t want to hear it. And they still don’t want to hear it. So they don’t say it, either.


    • Thank you, Charles. That was terrific. It is detailed, factual and honest accounts like yours that offer real insight into the issue.

      Here’s a not unrelated aside … In the mid-seventies, as curtains fell on the old British Honduras, I travelled by road and got to know a little of your country, even your district. Before the Guatemalan border, I heard a lot of Spanish in San Ignacio, but I don’t recall if its inhabitants listened to Guatemalan radio/TV.

      In that your country is a beneficiary of Venezuelan funding, let’s take Misión Milagro as an example. Would you know how many Belizeans have been served by this program, since 2010, when it first began accepting Belizean patients?

      Here’s how many Guatemalans have been served by Misión Milagro: 3,000 according to the audio in a link that, upon a revisit, was blocked (hmmm):

      Near the end of that audiotaped series of interviews, one woman expresses her wish that the legacy of Chávez continue: “que sigan adelante… que no desmayen… a pesar de todo lo que pase ahí”. So someone in Guatemala is well informed about the economic disasters in Vzla. Might Belizeans not follow suit?

      The Guatemaltecos served by Mision Milagro must have gone into recent overdrive. For three months ago, the numbers served were just over 1,000.–20141127-0081.html

      Someone’s playing footsie with statistics …


  4. If I may, I would like to apply labels to the three theories. The labels are overly simplified, but it helps to discuss them.

    Mario Vargas Llosa — The Morally Challenged Leaders Theory

    — While a fun rant and a public challenge to the more responsible of Latin American leaders to do more, this doesn’t go very far in explaining the phenomenon of why Latin Americans are so prone to vote for moral midgets.

    Christopher Sabatini — Backlash against Perceived American Imperialism Theory

    — This theory at least tries to explore the why, but in placing the focus on the reaction to American policies, I find his arguments extremely America-centric, not to say America-narcissistic. Not everything that happens in the world is because of what America did or did not do.

    Mac Margolis — Premature and Botched Brazilian Hegemony Bid Theory

    — This theory at least has the benefit of examining the situation in the light of inter Latin America geopolitics, instead of looking at all the Latin American countries as having the same culture and history. I would like to see him explore this in greater depth and include in his analysis the competition between Brazil and Colombia for economic and political leadership of the region.

    I think that all of these authors have a piece of the puzzle, but it is a very large subject, and I don’t think it lends itself to an Op-Ed piece.

    If I had to sum up the “big picture” myself, I would say that what we are seeing is the result of a delayed political maturity in the region as a result of the U.S. paternalism and influence in preventing extreme blow-ups and preventing the spread of Communism during most of the twentieth century, and then deciding to withdraw after the end of the Cold War to allow the Latin American nations to grow-up politically. That, combined with the natural competition between Brazil and Colombia to be the dominant economic and political power of the region has created a predictable degree of political turmoil as each of the countries flirts with and embraces extreme politics, suffers the consequences, and then recovers, older but wiser. The good news is that one after the other, each of the nations in question is emerging from their respective crises, more mature, more stable, and better prepared to compete in the world.


    • Wao! I even felt inspired that all this havoc might end up in a good thing…however, it will all get worst before it gets any better…


    • I like this perspective. SA peoples elect socialists because the common man suffered under the yoke of corrupt hereditary oligarchs who displayed little interest in developing an equitable economic system. For them, the socialist demagogues were/are the only game in town. Eventually, the consequences of poor socialist governance may push the pendulum back towards free markets, independent judiciary, protection of property, and a generally more mature (but more egalitarian) form of governance superior to previous forms. One hopes.

      On topic, each SA government is acting in accordance with their own national self-interest. Those with regional or world power pretensions wish only to curry political favor and support in order to advance their position. Those benefiting by lucrative trade or financial aid do not wish to alienate the hand that feeds them. Colombia lives under the threat of war by proxy and cannot abide open confrontation. Some leaderships view the Venezuelan plight through the lens of socialist struggle intrinsically tied to their own. All of these reasons reduce an altruistic defense of human rights to a secondary concern.


      • Thanks. I like the way you summarized the essence of it. It was always going to worse before it got better, but look at the countries that have passed through their political crisis and now have relatively stable and plural democracies: Chile, Peru, Colombia, Mexico, Panama. These countries have steadily improving economic and social indicators. Let’s hope that Venezuela is the next on the list.


        • Countries, with the possible exception of Mexico, with a higher educational level in general than Venezuela, and are not used to the PetroState peon tiramealgo dependence. Before oil, Venezuela was one of the poorest countries in the Hemisphere, and is fast returning to its roots.


  5. Blah Blah Blah – left, right ,ideology, socialism , capitalism is all COMPLETELY irrelevant. The political system is CORRUPTION. The corruption has spread like a virus throughout the body and all systems are affected. The other countries tacitly support this because who do you think is the beneficiary of all these middle man corruption deals. The other Latin American countries sell them goods and services at market rates (or above) while the middle men ( fingered companies of the government agents) mark it up and then sell it to their own countrymen at a huge premium and who cares if the food is rotten or the medicine is outdated. It is all about getting their shares from top to almost bottom, and then putting suitcases full of cash and sending them on PDVSA jets to all parts of the earth. The poor are the ones who are getting completely screwed while the rich (including the nouveau riche – Bolibourgois) get obscenely riche. This will go on until they truly bankrupt the country or it simply collapses under the stench of putrid corruption. Call it what it is – this is no political ideological battle here, it is plain and simple unrestrained greed with no consequences of the law in their beloved Venezuela because the government, the congress, the judiciary and law enforcement are the most corrupt, backed up by a narco infused corrupt military who would just as soon shoot their own countrymen and women and children now too maintain their corrupt lifestyle, while CUBA plays these morons like a Stradivarius. What a cesspool. Just like in the prisons the inmates are running the asylum is what Venezuela has become. The people running Venezuela have no more concern for their fellow countryman than they do the piece of crap they scrap off their shoes every time the step in it. Which now is a daily occurrence. Those that can, have left and those that can’t are part of it or are the poor who can’t leave and will be forced to stand in line and eat what is scrapped off their corrupt leaders shoes.

    Its what The Other Ralph said except in plain language to make it clear.


    • Emilia, what a piece of analytical art! Precise and straight to the heart of the issue. No bs. Thank you.


    • Impressive! I would call it rant, since it was clearly emotional venting, except that it was too articulate to denigrate it that way. Well done.


    • Absolutely right-on, Emilia–the Chulos of LA are too busy sucking the last bit of cash left in corrupt non-patriotic Ignoramus-run Venezuela to be bothered by human rights/democracy abuses.


    • Emi: Please send translated version to the editor of Opinión in El País, as rebuttal to Vargas Llosa’s piece.


  6. Juan, when you write about the sanctions of today, could you please also clarify what’s up with that of “Obama declares Venezuela a national security threat”?

    I read the official statement by the press Secretary and there is no mention of declaring Venezuela nothing! And then, every single newspaper mentioned it (except CNBC, I think). It’s driving me crazy that I can’t find one single official press release saying that. Did I miss something?

    Here is the Official statement. No word of “Venezuela being a threat”.


    • Carolina,

      To answer your question, I am re-posting my comment from a previous thread on this subject:

      As I understand it from reading between the lines, that designation (“National Threat”) is procedural. Under current statutes, this is necessary for the President to issue Executive Orders of this nature. So, it doesn’t really mean that they see the Venezuelan government as a direct security threat, but that destabilization of Venezuela and the resulting economic and social fallout in the region is a threat to U.S. security interests.

      But, I agree with you (previous commenter) that this language gives an unintended substance to Maduro’s absurd claims of the U.S. being in involved in a plot against him. They avoided saying that in the press statement, but in the language of the Executive Order, they could not avoid it.

      I do wonder why the WH didn’t just ask the Congress to amend the existing sanctions bill… Did they really feel this couldn’t wait another week or so?


      • The order is now based on several laws which werent mentioned previously when the original congressional sanctions were approved , the net effect of these new laws is that they allow Obama not just to sanction the 7 officials but leaves the door open to go much further in adopting much more aggresive measures specially of an economic and commercial kind against the regime . By mentioning these new laws Obama is indirectly telling the regime that these sanctions are only an opener , that to the extent they misbehave they can expect more painful ones , the refence to Venezuelan actually posing a threat or not is irrelevant . The important thing is that once these laws are invoked the US govt is signaling that it is prepared to go much further in the economic sanctions it takes depending on the govts behaviour. Its not about direct military action but about economic sanctions which in the regimes current financial sitution can make things very painful and difficult . The US Govt has expressly said that these sanctions seek to affect the behaviour of the regime , No doubt about it .

        The Andorra denunciation which affects several billion dollar of Pdvsa related shenaggigans which where being laundered in a Andorra Bank timed to coincide with the Order is a message that the US can harm the interests of regime bosses and allies without actually linking it to Venezuelan sanctions. The US can use the information its gathered from many sources and its reach to financial institutions all over the world to create havoc for the regimes finances without even saying its directly related to Venezuela . There are dozens of things it can do to make the life of the regime more difficult in this financial vulnerable time for its finances , for example submit Citgo to an IRS investigation of Citgos commercial practices . It can make it difficult for certain payments owed Pdvsa or made to Pdvsa to be made , It can use Pdvsa’s links to Iran to apply to it sanctions which hamper its capacity to move or use money outside Venezuela . The range is endless , so far they have played soft ball wth the regime , but now with the regime becoming increasingly and unabashedly dictatorial and with such low popularity figures it can start playing hard ball .

        The calculus must include the propaganda use the govt will make of the order , but they will also figure on the consequences of any further measure taken to chastise any regime measure that goes further towards the creation of a more overtly dictatorial regime. !!


        • Yes, I underestimated the meaning of the language. That and the immediate play on BPA (the Andorran bank) suggests that the U.S. is actually serious about reining in the thugs in Mira Flores. Of course, they have no intention of any military intervention, as the regime would have you believe. But, they do have long reach in the financial world and can do a lot of damage to the individuals in power in Venezuela.

          I would imagine that the private message being conveyed one-by-one to the Chavista top officials is, “Leave now. Just disappear. If you do that, we will leave your fortunes intact. If you stay and fight, we will find and take every penny.”


      • Thank you Roy! That is what I was looking for. It now makes sense to me.
        Thanks for the link as well.


  7. Precisely Emilia. It’s all about Stealing Money. As much and as fast a possible these days, raspando la olla, lately, with the $6.30 sweet deal, just in case it all crumbles down this year.


  8. They got Vzla mixed up with Iran? All they’re saying is the same crap, because they still need quite a bit of Vzlan oil, of course.

    “Despite the difficulties in our official relationship, the United States remains committed to maintaining our strong and lasting ties with the people of Venezuela and is open to improving our relationship with the Venezuelan government.”


  9. It is truly shocking how these gov’ts have turned a blind eye to the destruction of Democracy in VZLA. You don”t have to be a politician to understand the Democratic American Charter and what it stands for. There is no reading between lines to interpret it. It is clear. The OAS should be disbanded. All they do is stand around and take pictures in front of their respective flags. It is shameful to even see the US a part of that group. And then to fund 40% of its’ picture taking activities. The leaders of SA have disgraced themselves and their insular attitudes and tacit approval of the Human Rights abuses will come back to haunt their respective countries someday. When they need someone to stand up for their own Rights, no one will be found. What is comforting is that when speaking to the people from these countries, no one I have spoken to supports Maduro or his actions. Meaning that these “Leaders” do not have the support of their people on issues of foreign policy. EVERYBODY, except the Leaders are disgraced, shamed and horrified over the events in VZLA and what is happening to ordinary VZLAns…It is good to know that the populations care even if their shameful Leaders do not.


  10. I can’t help noticing a glaring contradiction in Vargas Llosa’s piece. He claims the Latin American governments are turning a blind side to Venezuela because it is a leftist government (and most local governments are leftists as well). But then, he remembers Romulo Betancourt’s lonely efforts to isolate leftist governments back in the 60’s. So, today leftist governments turned a blind side to leftist governments, and fifty years ago righjt-wing governments did the same. Go figure.


  11. Unasur foundational beliefs :

    1. We are all govts which identify with progressive , ideologically sexy left wing causes , bravely opposed to capitalism , big business and the US. As a symbol of that we all love and defend the brave Cuban regime .
    2. We are a chummy lot and love to gather to celebrate how great our leaders are .
    3. Any one our leaders accuse of being right wing fascist plotters we oppose as enemies of the great causes of democracy and latin american freedom.
    4. Were any one opposes one of our chums , they should rely on their good will to engage in peaceful dialogue . dialogues resolve everything because our chums are always ready to act in good faith .
    5. If some small country in latam acts to free itself from one of our idelogically sexy chums , we will act together aggresively to politically attack it on all fronts , no holds barred , we progressives proudly defend our own.
    6. business between the countries our respective regimes represent is great specially if it allows us and our domestic allies to make good profits from making them ( even if one countrys interests are sold out in the process).
    7. If there are members in the club who dont share our progressive sexy ideology and they are big and cant be abused we treat them with great formal respect , but basically marginalize them from any important decisions These member countries in turn dont want to raise waves in their international relations unless they really have to , to protect internal interests.
    8. Playing the international card of being ideologically sexy left wing allows us to gain from appeasing the radical left wing of our own internal supporting parties without having to allow them any effective say in how we run things to our best convenience.

    Forgot something , feel free to add it ..


    • #8 is, I think, an aspect many people overlook.

      They are more than happy to defend the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela, which is the propaganda equivalent of wearing a Ché T-shirt.

      And of getting whatever oil money or just plain oil Venezuela gives.

      Actually acting like a coordinated far-left multinational block… dont make me laugh.

      But the useful idiots in Caracas are both useful and more, they PAY for the kind (and empty) words!


  12. #9. We are (mostly retired) gentlemen who need to have a last crack at the bat and leave something for the spouse contribute our expertise to foster good relations in the region. From experience, we feel that regional integration is best achieved when we do lunch — a lot gather to discuss all subject matter related to the region, no matter how insignificant, in our magnificent conference room of many flags, where we sit around a very large oval table of rich Honduran mahogany, polished to a tee by our appreciated staff. We are so committed to our ideals that we generously foot the bill for travel and accommodation expenses, plus per diems, for the representatives of all our many member states.


Comments are closed.