Source: Al Jazeera America
Obama should follow his example on Cuba and engage with, not punish, Venezuela
On Wednesday, President Barack Obama announced a prisoner swap with Cuba, plans to normalize diplomatic relations and an easing of financial and travel restrictions against Havana. The U.S. embargo, which has lasted for more than a half century, is widely unpopular in Latin America and has been criticized by the international community. Obama said that the ongoing isolation of Cuba was an impediment to his foreign policy in the region and that the thawing of relations would promote “the emergence of a democratic, prosperous and stable” country. Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., predictably denounced the move, with the latter vowing to try to block any change.
Obama’s actions on Cuba, however welcome, stand in stark contrast to efforts to impose sanctions on Venezuelan leaders. On Dec. 10, the U.S. Congress passed the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act, imposing sanctions on a number of Venezuelan leaders for human rights abuses committed against anti-government protesters earlier this year. The White House has signaled that Obama will sign the bill. “We have not and will not remain silent in the face of Venezuelan government actions that violate human rights and fundamental freedoms and deviate from well-established democratic norms,” Obama’s press secretary, John Earnest, said in a statement on Dec. 11.
The bill, which was approved after a failed attempt last May, freezes assets and denies or revokes visas for designated leaders. The protests, which began in February, resulted in 43 deaths and hundreds of injuries and arrests. Among the dead were members of the state security forces and both supporters and opponents of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s socialist government. Despite the widely accepted and facile media narrative about the government’s culpability for the origins of the protests and the ensuing violence, there is convincing evidence that Venezuela’s right-wing antagonists bear much of the blame.
Washington’s antipathy toward Venezuela is not new. Since Venezuela’s election of leftist leader Hugo Chávez in 1998, the U.S. government has routinely sought to undermine Venezuela’s democratically elected government. Washington supported a failed coup attempt in 2002 against Chávez. But U.S. efforts to discredit the Venezuelan government did not end there. Washington continues to spend millions to support the opposition in Venezuela and undermine the government through NGOs such as the National Endowment for Democracy.
The sanctions bill affirms that the U.S. seeks “a mutually beneficial relationship with Venezuela based on respect for human rights and the rule of law and a functional and productive relationship on issues of public security.” It appears, however, to be premised more on Washington’s resentment of the leftward shift of some Latin American countries and growing regional cooperation and independence than on concern for the rights of protesters. Latin America is increasingly moving out of the sphere of U.S. influence, rejecting its economic and political dictates.