Obama’s Cuba legacy may run through Venezuela

Source: Al Jazeera

Last week the U.S. government took the deeply ironic step of removing Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. It is the U.S. that has been a state sponsor of terrorism directed at Cuba. From the launching of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 to the numerous U.S.-organized assassination attempts against Fidel Castro to the blowing up of a jetliner and other terrorist attacks from Cuban exiles operating out of the United States, U.S. terrorism against Cuba has spanned more than four decades.

The latest move removes one obstacle from the normalization of relations with Cuba, but there are many more ahead, including the 53-year-old U.S. embargo, which has been condemned by nearly the entire world for decades, and the much-hated U.S. military base and prison at Guantánamo, which the Cubans have indicated is a deal breaker if it is not closed down. Another irony: The U.S. government lectures Cuba about human rights while it illegally imprisons and tortures people on the island.

But another issue Cuba has raised with Washington could have even more important implications for the region. It is now apparent, as I first suggested a month ago, that the Cubans made it clear to President Barack Obama that normalization of relations would be limited if Washington was unwilling to normalize relations with Venezuela. This is important because U.S. hostility toward Venezuela, especially Washington’s support for regime change there, has poisoned relations with Latin America even more than the embargo against Cuba.

Obama appears to have gotten the message. He met with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro at the Summit of the Americas on April 11 and backtracked from his executive order that declared Venezuela an “extraordinary threat” to U.S. security. Obama has sent a top State Department official, Tom Shannon, to Caracas twice since April 7 to make peace. A career diplomat and an assistant secretary of state under President George W. Bush, Shannon is considered pragmatic in Washington circles. In the context of Venezuela, this means someone who favors support for groups that want to get rid of the government mainly through electoral means rather than through violence or a military coup.

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