Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Unclear U.S. Policy Toward Venezuela

I wanted to follow up on yesterday's post about Venezuela, to which I received both support and pushback. Some more thoughts:

--several people pointed out that certain language is just necessary from a legal standpoint to enforce these types of laws. I will concede that but argue that it still matters. What we're saying, then, is that we have to call corruption in Venezuela (or any other country, or even certain people within countries) a national security threat that is an emergency, but in fact no one actually thinks that. At the same time, though, U.S. officials were quick to compare this situation to Iran and Syria. If you want an argument about why Venezuela is a threat, read Juan Nagel here, but I am totally unconvinced.

Regardless, the Obama administration is sending a very clear signal that it believe its, as I am willing to bet plenty of foreign leaders will not appreciate the finer side of U.S. legalese. Plus, no matter what he actually thinks of it, Nicolás Maduro is holding it up to reinforce his overall paranoid conspiracy message. On the other hand, Boz figures this doesn't really matter much at this point. That's open for debate, as David Smilde disagrees. If you're interested, here are some social media responses from Venezuela via Hugo Pérez Hernáiz.

--Frank Mora, who not long ago was in the policy world, said I was wrong about seeing it as connected to Cuba. He has more insight into this than me, but it's hard for me to view this as disconnected from domestic politics. There are plenty of things going on that the general public does not know, but aside from domestic politics I can't see how this is a useful tool for the Obama administration in the region.

--if we reject domestic politics, what do we have left? Again, sending signals of some sort. Officials say the following:

They’re hoping the sanctions will send a signal to Venezuelan officials as the country prepares to host a national election later this year.
It's not clear to me what signals are really being sent. The intent apparently is to convince the Venezuelan government to run clean elections, but how does sanctioning seven specific people actually achieve that? It can serve as a warning that more people will be targeted, but it still doesn't explain how this would have any impact on the elections.

--what about regionally? Does this send a signal to the region that will help the United States? I tend to think that this sort of action with this sort of language attached to it will make it even more difficult for already wary Latin American leaders to speak up, because they'll be seen as supporting U.S. policy.

I am just having a difficult time seeing how this particular policy choice advances U.S. interests, stated or otherwise. And don't say oil--the funny thing is that trade continues apace regardless of these disputes.


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