Monday, April 30, 2018

Arguing Against Venezuela Oil Sanctions

Amy Myers Jaffe and David Mares have a post at the Council on Foreign Relations arguing that U.S. oil sanctions against Venezuela are pointless. There's nothing really new in there but it's good to emphasize that the U.S. really needs to establish credibility in the region. Encouraging a coup will not achieve that.

With these points in mind, there are some efforts the United States could make in a supporting role to the Lima Group. Colombia has called for a reconstruction plan for Venezuela; the United States should encourage a Latin American conference to develop that plan with clear U.S. commitments. The United States also needs to adopt an active and visible role assisting Brazil and Colombia to deal with the refugees. This would not only be in line with U.S. disaster relief efforts in the past but could constitute a way of getting humanitarian aid to Venezuela, bypassing the government, if enough aid is provided by the United States, the Lima Group, and the EU to enable people to bring some back into Venezuela. While not the ideal means to provide humanitarian aid inside Venezuela, smuggling is a well-established activity and effectively closing the border to the influx of such aid would significantly add to the discredit of the Maduro government. The United States also needs to consider how it would respond to a sudden military take-over and change of leadership. In this case, the United States should coordinate with Latin American governments in an immediate call for a firm date for the restoration of freely organized elections and in which chavismo, minus government officials implicated in corruption and abuse of power, would be free to compete. Only a stable democratic Venezuela will be able to utilize its vast oil and gas resources for the benefit of its people and global energy markets.

What this really highlights is that U.S. options are quite limited, which is something we typically don't like to acknowledge. In the U.S., we like to think we can play an active role in doing something. The real problems come when our options are limited but we try to force them.

I get the feeling that Donald Trump's interest in Venezuela has waned, similar to the surge of interest in Cuba that then seemed to evaporate. That could change, of course, and Marco Rubio is definitely talking to him about it at every opportunity. However, he might be better off going on Fox and Friends than CNN op-eds. But at least for now Trump is focused among other things on North Korea and of course on the Russia investigation. There is only so much bandwidth.

Update: Juan Cruz, who is Trump's Latin America advisor in the National Security Council, gives a veiled hint for the Venezuelan military to overthrow Maduro. This makes it more likely that something is being cooked up. The big question is whether it is oil or more of what he's been doing up to this point.


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