For those who follow events in Latin America, the major news recently has been president Barack Obama’s executive order declaring Venezuela a national security threat to the United States. While laughable under any cursory examination – Venezuela has no serious offensive military weaponry – the objective appears to continue putting pressure on the administration of Nicolás Maduro who has been hit by declining oil prices, inflation and a continuing economic war by certain sections of the business community.
According to Mark Weisbrot – co-director of the Centre for Economic and Policy Research in Washington and president of Just Foreign Policy – there have been contradictory positions within Washington regarding Venezuela. He notes that when the Obama administration aimed to re-establish ambassadorial relations with Caracas in 2010, the U.S. president was “sabotaged by right-wing congressional offices and probably their allies in the State Department.” Last summer in fact, observes Weisbrot, the U.S. came very close to establishing “full diplomatic relations with Venezuela by receiving a Venezuelan chargé d’affaires – one step below ambassador – in Washington.”
Now relations are certainly heading towards a dangerous path and the ultra-right within Venezuelan and Washington can pat themselves on the back for having derailed the normalization of relations between the two countries. But these actors may have over stepped their mark.
For a start, the Maduro administration continues to be able to obtain credits from Beijing only recently securing a $10 billion loan as part of a bilateral financing deal which also aims to develop Venezuela’s oil fields. Also, as one observer noted based on a series of interviews with key experts on Venezuela, while there certainly are serious economic problems within the country, Venezuela is hardly about to default on its loans while it has taken some important steps to control inflation.
At a regional level both the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) unanimously passed resolutions in support of Caracas while strongly condemning Washington. With the exception of the U.S. and Canada, who are not part of these inter-American organizations, this means every country in the Americas has sided with Venezuela. Add to this a 10 day military exercise along-side visiting Russian troops and Maduro should certainly gain domestic political points.
But make no mistakes about it. Obama’s executive decree has now pushed U.S.-Venezuela relations into dangerous waters.