Venezuela cri­sis: Trump waves stick but could back­fire

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Fac­ing a cri­sis in Venezuela, US Pres­i­dent Donald Trump has threat­ened to in­flict “swift and strong” eco­nomic sanc­tions un­less Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro backs away from a plan to re­write that na­tion’s con­sti­tu­tion. But the Amer­i­can pres­i­dent seems sure to face a back­lash from Caracas, where charges of US “im­pe­ri­al­ism” have been the so­cial­ist gov­ern­ment’s fa­vorite retort to pres­sure from the North. Trump, like his pre­de­ces­sor Barack Obama, con­fronts the dif­fi­cult task of man­ag­ing the long-toxic re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two coun­tries. The two have not had am­bas­sadors in each other’s cap­i­tals since 2010.

But while Obama’s Demo­cratic ad­min­is­tra­tion suc­ceeded in at least slightly low­er­ing ten­sions, the re­la­tion­ship has dra­mat­i­cally soured since bil­lion­aire Repub­li­can Trump came to of­fice in Jan­uary. “All op­tions are on the ta­ble,” se­nior White House of­fi­cials said late Tues­day, un­der­scor­ing the toughly worded warn­ing Trump him­self had is­sued a day be­fore. “The United States will not stand by as Venezuela crum­bles,” Trump said in a state­ment Mon­day. “If the Maduro regime im­poses its Con­stituent Assem­bly on July 30, the United States will take strong and swift eco­nomic ac­tions.”

‘Be­com­ing a dic­ta­tor’

The Amer­i­can pres­i­dent called his Venezue­lan coun­ter­part a “bad leader who dreams of be­com­ing a dic­ta­tor”. And se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials who briefed re­porters Tues­day de­nounced what they called the “dic­ta­to­rial” regime in Caracas and de­manded a “re-es­tab­lish­ment” of democ­racy. In the US Congress, Repub­li­can Sen­a­tor Marco Ru­bio re­cently de­manded “the full restora­tion of the demo­cratic or­der and re­spect of ba­sic rights in Venezuela as the regime of Ni­co­las Maduro con­tin­ues its as­sault on the Venezue­lan peo­ple and the coun­try’s demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions.”

Pro- and anti-Maduro demon­stra­tions in Venezuela have left nearly 100 peo­ple dead since April 1, amid the near-col­lapse of the oil-rich na­tion’s econ­omy and steps by Maduro that op­po­nents say amount to a power grab. Both the White House and sev­eral Amer­i­can law­mak­ers ex­pressed sup­port for the sym­bolic vote last week­end in Venezuela, spon­sored by the op­po­si­tion, that saw 7.6 mil­lion peo­ple de­mand an end to plans for a Con­stituent Assem­bly - which Maduro’s op­po­nents say would be set up to fa­vor him - to draw up a new con­sti­tu­tion.

Moises Ren­don, an an­a­lyst with the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies (CSIS) in Wash­ing­ton, wrote in a re­cent pa­per that “the sin­gle most im­por­tant ac­tion for the United States, re­gional coun­tries and the world is not to rec­og­nize the gov­ern­ment that comes out from the il­le­git­i­mate Con­stituent Assem­bly,” which he de­scribed as “Soviet-style.”

But some an­a­lysts warn that too hard a line from the United States could back­fire. Geoff Thale, with the lob­by­ing group Wash­ing­ton Of­fice on Latin Amer­ica (WOLA), told AFP he was “very skep­ti­cal that uni­lat­eral US sanc­tions (would be) ef­fec­tive. They are more likely to make the gov­ern­ment feel they have no op­tion but to re­sist, and they of­fer the gov­ern­ment a na­tion­al­ist ral­ly­ing cry against the US.”

‘Peo­ple will starve’

David Smilde, a Venezuela spe­cial­ist at Tu­lane Uni­ver­sity in New Or­leans, Louisiana, said, “I be­lieve it is pos­si­ble that the Venezue­lan gov­ern­ment will be strength­ened by US sanc­tions. There is no way to ap­ply eco­nomic sanc­tions now in Venezuela with­out mak­ing the hu­man­i­tar­ian sit­u­a­tion much worse. Peo­ple will starve to death.” US sanc­tions, he added, “would un­leash enor­mous re­sent­ment among the Venezue­lans” and would “never be well re­ceived by other coun­tries in the re­gion.”

US in­volve­ment in Latin Amer­ica car­ries enor­mous lug­gage. The United States has long been ac­cused of in­ter­ven­tion­ism - even “im­pe­ri­al­ism” - in what Wash­ing­ton has some­times viewed as its “back­yard”. Maduro, for his part, has threat­ened a “very firm” re­sponse to the “im­pe­rial threat” from his Amer­i­can coun­ter­part. His for­eign min­is­ter, Sa­muel Mon­cada, de­nounced what he called “the insolent threat of a xeno­pho­bic and racist em­pire.”

But even as the diplo­matic tem­per­a­ture be­tween the two coun­tries hov­ers near zero, eco­nomic re­la­tions have long been close: The United States re­mains the lead­ing im­porter of Venezue­lan oil, and sev­eral Amer­i­can multi­na­tion­als, in­clud­ing au­tomak­ing gi­ant Gen­eral Mo­tors, have in­vested heav­ily for decades in what they viewed as a south­ern El Do­rado. The White House of­fi­cials who briefed re­porters on Tues­day seemed aware of the po­ten­tial im­pact US eco­nomic sanc­tions could have on Amer­i­can busi­ness. — AFP

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