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Bolivarian Revolution

US sanctions lost in Venezuela's translation

WASHINGTON D.C. — By targeting top Venezuelan officials this week with new sanctions, the Obama administration said it wanted to send a strong message in defense of human rights and democracy.

The message that got through may have been a little stronger than intended.

Any focus on the individuals sanctioned or the human rights record of President Nicolás Maduro was rapidly eclipsed by reaction to language in the president’s executive order declaring a “national emergency” and “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”

Maduro was quick with fiery denunciations of Washington and what he alleged were its plans to invade, and by Tuesday evening, even Venezuela’s opposition sought to distance itself from the U.S. measures, issuing a statement that began: “Venezuela is not a threat to any nation.”

Opposition leaders, who generally are close with the United States, said they rejected the use of unilateral sanctions. “We appreciate and are grateful for the support of the international community, but we neither want nor accept that any of its members take on roles that are ours to assume,” read their statement.

“Just as we reject Cuba’s offensive meddling, we cannot support nor accept any other nation’s,” the statement continued. “This is a struggle among Venezuelans for Venezuela.”

The U.S. measures freeze the U.S. assets of seven Venezuelan officials, mostly the heads of the country’s security agencies, and prohibit Americans from doing business with them.

On Wednesday, U.S. officials acknowledged the reaction of the opposition to the sanctions but said they expected it to be short in duration.

Many in the opposition have “a real ambivalence” about the measures, said a senior State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity under administration rules.

“One part of it is, ‘Go for it and call these people out.’ Another part is being somewhat defensive at . . . being labeled” as unpatriotic.

“It’s remarkable that the [Venezuelan] government can say the most outlandish things about the U.S. government — what is this, the 16th or 17th coup attempt that we’re doing? And now we’re invading?” the official said. “The shelf life of all of these accusations is what, a day or two? Even the dullest of media consumers is going to see that there is no invasion.”

“Let’s see what the crisis of the day is a couple of days from now,” the official said.

The “emergency” declaration and labeling of Venezuela as a “security threat” are legal formalities used in many other instances when sanctions are applied, administration officials said. The language does not represent a more severe assessment of the Maduro government, they said.

But such nuances stood little chance in the meat grinder of Venezuela’s rough political culture, where state-financed and pro-government broadcasters dominate the airwaves.

The sanctions announcement has put Venezuela’s opposition in a jam, said Luis Vicente León, president of the country’s top polling firm, Datanálisis.

“No one is talking this week about the empty shelves in the supermarkets or unemployment,” he said. “All they’re talking about is the American decision to sanction Venezuela.”

Maduro’s approval rating has slumped to its lowest levels in his two-year presidency, 23 percent in the latest Datanálisis survey, as the fall in oil prices drives his government into a tailspin. With national legislative elections probably coming this summer, the opposition faces its best opportunity in more than a decade to oust the socialist government at the ballot box and force a recall of Maduro after that.

Maduro would love the chance to have the United States as his main adversary and not Venezuela’s opposition leaders, who have been trying to win over former supporters of the late President Hugo Chávez who are weary of corruption, soaring crime and the world’s highest inflation rate.

Reeling from a series of clumsy and ineffective economic measures in recent months, Maduro this week has steadied himself and adopted a fighting stance to cast himself as patriot in chief. He has asked the National Assembly, which his United Socialist Party controls, for new decree powers, and plans to personally lead military drills in preparation for a U.S. invasion.

© 2015, The Washington Post

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Donald Waltz

Ben, every time I read your comments, it makes me prouder to ba an American. The greatest country on the face of the planet, minus Obuma

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Truth Hurts

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US goverment aka Obama should worry about the poor that need food stamps to live. 46 million people in the US need food stamps to eat. I guess US goverment just loves to never look at there own problems in US. US says they are the richest country in the world but they can´t afford to give good wages to 46 million that live on food stamps. I know people in the US that work 3 jobs and still collect food stamps to eat. Stick with Walmart and Koch brother. US goverment thinks that poor should be slaves to the Rich. US goverment keeps on spending on Military and never help the poor. I always find it funny when US citizens say they are the richest country the truth is the US is the most in debt country and most two faced country.

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Ken Morris

US citizens are frequently surprised to learn that the US is NOT the richest country in the world as measured by per capita GDP. It may be the richest as measured by total GDP, but not per capita. On this ranking the US usually comes in about 10th on the list. Also, while not as unequal as some people imagine (inequality in the US is similar to inequality in Costa Rica) the US is far from the most equal country in the world. Thus, per capita GDP can itself be a misleading indicator. The typical US citizen takes in much less money than the average GDP would suggest, since money is skewed toward the top. Also, it is true that the US has a larger percentage of its people living in poverty than most other developed countries, mainly because the social safety net in the US is much weaker. However, the 46 million receiving food stamps may be mildly misleading. Food stamps are a Department of Agriculture program that helps farmers and agribusinesses, with the result that it tends to have strong political support among some of the wealthy. It’s kind of corporate welfare at the same time that it’s regular welfare, so maybe not the greatest measure of poverty in the US.

As an aside, the military is probably the main social welfare program in the US. The poor disproportionately enlist, and their enlistment rates go up when the economy is bad. Then the poor get a steady paycheck, often training for a civilian job, and a ton of lifelong benefits that range from hiring preferences in government jobs to discounted beer. Take away the military, and the poverty rate in the US would skyrocket.

All this said, it is kind of off the point of Venezuela. To say that the US should do a better job at home is not to say that it shouldn’t also have a foreign policy. They’re kind of two separate things.

My leaning is to think that Obama did the right thing by declaring the “national emergency” with respect to Venezuela. Although that sounds harsh (and the reaction against it is understandable) it only really allows Obama to do something if he wants to, it doesn’t mean that he will do much. At the same time, you can bet that there are conservatives in congress pressuring him to take this action. Politics, as they say, is the art of compromise, and Obama has to give the conservatives something in order to get things he wants from them.

So I say let’s wait and see about what the US does or doesn’t do with respect to Venezuela. Unlike Donald Walz, I have a good deal of faith in Obama’s basic political values. I doubt that he will repeat the mistakes of the past. Were some recent US presidents to have declared this “national emergency,” I too would be worried, but I don’t worry as much about Obama.

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