South American Inaction on Venezuela Comes at Great Cost for the Continent
BY OLIVER STUENKEL | JULY 26, 2017
A regional power vacuum has allowed the situation in Caracas to fester, increasing the risk of heavy-handed U.S. involvement.
Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump promised “strong and swift economic actions” if Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro goes through with the July 30 vote to select delegates to the constituent assembly. This announcement comes after an increasingly desperate situation in Venezuela has been met with remarkable regional inaction, producing a power vacuum not seen for decades.
Those, however, who hope for swift U.S. action – for example, in the form of an oil embargo – are profoundly mistaken about its effects. Supporters of such a move argue that the havoc caused by broad sanctions would quickly lead to Maduro's ouster, setting the stage for a return to democracy. Yet with the Venezuelan government desperately in need of foreign culprits for the country’s economic woes, a U.S. oil embargo would provide the ideal excuse for Maduro.
As is the case with Cuba, being the target of U.S. sanctions tends to cause the so-called "rally 'round the flag effect," increasing the government’s approval ratings and lending more credibility to the claims that the real cause of Venezuela’s problems is foreign meddling – as columnist Moisés Naím pointed out. With the armed forces already in control of national food distribution, those in power would not only earn even more money – due to even greater scarcity – but also use the increased scarcity to literally starve opposition strongholds, adding to the tremendous suffering of Venezuela’s population. It would also poison U.S.-Latin American relations for years to come, negatively affecting many other areas of cooperation. Targeted sanctions against a few individuals close to the Maduro administration, like those announced today, will be more effective and less harmful to the population.
The number of voices in Washington calling for U.S. action, however, is growing. Despite a broad consensus across the region that Venezuela is no longer a democracy, governments across South America are unable to agree on imposing meaningful diplomatic pressure on the authoritarian regime in Caracas, though they have a variety of mechanisms at their disposal, such as Mercosur’s democracy clause. Continue reading here.