The joint U.S.-Cuba announcement (December 2014) on restoring relations between them generated the optimism that the U.S. had stepped forward to change its policy towards Latin America. Sadly, the move was soon followed by rounds of the U.S. sanctions against Venezuela. The U.S. moved forward to normalize the relations with one Latin American state ‘Cuba’, acknowledging the U.S.’s decades long failed sanctions policy towards Cuba, only to adopt the same sanctions policy on another Latin American state ‘Venezuela’.
Relaxation of sanctions against Cuba
The relationship between Cuba and the U.S. was strained when the U.S. started to impose sanctions on Cuba in early 1960s. While the sanctions on Cuba were imposed with the intension of making Cuba kneel infront of the mighty U.S., the sanctions in reality pushed Cuba to forge alliances with the countries that has been hostile to the U.S.’s interest, and hence the closer ties with Soviet Union (previously), Russia and Venezuela. Sensing the failure of sanctions policy against Cuba, the U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration decided to bring an end to such policy with regard to Cuba. Obama, on 17th December, 2014, announced a historical new policy toward Cuba, in a move to normalize relations and end sanctions.
Increasing sanctions against Venezuela
While the U.S. has been imposing sanctions against different Venezuelan individuals over the years, the sanctions imposed this year against several Venezuelan “officials” through the Executive Order from Obama’s office is unprecedented. The Executive Order declared Venezuela “an unusual and extraordinary threat to U.S. national security and foreign policy”. The U.S. moved forward to lift the sanctions on Cuba, only to adopt the same sanction policy on Venezuela — implementing an almost identical policy of unilateral sanctions, political hostility and false accusations of threats to U.S. national security. Before the region even had time to celebrate the relaxation of the sanctions on Cuba, it was tightened on Venezuela.
Reaction from regional platforms
Countries around the world were vocal in their criticism of the Obama’s strongly-worded Executive Order. The entire Latin America unanimously rejected the Executive Order and called on the U.S. president to cancel his decree against several Venezuelan officials. The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) demanded the immediate abolition of Obama’s Executive Order. Moreover, in an unprecedented statement, all members of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which represent the entire region, expressed opposition to U.S.’s sanctions against Venezuelan officials, referring to them as “the application of unilateral coercive measures contrary to International Law”. Such unanimous support for Venezuela from all Latin America and the Caribbean countries, and the official condemnations from these countries against the U.S.’s Executive Order were serious diplomatic embarrassments for the U.S. To add to the U.S.’s embarrassments, Colombia and Mexico, which are U.S. allies, signed the aforementioned CELAC statement, along with Barbados and Trinidad, which is economically dependent on the U.S. This may be the first time in contemporary history that all Latin American and Caribbean states have rejected a U.S. policy in the region, since the unilateral U.S. blockade against Cuba.
Reactions from regional leaders
Bolivian President Evo Morales expressed full support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, and termed President Barack Obama’s Executive Order as undemocratic action. According to him, such action from Obama administration threatens the peace and security of all countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa expressed that such an outrageous Executive Order reminds him of the darkest hours of Latin America, when the region received invasions and dictatorships imposed by imperialism. The outgoing Argentine President Cristina Fernandez went as far as saying that any attempt to destabilize Venezuela would be viewed as an attack on Argentina as well.
Why would President Obama impose a failed policy (sanction policy) against Venezuela during a period of renewed relations with Cuba? Surely the attempt to gradually isolate Venezuela through sanctions and other means is being made with the intensions to (i) destabilize Venezuela, because it has one of the largest oil reserves, (ii) destroy the Venezuela-led oil association (the Petrocaribe), and (ii) undermine Latin American integration, probably through divide and rule policy.
- An oil-based alliance, titled Petrocaribe, was launched in 2005 in order to facilitate many Caribbean states to purchase oil from Venezuela with privileged payment. In 2013, the alliance agreed to maintain links with the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) in order to go beyond oil and promote economic cooperation. Such a development in the U.S.’s backward — without any interests for the U.S. in it — has perhaps annoyed the U.S. Therefore, the U.S. is trying to use its sanction policy in order to halt back Venezuela’s growing influence over the region.
- The U.S.’s goal in Latin America is not limited to destroying the socialist government in Venezuela. The U.S.’s too much nosiness in the region shows its intension to attack the regional integration of Latin America. Platforms for regional integration like the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) are surely seen by the U.S. as threats to its regional influence that is already in decline. The U.S.’s strategy in the region is to play the same old divide and rule policy, taking few socialist governments like Cuba into its sides and destroying few others like Venezuela and Brazil, and in this way, attack the integration that has been built in Latin America in the past decades.
- The solidarity among the Latin states is much stronger today than ever. While Latin America celebrates the easing of tensions between the U.S. and Cuba, the region will not stand by and let Venezuela come under attack. It is very unlikely that Latin America would stand any more interference, intervention and double standards towards the regional countries and the region as a whole. Any means of engagement by the U.S. with the region beyond respectful and equal relations based on principles of non-interventionism will only bring failure.
Bahauddin Foizee is an international affairs analyst, and writes on Middle Eastern, greater Asia-Pacific & European geopolitics. Also a campaigner for environmental and social awareness, Bahauddin Foizee occasionally writes on environment and refugee issues.