Source Responsible Statecraft
WASHINGTON, U.S.--The United States remains wedded to a failed Trump-era policy towards Venezuela, but it is no closer to achieving its regime change goals today than when it started more than three years ago.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently spoke with the former head of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, whom our government still likes to pretend is the “interim president” of Venezuela, despite the fact that he controls none of its political institutions, and endorsed his leadership once again.
The United States is one of a shrinking number of countries that recognizes Guaidó’s claim to being an “interim” president. Ever since the failed attempt to rally military support to overthrow Maduro in April 2019, Guaidó’s position inside Venezuela has steadily weakened with his approval rating sinking to as low as 16 percent earlier this year.
While Washington has pursued its unrealistic goal of regime change, U.S. sanctions have exacerbated the worst humanitarian crisis in the Western Hemisphere and inflicted senseless collective punishment on the people of Venezuela.
There was a glimmer of hope earlier this year that the U.S. and Venezuela might find a compromise on oil sanctions, and a U.S. delegation even traveled to Caracas for preliminary talks. But the Biden administration backed off from the idea as soon as it faced political opposition from hawks at home.
As always happens in these situations, the Venezuelan people have been the ones to bear the brunt of this destructive policy. As a group of Venezuelan civil society leaders, economists, and analysts said in a letter to President Biden and Secretary Blinken last month, “While sanctions are not the root of Venezuela’s humanitarian emergency, they have gravely worsened conditions for the average Venezuelan.”
Last month, a group of antiwar and humanitarian organizations, including the Quincy Institute, urged the Biden administration to take action to minimize the harm caused by sanctions in several countries around the world.
Blinken’s call with Guaidó referred to a “return to democracy” in Venezuela, but it should be clear by now that heavy-handed economic warfare is not going to achieve that. It cannot possibly advance the cause of “restoring democracy” to link it to a policy that impoverishes tens of millions of people.
For their part, the opposition aligned with Guaidó is inflexible on sanctions relief, and they insist that there should not be any easing of oil sanctions until there are “significant political reforms.”
U.S. economic warfare against Venezuela is taking place in the context of overall U.S. neglect of Latin America and the Caribbean. This neglect can be seen in everything from leaving multiple Trump-era policies on autopilot to leaving a dozen ambassadorial posts in the region unfilled.
It is a familiar story that we have seen repeated in other regions as the administration’s mantra that “diplomacy is back” has been followed by a notable lack of engagement, diplomatic or otherwise. Senate obstructionism is partly to blame for the missing ambassadors, but the bigger problem is that U.S. policy in the region seems to be rudderless.
Making major changes to Venezuela policy would encounter some stiff resistance from hawks in Congress and from many Venezuelans in the United States, but letting hardliners dictate U.S. policies in Latin America has never benefited the United States or the other countries in the region. One need only look at the decades-long failure of our Cuba policy for proof of that.
As Francisco Rodriguez has said, “Starving an economy of its capacity to purchase goods to promote regime change is cruel, inhuman, and contrary to international law.”
When he was campaigning for president, Biden condemned Trump’s handling of Venezuela as an “abject failure.” Until he rejects Trump’s Venezuela policy, Biden shares in that failure and adds to it.