FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Obama, Cuba and Venezuela

by

Last week, the U.S. government took the deeply ironic step of removing Cuba from its list of “state sponsors of terrorism.” Ironic because, between the U.S. and Cuba, state sponsorship of terrorism has come from the U.S. and has been directed at Cuba.  These incidents have spanned more than four decades, from the launching of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, to the numerous U.S.-organized assassination attempts against Fidel Castro, to the blowing up of a jetliner and other terrorist attacks from Cuban exiles operating out of the United States.

The latest move removes one obstacle from the normalization of relations with Cuba, but there are many more ahead, including the embargo; and the much-hated U.S. military base and prison of Guantanamo, which the Cubans have indicated is a deal breaker if it is not closed down. Another irony: the U.S. government lectures Cuba about human rights while it illegally imprisons and tortures people on the island.

Interestingly, the Cubans have raised an issue with Washington that could have more important implications for the region than removing the 53-year-old embargo that has been condemned by virtually the entire world for decades. It is now apparent, as I first suggested a month ago, that the Cubans made it clear to President Obama that normalization of relations with Cuba would be limited if Washington was unwilling to normalize relations with Venezuela. This is important because U.S. hostility toward Venezuela, and especially its support for “regime change” there, have since 2002 poisoned relations with Latin America even more than the embargo against Cuba.

President Obama seems to have gotten the message, meeting with President Maduro of Venezuela at the Summit of the Americas on April 11, backtracking from his executive order that declared Venezuela an “extraordinary threat” to U.S. national security, and sending a top State Department official – Tom Shannon – to Caracas twice since April 7 to make peace. Shannon, a career diplomatfailedweisbrot who was Assistant Secretary of State for President George W. Bush, is considered in Washington circles to be “pragmatic.” In the context of Venezuela, this means someone who favors support for groups that want to get rid of the government mainly through electoral means, rather than through violence and a military coup.

This is not the first time that President Obama has moved toward normalizing relations with Venezuela. In 2010, the administration attempted to re-establish relations at the ambassadorial level. This was sabotaged by then Senator Richard Lugar’s office, probably in collaboration with like-minded people in the State Department. Last summer, the U.S. accepted a chargé d’affaires – the number two position after ambassador – at the Venezuelan embassy in Washington. A few weeks after that, U.S. federal prosecutors had a Venezuelan retired general, Hugo Carvajal, arrested in Aruba – despite his diplomatic passport.  Aruba, an island with a population of 100,000 that is 17 miles from Venezuela, is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. This arrest was close to destroying diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Venezuela, as Aruba agreed – in apparent violation of the nearly-sacrosanct Vienna convention protecting diplomats – to extradite him to the United States. Fortunately, the government of the Netherlands intervened, and ordered him freed on the grounds of diplomatic immunity.

The pattern is clear and easily understandable – there are many people within the Obama administration and Congress who do not want to normalize relations with Venezuela. (As was noted in the press, the same is true to a lesser extent for normalizing relations with Cuba – hence Obama kept top State Department officials in the dark for more than a year of negotiations.) So it was not surprising to see a 2,500-word Wall Street Journal article on May 18 with a far-fetched allegation that the head of Venezuela’s national assembly, Diosdado Cabello, was the chief of an alleged “drug cartel.”

The same federal prosecutors’ offices involved in the Carvajal case—cited anonymously, of course—were the main sources for the WSJ article. They were backed up by other, mostly far-right sources, and of course by convicted drug dealers who often get reduced sentences for pointing the finger at the appropriate villain.

It’s a dubious piece of work, with only one side of the story presented. (The WSJ, like much of the U.S. media, appears to “suspend the rules” of basic journalism, including fact-checking, when reporting on Venezuela.) The authors did include one tweet from a Venezuelan general, which succinctly summarized the ease with which these prosecutors can gather “evidence”:  “We all know that whoever wants his green card and live in the US to visit Disney can just pick his leader and accuse him of being a narco. DEA tours will attend to them.”

But the article gets the message across: As in the Carvajal case, these federal prosecutors’ offices will have sealed indictments ready to go if one of their targets should step outside of Venezuela, and a diplomatic crisis will be created. That would be the end of Obama’s efforts to normalize relations with Venezuela, for the remainder of his term. And unfortunately, Miami and New York federal prosecutors are not the only U.S. government officials who want to prevent normal relations with Venezuela.

Now back to the Cubans and their negotiations with President Obama. They have some bargaining power here: It seems clear that Obama wants, for his legacy, to be the president that opened up relations with Cuba. Will they hold him blameless if right-wing elements within the U.S. government try to blow up U.S.-Venezuelan relations? Or will they remind him what Harry Truman said: “The buck stops here”?

Obama has proved himself to be quite tough when we wants something: he has faced down formidable opposition, including from one of America’s most powerful lobby groups, the Israel lobby, in order to pursue a nuclear deal with Iran. He can do the same for Latin America, if he so chooses.

Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. and president of Just Foreign Policy. He is also the author of the forthcoming book Failed: What the “Experts” Got Wrong About the Global Economy (Oxford University Press, 2015).

This article originally appeared on Al Jazeera.

Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. and president of Just Foreign Policy. He is also the author of  Failed: What the “Experts” Got Wrong About the Global Economy (Oxford University Press, 2015).

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 23, 2017
Chip Gibbons
Crusader-in-Chief: the Strange Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Michael J. Sainato
Cybersecurity Firm That Attributed DNC Hacks to Russia May Have Fabricated Russia Hacking in Ukraine
Chuck Collins
Underwater Nation: As the Rich Thrive, the Rest of Us Sink
CJ Hopkins
The United States of Cognitive Dissonance
Howard Lisnoff
BDS, Women’s Rights, Human Rights and the Failings of Security States
Mike Whitney
Will Washington Risk WW3 to Block an Emerging EU-Russia Superstate
John Wight
Martin McGuinness: Man of War who Fought for Peace in Ireland
Linn Washington Jr.
Ryancare Wreckage
Eileen Appelbaum
What We Learned From Just Two Pages of Trump’s Tax Returns
Mark Weisbrot
Ecuador’s Elections: Why National Sovereignty Matters
Thomas Knapp
It’s Time to End America’s Longest War
Chris Zinda
Aggregate Journalism at Salon
David Welsh
Bay Area Rallies Against Trump’s Muslim Ban II
March 22, 2017
Paul Street
Russiagate and the Democratic Party are for Chumps
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer, the Progressive Caucus and the Cuban Revolution
Gavin Lewis
McCarthyite Anti-Semitism Smears and Racism at the Guardian/Observer
Kathy Kelly
Reality and the U.S.-Made Famine in Yemen
Kim C. Domenico
Ending Our Secret Alliance with Victimhood: Toward an Adult Politics
L. Ali Khan
Profiling Islamophobes
Calvin Priest
May Day: Seattle Educators Moving Closer to Strike
David Swanson
Jimmy Breslin on How to Impeach Trump
Dave Lindorff
There Won’t Be Another Jimmy Breslin
Jonathan Latham
The Meaning of Life
Robert Fisk
Martin McGuinness: From “Super-Terrorist” to Super Statesman
Steve Horn
Architect of Federal Fracking Loophole May Head Trump Environmental Council
Binoy Kampmark
Grief, Loss and Losing a Father
Jim Tull
Will the Poor Always Be With Us?
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s “March Massacre” Budget
Joe Emersberger
Rafael Correa and the Future of Ecuador: a Response to James McEnteer
March 21, 2017
Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt
On Being the “Right Kind of Brown”
Kenneth Surin
God, Guns, Gays, Gummint: the Career of Rep. Bad Bob Goodlatte
David Rosen
Popular Insurgencies: Reshaping the Political Landscape
Ryan LaMothe
The Totalitarian Strain in American Democracy
Eric Sommer
The House Intelligence Committee: Evidence Not Required
Mike Hastie
My Lai Massacre, 49 Years Later
James McEnteer
An Era Ends in Ecuador: Forward or Back?
Evan Jones
Beyond the Pale
Stansfield Smith
First Two Months in Power: Hitler vs. Trump
Dulce Morales
A Movement for ‘Sanctuary Campuses’ Takes Shape
Pepe Escobar
Could Great Wall of Iron become New Silk Roadblock?
Olivia Alperstein
Trump Could Start a Nuclear War, Right Now
David Macaray
Norwegians Are the Happiest People on Earth
March 20, 2017
Michael Schwalbe
Tears of Solidarity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit, Nationalism and the Damage Done
Peter Stone Brown
Chuck Berry: the First Poet of Rock and Roll
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail