FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Obama, Cuba and Venezuela

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.

More articles by:

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).

July 18, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
Politics and Psychiatry: the Cost of the Trauma Cover-Up
Frank Stricker
The Crummy Good Economy and the New Serfdom
Linda Ford
Red Fawn Fallis and the Felony of Being Attacked by Cops
David Mattson
Entrusting Grizzlies to a Basket of Deplorables?
Stephen F. Eisenman
Want Gun Control? Arm the Left (It Worked Before)
CJ Hopkins
Trump’s Treasonous Traitor Summit or: How Liberals Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the New McCarthyism
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: Repression, Austerity and Worker Militancy
Dan Corjescu
The USA and Russia: Two Sides of the Same Criminal Corporate Coin
The Hudson Report
How Argentina Got the Biggest Loan in the History of the IMF
Kenn Orphan
You Call This Treason?
Max Parry
Ukraine’s Anti-Roma Pogroms Ignored as Russia is Blamed for Global Far Right Resurgence
Ed Meek
Acts of Resistance
July 17, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Trump & The Big Bad Bugs
Robert Hunziker
Trump Kills Science, Nature Strikes Back
John Grant
The Politics of Cruelty
Kenneth Surin
Calculated Buffoonery: Trump in the UK
Binoy Kampmark
Helsinki Theatrics: Trump Meets Putin
Patrick Bond
BRICS From Above, Seen Critically From Below
Jim Kavanagh
Fighting Fake Stories: The New Yorker, Israel and Obama
Daniel Falcone
Chomsky on the Trump NATO Ruse
W. T. Whitney
Oil Underground in Neuquén, Argentina – and a New US Military Base There
Doug Rawlings
Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” was Nominated for an Emmy, Does It Deserve It?
Rajan Menon
The United States of Inequality
Thomas Knapp
Have Mueller and Rosenstein Finally Gone Too Far?
Cesar Chelala
An Insatiable Salesman
Dean Baker
Truth, Trump and the Washington Post
Mel Gurtov
Human Rights Trumped
Binoy Kampmark
Putin’s Football Gambit: How the World Cup Paid Off
July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
Gary Leupp
When Did Russia Become an Adversary?
Uri Avnery
“Not Enough!”
Dave Lindorff
Undermining Trump-Putin Summit Means Promoting War
Manuel E. Yepe
World Trade War Has Begun
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Stomps Britain
Wim Laven
The Best Deals are the Deals that Develop Peace
Kary Love
Can We Learn from Heinrich Himmler’s Daughter? Should We?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Franklin Lamb, Requiescat in Pace
Weekend Edition
July 13, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Brian Cloughley
Lessons That Should Have Been Learned From NATO’s Destruction of Libya
Paul Street
Time to Stop Playing “Simon Says” with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of Formula and Honey
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s Intellectuals Bow to the Queen of Chaos 
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail