You saw it coming. It seems Venezuela and Cuba will arrive with roles reversed at the Summit of the Americas, which is to take place in April this year. It may be difficult to interpret Obama’s movements in terms of foreign policy, and yet one thing remains clear: If Panama is set to be the stage of a thaw in U.S.-Cuba tensions, all signs point to the outbreak of a monumental spat with Venezuelan counterpart Nicolás Maduro, that is, if the Venezuelans can actually bring themselves to sit at a table with an “imperialist government.”
Ultimately, from the moment Obama announced an executive order issuing further sanctions against Venezuela and seven of the country’s government officials due to what he deemed an “unusual and extraordinary threat to U.S. national security and foreign policy,” Maduro, a firm believer in Chavismo, declared that an invasion was imminent. Fellow Chavismo enthusiast and second–in-command Diosdado Cabello told Venezuelans to prepare themselves for a military attack. The very same night, the president gave a live speech lasting over two hours during which he announced that Obama had made “the most aggressive, most unjust and most terrible” move in the history of U.S.-Venezuela relations. Not a shot was fired — excluding those fired by National Bolivarian police against protesters for the opposition — and yet Maduro, it seems, was already on the warpath. According to Maduro, it will be a hard task arriving at the summit in one piece where it’s predicted that the reconciliation between Cuba and the U.S. will reach its peak.
Based on the Chávez-inspired trash coming out of Maduro’s mouth, it’s highly likely that he’ll accept this role reversal; Venezuela becomes the new David vs. the old Goliath, while Havana and Washington continue this suspicious courtship between two old enemies. Obama has since evoked the futility of the Cold War. Sanctions against Cuba, a country which often posed a serious threat for U.S. security over 60 years of dictatorship, were quite frankly pointless. Only the gradual thawing of relations can undo the outrage caused by the Castros. And yet paradoxically, in the case of Venezuela, a country controlled by an authoritative government striving to emulate the Cuban model of demonizing the opposition, Obama is following recommendations driven mainly by Cuban-American congressmen, who are urging him to take more forceful measures against the repressive surge of Chavismo.
I wonder if before unleashing his great speech, Maduro rang the Castro brothers to ask for their blessing in this role reversal. He is, it seems, largely subservient to his mentors, Fidel and Raúl, the founding fathers of the public vigilance system that the Bolivarian police borrowed from Cuba’s Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, which was imposed upon the country at the beginning of the ’70s. Yet the brothers have already shown their support toward the Bolivarian revolution. The time has come for sanctions, some sort of embargo, and, above all, the imminence of an invasion that will never arrive, to become the excuse for Chavismo to strengthen itself with more enabling acts, to entrust its followers with even more responsibility, and to intensify the witch hunt against imperialist “agents.”
We just don’t know if between now and April, Maduro will have managed to climb out of his trench or not. And yet, Venezuela is already the new Cuba. Cuba continues being a dictatorship and Washington is just the same as ever.
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