Venezuela: A Threat to US National Security?

Until now, the crisis in Venezuela has only been felt within the country itself. Aside from the odd outburst from Hugo Chávez, the odd expropriation of foreign companies and the odd interference in neighboring countries’ electoral campaigns, the havoc wreaked over 15 wasted years, including corruption, the drift towards authoritarianism and human rights violations has only damaged Venezuela. This is no longer the case.

Obama’s decision to formally recognize Venezuela as a “national security threat” to the U.S. escalates the conflict between Maduro’s government and “the empire.”

His motives remain a mystery, but perhaps the decision can be partly explained by the lack of reaction of Latin America to the imprisonment of opposition leaders, the oppression of protestors and the crash of the Venezuelan economy.

Maybe Obama is looking to force Brazil, Mexico and Colombia to take a stand, because although they were not party to the Chávez coalition, they have maintained a disconcerting silence. This maneuver from North America could drive a wedge between Caracas and Havana at a crucial time, when the Cuban government is seeking to speed up negotiations with Washington.

Maduro has requested a meeting with the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) on April 18 – election day for the secretary general – in order to condemn Obama’s decision and to gain support from Latin America. He is preparing to use the Summit of the Americas (usually attended by the U.S., Canada and all of the region’s countries, apart from Cuba) to build a wall of rhetoric against “Yankee interventionism.”

The problem is that both Obama and Raúl Castro will be in attendance in Panama. They will shake hands, sit at the same table and perhaps hold a bilateral meeting if they come to an agreement after negotiations about the opening of embassies in each capital city.

What will the presidents of Brazil, Mexico and Chile do, who have applauded the reconciliation between Cuba and the U.S.? Will they join the raucous choir of Maduro, Ortega, Morales, Correa and Kirchner, or will they reiterate the words of the former Spanish King Juan Carlos to Chávez: “Why don’t you be quiet?” Will they try to remove the trap that Maduro set for Obama or will they resign themselves to the absence of the American if the ambush gets the green light?

If there is one thing that can be predicted, it is that they cannot turn a blind eye. Thanks to Obama, Cuba’s desperate condition and the Venezuelan economic downturn, the time for indifference is over.

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