The U.S. government has been taking an aggressive strategy towards Venezuela for about a year now. This was prompted by allusions to military intervention, an oil embargo and the decision to take the initiative to formally recognize the president of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, despite Nicolas Maduro’s control over the armed forces.
In recent months we have seen the government of Donald Trump further intensify these measures which now include the freezing of all Venezuelan government assets in the U.S. and sanctions against U.S. individuals and entities doing business with the Maduro regime.
However, the overall cost of President Donald Trump’s approach is proving to be far greater than initial estimates and this new strategy inflicts lasting damage to his reputation in Latin America. There are several reasons to define this new situation. The first is Trump’s unwillingness to rule out the use of military force in Venezuela, and the frequent references by U.S. policymakers to the Monroe Doctrine, the principle that guided the traumatic history of U.S. interventions in Latin America, predictably stoked fear and was rejected by Latinos.
Surprisingly, on that particular issue, Washington’s belligerent rhetoric even forced pro-Trump leaders like Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro to reluctantly side with Maduro last May, making it clear that Brazil would not join in U.S. military action in Venezuela. The big winner is China, which can successfully project itself as the antithesis of the United States, a safe and predictable partner for Latin American nations that talks about investment and trade.
Secondly, Trump’s decision to embrace Guaidó generated a sense of inevitability within the international community. Hoping that the United States would do what was necessary to quickly expel Maduro, most governments in Europe and Latin America followed Trump’s lead. Realizing that Trump was over-committed, foreign ministries in several European capitals around the world are now in the uncomfortable process of normalizing ties with the Maduro government again, a step that many Latin American governments have resisted so far, but will have to take some steps if Maduro stays in power any longer, something that seems inevitable. For example, the German ambassador, a former persona non grata, is now back in Caracas. The Spanish ambassador is in the unique situation of being in Venezuela even though Maduro’s government still officially considers him a persona non grata, which, in theory, leaves him without the rights of a foreign diplomat. Even among Venezuelan opposition politicians, there is a growing perception that Trump sought to overthrow Maduro at a low cost, without developing a Plan B or long-term strategy for post-Maduro reconstruction. The new sanctions could further fuel disillusionment with the United States among some Venezuelans.
Thirdly, the pro-Guaidó rhetoric of the U.S. government has perplexed opponents of the regime and made it easier for Maduro to portray the young challenger as a U.S. puppet, who may have helped Maduro stay in power.
Finally, U.S. economic sanctions have provided Maduro with a much-needed scapegoat, significantly deepening an already disastrous economic situation and aggravating the worst immigration crisis in recent Latin American history. More than eight million Venezuelans could leave their homeland by 2020. Paradoxically, that’s good for Maduro: most people who leave don’t like the government, so the opposition will find it increasingly difficult to mobilize protests.
More importantly, those who have left also send an increasing amount of remittances, which helps stabilize the economic situation a bit. In addition, Russia reacted predictably to the new sanctions by further strengthening its economic influence in Venezuela. Neither Russia nor China will be completely deterred by the Trump administration’s latest move, and in addition to buying Venezuelan oil, China recently agreed to help repair Venezuela’s refining facilities, which could help grow the country’s oil production.
In recent months, there has been an acceleration in the outflow of refugees. With Colombia and Ecuador reaching the limits of their capacity to absorb Venezuelan migrants, there are signs that xenophobia and anti-immigrant rhetoric are on the rise in Latin America, a situation that sanctions will further aggravate.
Political Hispanic is not responsible for the content of opinion articles, each author being responsible for their own creations. Translated by Political Hispanic.