Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending a dinner organized by the Interamerican Institute for Democracy with the Secretary of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro. This courageous man, who surprised the region by going from serving a president sympathetic to Chavismo to a tireless champion of human rights, has doubled-down on his attacks on the regime of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro– this time in a speech to the United Nations Security Council.
Almagro urged the international community to intervene to stop the repressive regime in Venezuela. Almagro, stating that no country should be “complacent with systematic violation of human rights in Venezuela.” Then, in a clear allusion to world inaction on the Venezuelan crisis, he added that there is “no political, economic or legal argument that can justify going along with murderers and torturers”. He urged the UN Security Council to address the crisis since Venezuela is a “threat to the political and social stability of the region” He sent a diplomatic message to the international community by claiming that silence on the part of the international community encourages the brutal Venezuelan regime actions. Almagro called on the countries to set aside economic interests and address this important moral issue.
Not only did Almagro break with his Latin American masters, whose feckless attitude so far has avoided the application of any material pressure on the Caribbean region. Next to Almagro sat the U.S Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who denounced the Venezuelan regime as a violent narco-state that constitutes a threat to the region and the world.
Ambassador Haley also broke a tradition of foreign policy dominated by an obscure State Department bureaucracy whose most notorious public face has been Thomas Shannon, a man who has survived and influenced multiple U.S Administrations. The State Department has tirelessly advocated a conciliatory policy towards the Venezuelan regime, arguing that a tough policy would damage the image and interests of the U.S in the region. Likewise, Haley broke former President Obama’s policy of appeasing a state whose enmity towards the U.S is not only irreversible, but also a key part of its identity. Haley was correct when she said that Venezuela is a threat beyond its borders, since it is not only a narco-state, but has also made alliances with Iran and terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah and the Spanish Basque group ETA.
Worse, Venezuela is in the Western Hemisphere, our own neighborhood. American, Western governments and the media (including key conservative outlets) may have ignored all of these developments, but Venezuela, Iran, Russia and China haven’t. They have all noticed it and talk to each other even if we don’t. As a result, our failure to protect our region has weakened our image, making us and our allies vulnerable. No better example of this exists than the dangerous agreement signed between the Colombian government and the guerilla group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Such agreement signed under the sponsorship of Cuba and Venezuela has made Timochenko, a former FARC leader, candidate for the next elections. Timochenko has a record of kidnappings, murder, and torture that, according to documents from Colombia’s Prosecutor General, the Inspector General and National Police, as well as the International Criminal Court (ICC), he should face criminal charges that warrant 1,600 years in prison. However, the Maduro/Castro-inspired Colombia-FARC agreement prevents this from happening.
Almagro and U.S leadership have also brought the European Union to impose sanctions and restrictions on Venezuela. So far, the sanctions are not strong enough, but are expected to increase. We know that the EU needs more pressure to act, given their tradition of acting on economic interests and insufficient moral clarity.
With all of the security and foreign policy challenges we are facing in the Middle East and Asia, it is encouraging that the U.S Administration is not losing sight of this important geo-political crisis. However, despite of being an improvement, this action is still insufficient and far from achieving its goals.
We urge the Trump Administration to use American influence in the region and the world to expand punitive action against the Maduro regime and increase its own.
Published by Center for Security Policy on Thursday November 16th, 2017