The Vatican's participation in the mediation effort in Venezuela poses an unusual challenge to US policy in Venezuela and the region. On Sunday, October 30, three of the four major opposition parties and other prominent opposition leaders met with the government, with mediators from the Vatican and UNASUR (the Union of South American Nations). Some progress was made. The government released four people who the opposition considers political prisoners, and the opposition called off a political trial against President Maduro and a planned demonstration that most observers believed ran a high risk of violence.
Thomas Shannon, the number three official in the US State Department, also went to Venezuela this week, met with President Maduro and opposition leaders, and supported the dialogue. I wish I could say that this represents an actual change in US policy in the region, but all evidence still points to the contrary.
The US government is not looking at Venezuela in terms of dialogue or compromise. The Obama administration has economic sanctions against Venezuela, which President Obama renewed last March. In renewing these sanctions, the executive order again declared that Venezuela presented "an unusual and extraordinary threat to US security." The world knows what happens to countries that the US deems to be "an unusual and extraordinary" security threat. Look what happened to Iraq. Look what happened to Nicaragua in the 1980s. It doesn't matter how many people are directly affected by the specific sanctions against Venezuela. The threat is what matters, and it is ugly and belligerent enough to keep many investors from investing in Venezuela and to raise the country's cost of borrowing. (Not to mention that the whole premise of Venezuela as a "security threat" is absurd.) And the US government has also directly pressured financial institutions not to do business with Venezuela.
For all of these reasons, it is clear that Washington's goal in Venezuela is currently the same as it has been for almost all of the past 15 years. Shannon's support for dialogue is almost certain to turn out the same as previous diplomatic thaws in the past: a brief and insincere interlude. President Obama initiated the longest period (about five months) of calm US-Venezuela relations ― since the US-backed military coup of 2002 ―between March and July last year. It soon became clear that this was only because the Cubans ― with support from the rest of the region ― made it a condition of progress in their own negotiations for opening relations with the US. This was something that Obama wanted for his legacy. But as Venezuela's National Assembly elections approached, the Obama administration went back to its regime change strategy, supporting an international campaign to delegitimize Venezuela's elections. (This turned out to be unnecessary, since the opposition won in a landslide.)
The Venezuelan opposition pursued a "strategy of military takeover" for the first four years of the Chávez government, including the 2002 military coup. But since 2004, they have been divided on whether to pursue change through legal means. Whenever they had people in the streets supporting a violent or extralegal overthrow ― as in 2002-03, 2013, or 2014 ― the US government has taken their side. Washington has also led various campaigns to delegitimize the Venezuelan government, a vital part of any extralegal "regime change" strategy.
This op-ed was originally published by The Hill on November 6, 2016. Read the rest here.
Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C., and the president of Just Foreign Policy. He is also the author of the new book "Failed: What the 'Experts' Got Wrong About the Global Economy" (2015, Oxford University Press). You can subscribe to his columns here.