As Latin America prepares for the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Panama City on May 9-10, the big elephant in the room is not going to be the long awaited reunion of Cuba with the organization, from which it was excluded over fifty years ago under U.S. pressure, but rather President Obama’s latest act of aggression against Venezuela. The entire region has unanimously rejected Obama’s Executive Order issued March 9, 2015, declaring Venezuela “an unusual and extraordinary threat to U.S. national security and foreign policy” and has called on the U.S. president to rescind his decree.
In an unprecedented statement on March 26, 2015, all 33 members of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which represents the entire region, expressed opposition to U.S. government sanctions against Venezuelan officials, referring to them as “the application of unilateral coercive measures contrary to International Law”. The statement went on to manifest CELAC’s “rejection of the Executive Order issued by the Government of the United States of America on March 9, 2015”, and its consideration “that this Executive Order should be reversed”.
Even staunch U.S. allies such as Colombia and Mexico signed onto the CELAC statement, along with U.S.-economically dependent Caribbean states Barbados and Trinidad, amongst others. This may be the first time in contemporary history that all Latin American and Caribbean nations have rejected a U.S. policy in the region, since the unilateral U.S. blockade against Cuba.
Ironically, President Obama’s justification to thaw relations with Cuba, announced in a simultaneous broadcast with President Raul Castro on December 17, 2014, was primarily based on what he called Washington’s “failed policy” towards the Caribbean island. More than fifty years of unilateral sanctions and political hostility had only served to isolate the U.S. internationally, while Cuba strengthened its own relations with most countries around the world and gained international recognition for its humanitarian assistance and solidarity with sister nations.
Almost without pause, Obama opened the door to Cuba, admitting Washington’s failure, and then shut it on Venezuela, implementing an almost identical policy of unilateral sanctions, political hostility and false accusations of threats to U.S. national security. Before the region even had time to celebrate the loosening of the noose around Cuba’s neck, it was tightened on Venezuela’s. Why, the region wondered, would President Obama impose a proven failed policy against another nation in the hemisphere, especially during a period of renewed relations?
Considering the ongoing U.S. war on terrorism that qualifies any alleged threat to U.S. security, by anyone or anywhere, to be a viable target of its vast military power, Venezuela was not about to sit quiet in the face of imminent attack. The South American nation immediately launched an international campaign to denounce Obama’s Executive Order as an act of aggression against a country that poses it no real threat. President Nicolas Maduro published an Open Letter to the People of the United States in the March 17, 2015 edition of the New York Times alerting readers to the dangerous steps the Obama administration was taking against a peaceful, non-threatening neighboring state. The letter urged U.S. citizens to join calls for Obama to retract his Executive Order and lift the sanctions against Venezuelan officials.
The region reacted quickly. Just 48 hours before Obama’s Executive Order was issued, a delegation of Foreign Ministers from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), representing all twelve South American countries, had traveled to Venezuela to meet with government officials, opposition representatives and members of civil society. UNASUR had been mediating dialogue between the government and opposition since anti-government protests erupted last year and caused over 40 deaths in the country and widespread instability. The fact that Obama’s decree came right after UNASUR had reignited mediation efforts in Venezuela was perceived as an offensive disregard of Latin America’s capacity to resolve its own problems. Now the U.S. had stepped in to impose its will. UNASUR responded with a scathing rejection of Obama’s Executive Order and demanded its immediate abolition.
Additionally, countries issued individual statements rejecting Washington’s sanctions against Venezuela and its designation of the South American country as an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to its national security. Argentina considered it “implausible to any moderately informed person that Venezuela or any country in South America or Latin America could possibly be considered a threat to the national security of the United States”, and President Cristina Fernandez made clear that any attempt to destabilize Venezuela would be viewed as an attack on Argentina as well. Bolivian President Evo Morales expressed full support for President Maduro and his government and lashed out at Washington, “These undemocratic actions of President Barack Obama threaten the peace and security of all countries in Latin America and the Caribbean”.
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa tweeted that the Obama Decree must be a “bad joke”, recalling how such an outrageous action, “reminds us of the darkest hours of our Latin America, when we received invasions and dictatorships imposed by imperialism…Will they understand that Latin America has changed?”
Nicaragua called the Obama Executive Order “criminal”, while wildly popular ex Uruguayan president José Pepe Mujica called anyone who considers Venezuela a threat “crazy”.
Beyond Latin America, 100 British parliamentarians signed a statement rejecting U.S. sanctions against Venezuela and called on President Obama to rescind his Executive Order labeling the country a threat. More than five million people have signed petitions in Venezuela and online demanding the Executive Order be retracted.
Furthermore, the United Nations G77+China group, which represents 134 countries, also issued a firm statement opposing President Obama’s Executive Order against Venezuela. “The Group of 77+China deplores these measures and reiterates its firm commitment to the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela…The G77+China calls on the Government of the United States to evaluate and put into practice alternatives of dialogue with the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, under principles of respect for sovereignty and self-determination. As such, we urge that the Executive Order be abolished”.
And then there’s the CELAC statement. The entirety of Latin America has rejected Obama’s latest regional policy, just when he thought he had made groundbreaking inroads south of the border. Unsurprisingly, the White House has miscalculated regional priorities once again, underestimating the importance sovereignty, independence and solidarity hold for the people of Latin America.
While Latin America celebrates the easing of tensions between the U.S. and Cuba, the region will not stand by and let Venezuela come under attack. If the Obama administration truly wants to be a regional partner, then it will have to accept and respect what Latin America has become: strong, united and bonded by a collective political vision of independence and integration. Any other means of engagement with the region, beyond respectful, equal relations based on principles of non-interventionism, will only have one outcome: failure.