With President Donald Trump singling out “the communist and socialist dictatorships in Cuba and Venezuela” in his State of the Union address and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson using his first trip to Latin America to rally regional support for tougher measures against Venezuela, the Trump administration is clearly signaling its intention to escalate diplomatic and economic pressure on the authoritarian regime of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.
There is no other course. The Maduro regime’s intransigence, its systematic destruction of democracy, and its epic economic malpractice are creating not only a humanitarian nightmare within Venezuela, but a migration crisis that threatens the stability of it neighbors, including Colombia and nearby Caribbean islands.
Pressing forward on a strategy of increased sanctions and multilateral pressure is right, but at the same time the Trump administration cannot delink Venezuela and Cuba, for there will be no resolution in Venezuela without addressing the pernicious influence of the Castro regime in fortifying Maduro’s grip on power and rooting out any internal opposition to the breakdown of democratic order.
Today, the penetration of Venezuela by thousands of Cuban operatives is complete. While it remains difficult to quantify the exact numbers, according to a Brookings Institution report, Cuban intelligence operatives and military advisors in Venezuela range from hundreds to thousands. Organization of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro puts the number at 15,000, likening them to “an occupation army from Cuba in Venezuela.”
Certainly, there is nothing new to the incestuous Venezuela-Cuba relationship. What is new is the Maduro regime’s increasing brazenness in pursuing an uncompromising survival strategy straight out of the Castro playbook: ever-more reliance on repression to maintain control, while driving the discontented out of the country. Cuba’s fingerprints are all over this human tragedy.
So what more can the Trump administration do to hold Cuba accountable? The United States already maintains an embargo on most commercial activity with Cuba and the U.S. embassy there is running on a skeleton staff due to the health attacks on U.S. diplomats. Yet, there are options that would raise the costs to the Castro regime for its destructive role in Venezuela, for which it has paid no price to date.
Here are some recommendations:
There is very little to be optimistic about regarding Venezuela. Some liken it to an out-of-control bus that needs to crash before anything can be done. But that is an abdication of responsibility by those in a position to prevent such a tragedy and a disservice to the Venezuelan people. Moreover, there will be those who claim the United States has no moral authority to act in preventing the destruction of Venezuela. It’s very likely, however, that not many of them live there.
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