Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Political talks in Venezuela sponsored by UNASUR

"Venezuela is Latin America's biggest exporter of crude oil and has the world's largest petroleum reserves." - Brian Ellsworth and Andrew Cawthorne, Venezuela death toll rises to 13 as protests flare Reuters 02/24/2014

Mark Weisbrot writes about the Obama Administration's Venezuelan policy in an op-ed co-signed by Oliver Stone, Obama Administration Faces Diplomatic Isolation in Latin America on Venezuela CEPR 03/22/2014 (also appears as Obama wrong to isolate Venezuela Boston Globe 03/22/2014; Obama se aísla en Latinoamérica por Venezuela La Journada 28.03.2014.

The United States downgraded the priority of Latin America generally after the fall of the Soviet Union. That shift began with the Old Man Bush Administration, continued under Clinton and Shrub Bush (despite the Cheney-Bush Administration's backing for a coup in oil-rich Venezuela) and became even more pronounced under the Obama Administration. In the political coups in Honduras and Paraguay, this Administration showed indifference at best, more like tacit approval in the Honduran case. (Mark Weisbrot, Top Ten Ways You Can Tell Which Side The United States Government is On With Regard to the Military Coup in Honduras CEPR 12/16/2009) Although compared to the more typical historical US policy toward Latin America, indifference could count as a distinct improvement.

Weisbrot and Stone refer to:

... the lopsided vote at the Organization of American States (OAS) on Venezuela on March 7. Twenty-nine of 32 countries not only rejected Washington’s attempt to get the OAS to intervene in Venezuela, but to add insult to injury, passed a resolution expressing their solidarity with the government of President Nicolás Maduro. It is hard to imagine a more resounding diplomatic defeat in a body where the U.S. government still has quite a disproportionate influence.

The Obama administration seems surrealistically unaware that this is a very different hemisphere than it was 15 years ago. Governments representing the majority of Latin America are now from the left: including Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, Uruguay, and Venezuela in South America; El Salvador and Nicaragua in Central America. These governments emphatically reject Washington’s depiction of the recent events in Venezuela as a government trying to "repress peaceful protesters." If we look at the statements of these governments and bodies such as the South American trading bloc Mercosur and the Union of South American Nations, they share Maduro's view of the protests. They see them as an attempt to overthrow a democratically-elected government. Even President Michelle Bachelet of Chile, who is reluctant to criticize Washington as many of the others do, used the word “destabilization” to describe the protests. And they see that Washington is once again using its muscle to support this effort. [my emphasis]
It's significant that there was no such collective, defensive diplomatic reactions by South American nations to the mass protests that broke out in Brazil in the winter of 2013 (which was mid-year, summer in the Northern Hemisphere), notwithstanding the good relations that Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has with her Latin American neighbors. South American governments evidently did not see those protests as a danger to the democratic system or as showing signs of foreign intervention. (On the Brazilian protests, see André Singer, Rebellion in Brazil: Social and Political Complexion of the June Events New Left Review Jan-Feb 2014)

Weisbrot and Stone also note:

The Obama administration’s manipulation of the OAS in the aftermath of the 2009 military coup in Honduras – to help legitimize the dictatorship -- spurred the rest of the region to form a new hemispheric organization, CELAC, without the U.S. and Canada. True to form, it was only the U.S. and Canada, joined by the right-wing government of Panama that objected to the March 7 resolution.
The Venezuelan government has been cooperating with UNASUR attempts to broker peaceful consulations with opposition leaders (Venezuela's Maduro agrees to Unasur-brokered opposition talks BBC News 04/07/2014) The government has announced that formal talks will begin on Friday to include governors and mayors from opposition parties. (Gobierno convoca a reunión con gobernadores de oposición Últimas Noticias 08.04.2014) There was an initial meeting between Maduro and some opposition leaders on Monday. (Maduro: “Si la reunión con la oposición se concreta, será un gran mensaje de paz” Panorama 08.03.2014)

Henrique Capriles, Governor of the state of Miranda, was the Presidential candidate of the opposition last year who came very close to defeating Nicolás Maduro. Although a year ago he initially refused to accept the election results and promoted militant protests similar to the ones we're seeing the last couple of months, he has kept his distance from the far right's demands to immediately overturn Maduro's elected government. As of this report in Panorama, he has not yet agree to be part of the formal talks: Unasur podría sentarse con los 23 gobernadores 07.04.2014. But he has agreed to talk with the foreign ministers of UNASUR sponsoring the talks. Capriles seems to be walking a line between keeping his credibility among the opposition parties while not embracing the immediate regime-change demands of the far right.

One major opposition leader, Antonio Ledezma, Mayor of Metropolitan Caracas, is not explicitly supporting the far-right group led by Leopoldo López and María Corina Machado. But he paints the situation in hysterical terms to which the far right would be unlikely to object (Ledezma insta a estar atentos a las intenciones de Unasur Últimas Noticias 08.04.2014):

“Liberen a Leopoldo López que está secuestrado, permitan el retorno de los exiliados, liberen a Iván Simonovis que se está muriendo en Ramo Verde, resuelvan el problema de la invasión cubana, resuelvan la separación de poderes”, exhortó el Alcalde Mayor.

[Free Leopoldo López who has been kidnapped, permit the return of the exiles, free Iván Simonovis who is dying in Ramo Verde, resolve the problem of the Cuban invasion, resolve the separation of powers," the Alcalde Mayor exhorted.]
Saying that it's hysterical - e.g., "the Cuban invasion" referring to Cuban personnel working in Venezuela with the government - doesn't mean there isn't substance to some of the complaints. It's not clear to me, for instance, to what extent the evidence would justify López' jailing on charges of promoting violence.

Machado tweeted on April 7:

"The only dialogue that we will accept is the one that facilitates the democratic transition," in this case meaning the overturning of the democratically elected government. (La respuesta de MCM a la propuesta de diálogo de Maduro Noticias 24 Venezuela 08.04.2014)

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