Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro speaks during a meeting against imperialism in Caracas, in this March 25, 2015 handout picture provided by Miraflores Palace.
Miraflores Palace / Reuters

If there is any lesson that the United States should have learned from its relationship with Venezuela over the past 16 years, it’s that words matter. It was former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s seductive rhetoric—backed by his nation’s unprecedented oil boom—that kept his battle against U.S. influence alive until his death in March 2013. Washington’s occasional efforts to fire back rarely achieved much, making Venezuelan relations even more of a headache.

President Nicolás Maduro, Chávez’s handpicked successor, lacks his mentor’s charisma, political skills, and money. Maduro has little to show for his first two years in office: he is unwilling or unable to deal with Venezuela’s world-leading inflation, shortages in basic goods, and rampant violent crime that is virtually unchecked by the nation’s police forces. He did, however, take advantage of Washington’s misstep this past March when

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  • MICHAEL SHIFTER is President of the Inter-American Dialogue and an Adjunct Professor of Latin American Studies at Georgetown University. 
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