Fighting Words

Tough Talk in Venezuela Won’t Work

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro waves to workers of state-run oil company PDVSA during a rally against imperialism in Caracas March 18, 2015. Miraflores Palace / Reuters

The United States’ announcement of sanctions against Venezuela for human rights violations and political persecution increased tensions between the two countries, which spilled into greater Latin America. The sanctions impose travel restrictions and freeze the U.S. assets of seven military and law enforcement officials. Their true aim, however, was to rebuke Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. In his announcement of the sanctions, U.S. President Barack Obama said that they were motivated by the “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by the situation in Venezuela.” 

Even though this language was a prerequisite for sanctions, Obama’s hyperbole undermines his credibility: Many observers question whether the sanctions will isolate Maduro internationally and fracture his domestic support, or will serve to strengthen the beleaguered president’s hand by unifying Venezuelans and regional leaders against Washington’s interference.

Maduro denounced the sanctions, calling them “[…] the most aggressive, unjust and poisonous step that the U.S. has ever taken against Venezuela.” Regional and international groups and leaders rallied behind Caracas, reproving the sanctions as illegitimate. The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which includes each nation in the hemisphere except the United States and Canada, condemned the unilateral measures, which it said contravened international law, calling for dialogue premised on “principles of respect for sovereignty and noninterference in the internal affairs of other states.” The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) “rejects any external or internal attempt at interference that seeks to disrupt the democratic process in Venezuela.” The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) called on Washington to “immediately cease the harassment and aggression against the government and people of Venezuela, as that policy encourages destabilization and the use of violence by a section of the Venezuelan opposition.” And the G-77 and China, a multilateral UN coalition of 134 states, categorically rejected the move, calling on Washington to repeal the sanctions based on “international principles of respect for sovereignty

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