Don’t Send an Ambassador to Venezuela

The conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. has published a new paper titled “Latin America and the U.S.: Building a Partnership for the Western Hemisphere,” authored by Senior Latin America Policy analyst Dr. Ray Walser, PhD. Link to the full paper here.

The section on Venezuela is titled: Don’t Send an Ambassador to Venezuela, and it says:

“…during the campaign, Senator Obama stated that, “demagogues like Hugo Chávez have stepped into this vacuum. His predictable yet perilous mix of anti-American rhetoric, authoritarian government, and checkbook diplomacy offers the same false promise as the tried and failed ideologies of the past.” This was an excellent analysis.”

“Yet what Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton suggested before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee—that we “need to care less about what Hugo Chávez does and more about what we do”—does not go far in mapping out a strategy for dealing with a Latin American leader whom President Obama described just before taking the oath of office as an “obstacle to progress” and who makes anti-Americanism the cornerstone of his domestic and foreign policy.”

“The challenge of dealing with Chávez is considerable. He is an outsized despot, a study in contradictions in a country torn between an impulse to populist socialism and the preservation of political and economic pluralism. He enjoys a significant following among Venezuelan citizens and is lionized as Fidel’s successor.”

“The battle for the political soul and future direction of Venezuela is for its people to determine. But the U.S. has a legitimate, if still undefined, role in working with the majority of Venezuelans who do not want a president for life, and bolstering democratic pluralism as a right.”

“The primary concern of the United States is dealing with a Latin American leader who routinely insults the U.S. and warmly embraces every rogue and tyrant from Fidel Castro and Robert Mugabe to Kim Jong Il and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Chávez has forged a strong relationship with an increasingly threatening Iran and a resurgent Russia. Moreover, he intends to become the energizing axis for Latin America’s socialist integration as well a pivotal player in a world that he hopes will freeze out capitalism and globalization, and weaken the U.S.”

“Chávez has all the subtlety of a perpetually burning American flag. Sending an ambassador to Caracas should be quietly buried on the White House’s to-do lists. A U.S. ambassador should not return to Caracas without a comprehensive, tough-minded strategy for dealing with Venezuela, one that focuses foremost on actions harmful to U.S. interests, such as drug trafficking, terrorism, Venezuela’s support for the FARC insurgency, and fronting for Iranian sanctions evasions. There needs to be serious and satisfactory resolution of these issues before seeking agreement for another ambassadorial sitting duck. A one-on-one with Chavez at the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago in April is a bad idea. Cuba’s presence should not be welcomed either.

Other recommendations in the report include:

Do Not Feed Excessive Expectations

Moving ahead in the Western Hemisphere will require hard-headed pragmatism. … the probable reality is that the instruments available to the Obama White House to shape U.S. Latin American policy will remain two-way trade and Latin American access to the world’s largest market.

Do Not Disparage Bush’s Achievements: Build on Them

During the Bush presidency, Congress, with bipartisan support, passed free-trade agreements with Chile (2002), Central America and the Dominican Republic (CAFTA-DR, 2005), and Peru (2007). The Bush Administration also negotiated agreements with Colombia and Panama that now await congressional approval. It is vital that each Member of Congress push for their approval.

In North America, the Security and Prosperity Partnership for North America advances the concept of working with Canada and Mexico to develop a close relationship with our most important trade partners, improving efficiency and competitiveness while enhancing security at American borders.

Protecting U.S. Security Remains Job No. 1

A hydra of violence and insecurity troubles the Western Hemisphere. Making an impact in fighting crime and drugs in Latin America will require a mix of the elements of hard power— helicopters, aerial and maritime patrol craft, radars, and law enforcement technology—and soft power—computers, systems networks, and investigative and human rights training. It will also require close coordination of all elements of national power in the U.S. and abroad and a seamless web of cooperation with neighbors across a spectrum that runs from community policing, crime prevention, and demand reduction in Latin America and the U.S. to intelligence sharing, improved investigation and forensic skills, and improved capacity for seizures, take-downs, and arrests.

Building the Partnership: What the U.S. Should Do

Embrace Free Trade: Pass the pending Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with Colombia and Panama. Leadership also needs to be applied to the Doha Round of trade talks and reduce agricultural subsidies at home, which will spur progress on a U.S.–Brazil FTA. President Obama should also quickly put an end to speculation that he will attempt a renegotiation of NAFTA with Canada and Mexico.

Revitalize Democratic Governance and Promotion. The Inter-American Democratic Charter guarantees every citizen in the Americas the right to a democratic government. Seven years later, a significant minority of Latin American states have begun to abridge citizens’ rights and turn to the streets to silence political debate, while the Organization of American States has sat by inertly without invoking that charter. The U.S. cannot be the only nation in the Americas ready to speak out in defense of the charter. The challenge is to encourage fellow democrats in the Americas to speak up in the halls of the OAS and elsewhere. It is incumbent on President Obama and his new Latin American team to find new strategies for winning the battle for pluralistic liberal democracy in the Western Hemisphere.

Promote Energy Cooperation. A sound comprehensive strategy will require expanding domestic oil and energy supplies, more nuclear power, economically sustainable alternative energy sources, and greater energy efficiency and conservation. The U.S. must work closely with Canada and Mexico, America’s nearest and most reliable suppliers.

Earn Trust, Work with Pivotal Leaders. Move quickly to develop a strong personal rapport with Latin America’s current breed of genuinely democratic leaders. President Calderon in Mexico, Brazil’s Luis Lula da Silva, Peru’s Alan Garcia, Chile’s Michelle Bachelet, and the Dominican Republic’s Leonel Fernandez are among prominent leaders who share forward-looking attitudes on democracy, free-market growth, and poverty alleviation. The Obama Administration needs to reach out to them early and often. Special attention needs to be given to Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe.

Develop a Bold Education Initiative. Education is the key to permanently reducing poverty and making more equitable societies. The U.S. is well positioned to present a broad, multifaceted educational initiative. Support for elementary and secondary education is important and can include loans from the World Bank and the IADB. Rejuvenating programs at the higher education level could be a signature initiative for the incoming Administration. They can reach directly to future leaders and spur innovation in sciences and technology, areas where Latin America lags behind on the global scale.

Consider creating a senior-level voluntary Western Hemispheric Education Council to energize and revitalize the gamut of education strategies. The challenge is also to develop a stronger synergy to promote coordination and cooperation between government efforts, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and civil society.

Advance English-language education and develop a basic program that identifies the fun¬damentals of democratic capitalism.

Revitalize Regular and Citizen-to-Citizen Diplomacy. Work to recapture and revitalize what is best in the U.S. …develop a strategic communications plan to closely coordinate democracy promotion and public diplomacy, making sure the Departments of Defense and State and the National Endowment for Democracy carefully define a strategy, work together, and remain on message.

Restoring a special envoy for Latin America may signal fresh interest in the region but the envoy needs genuine access to the Oval Office and the ability to inject fresh discipline and energy into the Washington policy process.

Increasing the number of Peace Corps volunteers, as proposed, is a wise idea. So is making the government a clearinghouse and point of assistance for the large number of American NGOs and faith-based groups that are active in the Western Hemisphere. Finding ways to energize and engage the U.S. Hispanic population to work constructively with their home countries is another avenue that needs to be pursued.

Exercise Caution with Cuba. Keep clearly in focus the fact that Cuba, after 50 years under a single revolutionary, anti-American leader, remains a totalitarian state—an ideological dinosaur and island prison with a stronger kinship to the regimes of Stalin and Mao than to modern social democratic states. There is little evidence, as suggested in the rare interview Raul Castro recently granted to actor Sean Penn, that the Cuban political system is a negotiable item on any possible U.S.–Cuban agenda. There is a good chance that the Cuban regime is already planning ways to eviscerate any fresh opening by the U.S. that does not fit with its visions of perpetuating Communist rule.

About Caracas Gringo

Representing less than 0.00000000001515152% of the world population as of 31 December 2011.
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