Obama and Venezuela

The dispute between the government of Nicolás Maduro and the Obama administration worsened yesterday when the latter said that the Venezuelan regime represented an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”

At first sight, this statement sounds exaggerated, but it is required by law to allow the President to impose economic sanctions on a series of individuals within the Venezuelan government who, according to the White House, are involved in repeated human rights violations.

This is the latest episode in a long history of tension between the U.S. and the Venezuelan governments, which led, for instance, to the dismissal of the Venezuelan ambassador from Washington five years ago. Recently, Maduro announced that he would expel most U.S. diplomats from Venezuela.

The tension arises at a moment when Venezuela endures difficult economic times. With the plunge in oil prices, the country has descended into a crisis, while the shortage of goods ? the way in which the private sector protests ? causes more frustration among the population.

Student protests have been violently repressed, and opposition leaders such as the mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, are being arrested, charged with conspiring alongside the U.S. to stage a coup to overthrow Maduro.

The Venezuelan president’s reaction has been precisely to denounce once and again the U.S.’ supposed attempts to remove him from power. The accusation, which Maduro repeats every chance he gets, loses its effect even when the memory of previous U.S. interventions in the politics of Latin American nations is ever-present.

It is important that the U.S. does not get involved in the struggle to depose Maduro. That would only confirm the fears of the Venezuelan president. Washington should resist the interventionist temptations of the past and refrain from listening to supporters of coups d’état.

The White House can pressure Maduro, but should not play his game and turn his notion that it is either him or the U.S. into reality