Venezuela sanctions: Expect no serious backlash

So, the US is imposing a few more targeted sanctions on a few more people from Venezuela. There are a lot of reasons to oppose this sort of measure, but I continue to hear the blah blah of how oh no, now the Venezuelan government (or “regime,” as they say) will blame the US for all its problems.

David Smilde, of the Washington Office on Latin America, wrote a pretty scholarly piece trying to support this claim, in the form of a long argument against a ranty kvetsch of mine from a few months back.

My old post followed the appearance before US Congress by US Dept of State biggishwig Roberta Jacobson. Back then, she recommended against imposing sanctions on Venezuelan alleged human rights violators, saying that rights defenders within Venezuela had told her that would be a lousy idea during that sensitive moment of talks. The anti-sanctions argument, articulated then by Smilde and many others, was that sanctions would give the Venezuelan government a chance to justify its failures. He and others predicted that new sanctions would cause the sort of rhetoric we have long seen in regard to the US sanctions on Cuba. I found that to be a pretty weak argument, because the government of Venezuela wasn’t already using that sort of rhetoric, and the US already had sanctions in place. What would make these new sanctions different?

Smilde gave examples of the Venezuelan government condemning US sanctions. And there’s another example — the biggish march over the weekend that was a birthday party for the 1999 constitution, repurposed at the last minute into a condemnation of “imperialism.” These examples prove nothing except that Venezuela’s government likes to distract the public with momentary outrages.

But none of the reactions that Smilde describes show a consistent, long-term communications strategy of blame-the-gringo. At the risk of getting into annoying “national character” territory, I suspect that’s because Venezuelans don’t take well to a “victim” pose. Maybe they like winners. Who knows. In any case, I have never seen the Venezuelan leadership talk about US sanctions for more than a week or two after they are imposed. I suspect this time will be the same.

And it’s all academic now. As Boz said, maybe the new sanctions will cause a rhetorical change in Venezuela, maybe not, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is whether these sanctions give protestors in Venezuela a bit more freedom.

Personally, I don’t much care for “smart” sanctions. If the US has a case against people involved in corruption or human rights violations, it should help the relevant authorities, in the US or abroad, arrest people and give them a trial. How is it helpful to make it impossible for them to come to the US? Sounds self-defeating. Yes, it goes after people’s vanity, but being deprived of Disney vacations isn’t exactly the apt punishment if a person is a real human rights violator. And if the US lacks evidence, then sanctions are punishment without due process, which itself is a human right.

It’s also hard not to ignore the hypocrisy. A state that wants to condemn persecution of protestors should clean up its own act (see Ferguson or the Barrett Brown case or …). Criminalization of protest is a global issue. The US often supports human rights violations in “friendly” states like Egypt, Israel or Saudi Arabia. You gotta start somewhere, I guess, and it would be nice if I could believe this really represented some new respect for human rights. If only.

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One thought on “Venezuela sanctions: Expect no serious backlash

  1. Erik

    the US should go slow and generally avoid sanctions, even if only individuals are targeted. Venezuela is imploding and the current regime’s day are numbered. Change will come and should not carry the slightest whiff of yankee imperialism.

    Attention should focus on normalizing relations with Cuba. The rapprochement with Cuba will act to further isolate Venezuela.

    Regime change is inevitable; the US can help by staying out of the way.

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