HAVANA, Cuba, March 17, 2015 (AMG) — American hostility toward socialist Venezuela – a long-standing Cuban ally – could seriously undermine the U.S. and Cuban governments’ fledgling diplomatic normalization efforts. In a strongly worded statement published in Cuba’s official media outlet Granma on Tuesday, the Cuban government offered “unconditional support” to struggling Venezuela and condemned the newest set of sanctions imposed by the U.S. on that country as “arbitrary and aggressive.”
The statement also derided the American government’s claim that Venezuela poses a national security threat to the United States and ultimately attributed the recent sanctions to “the interventionist nature of U.S. foreign policy.”
“Thousands of kilometers away, without strategic weapons and without employing resources or officials to plot against US constitutional order, the [White House’s] statement is unbelievable, and lays bare the intentions of those who have come up with it,” the statement said.
The new sanctions -implemented through an executive order on March 8th- freeze the American assets of seven high-level Venezuelan security officials and ban them from doing future business in the U.S. The order cites ongoing human rights abuses by the Venezuelan government and Venezuela’s deteriorating civil society as having prompted the sanctions.
“This is an implementation of what we’ve been working on for months, which is cracking down on those who are violating human rights and abusers and those who are cracking down on civil society,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday.
Last month, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro arrested and jailed Mayor Antonio Ledezma of Caracas -a prominent leader of Venezuela’s political opposition- for allegedly planning a U.S.-sponsored coup. U.S. officials denied accusations that Ledezma’s arrest precipitated this week’s new sanctions or that they were attempting to engineer a Venezuelan coup.
In 2002, the U.S. government supported and was involved with a short-lived coup in Venezuela that temporarily drove Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez from power. Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Washington D.C.-based Centre of Economic and Policy Research, argues that the U.S. government has cumulatively spent hundreds of millions of dollars on attempts to topple Venezuela’s socialist government throughout the past 15 years.
Despite its history of hostility, the U.S. is Venezuela’s largest trading partner. The U.S. relies on Venezuelan crude oil and can’t afford to implement the same kind of trade embargo on the country that it currently maintains on Cuba. Even so, the U.S. government remains highly critical of President Maduro’s regime, especially with regard to its apparent mismanagement of Venezuela’s economy in recent years.
President Maduro, in turn, maintains that the U.S. and its allies are conducting an economic war against Venezuela -and Russia- by flooding international energy markets with cheap oil in an effort to drive down global gas prices and cripple his country’s economy, which -along with Russia’s- is highly reliant on oil exports. He says that the effort is part of a larger conspiracy by the U.S. government to punish and oust the Venezuelan and Russian governments -both of which regularly buck Washington’s foreign agenda.
“It’s a strategically planned war … also aimed at Venezuela, to try and destroy our revolution and cause an economic collapse,” Maduro said on Venezuelan state TV.
The degree to which these developments will impact the U.S. and Cuba’s diplomatic reengagement is unclear at this point. The Castro government’s unflinching support for President Maduro’s regime may complicate future negotiations.
Image credit: Cubadebate