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April 13, 2016
Before the Obama administration, George Bush had a stated policy of trying to isolate Venezuela from its Latin American neighbours. This translated into Washington becoming more isolated and it seems that history is repeating itself under President Barack Obama. In 2009, President Obama promised to turn over a new page, marking an end of overt hostility towards Venezuela. However, with the continued violence and unrest that has recently been taking place on the streets of Venezuela, the Obama administration has found itself to be more isolated than during the Bush era and it seems to be for all the same reasons.
Back on 7th March 2014, the first major sign of the isolation of Washington was during the lopsided vote at the Organisation of American States (OAS) over the issue of the on-going unrest in Venezuela. Of the 32 countries involved, 29 not only rejected Obama’s attempt to get the OAS to intervene in Venezuela, but to add salt to the wound, they passed a resolution expressing solidarity with President Nicolas Maduro’s government. Founded in 1948 for the purposes of regional solidarity among the states of the Americas, the US government has a relatively disproportionate influence o the OAS, and yet the result of this vote was one of the most resounding diplomatic defeats the US government has received.
It seems as though President Obama is surrealistically unaware that the neighbouring Latin America is very different to what it was 15 years ago. Many of the governments now representing Latin America are today from the left. In South America the governments of Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, Uruguay and of course Venezuela all have leftist governments. In Central America, El Salvador and Nicaragua boost up the numbers in the OAS that reject Washington’s depiction of the recent events in Venezuela as a government trying to repress peaceful protests. The Latin America that stands in front of the Obama administration further states its alliance and support for Maduro with Mercosur and the Union of South American Nations all siding with Maduro’s point of view, that these protests are an attempt to overthrow a democratically-elected government. Many countries see the United States as resorting back to using its muscle power and influence on the region in order to support its own efforts both politically and economically.
The leaders of Latin America in support of Maduro are not doing so based solely on principal and do have every reason to believe him when he says he is trying to prevent violence. So far at least 21 security officers have been arrested by the government and despite the crimes committed by individual security officers, there is no conclusive evidence that Maduro’s administration has used violence intentionally to repress dissent. Interestingly, since the protests began most of the deaths have been at the hands of the protesters rather than the security forces.
When Ecuador and Bolivia faced similar riot situations back in 2008 and 2010 respectively, their South American neighbours, led by Brazil came rallied to their cause and the same happened for Venezuela in April 2013 when Washington refused to recognise Maduro’s election victory. The manipulation of the OAS by Obama’s government in the aftermath of the 2009 military coup in Honduras put into action the creation of a new hemispheric organisation, CELAC that did not include the USA or Canada. As was expected, in the OAS vote that took place in March 2014, it was only the USA, Canada and right-wing government, Panama that objected whilst the rest sided with Maduro.
There is no doubt that any attempt by the United States government to put a number of right-wing politicians on an equal footing with the democratically-elected Maduro government will be met by hostility and opposition throughout the region. The region sees the United States government as intending to de-legitimize the Venezuelan government and therefore encouraging the violence and destabilization which continues today. If the Obama administration wants to improve the relations between the US and Latin America, it could although very unlikely, side with the rest of the hemisphere’s opinion by accepting the results of democratic elections. Until the United States begins to form last bonds and relationships within the region, the Obama government will always be seen as trying to interfere in Latin America and further widening the gap between the two neighbours.
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