Declaring the end of United States hegemony in the Western hemisphere has proved to be easier said than done, writes Dr Joseph S. Tulchin.
US President Barack Obama declared the end of US hegemony during his first administration and his Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated it in a speech at the beginning of 2014.
But the hegemonic urge continues as a sort of geopolitical itch which must be scratched, and this is certainly the case in relations with Venezuela.
Legislators in the US Congress introduced legislation to impose sanctions on Venezuela for human rights violations against its own citizens and President Obama has indicated he would sign the bill if it were passed. Such legislation would do no good and cause considerable harm.
First, in terms of US foreign policy, imposing sanctions on Venezuela would weaken the instrument of sanctions at a time when it is the most important weapon of American policy towards Russia and Iran.
Second, such sanctions would provide President Nicolas Maduro’s government with the kind of legitimacy which the embargo provided to Cuba’s Castro regime for 50 years.
Third, sanctions or a threat of sanctions would isolate the US from the rest of Latin America and damage American credibility just at a time when the resumption of relations with Cuba has won considerable praise from Latin American leaders.
The best US policy, at this time of Venezuelan weakness, is to support the efforts of the Latin American community, through UNASUR (the Union of South America Nations) and CELAC (the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), to bring the Maduro government to the bargaining table with the opposition. There is broad consensus among countries in the region - despite real political differences among them - that it is in the region’s collective interest to prevent further violence in Venezuela and to preserve some semblance of democratic governance there, while avoiding blunt US intervention.
The price of oil gave the Maduro government sufficient liquidity that it could afford to take a hard line against compromise with the opposition at the time of the UNASUR effort, in February, under Chilean leadership. Cuban advisers were supportive of such a position at that time.
Today, with the price of oil slipping below US$60 a barrel, Venezuela’s government is in dire straits. There is no money flowing in from the national petroleum company (PDVSA) to pay for social programmes, inflation is soaring above 50 per cent, the fiscal deficit is ballooning and the price of Venezuelan debt on the world market has reached pre-default levels. Several credit agencies are warning that default could come by the end of 2015 if oil prices do not recover. Mr Maduro may be forced to reduce the domestic subsidy on oil, which would make him less popular among his political base.
Cuba, with its constructive role in peacemaking between the government of Colombia and the FARC guerrillas, its leadership role in the hemisphere’s plan to deal with Ebola, and its new relations with the US, may well join with Chile to broker a deal between Mr Maduro and his opposition.
If I were Heraldo Munoz, Chile’s foreign minister, that would be my next proposal to Cuba’s President, Raul Castro.