July 30, 2014
On Monday, I wrote this article looking at the splits within the Obama administration on policy toward Venezuela and how they were manifested in the case of Venezuela’s former military intelligence chief Hugo Carvajal. Carvajal was arrested last Wednesday in the Dutch island of Aruba with the help of the DEA, after he arrived to take up a post as Consular-General at the Venezuelan embassy there. Washington’s attempt to extradite him to the U.S., despite his diplomatic immunity, collapsed on Sunday night when the government of the Netherlands acknowledged Carvajal’s protected diplomatic status.
My argument was that the failed extradition was another attempt by the hard right to blow up diplomatic relations with Venezuela. It failed for the same reason that the previous attempt – the proposed economic sanctions against Venezuela that passed the House of Representatives on May 28, did not become law: President Obama (or whoever is in charge of U.S. foreign policy in the hemisphere), does not want to break diplomatic relations with Venezuela at this point.
Since yesterday, three more developments have followed the failed extradition attempt: first, Senator Bob Corker (the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) released his hold on the sanctions legislation. This was what was officially holding up the sanctions bill in the Senate.
At the same time, a group of senators including Robert Menendez, Bill Nelson, and Marco Rubio, the co-sponsors of the Senate’s version of the proposed Venezuela sanctions bill, released a letter urging Secretary of State John Kerry to “use the existing authorities that the Administration has to levy targeted sanctions against individuals that have been complicit in human rights violations in Venezuela.” This may be a signal from the most militant anti-Venezuela members of the Senate that they have reached some sort of agreement not to push forward with their own sanctions legislation, which the State Department has referred to as “unhelpful,” if the Obama administration utilizes its “existing authorities” to pressure Venezuela.
Then today, the Obama administration threw a bone to the extreme right, with a press release from Secretary of State John Kerry announcing “restrictions on travel to the United States by a number of Venezuelan government officials who have been responsible for or complicit in such human rights abuses.” This is of course a very hostile gesture that is transparently political, and has nothing to do with human rights. As I noted previously with regard to the sanctions legislation:
There is no need to comment on the alleged rationale for the legislation, which was to punish human rights violations. The Egyptian government has killed more than a thousand people since the military coup in July 2013, and sentenced 700 to death. The Israelis have also killed more than a thousand people in Gaza in just the past three weeks – most of them civilians, including more than 200 children. Not only is there no talk of sanctions against Israel or Egypt, there is not even talk of reducing or even conditioning the billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars, including military aid, that flow annually to these two countries. By comparison, 43 Venezuelans died in more than two months of violent protests seeking to topple a democratically-elected government, about half of them at the hands of the protesters themselves.
The number of Gaza residents killed has now passed 1,200, and needless to say there will not be any U.S. visa restrictions on Israelis “responsible for or complicit in such human rights abuses.”
As for Venezuela, Kerry’s sop to the far right is obnoxious enough to signal that Washington is not in any hurry to move toward full (ambassadorial) diplomatic relations with Venezuela, at least until after the U.S. elections in November (a major influence on U.S. policy toward Latin America). But it is not quite at the same level as the economic sanctions legislation or certainly the illegal extradition to the U.S. of a Venezuelan diplomat. So, the administration likely sees it as a compromise with the extreme right that will not force Venezuela to break diplomatic relations, although it is a very hostile gesture and quite obviously done for domestic political reasons. It sends yet another signal to Latin America that the U.S. is not a reliable diplomatic actor in the hemisphere.