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Obama’s Cuba Legacy May Run Through Venezuela

By Mark Weisbrot - Aljazeera America, June 10th 2015

“The latest move [US government’s “deeply ironic step of removing Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism”] removes one obstacle from the normalization of relations with Cuba, but there are many more ahead, including the 53-year-old U.S. embargo, which has been condemned by nearly the entire world for decades, and the much-hated U.S. military base and prison at Guantánamo, which the Cubans have indicated is a deal breaker if it is not closed down. Another irony: The U.S. government lectures Cuba about human rights while it illegally imprisons and tortures people on the island.

But another issue Cuba has raised with Washington could have even more important implications for the region. It is now apparent, as I first suggested a month ago, that the Cubans made it clear to President Barack Obama that normalization of relations would be limited if Washington was unwilling to normalize relations with Venezuela. This is important because U.S. hostility toward Venezuela, especially Washington’s support for regime change there, has poisoned relations with Latin America even more than the embargo against Cuba.

Obama appears to have gotten the message. He met with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro at the Summit of the Americas on April 11 and backtracked from his executive order that declared Venezuela an ‘extraordinary threat’ to U.S. security. Obama has sent a top State Department official, Tom Shannon, to Caracas twice since April 7 to make peace. A career diplomat and an assistant secretary of state under President George W. Bush, Shannon is considered pragmatic in Washington circles. In the context of Venezuela, this means someone who favors support for groups that want to get rid of the government mainly through electoral means rather than through violence or a military coup.

This is not the first time Obama has moved toward normalizing relations with Venezuela. In 2010 the administration attempted to re-establish relations at the ambassadorial level. This was sabotaged by then-Sen. Richard Lugar’s office, probably in collaboration with like-minded people in the State Department. Last summer, the U.S. accepted a chargé d’affaires — the No. 2 position after ambassador — at the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington. A few weeks after that, U.S. federal prosecutors had a Venezuelan retired general, Hugo Carvajal, arrested in Aruba despite his diplomatic passport, in apparent violation of the nearly sacrosanct Vienna Convention protecting diplomats. An island with a population of 100,000 that is 17 miles from Venezuela, Aruba is part of the Netherlands. The arrest almost destroyed diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Venezuela, but the Netherlands intervened and ordered him freed on the grounds of diplomatic immunity.

The pattern is clear and easily understandable: There are many people in the Obama administration and Congress who do not want to normalize relations with Venezuela. (As was noted in the press, the same is true to a lesser extent for normalizing relations with Cuba. Obama kept top State Department officials in the dark for more than a year of negotiations.) So it was not surprising to see a 2,500-word Wall Street Journal article on May 18, with a far-fetched allegation that the head of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, was the chief of a drug cartel.”

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