Summit of the Americas and Venezuela’s Domino Effect

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The Summit of the Americas which brings together Washington with its hemispheric partners for a weekend political retreat this year was a major missed opportunity. The Western allies spent the weekend arguing with Cuba and Bolivia about adding sanctions against Venezuela on the basis of its disastrous human rights record. President Trump canceled his appearance at the Summit, focusing on the airstrikes on Syrian military targets instead. Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) went in his stead. The focus appeared to utilize the assistance of some of the major allies in Latin America, particularly those most likely to be affected by Venezuela’s policies, to pressure others into adding additional pressure that would force the Maduro regimes to make concessions ahead of the May 20 election, which, the US, Argentina, Colombia, Brazil, and others, are sure to be sure sham.

This approach is guaranteed to fail for a number of reasons. First of all, many of the sanctions against the country merely trickle down to the population. Targeted sanctions against the regime members have been extremely limited up until this point. Until the US herself is willing to cast a much wider net and pressure for international isolation of Venezuela, the current set of sanctions will not have much of an effect. It should also be isolated from international institutions. Second, there is no clear end goal in sight. Are the allies trying to get the government to merely release political prisoners and end political persecution of the opposition? Is the goal to allow the opposition to participate in the upcoming elections?

Or is there hope of making the regime collapse, and having a completely democratic election with international observers? Without a clear end goal and a strategy towards accomplishing it, these countries will never get to where they would like to be, which is to see ultimately a free, prosperous, secure, and stable Venezuela and the rest of the region. Thus far, there seems to be no game plan in sight. In fact, by engaging in direct confrontations with Cuba and Bolivia, the United States and others legitimized the positions of those countries, and worse yet, opened themselves up for additional derision by the propaganda apparatuses of those countries, which will not be helpful to meeting the above described goals.

There are a few things to keep in mind. First, the opposition parties in Venezuela are likewise extremely left-wing and on policy matters, will hardly be any better than Maduro himself. They may be initially more lenient on human rights matter, but the economic devastation brought by Chavez and Maduro will not be offset by any radical changes, and the threat of destabilization will continue to lure. The opposition currently blames the personalities at the helm for the disasters that befell Venezuela, rather than ideologies and unworkable economic policies which drove forward politically ambitious implementers, who were quickly and easily corrupted by power. Until the opposition begins to understand that there needs to be a complete policy reorientation of the country towards liberalizing both economics and politics, the situation will not improve, and from that realization, there needs to be a concerted effort to educate the public, gain grassroots support, and unite the highly factionalized and easily cooptable opposition groups towards a single achievable end.

At the current juncture, the collapse of the Maduro government (unlikely as it is due to the successful consolidation of power by the regime), would not bring about stability, relief, or freedom. Without a strategic approach to the regime change, the most likely outcomes are either complete chaos complete with additional millions of refugees, all to be exploited by Russia, Iran, and China which thrive on such situation – or a power grab by another power hungry faction, which will be at least as bad as Maduro himself. That said, merely adding more sanctions will not bring down the government, which will merely utilize these additional restrictions in the anti-Western propaganda campaign.  This is also not a Chile situation. There is no potential Pinochet to counterbalance the radical leftists. Invasion or a covert operation to get rid of Maduro will not bring about the desirable end.

The wisest course of action for the allies for the time being, surprising as it may seem is to outwardly contain the damage from the Maduro regime and defend the rest of the hemisphere from Venezuela’s destabilization, while quietly working out a reasonable transition plan, which should include informing, educating, and training the people in basic civil society building skills on the grassroots level, with the hopes that from a more aware and realistic public better leaders and new opposition parties will emerge. None of that will happen overnight, of course. For that reason, the engagement of local South American allies is of paramount importance, but soft influence, rather than public posturing and symbolic feel-good gestures, could go a long way in the current situation. In some ways, the world is better off now than during the Soviet era, when establishing means of communications were much more difficult than they are now. Indeed, Venezuela with its porous borders and thousands of refugees fleeing to Colombia and other countries in the region, provides ample opportunity for quiet work on the sidelines, should the allies took the situation seriously enough to engage in long-term, slow, and publicly unrewarding work.

Meanwhile, Venezuela presents a serious danger to the rest of the continent. The flow of refugees presents an unsustainable burden on Colombia, which is suffering from its own internal problems, in part thanks to the disastrous deal between the President and FARC. The collapse of one economy may quickly lead to significant worsening of domestic situations for other vital US allies, which could not come at a worse time for the United States, as it is reevaluating whether to try to reenter the TPP, and while also rebuilding its relationship with Argentina and looking to counter Hezbullah in South America. The conditions in Venezuela, however, may be as much a byproduct of socialism and greed by Maduro and his cronies, as part of a deliberate effort to utilize controlled chaos in the United States by Russia and Iran. That strategy has been utilized widely by both sides during the Cold War; in the 21st centuries, the stakes are higher, more powers are involved in the fight for global supremacy, and the relations between potentially affected countries are significantly more complicated.

That Russia and Iran would engineer some of the deliberately destructive policy changes in Venezuela to reach the maximum devastating effect is quite plausible given that the Venezuelan vice president has ties to Iran and Hezbullah. In fact, everything that has happened seems designed to give maximum cover to terrorist organizations, which can utilize a weak country with a population on the verge of starvation, to infiltrate, train, and potentially recruit new base in exchange for future social services. Iran’s plan for Venezuela may not necessarily portend a complete collapse into anarchy; at some point, there may be a bailout package forthcoming in exchange for the collective kissing of the ring. Regardless, for now, it may be that the two countries which most thrive on chaos are deliberately pushing to maximize the number of refugees. The unrestricted flow of refugees into the nearby countries also facilitates other agenda efforts, such as infiltration of those stable and economically viable places by radical left stooges and Russian and Iranian agents of influence.

Now, the question is: what do Russia and Iran gain from weak, destabilized countries with collapsing economies, overrun by dirt poor refugees, and likely all sorts of internal strife and tension? After all, they lose buying power, and become less viable trading partners. The reality is, however, from Russia’s and Iran’s perspectives, doing damage to Western interests is significantly more important than gaining any positive affirmative outcomes for their own economies. Venezuela’s devastation is financially lucrative because it allows Russia to gain much stronger control of the oil, and for both of these countries to manipulate the political situation with relative ease. With respect to the neighboring countries, the calculations are substantially similar, although there may be some additional benefits:

  1. Disrupting the TPP agreement with China  and making Latin American countries politically risky for its investments – although Russia and Iran have common interests with China, neither wants to be overshadowed by the Asian hegemon. Some indirect level of discomfort that will keep China’s economic ambitions in Latin America in check means a blow against China’s rivalry.
  2. Creating a significant problem in the US neighborhood – that means not only endangering US borders, gaining easier access to the US itself, and causing no shortage of issues to deal with which weaken the US and cause it diplomatic tensions and public derision, but also keeping it preoccupied in one area of the world and out of the Middle East and Africa where Russia’s and Iran’s primary interests lie.
  3. Creating easily cooptable situations. Weak governments overwhelmed with economic problems may collapse and give way to much more left-wing regimes that will be all too happy to align with Russia and Iran against the United States. Quite simply, Russia and Iran are looking for additional footholds into dominating the hemisphere in political and economic ways, without overextending financially, exploiting other countries’ resources whenever possible, and finding new allies and votes in the UN and other international organizations that will bring them a level of legitimacy against the concerted US-led effort at sanctions and social isolation.
  4. For Russia, Latin America presents new markets for its natural resources, cybertechnology, weapons, and whatever else. For Iran, it’s natural recruiting ground for spies and terrorists, which have already established a presence in well known towns and areas, but of course, there is a potential to do much more. Cuba, Venezuela, and others are being reinvented as new and improved terrorist training camps, kind of like what Cuba once was for all sorts of liberation movement terrorists.
  5. Bulwark against direct confrontation with the allies – Iran and Hezbullah do not wish to engage in direct warfare with the Western allies in the immediate future, because quite simply they are too weak internally and too overextended externally to handle such confrontations. Also, their military might is while growing not yet strong enough. However, transferring some ballistic missiles into Latin America, would place Iran and Hezbullah a great deal closer to becoming an existential threat to the United States, which is of course a bigger risk for an attempted regime change, but, if done with an element of surprise, while the administration is distracted with chasing drug rings and terrorists cells, turns into a version of mutually assured distraction and at the very least keeps the United States at Bay.

Of course, a reasonable question would be why Russia and Iran prefer to focus on wreaking havoc that also costs them and presents significant risks of backfiring, especially if the US and others finally get with the times, instead of engaging in positive relationship-building and contributing something of value to the hemisphere. The answer is simple: these two countries are both corrupt and internally weak. Having spent all their remnants of wealth on warfare and weapons, they have very little of value to contribute, and have to rely on fossil fuels, cronyist projects, and illegal schemes to fund their operations, particularly abroad.  Until they find a means to profit from other sources, and reach some level of comparatively advantageous military capabilities they are at an inevitable disadvantage against the West’s superior defense might. They can only come up with distracting and disruptive strategies, because their economies are not developed and are not aimed at any positive contributions.

While this is ongoing, the US and stronger South American countries should work out a strategy of cooperation on:

  1. Securing borders and strengthening defense and security alliances
  2. Engaging in joint training exercises aimed at Hezbullah terrorist scenarios, missile wars, or chaotic situations related to refugee crises.
  3. Extend intelligence sharing to surveillance of Iranian cultural centers across Latin America, as well as observing Iranian and Russian outreach and recruitment efforts.
  4. Strengthen the economies of the countries most heavily affected by the influx of refugees as well as by the economic effects of Venezuela’s devaluation through mutually beneficial joint ventures, investments, and policies that would offset the ensuing risks.
  5. Ensure strong domestic civil society building efforts and awareness of potential mass institutional infiltrations by agents of the Russian and Iranian regimes.
  6. Engage Venezuelan refugees in civil society building training and education, essentially creating a viable, practical-minded, and ideologically sound opposition abroad. These refugees will actually be the better champions of Western values and liberalized economic policies among their own brethren in Venezuela, as they are more familiar with mentality, culture, political landscape, and logistics.
  7. Work out innovative social media and other alternative media communications and outreach that could reach the Venezuelans with moral support, accurate information, and programming aimed at reevaluating the situation in the country.
  8. Assist with setting up clandestine training centers.
  9. Focus on providing humanitarian assistance directly on the ground to counter Russian, Iranian, and Chinese influence.
  10. Engage in direct positive messaging and outreach to the Venezuelans to counter anti-Western propaganda by the regime.

Until the discourse on this issue reaches some level of sophistication, gatherings such as the 8th Annual Summit of the Americans, held in Peru, will continue to be a waste of time, and a mere platform for politicians to posture and grandstand about their concern and allegedly strong stands against All the Bad Things in Venezuela. Ideally, the Summit of the Americas should become a focal point for growing and deepening relationships with US’ Latin American allies, particularly in light of the common threat, and just as importantly, in support of the common vision of freedom, prosperity, and security for all.

Acerca de Irina Tsukerman

Irina Tsukerman graduated with a JD from Fordham University School of Law in 2009 and received her BA in International/Intercultural Studies and Middle East Studies from Fordham University in 2006. Her legal and advocacy work focuses on human rights and security issue, mostly in Muslim countries. She is also involved in diplomatic outreach and relationship-building among different communities.

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