Decision Time on Venezuela

For the last 15 years, major Latin American countries have largely ignored the crisis in Venezuela, refusing to condemn or support its leadership's incompetence and abuses. Now that President Barack Obama has decided to classify Venezuela formally as a “national security threat” to the US, this is about to change.

MEXICO CITY – For the last 15 years, Venezuela has been mired in crisis, characterized by wasteful government spending, rampant corruption, growing authoritarianism, relentless human-rights violations, and now economic collapse. But, beyond the occasional sharp word from the late President Hugo Chávez, the periodic expropriation of a foreign company without adequate compensation, and some minor meddling in the elections of neighboring countries, the crisis barely registered abroad. This is no longer the case.

Earlier this month, US President Barack Obama officially classified Venezuela as an “extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States,” and ordered sanctions against seven officials, thereby stoking bilateral tensions. But, while the crisis in Venezuela undoubtedly has far-reaching implications, the precise motivation behind Obama’s decision remains unclear.

One possible explanation stems from the enduring passivity of Venezuela’s regional neighbors toward its plight. Countries like Brazil, Mexico, Chile, and Colombia have remained largely silent in the face of recurring abuses by Chávez and his successor, Nicolás Maduro, including the imprisonment of opposition leaders, repression of public protests, and media censorship. Obama may be trying to force these countries to choose sides: either support Venezuela explicitly or support the US in opposing its leaders’ policies.

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