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Latin America Silent on Venezuela as U.S. Airs Rights Concerns

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PANAMA CITY (AP) — Joshua Goodman and Peter Orsi report: From Mexico to Brazil, leaders in Latin America have largely kept silent amid charges of human rights abuses in Venezuela and are unlikely to speak out against their neighbor at this week’s Summit of the Americas.

“The Obama administration last month froze the U.S. assets and revoked visas for seven senior officials accused of human rights violations related to protests last year against President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government.”

Many Latin American heads of state gathering in Panama City are bound to oil-rich Venezuela by business dealings if not ideology, and are put off by recent U.S. sanctions against some of the country’s officials. Others do not want to be seen as doing Washington’s bidding, particularly as they face protests and plunging approval ratings at home.

“The unrest is blamed for more than 40 deaths and triggered a crackdown on criticism that led to the jailing of several opposition leaders, including February’s surprise arrest of Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma.”

“Venezuela has successfully played the history of U.S. imperialism and U.S. heavy-handedness cards, in a way that has made people want to back away from public criticism,” said Geoff Thale, an analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America.

Venezuela Regional Silence

“It was no surprise that leftist allies such as the governments of Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua would leap to defend Caracas. All have a history of vocal opposition to Washington. But even more moderate governments and traditional U.S. allies in the region have been reluctant to criticize Maduro.”

The Obama administration last month froze the U.S. assets and revoked visas for seven senior officials accused of human rights violations related to protests last year against President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government. The unrest is blamed for more than 40 deaths and triggered a crackdown on criticism that led to the jailing of several opposition leaders, including February’s surprise arrest of Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma.

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Human Rights Watch and other advocacy groups issued a statement on Tuesday asking the countries attending the summit to call Maduro’s administration to task for its alleged harassment of rights defenders.

But rather than highlight alleged abuses, the U.S. sanctions have drawn widespread condemnation in Latin America, denying Obama a hoped-for diplomatic victory lap at the summit for his decision to restore ties with Cold War nemesis Cuba. A reference to Venezuela as a threat to U.S. national security included in the sanctions declaration is standard bureaucratic language for the United States, but disturbing to a region with a long history of U.S. interference, from support for past military regimes to efforts to topple leftist governments.

Deputy National Security adviser Benjamin Rhodes argued Tuesday during a White House press briefing on Obama’s upcoming visit that the language in the executive order was the same typically used by the U.S. when it levies sanctions around the world.

“The U.S. doesn’t believe that Venezuela poses some threat to national security,” Rhodes said. The action, he added, “was not of a scale that in any way was aimed at targeting the Venezuelan government broadly.”

Ricardo Zuniga, the U.S. National Security Council’s senior director of Western Hemisphere Affairs, said during the same briefing that “the situation inside Venezuela clearly is a matter of concern for its neighbors and other countries in the region.” But, he added, “we don’t have any hostile designs on Venezuela.

“The bottom line is we have an interest in the success of Venezuela,” he said. “We are Venezuela’s largest trading partner. We have an extensive and deep history between our countries, including a lot of family connections.”

The U.S. action has been breathing new life into Maduro’s government just as a plunge in oil prices looked set to deepen economic turmoil marked by widespread shortages and soaring 68 percent inflation. He has promised to deliver Obama a petition signed by 10 million Venezuelans calling on the U.S. to repeal the sanctions.

The pushback from the region seems to have caught the U.S. off guard.

“I was a bit, I will confess, disappointed that there weren’t more who defended the fact that clearly this was not intended to hurt the Venezuelan people or the Venezuelan government even as a whole,” Roberta Jacobson, the top State Department official for Latin America, said last week about the sanctions.

It was no surprise that leftist allies such as the governments of Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua would leap to defend Caracas. All have a history of vocal opposition to Washington. But even more moderate governments and traditional U.S. allies in the region have been reluctant to criticize Maduro….(read more)

Associated Press

Associated Press writer Joshua Goodman reported this story in Panama City and Peter Orsi reported from Mexico City. AP writers Hannah Dreier in Caracas, Venezuela, and Jim Kuhnhenn in Washington contributed to this report.

Joshua Goodman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/APjoshgoodman

Peter Orsi on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Peter-Orsi

 

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One Comment on “Latin America Silent on Venezuela as U.S. Airs Rights Concerns”

  1. […] Latin America Silent on Venezuela as U.S. Airs Rights Concerns (punditfromanotherplanet.com) […]


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