Andres Oppenheimer

Trump talks tough on Venezuela at the U.N., but he’s undermining efforts to indict dictator Nicolás Maduro

President Trump, in his address to the U.N. General Assembly, criticized the International Criminal Court.
President Trump, in his address to the U.N. General Assembly, criticized the International Criminal Court. AP

What irony! While President Trump sounded tough on Venezuela in his speech at the United Nations on Tuesday, he effectively undermined efforts by five Latin American democracies to request an International Criminal Court probe into Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro.

Just as the foreign ministers of Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay and Peru were preparing to sign a joint petition to the ICC to launch a probe on Maduro’s possible crimes against humanity, Trump trashed the ICC.

Trump said in his speech at the U.N. General Assembly that, “The United States will provide no support in recognition to the International Criminal Court. As far as America is concerned, the ICC has no jurisdiction, no legitimacy and no authority.”

Maduro must have loved it. In fact, the five Latin American countries’ petition had been one of the Venezuelan opposition’s biggest hopes in recent months. It was the subject of numerous statements by Latin American presidents, who stressed that it would be the first time that several countries presented such a petition.

The five foreign ministers announced Tuesday that they would postpone signing their petition to the ICC until Wednesday. It is unclear whether Trump’s attack drove them to avoid coming out the same day with their joint document.

That was not the only damage Trump did to the cause of freedom in Venezuela. In his speech, in which he said that, “We reject the ideology of globalism and accept the doctrine of patriotism,” he sided with all the wrong causes, making it almost impossible for the United States to lead any international offensive to seek the restoration of democracy in Venezuela.

Trump defended his racism-tainted anti-immigration policies, praised his plan to build a wall with Mexico, announced he will not sign the Global Compact on Migration, lashed out against “bad and broken trade deals” that in recent decades have brought about humanity’s biggest drop in poverty in memory and ignored calls to fight against climate change.

In addition, Trump invoked the Monroe doctrine — a U.S. policy of the early 19th century that warned non-regional powers to stay away from Latin America — that is widely seen in the region as an outdated policy that was used as an excuse to invade foreign countries. If Trump wanted to energize U.S. foes and annoy U.S. allies in the region, the Monroe doctrine was the right button to push.

Nobody should be surprised that Trump drew laughter during his U.N. speech when he claimed that, “In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country.” Many thought he was kidding, which forced Trump to say, “I didn’t expect that reaction.”

It’s significant that Trump failed to mention Russian President Vladimir Putin’s human-rights abuses — or his invasion of Crimea, for that matter; nor did he criticize most of the world’s bloodiest human-rights offenders, such as North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

“For Trump to go to the United Nations and denigrate the ICC at a time when five Latin American democracies are about to submit a first-ever petition to that same tribunal to bring Maduro to justice is shameful,” says Jose Miguel Vivanco, head of the Americas’ division of the Human Rights Watch advocacy group. “It takes the rug from under the whole effort to investigate Maduro and his mafia.”

Granted, Trump announced new individual sanctions against top officials of the Maduro regime, including Maduro’s wife.

But supporters of democracy in Venezuela should not be fooled by Trump’s tough talk, or by his largely symbolic actions.

Maduro would be much more threatened if instead of dealing with a U.S. president at whom most of the world laughs, as it did Tuesday, the United States had leader with globalist policies and moral authority to lead an international effort to restore Venezuela’s democracy.

As Trump’s clumsy attack on the ICC demonstrated, his cheap nationalism and chaotic policies often hurt more than help the cause of freedom in Venezuela.