President Trump already has made several missteps this week, but he’s on the right track in one regard:
Late Monday, the president signed an executive order imposing a total economic embargo on Venezuela.
In a letter to Congress, Trump said his administration’s latest action is because of Nicolás Maduro’s “continued usurpation of power” and ongoing human-rights abuses in the South American nation — not to mention the adverse effects that the flight of 4 million Venezuelan refugees has had on neighboring countries such as Colombia.
So far, nothing has dislodged Maduro from power following his sham reelection last year — not increasingly tougher sanctions, not dozens of countries’ support for National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó, who, as allowed by the Venezuelan constitution, claimed the presidency in January.
Trump has understood the importance of preventing the oil-rich Venezuela from becoming Cuba’s twin in its hatred of the United States. Never mind that Venezuela also has powerful friends in Russia and China.
Maduro is one strongman, fortunately, whom Trump has never coddled, thanks largely to Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, who tirelessly brief the president on the dangers of allowing such a critical Latin country to be hijacked by a dictator. Both senators have been champions of the local Venezuelan community.
Monday, Rubio tweeted: “U.S. will rightfully impose sanctions on any person or company in the world that does business with anyone in the #MaduroRegime.”
With this decision, however, come caveats and challenges:
First, this latest move by the president is the starkest recognition that conditions on the ground in Venezuela are about the get worse.
The country’s citizens already have gone without food, medicine and the other basics of survival as it has spiraled toward collapse. Trump’s sweeping economic lockout will not make things better.
As acknowledgment, the president should now reconsider his misguided rejection of granting Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans who fled to the United States, mainly South Florida. Instead, his administration continues to threaten them with deportation. That’s hypocritical.
Second, by moving ahead unilaterally, the embargo risks breaking up the unprecedented diplomatic international alliance that stands against Maduro in both Latin America and Europe. National Security Adviser John Bolton told an audience in Peru that Russian and Chinese support for Maduro is “intolerable” and warned those countries to “not double down on a bad bet.”
Third, the 57-year-old U.S. embargo against Cuba is a cautionary tale.
In 1962, the United States imposed a complete embargo of the island 90 miles away in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis and in an effort to bring down Fidel Castro. To this day, the embargo succeeds in financially squeezing the Cuba government, while it has failed to end the communist regime.
That cannot be the United States’ model in Venezuela. While Maduro similarly is squeezed financially, the diplomatic coalition should push him toward talks that can lead to his departure.