President Obama signed an executive order last week declaring the regime in Venezuela a danger to U.S. security. Why? Because it violated the human rights of the democratic opposition. He followed up by imposing sanctions against several military officers and functionaries.
A strange move. He did it a few weeks after starting to cancel the sanctions against the Cuban dictatorship, which, for the past half a century or longer, has mistreated dissidents with the same or greater viciousness than that shown by the Nicolás Maduro government in Venezuela.
There is, besides, a matter of hierarchy. Cuba is the nanny. Venezuela behaves as it does at the behest of the Cuban advisers who rule the country. This is the expertise that Cuba sells to Venezuela: intelligence, social control and tough-fisted governability.
Naturally, Fidel and Raúl Castro immediately came out in impassioned defense of Maduro. The Castro brothers know perfectly well that the $13 billion a year in subsidies, aid and business furnished by their large political colony is worth more than the recent shows of affection and promises they got from the United States.
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“Venezuela is not alone,” said the official Cuban note, meant to suggest that if it comes to a fight, the soldiers of the Cuban motherland will show up.
Of course, that’s just talk, gestures for the balcony. The Castros know that the United States is not the least interested in turning to violence to liquidate Venezuela’s “revolution.” Nobody is going to invade Venezuela.
What is generally ignored is why Obama has taken this contradictory step that only serves to give Maduro a pretext for nationalism, increase repression and stir the Latin American hornet’s nest.
And yet, there are good reasons behind the move. Venezuela is indeed a risk to the security of the United States, not because it violated the democrats’ human rights — that was the excuse — but because of three activities that are codified in the doctrinary definition that indicates where the danger to U.S. society begins or intensifies.
Whoever wants to know the vision that prevails in Washington on this issue should read the book Reconceptualizing Security in the Americas in the 21st Century, with special attention to the chapter titled Venezuela: Trends in Organized Crime, written by analyst Joseph M. Humire.
The movement started by the late Hugo Chávez and inherited by Maduro has crossed three red lines.
▪ First, Venezuelan complicity with the Islamist terrorists in Iran. The governor of the state of Aragua, Tareck El Aissami, of Arab origin, is a former Interior minister said to have strong connections to the Iran government. He has used his posts to create a network of Middle East terrorists fed by drug trafficking.
▪ The second boundary crossed by Caracas is, precisely, drug trafficking. There are Venezuelan generals who are up to their eyebrows in that murky trade. Out of the 700 tons of cocaine produced annually worldwide, 300 go through Venezuela to Europe via Africa or to the United States via Central America. Diosdado Cabello, the president of Parliament, has been accused of being the chief of the main cartel.
▪ Third is the widespread laundering of ill-gotten cash. Petróleos de Venezuela, the state-owned oil company known by the acronym PDVSA, is where most of the crooked transactions take place, including the emission of bonds. More than a business, PDVSA is Ali Baba’s cave but with a lot more than 40 thieves. That money serves to corrupt politicians, buy influence and pay criminals for their services.
The White House knows all this in detail.
It has learned it from diplomats, intelligence services and defectors. Walid Makled García, a Venezuelan drug-trafficking capo as big as the late Pablo Escobar in his prime, was interrogated intensely by DEA agents before his Colombian captors deported him to Venezuela.
“The Turk,” as he is called, sang La Traviata. He spilled everything. The latest member of the chorus is Leamsy Salazar, Cabello and Chávez’s right-hand man, who asked for asylum in the United States and confirmed all that. He also contributed new data. It could no longer be said that “Venezuela is not a danger but a nuisance.”
Actually, Venezuela is a danger to the security of the United States and the hemisphere. Obama’s mistake was not to confront his enemy and call things by their rightful name but to choose an oblique accusation and formulate it poorly, so that most people could not understand it. He wanted to satisfy everybody and managed to do exactly the opposite. A pity.