Secretary of State John Kerry offered support for US sanctions against Venezuela in Congressional testimony yesterday, playing into the hands of right wing Cuban Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who introduced sanctions legislation on the same day. Just last week the House of Representatives gave near unanimous support for a resolution condemning Venezuela offered by the right-wing Cuban representative from Miami, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
Frustrated with its declining power, the Cuban Right is seeking to destabilize and topple the Venezuelan government, which would threaten Havana with the loss of its vital supply of subsidized oil from Venezuela. A coup in Venezuela would additionally impact Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and the bloc of nationalist countries seeking independent economic development. It would also complicate the improving rapprochement between the US and Cuba, a staunch ally of the Caracas government.
Kerry told a House hearing on March 13, "On the sanctions issue and the challenge of Venezuela, let me just say this. We have been in touch with surrounding, neighboring countries. We're talking with them about trying to get some kind of initiative with them. They're (Venezuela) not listening to us, particularly, obviously. And -- and we're hopeful that peer pressure, the -- the hemisphere, and -- and the near neighbors are going to be the people who be able to have the greatest impact on them. But we are prepared, if we need to, to invoke the inter-American democratic charter in the OAS, and engage, you know, in serious ways with, as you said, sanctions."
On the same day Menendez introduced his "Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act," which includes $15 million for support of civil society activists and independent media - meaning, anti-government forces. The bill imposes "targeted sanctions" and visa restrictions on Venezuelans charged with human rights abuses, including arrests of persons exercising their freedom of expression.
Kerry's words combined with the Menendez legislation will be seen, at least outside the Beltway, and especially in Latin America, as steps towards regime change. And if Latin America rebuffs the undefined American diplomatic initiative, Kerry's words commit the US to, "engage, you know, in serious ways with, as you said, sanctions."
That would set off a spiral of escalation with dangerous and unpredictable consequences.