Tillerson Makes Venezuela a Target during Latin American Tour

By Gaudin, Andres | NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs, February 16, 2018 | Go to article overview

Tillerson Makes Venezuela a Target during Latin American Tour


Gaudin, Andres, NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs


While Nicolas Maduro's government and the opposition Mesa de la Unidad Democratica de Venezuela (MUD) slowly advanced toward a laborious agreement to allow presidential elections in Venezuela, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, during his first Latin American trip in February, worked to bring friendly governments to back Washington's anti-Venezuela policies (NotiSur, Sept. 15, 2017, and Jan. 12, 2018).

Tillerson's tour, which included Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Colombia, and Jamaica, crowned a process in Venezuela framed by a violent and critical domestic situation, the constant zigzags of a divided opposition that, in the long run, has benefitted the ruling party, and by US President Donald Trump's vacillating strategy. That strategy has evolved, from a threat of direct, armed intervention made on Aug. 11, 2017, to an exhortation to the Venezuelan military to intervene in civil matters, overthrow Maduro, and send him off to Cuba, which came on the eve of Tillerson's trip. In addition, there have been sanctions imposed by the US and the European Union (EU) against both individuals and institutions, and the persistent threat of an anachronistic blockade similar to that which Cuba suffered in the 20th century. It is a situation for which the great power of the West seems unable to find a satisfactory solution.

On the eve of departing for Mexico, his first stop on his first Latin American tour as secretary of state, Tillerson met with students at the University of Texas in Austin. There he suggested that the Venezuelan military should stage a coup d'etat and send Maduro to a golden exile in Cuba.

"I'm sure that he's got some friends in Cuba who can give him a nice hacienda on the beach, and he can have a nice life over there," Tillerson said in response to a question about a possible US role in regime change in Venezuela.

Secretary Tillerson made it explicitly clear that this would be the focus of his tour. This call for military intervention was judged as a serious error, even by the most loyal allies, including Argentina and Brazil. But in addition, Tillerson's trip to the region, began with a major setback: On the same day, Feb. 2, Thomas Shannon, a diplomat with solid prestige in Latin America, resigned as undersecretary of state for political affairs. Just three weeks earlier, Shannon had been Trump's man in Madrid, there to negotiate new sanctions against Venezuela with the conservative government of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and, through him, with the European Union.

"It seems there's a lot of improvisation in this tour," Javier Tolcachier, an academic researcher at the Centre for Humanist Studies, said of Tillerson's trip.

To begin with, the US did not try to sound out its allies before encouraging the Venezuelan military to overthrow the government. Second, it ignored the internal reality of the State Department, where Shannon is the fourth of five high-level diplomats to resign since last September, when Ambassador William Brownfield departed. Third, the US threw controversial issues on the table at a time when it should be smoothing out the red carpet in preparation for Trump's first visit to the region for the VIII Summit of the Americas in Peru in April. Fourth, the imposition of an oil embargo on Venezuela was proposed as the strongest action against Venezuela, when Tillerson knows, given his long history in the field, that the impact of an embargo would be more symbolic that real.

"The agenda chosen to address in the five countries doesn't seem to be the best one," Tolcachier said.

Geoff Ramsey, assistant director of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) for Venezuela, told the German radio-television agency Deutsche Welle, "Tillerson's discourse is a serious error, seemingly based on ideas from the Cold War or the United States' colonial era in Latin America, and the only thing it accomplishes is to spark national feelings around Maduro . …

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