Last week, U.S Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited several countries in Latin America. The main goal of his trip was to reach a consensus on a possible oil embargo against Venezuela.
The reactions to this idea were good overall. Despite some obstacles, Tillerson’s visit launched an important and unprecedented process.
In Argentina, Tillerson and his counterpart Jorge Faurie announced that they would study the possibility of imposing oil sanctions on Venezuela in order to force the regime of Nicolas Maduro to restore the constitutional order and allow for free elections. It is important to point out that the administration of Mauricio Macri already expressed support for a U.S oil embargo of Venezuela.
The Argentinean approach could be an important addition to the coalition built by the U.S. One day after his return to Washington, Secretary Tillerson announced an American dialogue with Canada and Mexico aimed at addressing concerns regarding the impact of an oil embargo on Venezuela. The idea is how to make up for the consequences of an oil embargo that might affect the people of Venezuela as well as countries that depend on Venezuelan oil.
Furthermore, Tillerson visited Jamaica, one of those countries that depend on Venezuelan oil. Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness, standing alongside the U.S Secretary of State pointed out that the region is moving beyond dependence on Venezuelan oil as the country can acquire oil from other countries including the United States that “is becoming a net exporter of energy sources”.
The Jamaican PM’s statement is most crucial because it suggests that the entire group of Caribbean countries that benefit from Venezuelan oil largesse have alternatives. Last summer, Caribbean countries aborted condemnations of Venezuela at the Organization of American States (OAS), mainly because of their dependence on Venezuelan oil.
If Mexico along with Canada becomes one of the suppliers of oil to the Caribbean countries that still depend on Venezuelan oil, Mexico could play an important role in deposing a regime that has turned into a major regional threat. Mexico pledged to Tillerson that Mexico is committed to play an active role in the Venezuelan case.
Tillerson also visited Colombia and Peru. These two countries along with Mexico are on board in their opposition to the Maduro government.
It is important to point out that an oil embargo may not be enough. In reaction to Tillerson’s effort Maduro pointed out that “If the United Stated decides to sanction oil, our ships will go to other places and we will continue to sell.”
This is why it would be wise for Tillerson to also support, along with the oil embargo, a naval blockade and offer incentives for military officers to dessert Maduro. I developed this idea in a previous article.
Interestingly enough, while Tillerson was visiting the region something else no less important happened: the citizens of Ecuador voted in a referendum to approve constitutional changes that would effectively bar Rafael Correa from running for president again. Correa was a strong ally and supporter of the Venezuelan regime.
This vote was approved with an overwhelming majority of 67%. This represents a major victory for democracy in the region. The referendum was supported by the current president Lenin Moreno, who once was Correa’s vice-President. The vote in Ecuador puts an end to “Correism” and effectively deprives the regional Venezuelan-led Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA) of one of its most “valuable” allies.
In other words, the region by and large is turning against the anti-democratic forces. The U.S has a unique window of opportunity. However, the U.S should not act in ways that could make it appear hypocritical or unreliable.
President Trump’s remarks threatening to cut aid to countries where drugs are produced or trafficked contradicts Tillerson’s magnificent efforts. Friendly countries such as Peru, Colombia and Mexico are among those countries.
These countries deserve the benefit of the doubt and deserve to be treated as allies. Otherwise, how can we expect them to minimize their relations with China and Russia let alone support our efforts in Venezuela? The Monroe Doctrine-issued in 1823 and invoked not without nostalgia by Tillerson in a speech delivered previous to his departure for the region- determined that the Western Hemisphere is a natural area of American influence, originally against European intervention. Tillerson reaffirmed the Monroe Doctrine not against Europe but against Chinese and Russian influence.
However, the nature of Chinese and Russian presence in Latin America will depend a lot on what we do. We are not in a position to forbid countries in the region to strengthen relations with these world powers. We have to gain their hearts and love. They way to do it is by being kind to them. After the painful rule of the authoritarian left in various countries in the region, America is more attractive to them because there are shared values of freedom and democracy between them and us. America is the power that guarantees these values. We should be sensitive. Mishandling relations with them could be painfully harmful. The modern Monroe Doctrine should be based on common goals not on threats.
Overall, Tillerson had a good trip. He needs to continue his good work. However, the job has only begun. A steady and coherent continuity is now needed.
Published by Center for Security Policy on February 9th, 2018