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Friday, February 28, 2014
NPR Blog- Violence in Venezuela
U.S. Has Little Leverage To Stop Political Violence In Venezuela
3 min 58 sec
A demonstrator confronts riot policemen during an anti-government protest in Caracas, Venezuela's capital, on Feb. 22.
Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images
The escalating political crisis in Venezuela has set off alarms in
Washington. But there's little the U.S. has been able to do, aside from
criticize the jailing of opposition figures or the rising death toll as
protesters continue to take to the streets, blaming the government for .
Obama administration had tried to improve relations with Venezuela, but
the new president, Nicolas Maduro, like the late Hugo Chavez before
him, tends to blame the U.S. for the country's problems. The two
countries haven't even exchanged ambassadors in recent years.
says he wants to send an ambassador to Washington to better explain
what's happening in his country. But just recently he expelled three
U.S. diplomats, accusing them of plotting against his government.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (left) and
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jose Jaua have tried to improve
relations between the two nations, to no avail so far. They're shown
here in Guatemala in June 2013.
That has U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sounding frustrated.
He told MSNBC he has tried reaching out to Maduro's administration in
the past year.
"Regrettably, President Maduro keeps choosing to
blame the United States for things we are not doing or for things that
they are unhappy about in their own economy and their own society,"
"We are prepared to have a change in this
relationship. This tension between our countries has gone on too long in
our view," Kerry said. "But we are not going to sit around and be
blamed for things we've never done and see our diplomats declared
persona non grata and sent out of the country for things they didn't
This week, the State Department retaliated by expelling three Venezuelan diplomats.
this point, relations remain in a slump, says Harold Trinkunas,
director of the Latin America Initiative at the Brookings Institution.
U.S. was prepared to take a bit of a risk with the new government to
try to see if there was a possibility of having a more productive
relationship with them, but that quickly fell apart," he says.
the two sides can't even talk rationally to each other, adds Carl
Meacham, who runs the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and
International Studies. He puts the blame mainly on Maduro, who he says
uses the U.S. as a scapegoat.
"He's accused the United States
of being the puppet master and controlling what the opposition is
doing," Meacham says. "He accuses the United States of being behind
alleged efforts to remove him from power, and these accusations are
Meacham sees this as a sign of desperation for Maduro, who doesn't have the same populist appeal as Chavez did.
desperate to redirect attention away from the troubles that he's having
in Venezuela with the opposition, with constant protests in the streets
of major cities and with some questions that are starting to come up
within his own coalition about his ability to really perform as a strong
leader," Meacham says.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro cheers
during a motorcycle rally organized in support of the government in
Caracas on Monday. Although Maduro says he wants to send an ambassador
to the U.S., he recently expelled three American diplomats from his
What can the U.S. do to have any influence? Not much, says
Trinkunas of the Brookings Institution, because relations are just too
"Almost anything the U.S. says and does will be used
against it. We have to keep that in mind, and I think the State
Department does have an interest in a 'do no harm' policy, first and
foremost," Trinkunas says. "But it also has an interest in upholding the
international norms associated with defense of human rights and
democracy in the hemisphere."
And that means raising concerns
about the crisis in Venezuela with regional organizations or with
countries that have more influence than the U.S. does. Trinkunas says
that won't be easy. The two countries with the most influence — China
and Cuba — support Maduro. Two others — Brazil and Colombia — don't seem
to be interested in getting more involved.
President Jimmy Carter, meantime, plans to visit Venezuela in the coming
months. He's been urging the government and the opposition to reduce
tensions, but his aides say he has no plans to mediate.