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Venezuela – Trump’s Foreign Policy Excursion

February 13, 2019 by HJ Mai
Sede del consolado de Venezuela en Miami. (HECTOR GABINO/EL NUEVO HERALD)

In his first two years as the leader of the free world, U.S. President Donald Trump aggressively pushed his “America First” agenda and selectively disengaged the United States from the international stage. He also publicly questioned America’s traditional alliances and called for reforms to international treaties and organizations, including NATO.

In the case of Venezuela, however, Trump is taking a different approach. Under his leadership, Washington is spearheading an international effort to end Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s reign in the Latin American country.

“We stand with the Venezuelan people in their noble quest for freedom – and we condemn the brutality of the Maduro regime, whose socialist policies have turned that nation from being the wealthiest in South America into a state of abject poverty and despair,” Trump said during last week’s State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress.

In late January, the U.S. officially recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as the interim president of Venezuela and called on other western democracies to follow suit. At the same time, the Trump administration imposed economic sanctions to cut off Maduro’s main revenue source: oil exports to the United States.

“I will continue to use the full weight of United States economic and diplomatic power to press for the restoration of Venezuelan democracy,” Trump said in a statement in late January.

The U.S. has also not ruled out a military intervention should Maduro refuse to step down, even though the objective is a peaceful transfer of power, National Security Advisor John Bolton said last week in a radio interview.

This engagement is in stark contrast to other recent U.S. foreign policy decisions, such as the controversial withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria or the ongoing trade disputes with China and the European Union. These decisions – though open to debate – are in line with Trump’s promise to “pursue a foreign policy that puts America’s interests first.”

The exact reasons why Trump and his cabinet are taking a leadership role in the Venezuelan crisis remain unclear, but Robert Shapiro, professor of government, international and public affairs at Columbia University, believes part of it could be based in history.

“We can speculate on a few reasons. One is the U.S.’s different historical treatment of Latin America, going back to the Monroe Doctrine and fast-forwarding to Trump’s opposition to Cuba’s communist government; opposing Venezuela’s own socialist leader’s grab for more power in the same way,” Shapiro told the Well News.

Trump, who domestically is facing increased political opposition from self-proclaimed Democratic socialists such Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has frequently pointed to Venezuela as a prime example of socialism’s failures and a cautionary tale of what could happen to the United States.

“Here, in the United States, we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country. America was founded on liberty and independence,” Trump said. “America will never be a socialist country.”

Should Trump’s current push for a regime change in Venezuela be successful, it could provide a small boost to his 2020 re-election campaign, Shapiro said, but he believes it will have no impact on the administration’s overall foreign policy.

“Venezuela is a separate issue from how Trump has selectively been disengaging the U.S. from involvement in other parts of the world. What happens in Venezuela will have no consequences for U.S. policy outside Latin America,” he said.

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