Tough Talk for Venezuela?, by Alberto Mingardi

September 16, 2017
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American threats often allow rather terrible regimes to flex their muscles and build up greater consensus. In Venezuela, the government

held nationwide armed forces exercises on Saturday, calling on civilians to join reserve units to defend against a possible attack after U.S. President Donald Trump warned that a “military option” was on the table for the crisis-hit country. … Maduro used Trump’s threat to try to energize his political base, broadcasting images of rifle-carrying civilians negotiating obstacle courses and learning hand-to-hand combat. The government created the hashtag #EsHoraDeDefenderLaPatria, which translates as “It’s Time To Defend The Homeland,” to promote the exercises.

Alvaro Vargas Llosa, in his latest column for the Independent Institute, points out that “Trump is right to want Maduro out, but whoever is advising him on matters of the Western Hemisphere should explain that the threat of military action only helps the Chavista dictatorship and risks debilitating the wide-ranging anti-Chavista political front that has lately emerged in Latin America”.

Vargas Llosa, who is as far as a fan of Maduro as you could go, explains that:

Maduro, who has violated his country’s constitution, destroyed its institutions, incarcerated hundreds of opponents, and killed hundreds of protesters, needs to go. Anything that can be done by other countries at the civil-society level to help accelerate this will be welcomed by Latin Americans. But the kind of talk recently coming out of Washington merely makes life more difficult for the opposition.

It is sometimes disheartening to see that the same mistake is made over and over again. In a way, it is what happened for years with the US Cuban embargo (which, to quote co-blogger David Henderson, made “Cubans somewhat more anti-American than they would be otherwise, and it makes them somewhat more in favor of – or at least less against – Castro”). Why does a sensible antipathy to an awful regime fuel counter-productive policies, that in the very end consolidate that regime?

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My answers would be two, perhaps alternative, perhaps complementary ones. First, political leaders tend to be so biased in favour of the almighty power of government (which is, rather obviously, something they typically pursued for so long) that they are unlikely to see that it could produce results different than those they hope for. The second option is that actually they do not care much about the real consequences of what they say, or do, in foreign countries. They run the show to the benefit of their voters. So what counts is appearing tough with Castro (or Maduro), for the domestic consensus it grows to them, regardless of what happens in Cuba or Venezuela.

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