Maduro Reacts to Normalization of US-Cuba Relations as Venezuela Sanctions Loom

During a Mercosur summit held today in Argentina, Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro called Barack Obama’s recent move toward normalizing US-Cuba relations “brave,” while the rest of the trade bloc released a statement condemning the US leader for approving sanctions against Venezuela last week.

By Z.C. Dutka

maduro-y-raul-castro.jpg

Venezuelan president Maduro with Cuban leader Raul Castro. The two countries have been political and economic allies for 15 years. (Cubanet)
Venezuelan president Maduro with Cuban leader Raul Castro. The two countries have been political and economic allies for 15 years. (Cubanet)
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Santa Elena de Uairen, December 17th, 2014. (venezuelanalysis.com)- During a Mercosur summit held today in Argentina, Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro called Barack Obama’s recent move toward normalizing US-Cuba relations “brave,” while the rest of the trade bloc released a statement condemning the US leader for approving sanctions against Venezuela last week.

“[I am] very happy,” Maduro said, applauding the White House decision to release today three Cuban political prisoners and improve diplomatic ties with the communist country’s government that have remained frozen since the Cold War.  

“We must recognize the gesture of president Barack Obama, a brave and necessary gesture in history. He has taken a step, perhaps the most important one of his presidency,” the Venezuelan president said.

Late socialist leader Hugo Chavez was a staunch ally of Cuba, and developed numerous programs for trade and regional development that benefitted the island nation whose economy was otherwise crippled by a US blockade.

But while Chavez’s successor said he is heartened at this new recognition Cuban sovereignty, other news from the White House suggests Venezuela may replace Cuba on Washington’s black list.

Last week, Obama approved a bill including sanctions against the South American country, officially accusing the Maduro administration of endorsing human rights violations in its response to violent anti-government protests that racked the country earlier this year.

Pro-revolution Venezuelans responded to this new measure in mass demonstrations on Monday, flooding the streets and social media platforms with ant-imperialist messages.

Members of the government responded similarly, vehemently rejecting the sanctions with choice words throughout the weekend.

During today’s meeting, member states of the Mercosur trade bloc, including Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay, released a joint statement condemning the sanctions as “an infringement on the principles of no intervention in other states’ affairs.”

The document added that the measures do nothing to “contribute to the stability, social peace, or democracy in Venezuela,” despite being named the Venezuelan Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act.

Mercosur joined the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) in manifesting its “firm support and solidarity” for the Venezuelan government.

Some Latin American leaders have been more outspoken in their defense. Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega told press last week that U.S. Senator Marco Rubio and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen had been banned from Nicaraguan territory for their role in spearheading the bill.

In an interview with broadcaster TeleSUR yesterday, Bolivian president Evo Morales said that the United States had failed to conspire politically against both Chavez and Maduro, and were now imposing sanctions as a form of “economic aggression.”

Morales made reference to other such US efforts to cripple autonomous nations’ economies, such as the embargo which continues to hold Cuba’s trade opportunities in a vice.

“We [the countries of this region] have a clear orientation for confronting this sort of economic aggression, of which I am convinced Venezuela is bearing the brunt of now,” the Bolivian leader said, “But as long as we are united, organized and active, it is impossible that the empire will dominate us again.”

Maduro has also expressed determination at overcoming the oil nation’s economic obstacles, both inherent and imposed, in 2015. While pledging to diversify production and reduce dependency on oil revenue, the Venezuelan leader explained his plans to delegate more of his political agenda and dedicate his time “to fighting the economic war.”

Meanwhile, in an interview this evening with Reuters, Venezuelan opposition leader and twice-defeated presidential candidate Henrique Capriles scoffed at the apparent new ties between the US and Cuba.

"It looks like Raul is cheating on Nicolas!” he said. "All of the Americas going in one direction, and Nicolas doesn't know where he's heading."

But Morales painted a very different picture to TeleSUR, drawing on the recent admission of Caribbean islands Grenada and St. Kitts and Nevis to the left-leaning ALBA alliance.

“Anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist thought continues to grow, and I am sure that it will keep expanding,” the Bolivian president said.

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