The Inter-American Dialogue’s newsletter Latin America Advisor has a Q&A on the probable resurfacing of targeted sanctions on Venezuela now that Republicans control both houses of Congress.
My contribution is below. You can see comments by Diego Arria, Peter Winn, and G. Philip Hughes here.
US sanctions on Venezuela, even targeted sanctions, would make the situation worse. The Maduro government is confronting a rapidly deteriorating economy as well as an unabated crime wave. What is more, its margin for taking unpopular economic reforms is minimal since there will be legislative elections in 2015. The opposition stands to gain some ground in these elections, which could provide an important breath of pluralism into the current context. Maduro has chosen to face these challenges not with significant policy changes but by a continual flow of conspiracy theories regarding an economic war against Venezuela or paramilitary infiltration. This doesn’t seem to be resonating with the population as Maduro’s popularity has dropped to 30%. But US sanctions of any type would give these conspiracy theories some substance. They would allow Maduro to suggest Venezuela is under assault by The Empire and point to actual facts that support his argument. They would allow him to “rally the troops” and quell internal dissent. They would also put the opposition on the defensive. The US needs to set aside unilateral policies that so often have ironic, unintended consequences–fifty years of sanctions on Cuba have allowed the Castros to explain away their shortcomings and to excuse themselves from carrying out democratic opening. Instead the US needs to develop multilateral strategies that work with partners in the region that have as much or more at stake in Venezuela. Such diplomatic work is slow and frustrating but ultimately more effective.