Fabiola Santiago, Tribune News Service
If the US-Cuba embargo policy model has proven anything in the last 60 years, it’s that starving people doesn’t bring about regime change. Instead, they flee into exile.
Already, Venezuelans have not only mimicked the Cubans on making the choice to emigrate rather than endure hardship — but surpassed them. Four million have fled the country in the last few years of Nicolas Maduro’s socialist chavista rule — the largest displacement of people in the hemisphere.
So what can the Trump administration’s full-on economic embargo accomplish now with a futile 1960s policy that failed Cuba then — and remains impotent today? A Trump embargo on Venezuela — or “blockade” as Maduro and his Cuban handlers call it to rally its people against the United States — will only continue to starve Venezuelans.
If history is a predictor of future behaviour, it will lead to more of what separated families in exile are already doing: Sending aid. Looking for a way out for those left behind. No one is going to let their elderly parents, their brothers and sisters, their sons and daughters, their aunts and uncles who remain in Venezuela do without medicine, food and basic goods.
An industry, particularly a subterranean one to bypass the embargo, will rise in Miami, Doral, Weston and every place in Florida and the United States where Venezuelans have settled legally with status — or without it, as Trump is keeping the most vulnerable in a twisted idea of political strategy.
With an embargo in place, the next exodus is being plotted as we speak, and like Fidel and Raul Castro once did, the Venezuelan dictator will encourage it as the escape valve he needs for hardship and discontent.
History is a wise teacher, but the US government has failed to take good notes, heed the lessons of Latin America’s timelines, and address the core issues of poverty, inequality of opportunity, and corruption. Past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour, psychologists will tell you.
Yet the Trump administration’s strategists — led by old hawk US National Security Advisor John Bolton — don’t throw an ounce of creativity or surprise into the equation. They have failed to understand and engage the Latin America left whose prime grievance — and the issue with which it has won converts — has historically been US dominance in the hemisphere and the arrogance that comes with it. This administration thinks that throwing in more of what hasn’t worked will fix things.
“In this hemisphere, it is our moral imperative to defend our neighbours against any threat, internal or external, that undermines peace, security and prosperity,” Bolton said Tuesday at a meeting of foreign leaders in Lima. “Maduro has been hoping the world would just let him tap, tap, tap the opposition along, while he continued to oppress and steal and kill for his private gain. But Maduro is at the end of his rope.”
Do you know how many times we’ve heard before versions of this political formula about Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua with only one result? The promise and moral high ground. The prediction that the dictator will fall. The applause of the opposition. The only thing that grows with economic strife and discontent is more immigration in waves. Those who stay because they support the regime don’t develop a new social conscience right away. They’re too busy surviving.
They’re too busy acquiescing to the rules of the totalitarian game to obtain the meager benefits the government hands out only to the faithful.
When they have enough of the hardship, they too will seek a way out with better prospects for flight than the island of Cuba — and like the Cubans, with more options in Latin America and Europe, than Trump’s unwelcoming USA. Colombia, for example, is giving citizenship to more than 24,000 undocumented children of Venezuelan refugees born in the country between 2015 and 2021.
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