Venezuela, Cuba & Nicaragua: Team Trump’s new Latin ‘axis of evil’

 

Josh Rogin, New York Post

 

The George W. Bush administration had its “Axis of Evil.” Now the Trump administration has the term “Troika of Tyranny” to describe oppressive Latin American dictators it is now pledging to confront. The administration is right to call out the crimes of the leaders of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. But it remains to be seen if the White House can deliver a comprehensive strategy to go along with the rhetoric.

 

National Security Adviser John Bolton gave a speech Thursday in Miami to a crowd filled with people who fled Cuba and Venezuela to escape the cruelty and oppression of the Castro and Maduro regimes. Linking those situations with the escalating repression of the Daniel Ortega government in Nicaragua, Bolton promised a new, comprehensive US approach that will ramp up US involvement in pushing back against what the administration sees as a leftist, anti-democratic resurgence in the region.

 

“This Troika of Tyranny, this triangle of terror stretching from Havana to Caracas to Managua, is the cause of immense human suffering, the impetus of enormous regional instability and the genesis of a sordid cradle of communism in the Western Hemisphere,” Bolton said. “The United States looks forward to watching each corner of the triangle fall.”

 

It’s no coincidence that Bolton is in South Florida just days before the 2018 midterm elections. Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), the son of Cuban immigrants, is defending his seat in a district that favored Hillary Clinton in 2016 by 16 points. Former journalist Maria Elvira Salazar, also born to Cuban immigrant parents, is running as a Republican against Bill Clinton administration official Donna Shalala to replace Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who is retiring.

 

But administration sources insist this new Latin America policy is not just to get out the vote. Once the election is over, the White House is vowing to use all the tools of national power to raise the pressure on the leaders of these three governments, especially targeting their ability to corruptly enrich themselves.

 

Last year, President Trump signed a presidential memorandum (NSPM-5), entitled “Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba,” which set the broad outlines of what the larger campaign will prioritize. The policy aims not only to roll back the Obama administration’s efforts to normalize the US-Cuba relationship but also to ramp up efforts to contain the regime and support those inside the country struggling for greater political, economic and religious freedom.

 

Experts said the test will be whether the Trump administration can maintain focus and follow through after the midterm elections are over.

 

“It is true what they say that these are three regimes that are horrible and deserve to be treated as pariahs, but nothing has worked so far,” said former Venezuelan minister of industry and trade Moisés Naím. “Cuba has been a challenging issue for every administration since the Bay of Pigs invasion, and no American president has been able to solve that puzzle. So let’s see if they have come up with a new remedy, a new strategy, a new regional approach.”

 

So far, the Trump administration’s approach has been ad hoc. Most recently, Trump threatened to cut off aid to Honduras, a country that cooperates extensively with the United States, unless that government stopped a “caravan” of migrants heading toward the United States.

 

The Trump administration’s relationship with Mexico has been contentious due to Mexico’s refusal to pay for Trump’s border wall. Trump has floated the idea of using the US military to invade Venezuela, which evoked fears of past US intervention in the region.

 

But there are positive signs there is opportunity for a reset. The US and Mexico have come to a new trade agreement that the incoming Mexican president, not a natural Trump ally, seems to accept.

 

Brazil’s new president-elect has a terrible record of past statements but is someone whom Trump might be able to do business with.

 

If the United States led a true regional approach aimed at addressing the continent’s growing humanitarian crises, most Latin American countries might be persuaded to come on board.

 

Absent such an approach, the deteriorating situations in Venezuela and Nicaragua are likely to create more refugees, more mass migration, more regional economic strife and, as a result, more repression, suffering and instability.

 

Cubanálisis - El Think-Tank

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