Florida is a red state now. That's good news for Cuba and Venezuela.
There’s long been a saying in American politics that our elections begin in Iowa and end in Florida. And the result has been that our political system has disproportionately handed out goodies to those two states. It didn’t make much policy sense, but it did make us unhealthy –- with massive corn subsidies for Iowa and reckless sugar subsidies for Florida.
But Iowa and Florida are now both solidly Republican states. The silver lining for the rest of the country is that we can now start to make policy decisions based on whether or not something is a good idea, rather than pandering to a few thousand votes in South Florida or at a caucus somewhere. And that could potentially be good news for Venezuela and Cuba.
Late last month, the newly restored Brazilian President Lula da Silva made a big shift in foreign policy toward Venezuela, inviting Nicolas Maduro for a state visit. The U.S. doesn’t recognize him as president and the country is under crippling sanctions. The result has been a staggering outflow of refugees, with nearly 200,000 winding up at our southern border last year. Former Obama National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, now with Pod Save America, responded to Lula’s recognition of Maduro recently. And when it comes to sanctions on Venezuela, the Biden administration has clearly lost the Pod Save bros. His clear-eyed take is worth a listen.
Rhodes also made the point that the U.S. isn’t just out of step with one leftist leader in Brazil, but we’re basically losing the entire region. In Congress, four Democrats are circulating a letter I obtained that sort of calls on the Biden administration to lift sanctions on Venezuela. The letter is written by Reps. Jim McGovern, Greg Meeks, Joaquin Castro, and Barbara Lee, and it reads in part:
“Because we share your view that human rights should be at the center of U.S. foreign policy, we have been deeply troubled by the extensive reporting on the indiscriminate and counterproductive impacts on the Venezuelan people of the secondary and sectoral sanctions imposed by the Trump Administration. These kinds of sanctions have often been found to be ineffective in achieving their objectives and are profoundly incoherent from a human rights perspective. In our view, to purposefully continue contributing to economic hardship experienced by an entire population is immoral and unworthy of the United States. That is why many of us have previously called on your Administration to pursue a better strategy to address the rollback of democracy and the severe violations of fundamental rights committed by the Maduro Government.”
All of that is great, and it makes a strong case to immediately and unilaterally lift the sanctions. Which makes a line in the last paragraph of the letter strange, when it adds, “overcoming Venezuela’s multifaceted political and human rights crisis and facilitating the country’s desperately needed economic recovery must go hand-in-hand.”
Typically what a sentence like that means is that sanctions will only be lifted if Venezuela makes political concessions. Yet the lawmakers just acknowledged in the same letter that sanctions are inhumane and don’t actually work to pressure political change anyway. It’s a measure of how addicted to sanctions we are that language like this shows up even in a letter designed to move in the right direction, and one signed by people like Barbara Lee and Jim McGovern, who’ve spoken eloquently about the cruelty of sanctions.
The letter appears to be something of a responds to pressure McGovern has been getting from antiwar activists on the question of sanctions. We talked about all this today on Counter Points, along with a bunch else. The free podcast version is here and below the paywall is a link to the ad-free video version of the show.
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