Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will soon begin a six-day tour of Latin America to meet with counterparts and discuss different US concerns in the region.
The tour will begin on February 2, at the University of Texas, where Tillerson will deliver a speech on American policy in the Western Hemisphere. From there, the Secretary is expected to travel to Mexico, and then to a number of countries in South America including Argentina Peru, and Colombia. Reports have specifically highlighted Tillerson’s reported intent to consolidate regional support for containing the ongoing crisis in Venezuela.
The secretary of State's focus on Venezuela comes following a new set of sanctions earlier this month against four Venezuelan military officials that the Trump administration has deemed corrupt and responsible for political oppression.
Scanning the international media, outlets have focused largely on the humanitarian angle in opposing Venezuela and their detestable dictator of a leader Nicolás Maduro. Venezuelans have been suffering for quite a while under the current regime, which has long ceased to bear any resemblance to a democracy. Living conditions of the Venezuelan population have deteriorated to the point of food shortages, and there is a lack of basic facilities as a direct result of corruption. President Maduro began to rule by decree after his first six months of taking office, a situation that has continued with only brief interruptions until the present. Crackdowns on political opposition have only spread in the recent period. Last week, the country’s supreme court passed a ruling imposing restrictions on the main opposition coalition for the presidential elections due to take place in April, effectively guaranteeing the current government will stay in power. Opposing the blatant corruption of the powers-that-be in Venezuela has been the main focus of the international community’s efforts targeting the country. The EU imposed sanctions on several Venezuelan officials, subsequently freezing their assets and publicly condemning the regime.
While this issue is certainly an international concern, for the United States there’s an even more close-to-home danger threatening to emerge from the Venezuelan crisis.
On January 24, Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Democrat Robert Menendez called on US Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate possible connections between President Maduro’s government and drug trafficking organizations operating in the Western Hemisphere.
Rubio and Menendez, both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s western hemisphere sub-panel, expressed concern that the “lawless environment” of Venezuela “threatens the stability and security of the region, including the United States, by providing fertile ground for drug cartels and US-designated foreign terrorist organizations...to operate."
This suspicion goes beyond the general concern that America may have for an oppressed neighboring population. There is a real threat that the situation in Venezuela will provide a breeding ground for terror infrastructure in the United States’ backyard.
This is far from a baseless fear. Recent revelations regarding a years-long federal investigation into drug cartel-terror networks in Latin America (reportedly impeded by the Obama administration due to political considerations) have shown that this danger has come to fruition in several Latin American countries.
No doubt one of the main purposes of Tillerson’s trip will be to seek cooperation from other countries in the region on this issue. The coming weeks will reveal what steps the administration will take to prevent the effects of the chaos in Venezuela from threatening the United States.