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Trump’s Threat Against Maduro Unites Latin America, Against U.S.

Much of the reaction may have to do with history. Many of the countries now rejecting Mr. Trump’s use of military force were themselves invaded by the United States, which once famously regarded the region as “America’s backyard.” Panama, one of the countries on Mr. Pence’s visit, was invaded in 1989 when President George Bush toppled its dictator, Manuel Noriega.

“An often ugly history of U.S. interventions is vividly remembered in Latin America — even as we in the U.S. have forgotten,” said Shannon O’Neil, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations specializing in Latin America.

Under President Barack Obama, however, Washington aimed to get past the conflicts by building wider consensus over regional disputes. In 2009, after the Honduran military removed the leftist president Manuel Zelaya from power in a midnight coup, the United States joined other countries in trying to broker — albeit unsuccessfully — a deal for his return.

In 2014, there was more success when Mr. Obama said he would restore relations with Cuba after a half century of Cold War conflict that was a point of contention among many Latin American nations. The diplomatic thaw left much of the region warming to Washington for the first time in years.

Then came the crisis in Venezuela. For more than two years, stagnant oil prices and years of economic mismanagement had left the country short of food and basic medicines. In April, people took to the streets demanding Mr. Maduro’s removal, leading to clashes that have left more than 120 dead.

During Mr. Obama’s last days in office, his administration saw a chance to build consensus through diplomacy, joining an effort by the Organization of American States, a regional diplomacy group, to pressure Venezuela through opening an investigation that could lead to suspension. In March, the United States and more than a dozen other nations publicly urged the country to release political prisoners and hold new elections.

But Mr. Trump’s White House was pursuing a more aggressive path on its own.

In February, the Treasury Department issued sanctions against the Venezuelan vice president, Tareck El Aissami, accusing him of being a drug kingpin. As Mr. Maduro orchestrated a vote to establish a new ruling body on July 30, the White House blacklisted judges and sanctioned more officials; after the vote was held, Mr. Maduro was sanctioned personally, leaving him one of four heads of state to be blacklisted that way.

On Friday came Mr. Trump’s military threat.

While few expected Mr. Trump to actually order an attack, much of the damage was already done for American diplomacy, analysts said.

“Trump’s comments appeared to be, as usual, a sudden outburst that was not thought through,” said Riordan Roett, who heads the Latin American studies program at Johns Hopkins University.

He added that those supporting the leftist movement founded by Mr. Chávez were ultimately the winners.

“It puts the U.S. in the position of the ‘bully’ not unlike the warmongering over North Korea,” he said. “This is a God given gift to the Chavistas.”

Source: NYT > World

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