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Will President Obama and Pope Francis talk about Venezuela? (Latinvex collage of photos from The White House, L'Osservatore Romano)
Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Venezuela, Obama and The Pope

Can the Pope help resolve the Venezuela crisis?


“Events, my boy events” responded Harold McMillan to a young journalist when asked what had been the toughest part of his job as Prime Minister of England.

These words must be resounding in the mind of President Barack Obama as he prepares for his European trip next week. Indeed, the strategically selected, European venues were the perfect gathering points to deal in an effective manner with two US strategic interests: controlling Iran’s nuclear might and advancing the now forgotten US-EU free trade agreement.

But stars seemed to have aligned against these carefully planned designs to favor a back to the future approach to Cold War. As Russia proceeds to the annexation of Crimea, which Putin took by surprise, the US and Europe need now to figure out whether Russian expansionism will be satisfied.

Because it might well happen that in Putin’s mind Crimea is the appetizer in a four-course meal that might include Moldova and other Baltic states or provinces within the Baltic Nations. The choices are not beautiful at all. Confrontation of this messianic leader could open a Pandora Box of low-intensity conflicts and a potential energy blackout. Appeasement might lead to the need to organize the world into gated communities with a selected and recognized steward watching over each one. The world would turn into a collection of condominiums where China would reign in Far Asia; India in Central Asia; Russia in Eurasia; The United States presumably in Latin America and Europe.

Should the Europeans prefer to have a native warden then perhaps Germany would be the best candidate for this role. Needless to say that life would be simpler as the UN Security Council would not need any rotating members; the multilateral financial institutions would not have to waste their time with voting members who are in default like Argentina and managed trade would rule the day.

But this scenario definitively was not the photo-op material dreamed by The White House when planning for this trip. In fact the condominium approach to organize the world was precisely what the US fought tooth and nail ever since 1945 on the grounds that it curtailed freedom and trade.  In Brussels the free trade agreement discussions will be as obvious as the route taken by Malaysian Airlines 370 after its radar went mute. For a President that has made a point of indicating his desires to concentrate in domestic policy his remaining three years of mandate this is not the best turn of events.

But the European trip includes another stop that so far had been seen as great photo-op for the President and the First Lady. The visit to Pope Francis provides President Obama with an opportunity to discuss one of his favorite issues in world affairs: fighting poverty. But the Parkas were not cooperating on this one either. It so happens that there is the small issue of Venezuela where a student protest has had de value of unveiling the Cuban colonization of that country and penetration of five others in Latin America.

And although neither of these countries poses a national security threat to the US, the evolution of this trend needs to be brought to a halt. Indeed, Latin America -- besides being after Europe the most important trading partner to the US -- is also the rejuvenating factor to the US work force. So far the ongoing race staged by many Latin American countries towards consolidating a middle class status is creating conditions conducive to a significant century wide industrial redeployment in the US. Should 21st century socialism take hold, half the continent will succumb to poverty. Poor people can rarely afford cars; houses and appliances.

Thus the Venezuelan divide needs to be addressed inside and outside that country. And this is where Pope Francis could play a significant role. His subtle but effective stand against the ferocious Argentinean dictators; his non-confrontational but inclusive approach to liberation theology made him an uncontested advisor on  Latin American affairs to many pontiffs. This wealth of knowledge could be effectively put to use to resolve the Venezuelan crisis. If so the trip would be fully worthwhile. At least in terms of the US national interest.

Beatrice Rangel is CEO of AMLA Consulting Group, a business development advisory firm in Miami. She wrote this column for Latinvex.  

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