In the battle for the future of Venezuela, Russia is sending in military planes. China is still importing Venezuelan oil as repayment for billions of dollars in loans to Caracas. And the United States, among other things, is implementing Title III of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996.
The utilization of the arcane measure was just one of many signals U.S. officials sent on Wednesday that they will apply more pressure to oust Venezuela’s authoritarian leader, Nicolás Maduro, by taking on the repressive socialist governments in Cuba and Nicaragua as well.
It was also a clear sign that while President Donald Trump and his advisers continue to make noise about military options to deter Maduro’s foreign patrons and topple the strongman, the administration is sticking to an approach that it has favored against adversaries from Iran to North Korea: gradual economic strangulation.
But the open question is whether slow suffocation will prove a match for the myriad international actors that have shored up support for Maduro, including Cuba’s security forces that have long operated in Venezuela and Russia’s military personnel and warplanes.
The Trump administration has moved in dramatic fashion to try to dislodge Maduro, first by recognizing National Assembly President Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president, then by slapping a de facto oil embargo on the country. But months later, even though the United States has fired the biggest guns in its diplomatic arsenal, Maduro remains entrenched in office. So U.S. officials are turning to small arms and expanding the fight.