Uncle Nick: The New American Friend

Tobias Belgrano
Source: BBC

During the Second World War, the United States government built an alliance with the Soviet Union (USSR) to defeat Nazism. During those days, the Kremlin was led by the ruthless dictator Iósif Vissariónovich Dzhugashvili, now famously known as Stalin. Stalin’s government was a totalitarian regime where children reported their parents to the government and the state exercised strict vigilance over citizens. However, to defeat Adolf Hitler and bring peace to Europe, the Roosevelt administration transformed cruel, cold-blooded Stalin into friendly “Uncle Joe.”

“We took some time off, we weren’t working together”

On March 8, 2022, 69 years and 3 days after Stalin’s death and 9 years and 3 days after Hugo Chavez‘s death, his heir – Nicolás Maduro – assured he was open to exporting oil to the US in order to “bring stability back to the world.” This announcement came after the White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki confirmed the rumors of conversations about lifting sanctions on PDVSA, a Venezuelan oil company, and allowing Venezuelan oil to return to the US in exchange for the recognition of the Maduro government.

With the aim of showing some goodwill, Maduro released two American prisoners, Gustavo Cárdenas an executive from Citgo, and Jorge Alberto Fernández, who was arrested and accused of terrorism in 2021. Without showing full compromise, the statement of the US Office of the Presidency assured that even as they celebrated the return of Cardenas and Fernandez, the US would keep fighting to bring every American who is being held against their will in Venezuela, Russia, Afghanistan, Syria, China, Iran, and elsewhere around the world.

Even though this would not be the first time that Washington supported dictatorships to assert their interests, in the XXI century of social networks, words are often recorded and YouTube acts as society’s collective memory. Democrats are losing legitimacy in the region due to, for example, the recent offensive of the Obama administration (with Biden serving as Vice President) where the US President assured Venezuela was a threat to American security. Their aim was arguably only to justify the economic sanctions.

The Trump administration took a step forward by building alliances in Latin America against Venezuela. By joining forces with presidents like Bolsonaro and Macri, Trump gave birth to the Lima Group, an alliance that was hostile to the Venezuelan regime, by recognizing Juan Guaido, and guaranteeing the votes for sanctions in the Organization of American States, and claimed for fair elections in Venezuela. At the peak of tensions, and ridicule, John Bolton’s notepad was filtered by a picture of the press where it suggested an invasion of Colombia.

“We are staying together for the kids”

Bolton: Trump sabía que Maduro no caería porque es inteligente y fuerte –  Sala de Casación Civil del Estado Nueva Esparta
United States National Security Advisor, John Bolton, and President Donald Trump. Source: La Nacion

The real motivation behind this sudden change in Washington is the desire to isolate Russia in every possible way and to use Venezuela’s cheap oil to try to stop the escalation in gas prices. President Biden would also be open to forgiving Maduro’s energic support for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, or his accusations that NATO is trying to destroy Russia. According to this reading, everything would be forgiven if Venezuela provides the oil needed to sustain the US energy market.

With this new relationship, the US is dilapidating its credibility in the regional sphere, with Nicolas Maduro recognized as the legitimate President, while continuing the erosion of human rights in Nicaragua. Further, Cuba in recent years supported the Venezuelan regime by building intelligence and repressive system in their own image.

If the US continues to sacrifice their “moral legitimacy” in Latin America to embrace a dictator, then this would be the first time in history that it will have supported a socialist dictatorship since Stalin. Some of “Uncle Nick’s” crimes are so recent that they will be difficult to sustain politically, especially due to the weight the Latin vote has in states like Miami, where between 400, 000 and 600, 000 Venezuelans could potentially swing for the Republican candidate.

Beyond the moral values, the Biden administration is deeply compromising its stance on human rights, especially as a Democratic administration. The cynical alliance between Venezuela and the US resembles the picture of Donald Trump with Kim Jong Un.

“We had our past, but only time will tell”

Cumbre EEUU Corea del Norte: Trump y Kim Jong-un firman una timorata  declaración para la "desnuclearización" | Público
Trump and Kim Jong-Un. Source: BBC

Only time will tell if the revival of the business relationship between the US and the Venezuelan dictatorship will, in fact, take place. The political cost of having a Latin American “Uncle Nick” will not be cheap for Joe Biden. The human rights case against regimes like Cuba and Nicaragua will lose part of its strength and lead to a return of cynicism in the US-Latin American policy. It may even resemble the US’s Latin America strategy during the Cold War, when Castro’s human rights violations were denounced at the Organization of American States and Pinochet in Chile or Videla in Argentina were ignored.

  • Will Biden soften his views on human rights to buy Venezuelan oil?
  • Will the voters (especially in Miami) punish Biden, in spite of containing oil prices?
  • How will this precedent affect human rights in the region?

Suggested Readings

Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way, ” The Durability of Revolutionary Regimes” Journal of Democracy Volume 24, Number 3 July 2013.

Pagina 12, “Estados Unidos analiza permitirle a Venezuela exportar petróleo.”

Tristan Clark, “Stalin: The Many Faces of Uncle Joe”.

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Uncle Nick: The New Ameri…

by Tobias Belgrano time to read: 4 min
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