The myth of Washington's lost influence in the Americas

Immigrants_998807cAfter last week’s vote in the OAS, where the United States lost to Venezuela in a vote to let Maria Corina Machado speak, the consensus in Venezuela has been that years of cheap oil to Caribbean countries has paid off nicely for the Chávez government.

The other consensus is that, if it ever comes into power, one of the first things the opposition would do is end the subsidies to Caribbean countries, starting with Cuba. Between this and the Esequibo becoming a non-issue, the Caribbean sealed an eternal enmity with the opposition last week.

The conventional wisdom would then be that Washington wants chavismo out, the Caribbean has no choice but to support it, and Washington has lost all influence in the region while Maduro, of all people, holds the chips.

But what if that conventional wisdom is wrong? What if Washington actually thinks Maduro … is the lesser of two evils?

As the economic crisis in Venezuela heats up, I’ve been reading more and more about the collapse of Cuba and the threat it poses to the US. This Politico story brought the issue home nicely. As I was reading it, it suddenly hit me: if the opposition were to unseat Maduro and cut off subsidies to the Caribbean, it would be a huge problem for the US.

Sure, Marco Rubio blasts Maduro on the Senate floor, Bob Menendez passes strongly-worded resolutions, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen basically wants Maduro’s head on a platter. But these aren’t the folks actually running foreign policy. They are legislators with very particular constituencies.

What if we’ve got it all wrong? What if Washington is just bluffing, and the votes at the OAS are coming out … exactly the way they want them to come out? What if Washington wants Maduro to stay in power while appearing to really want him not to?

I honestly doubt that Venezuela has now become more influential in the Caribbean than Washington has. Something doesn’t fit with that story, which may just mean … we’ve had it wrong all these years.