On Venezuela, a surprise stand from Trump

From the Washington PostPRESIDENT TRUMP so far has exhibited a deep disinterest in — and even some contempt for — U.S. human rights advocacy. His secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, pointedly declined to acknowledge major offenses by U.S. allies such as the Philippines and Saudi Arabia during his confirmation hearing, or even the well-documented war crimes committed by Russia and Syria in Aleppo. So it was encouraging that the president and the State Department acted last week in support of political prisoners and democracy in a country where both badly need outside support: Venezuela.

Mr. Trump met at the White House with Lilian Tintori, the wife of imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo López, and sent out a tweet saying he should be “out of prison immediately.” State, meanwhile, finally cleared the way for the sanctioning of two senior Venezuelan officials accused of drug trafficking, including recently appointed Vice President Tareck El Aissami. On Saturday, the third anniversary of Mr. López’s arrest, a State Department statement expressed “dismay and concern” about more than 100 political prisoners, including Mr. López and Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, and called for “respect for the rule of law, the freedom of the press . . . and the restoration of a democratic process that reflects the will of the Venezuelan people.”

Punishing corrupt Venezuelan leaders and standing up for moderate, nonviolent opponents such as Mr. López ought to be a no-brainer for the United States, given Venezuela’s catastrophic decline, anti-American agenda and increasing isolation in the region. But the Obama administration shied from taking action, citing ongoing negotiations between the regime of Nicolás Maduro and the opposition. In fact, it has been obvious for months that the talks were going nowhere. The administration’s caution may have had more to do with avoiding offense to the regime’s last supporter — the Castro regime in Cuba — with which President Barack Obama was pursuing what he saw as a legacy-making detente. …

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During the last several decades, the United States has invested billions of dollars in trying to help the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean deliver better lives for their citizens. This has meant helping them increase internal security by combating the illicit growing and trafficking in narcotics and the activities of terrorist groups, as well as helping them to shore up their democratic and free market institutions.

Unfortunately, in recent years, continued progress in these areas has been threatened, not least by the elections of radical populist governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador. These governments have instituted retrograde agendas that include the propagation of class warfare, state domination of the economy, assaults on private property, anti-Americanism, support for such international pariahs as Iran, and lackluster support for regional counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics initiatives.

We are a group of concerned policy experts that fear the results of these destructive agendas for individual freedom, prosperity, and the well-being of the peoples of the region. Our goal is to inform American policymakers and American and international public opinion of the dangers of these radical populist regimes to inter-American security.