Echoes of the Past in Venezuela Crisis, but Heard More Lightly

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MEXICO CITY — The United States’ support this week of an opposition leader as Venezuela’s interim president seemed to follow a pattern familiar to Latin America, reawakening suspicions of Washington’s intentions in the region and calling to mind American interventions in recent decades.

“Don’t trust the gringos,” President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela said this week, listing United States-backed military coups in the region. “They don’t have friends or loyalties. They only have interests, guts and the ambition to take Venezuela’s oil, gas and gold.”

But where in the past the United States might have felt isolated in Latin America, this time it has company. Many of the nations in the region have denounced Mr. Maduro and instead recognized the opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, as the country’s legitimate president.

Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Guatemala, Chile, Canada and other nations have joined the Trump administration, concerned by the economic and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and its destabilizing effect on the region.

President Mauricio Macri of Argentina was one of several leaders in the region who publicly supported Mr. Guaidó.

“Argentina will support all efforts at rebuilding Venezuelan democracy and re-establishing dignified living conditions for all its citizens,” Mr. Macri wrote on Twitter.

And the argument that the Trump administration is motivated by greed for natural resources is undermined, analysts say, by the fact that the United States and Venezuela already have a mutual dependence in the energy sector.

The United States is Venezuela’s largest foreign customer for crude exports, buying half a million barrels a day, which accounts for the majority of cash that Venezuela gets for crude shipments. And Venezuela buys about 100,000 barrels a day of light crude from the United States, which it mixes with heavier Venezuelan crude to move it through pipelines to refineries and export terminals.

“You’ve got this groundswell of opinion among the majority of Latin American governments that, regardless of what the United States said, this is an opportunity to rid the region of a dictatorship that has been a blight upon the democratic record in the region over the last couple of decades,” said Duncan Wood, director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington.

The United States and many countries in Latin America have long been concerned about Venezuela under Mr. Maduro, as the once-prosperous country plunged into an economic tailspin, with soaring inflation, chronic shortages of food and medicine and the spread or resurgence of diseases long under control.

The crisis, also marked by human rights abuses and the repression of the political opposition, has driven more than three million Venezuelans to flee the country, threatening to destabilize the region and putting immense pressure on nearby nations, including Colombia and Brazil, that have struggled to absorb the influx.

In a measure adopted by the Organization of American States this month, 17 Latin American countries, along with the United States and Canada, denounced Mr. Maduro’s government as illegitimate.

On Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking at an O.A.S. meeting, called on nations in the Americas to break ties with Mr. Maduro and recognize Mr. Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate head.

“The regime of former president Nicolás Maduro is illegitimate,” he said. “His regime is morally bankrupt, it’s economically incompetent, and it is profoundly corrupt, and it is undemocratic to the core.”

Several of Venezuela’s longstanding leftist allies in the region — Bolivia, Cuba and Nicaragua — have expressed support for Mr. Maduro.

The Cuban government, in a statement on Thursday, said it “condemns and energetically rejects the attempt to impose a coup d’état, a puppet government at the service of the United States” in Venezuela.

“The true objectives of actions against Venezuela are to control the vast resources of this sister nation,” the statement said.

Those nations have also been joined by Mexico, which until recently stood squarely among the regional governments pushing Mr. Maduro to institute democratic reforms.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico, who assumed office on Dec. 1, has taken a friendlier stance than his predecessor toward Mr. Maduro and insisted that he will support a policy of nonintervention in other countries’ affairs.

This month, Mr. López Obrador refused to sign a declaration by the Lima Group, a regional bloc formed to find a peaceful solution to the crisis in Venezuela, that urged Mr. Maduro not to take office for a second term and to cede power to the opposition-controlled National Assembly.

“Nonintervention, the people’s self-determination, peaceful settlement of disputes and respect for human rights,” Mr. López Obrador said Thursday. “It is not that we are for or against. We are for the fulfillment of the constitutional principles.”

That position has received support from some prominent members of the Mexican political establishment.

“Regardless of the reservations or criticisms that one may have toward the government of President Maduro, the North American interference is unacceptable,” Héctor Vasconcelos, a senator and president of the Mexican Senate’s foreign relations committee, said on Twitter.

In a separate message on Twitter, Mr. Vasconcelos, a member of Mr. López Obrador’s party, added: “Nothing will contribute more to the questioning of the legitimacy and credibility of Juan Guaidó than the support he is receiving from the United States. We are in Latin America and this should be understood by the White House.”

He then urged the Trump administration to “learn something from history.”

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