I have a new column for the New Ledger discussing Barack Obama’s meeting with Hugo Chavez at the recently concluded Summit of the Americas. Key passage:
I write as someone who is in favor of talks with Cuba because I believe that such talks, which would include a discussion of human rights abuses in Cuba, would help put renewed pressure on the Cuban regime to liberalize, change and reform. Thus far, the embargo has brought about no palliative results, the regime didn’t skip a beat in the transition from Fidel to Raul, and it shows no signs of going away anytime soon if the status quo persists. The status quo has got to be changed and things have got to be shaken up if there is to be any hope of introducing positive change in Cuba. Talking would help address the human rights situation in Cuba in a fruitful way, while at the same time advancing American security interests.
There are security interests involved in talking to Venezuela as well, but as we have seen, Hugo Chavez is a blowhard with a lust for the spotlight–which he invariably uses to cause rhetorical and diplomatic mischief, leading at times to interventionist mischief in Latin America as well. Thus, the smart thing to do regarding Chavez is to ignore him. When Chavez is denied the spotlight, he signals to all and sundry with his statements that he is withering; sometimes, he makes it sound as if the withering is physical.
Unfortunately, the Obama Administration gave Chavez the spotlight he wanted, without getting anything of real value in return. The Obama-Chavez grip-and-grin may rank big in terms of shock value, but it achieved and will achieve little in the way of substance. All it did, in the end, was confer vast amounts of recognition upon a tyrant who did nothing to deserve it.