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A Colombian Marxist’s Charm Offensive – Mary Anastasia O’Grady/WSJ

  • Gustavo Petro’s anticapitalist message is welcome in the Biden White House.
Colombian President Gustavo Petro speaks at the White House, April 20.
Colombian President Gustavo Petro speaks at the White House, April 20.  (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

By Mary Anastasia O’Grady

Venezuela’s dictator, Nicolás Maduro, has a new public-relations outfit working for him, and this one has a direct line to the White House. It isn’t some high-priced Washington lobby shop. It’s the Colombian government, headed by President Gustavo Petro, who met with President Biden in Washington on Thursday.

Mr. Petro is trying to get international sanctions on Venezuela lifted even as Mr. Maduro refuses to restore democracy. Given the Colombian’s résumé, which includes past membership in the M-19 terrorist group, this isn’t surprising. But the Biden administration’s signals, despite claims that Venezuelan intransigence is a nonstarter, spell trouble.

Conventional wisdom holds that Mr. Biden has to do whatever he can to keep Latin America from drifting into the arms of Russia and China. Yet far from counteracting antidemocratic meddling, Mr. Biden’s dalliance with the Colombian president risks further weakening U.S. influence in the region.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visits to Havana, Caracas, Managua and Brasilia last week were designed to showcase Moscow’s sway in the Western Hemisphere. But the U.S. isn’t helpless. With Mr. Petro sitting next to him at the White House, Mr. Biden had an opportunity to brag about how American economic freedom and capitalism solve human problems.

That didn’t happen, because Joe Biden and the Democratic Party don’t believe in those things. Mr. Petro’s socialist claptrap—punctuated with heavy doses of Leninist vitriol—and climate alarmism push all the right buttons with this U.S.

Mr. Petro’s first stop on his U.S. tour last week was the United Nations in New York, where he argued for a “path of dialogue” in Venezuela and for lifting international sanctions. Those sanctions were put in place to press Mr. Maduro to release his jailed political opponents, estimated to number 282, to organize free elections, to restore media and other civil liberties, and to end the harassment of nongovernmental organizations.

The sanctions have had the effect of forcing the regime to allow the dollar and prices to trade freely, thus ending dire food shortages. Yet after 15 years of international pressure, coupled with off-and-on “talks” with the regime, the state’s grim human-rights record hasn’t changed. Mr. Petro’s big idea to break the stalemate is for the U.S. and its allies to fold.

At Stanford University on Tuesday, Mr. Petro reasserted his communist sympathies. His lecture mixing warmed-over Marxism and climate doom is available on YouTube. But here’s the spoiler alert: Capitalism kills.

Mr. Petro’s White House visit two days later appears to have been hastily arranged, perhaps to bring attention to the “summit” he has convened in Bogotá for April 25. It promises to bring together international bureaucrats and diplomats, some representatives of Venezuela’s opposition, and the dictatorship to discuss the standoff between democrats and the despot. “More democracy, zero sanctions is the goal of the summit,” Mr. Petro said during his U.N. stopover.

Caracas says it supports the meeting as long as it aims to end the sanctions. On Friday a State Department spokesman told me he couldn’t confirm the names of U.S. participants. But the Spanish news agency EFE was reporting that the national security director for Latin America, Juan González, and Mr. Biden’s envoy to Latin America, former Sen. Chris Dodd, have been tapped to attend. Both men have long records of supporting pro-Cuba causes in the region.

The Biden administration has spent more than a year trying to do the same thing Mr. Petro proposes. In March 2022 it quietly sent Mr. González to Caracas to meet with Mr. Maduro. The visit was explained as a negotiation for American hostages. But other reports said that the U.S. was angling to pull Caracas from Moscow’s orbit by reopening American markets to Venezuelan oil, which was barely flowing anyway. Eight months later Team Biden cleared Chevron to resume pumping crude in Venezuela.

Mr. Petro says fossil fuels will lead to human extinction. But his intellectual integrity looks like Swiss cheese. His government depends on revenue from coal, oil and gas, and his plan to replace them with tourism is futuristic pie-in-the-sky. A true greenie would be pleased with less oil coming out of Venezuela. But an end to sanctions implies a restarting of the petroleum industry. In the eyes of Messrs. Petro and Biden, won’t this accelerate the demise of humanity?

Some speculate that Colombia’s interests are driven by its vulnerability to Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis. But reversing the economic collapse that has spurred Venezuelan migration requires a transition to a freely functioning market economy, something Mr. Petro detests.

This takes us to what’s really on the Colombian’s mind: His buddies in Venezuela are unhappy about the sanctions targeted at them and their companies for narcotics trafficking, human-rights abuses and terrorist financing. Mr. Petro’s charm offensive can’t sugar-coat that.

Write to O’Grady@wsj.com.


Mary Anastasia O’Grady is an Opinion Columnist, writes “The Americas,” a weekly column on politics, economics and business in Latin America and Canada that appears every Monday in the Journal. Ms. O’Grady joined the paper in August 1995 and became a senior editorial page writer in December 1999. She was appointed an editorial board member in November 2005. She is also a member of the board of directors of the Indianapolis­-based Liberty Fund. Energiesnet.com does not necessarily share these views.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally on the WSJ in the April 23, 2023. All comments posted and published on EnergiesNet or Petroleumworld, do not reflect either for or against the opinion expressed in the comment as an endorsement of EnergiesNet or Petroleumworld.

Original article

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