Latin America cheers US-Cuba rapprochement

AP News
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Posted: Dec 18, 2014 6:16 PM
Latin America cheers US-Cuba rapprochement

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Latin America is welcoming the renewal of ties between Cuba and the United States, but the rapprochement may complicate matters for Havana's chief ally, Venezuela, which has been moving in the opposite direction, becoming more stridently anti-American.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and leaders across Latin America applauded the deal to normalize diplomatic relations between the two countries Wednesday. But analysts said the news is bound to shift geopolitical relations across the region and leave fiercely anti-American countries like Venezuela and Bolivia more isolated.

The deal came just days after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro called thousands into the streets to protest proposed U.S. sanctions on Venezuelan officials accused of human rights violations. On Thursday, President Barack Obama approved those sanctions. Maduro responded by repudiating the "insolent measures taken by the imperialist U.S. elite."

Bolivian President Evo Morales took a similarly fiery stance in his response to the U.S.-Cuba deal Thursday, saying that that Cuba's defiance of Washington had worked, showing that "unbowed resistance to the empire has results."

But more moderate Latin America leaders took the resumption of diplomatic relations as evidence that nations can work through differences.

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez praised the two countries for engaging in cooperation without grudges, and said the gesture closed the last chapter of the Cold War.

Analysts say the reestablishment of ties is likely to strengthen Washington's tarnished prestige here, and may allow it to once again become a leader in the region.

"The United States also comes out ahead by removing a permanent obstacle to its relations with all Latin American nations, even those that have no sympathy for the regime but who have fond memories of the romantic Cuban revolution of 1959," wrote Clovis Rossi, one of Brazil's best-known political affairs columnists, in the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper.

For Maduro's predecessor, the late President Hugo Chavez, the Cuban revolution was less a romantic memory than a blueprint. Chavez long claimed Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro as his mentor. When the charismatic socialist was first elected 15 years ago, Venezuela began supplying Cuba with oil in exchange for doctors and other in-kind services, providing relief for the island nation that had struggled following the collapse of its previous backer, the Soviet Union.

Even as it forged new ties with Cuba, Venezuela pulled away from the U.S. The two countries have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010, when Chavez rejected the U.S. nominee for the post.

Now, with the price of oil crashing, Venezuela supplementing its foreign reserves with loans from China, and Maduro's approval ratings dipping below 30 percent, Cuba may no longer see its staunchest ally as a solid source of support.

"Cuba had to solve its dependence on Venezuela," said Elsa Cardozo, a political analyst at the Central University of Venezuela.

With the U.S. taking a step widely seen as reasonable by people of all political stripes in Latin America, the countries that present themselves as an alternative to the "northern empire" may have to shift their rhetoric.

Venezuela and Bolivia are the "big losers" in this new landscape, former Bolivian ambassador to the U.S. Jaime Aparicio said Thursday during an interview with TV station Cadena A.

"They will have to adjust to the new reality and moderate their language, " he said.

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Associated Press writer Brad Brooks in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.

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