Venezuela

White House

Imagine a U.S. President came to the Summit of the Americas and, while criticizing the government of a certain oil-rich South American nation, remarked that he does enjoy Venezuelan salsa singers like Rubén Blades.

He’d be the butt of jokes on late-night Latin American TV – because Blades is Panamanian, not Venezuelan.

Arnulfo Franco / AP

Here’s the conventional line you're hearing about President Obama and this week’s Summit of the Americas:

Up to now, Obama had been doing many smart things to improve dysfunctional U.S.-Latin American relations. On issues like immigration, the drug war and especially Cuba – in December he announced the U.S. would restore diplomatic relations with its cold-war communist foe – a gringo president was finally getting it.

Lechmoore Simms / Flickr

President Obama heads this week to the Summit of the Americas in Panama where he’ll meet with the hemisphere’s other heads of state. But Obama first travels on Wednesday to Jamaica – where Caribbean leaders may be happier than usual to see him.

Low oil prices are forcing Venezuela to cut a generous subsidy program to Cuba and a dozen other Caribbean nations.

Venezuela is Latin America's largest oil producer, and its economy depends heavily on oil exports. It's been been hit hard by the tumbling oil prices.

"Venezuela is in desperate straits. The oil sector has been deteriorating, and now with the slumping oil prices, they needed cash desperately," says Michael Shifter, the president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington, D.C.-based group that studies the region.

Ariana Cubillos / AP

Thirty years ago, when I was a graduate student in Caracas, I met a young Venezuelan socialist who introduced himself as Stalín.

“Yes, after the Russian,” he told me rather condescendingly – hoping to shock an American with the news that the Soviet dictator Josef Stalin was his namesake.

I didn't take the bait. But I did think of Stalín recently when Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro expressed his own admiration for “Comrade Stalin, who defeated Hitler.”

Organization of American States

Let’s say the U.S. representative to the Organization of American States – the Washington-based diplomatic body that embraces the western hemisphere – appears on a television talk show. And let’s say he makes this neanderthal remark about members of a rival political party:

“When a sniper shoots them in the head it makes a quieter sound, like a click, because their cranial cavities are hollow, so the bullet passes through faster.”

Common Cause-Embassy of Venezuela DC/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

Roberta Jacobson is burning up Twitter in English and Spanish this week trying to recover President Obama’s fumble on Venezuela.

She’s worried – and gosh, we can’t imagine why – that left-wing Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is giving his people the wrong impression about Obama’s ill-advised announcement on Monday that Venezuela is a “national security threat” to the U.S.

Flickr

We know that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is crying wolf when he claims – over and over and over – that the United States is plotting to carpet bomb his socialist revolution.

Flickr

It seems as though every week we report on a new product shortage in Venezuela, from rice to toilet paper to breast implants. Now the western hemisphere's most oil-rich country has an acute lack of condoms. But this latest scarcity to emerge in Venezuela’s economic crisis could be deadly to more than just romance.

Thanks to a national currency crisis, Venezuela doesn’t have enough dollars to import the contraceptives. They’re so rare in Venezuela that a standard pack of 36 now costs more than $750 at the official exchange rate.

ALEX CASTRO / AP FILE

Six weeks after President Barack Obama announced efforts to normalize relations with Cuba, former Cuba leader Fidel Castro writes a letter of reserved-approval for the plan.

Cuba President Raul Castro said this week that relations with the United States can only be rehabilitated if  the U.S. returns Guantanamo Bay to the island and the embargo is lifted.

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