Not long ago, the Associated Press reported that “U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Venezuelan migrants in the Colombian border city of Cucuta and said Venezuela lacked medicine and other basic items ‘which under normal circumstances, in any normal country, would be readily available.’”
This perfect example of a “pseudo-event” was rich in messages, some intended, and others, perhaps, not.
On the surface, the sheer stupidity of sending a morbidly obese messenger to meet with a group of refugees living in tents and feeding on emergency rations was overwhelmed by the epic redundancy of Secretary Pompeo’s message: that “Venezuela lacked medicine and other basic items.”
Ummm, Mr. Secretary, they know that. That’s why they crossed the border out of Venezuela and are now living here in tents.
But of course, The Pompeo mission carried a deeper, if fuzzier, message: “America cares.” That’s why Pompeo, diplomats and public relations people trekked from Washington to the muddy shores of the Tachira river that separates Colombia from Venezuela to denounce the failures of the Venezuelan government of President Nicolas Maduro that left the country without enough food, medicine, fuel and electricity, and declare America’s interest in a better, more prosperous, more civil and free Venezuela.
What was left perfectly unclear was, how much did Uncle Sam care about Venezuela, and how might this care be translated into action. How many more sanctions might the U.S. employ and is there serious American consideration of the genuinely dreaded “military option?”
Oh, there was another unintended message – that America chiefly cares about Venezuelans as extras in the background of a Trump administration – we’re tough and we’re caring photo-op.
But even as the Pompeo pageant marched across the refugee camp stage, the International Committee of the Red Cross was staging an intervention, announcing a deal with the Maduro government that would bring to Venezuela millions of dollars in humanitarian aid.
Critics say the Red Cross deal eases some pressure from Maduro and gives him legitimacy. But he’s paying for this. Part of the deal guarantees the Red Cross access to all detainees in all prisons in the country, including military prisons with dozens of political prisoners, a very useful privilege which Maduro’s predecessor and mentor President Hugo Chavez took away in 2012.
Joshua Goodman is the Associated Press (AP) News Director for the Andean region of South America, based in Bogota. Based in Bogota, Goodman will lead video, text and photo operations for the AP in Colombia, Venezuela, Peru and Ecuador.