By: Olivia Elder
On September 24, U.S. President Donald Trump announced a third iteration of travel restrictions to “high risk” countries, best-known colloquially as the “Muslim Ban.” This third version, previously slated to go into effect on October 18 and now temporarily halted by a federal judge, would maintain restrictions on five Muslim-majority nations (Libya, Iran, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia), drop Sudan, and add three countries to the list (Chad, North Korea, and Venezuela.)
With the addition of two non Muslim-majority nations and the removal of Sudan, the president’s “more targeted” measures may seem to have moved away from the previous flagrant anti-Islamic sentiment. However, make no mistakes: the ban still targets Muslim-majority countries. While Sudan has been removed, Chad, a nation where the population is 55% Muslim, was added. Additionally, the bulk of actual restrictions target the list’s Muslim-majority nations. For every country on the list, other than Venezuela, sanctions include an indefinite suspension of visa approval for citizens of the targeted countries, unless they have a “bonafide” familial relationship to the United States. Furthermore, very few North Koreans are granted permission to leave the country anyway; thus, any regulations set by the U.S. government would have very little impact. It is clear that President Trump’s executive order still targets Muslim nations.
But it’s worth to note the addition of Venezuela that could be considered as another indicator for weakening U.S. relations with its Latin American neighbors under the Trump administration.
In July, Venezuela held nationwide elections for a constituent assembly to redraft the Constitution. Despite strong opposition, the elected legislative assembly leaned toward President Nicolas Maduro’s United Socialist Party, and was expected to give him more power in the constitutional rewrite, hinting at electoral impropriety. As a response to the regime’s “efforts to undermine democracy,” the Trump administration imposed sanctions on Maduro in July and ordered diplomatic families to leave Caracas. There were also reports that the United States was considering sanctioning Venezuela’s oil industry, which accounts for about 95% of the the country’s export earnings and about 10% of U.S. oil imports. Oil sanctions would be a particularly ironic response considering active U.S. ties to other authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and Russia, and even verbal support for authoritarian leaders by President Trump. While the United States’ opposition to leftist Latin American regimes has a strong foothold in history, perhaps this U.S.-Venezuelan tension is the result of the contemporary state-of-play.
Left-leaning dictatorships in South and Central America have been declining in the past 10 years. To fight an ideological battle against oppressors in the South while ignoring or commending oppressors to the East and the West is hypocritical. Perhaps U.S. attitudes towards Venezuela are an affront to the regime’s clear anti-American and anti-Trump rhetoric. In any case, Venezuela’s addition to the president’s travel ban should not come as too much of a surprise. As the nation’s socialist regime continues to gain power and speak out openly against the United States, the U.S. government finds itself grasping at ways to oppose it. While discussed, oil sanctions are not a viable option as any halt in oil imports would raise gas prices in the United States. That would not a tactful move for a president who has taken pride in being the catalyst of record-low gas prices, “the lowest in over 10 years.”
Moreover, Venezuela’s inclusion in the ban is largely nominal. Unlike the bulk of the nations listed in the ban, the Venezuelan restrictions apply only to government officials and their families, many of which were individually sanctioned by the U.S. government before the July elections. While I am hesitant to commend the current administration, the move was tactical. The inclusion of a country that does not have a Muslim majority allowed for a slightly more sound defense against the idea that President Trump’s ban is a “Muslim ban,” while also allowing for institutionalized punishment for anti-American sentiments under the guise of protecting democracy.
While the nations of the Americas are by no means monolithic, Trump’s attitudes towards Venezuela could predict tension in future U.S.-Latin American relations. They are clearly indicative of a growing isolationist sentiment within the United States government, and demonstrate the type of oppression that the United States will condemn. Furthermore, all of this comes after Trump promised to drastically reduce Latin American immigration. A line has been drawn in the sand dividing the United States from the rest of the Americas. With the October 18 attempt to implement the newest version of the travel ban, the divide between the United States and their southern neighbors seems only to grow wider.
Olivia Elder is a senior at The George Washington University in Washington, DC majoring in International Affairs and concentrating in Contemporary Cultures and Societies. She is the Latino Programs Intern at Faith and Public Life, and her interests include faith, diaspora, and immigration.