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The Limits of Engagement

The Washington Post is running an editorial today criticizing the engagement policy of the Obama administration toward Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela – where conditions for the opposition have deteriorated rapidly over the past 2-3 months.  This “convenience” of engagement argument could apply to other relationships as well.

This is hardly the first time that a Latin American caudillo has tried to eliminate peaceful opponents: Mr. Chávez is following a path well worn by the likes of Juan Perón and Alberto Fujimori — not to mention his mentor, Fidel Castro. But this may be the first time that the United States has watched the systematic destruction of a Latin American democracy in silence. As Mr. Chávez has implemented the “third phase” of his self-styled revolution, the Obama administration has persisted with the policy of quiet engagement that the president promised before taking office.

“We need to find a space in which we can actually have a conversation, and we need to find ways to enhance our levels of confidence,” Assistant Secretary of State Thomas A. Shannon Jr. said two weeks ago, echoing earlier remarks by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. We have no objection to dialogue with Mr. Chávez. But isn’t it time to start talking about preserving independent television stations, opposition political leaders, trade unions and human rights groups — before it is too late?