Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro watches with binoculars during a rally in Caracas on Wednesday. (Handout/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

In his April 17 op-ed, “Venezuela and the eclipse of U.S. leadership,” Jackson Diehl accurately depicted the hell Venezuelans are living in. He put some of the blame on declining U.S. leadership in inter-American affairs. True, Washington no longer exerts the clout it once did in a region that has become increasingly confident and assertive on the global stage. That was evident in 2009 following a military coup in Honduras. Washington was unable to pressure the de facto government that took power in that small Central American country to step down. Moreover, in the early days of Hugo Chávez’s rule in Venezuela, the United States couldn’t disguise its glee after a coup attempt in 2002, and Washington alienated all Latin American nations. Mr. Chávez was radicalized and tightened his grip.

Mr. Diehl was right that the United States can do a better job of marshaling regional support to pressure the Venezuelan regime, but governments have also held back for pragmatic economic and ideological reasons, keeping distance from what might be perceived as a U.S.-led effort to topple a Latin American government. While the endgame may be near, the regime is entrenched and sits on the world’s largest oil reserves. Applying “serious economic sanctions” would do little other than deepen the misery of many Venezuelans.

More regional governments are waking up to Venezuela’s disaster and are willing to do something about it. If Washington assumes a more unilateral, interventionist stance, progress could stall, drawing the United States and a transformed Latin America further apart.

Michael Shifter, Washington

The writer is president
of the Inter-American Dialogue.