U.S. Nomination for Venezuelan Ambassador Rejected

Article excerpt

After a brief period of precarious normalization of diplomatic relations between Venezuela and the US, hope that the new status would be consolidated was dashed last December. The administration of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez rejected the nomination by the administration of US President Barack Obama of Larry Palmer to represent Washington's interests in Caracas, and, in response, the White House revoked Venezuelan Ambassador to the US Bernardo Alvarez's diplomatic visa. As a result, since Dec. 29, relations between the two countries have been reduced to trade.

Palmer's nomination expired when the US Congress adjourned in December. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is now waiting for the State Department to submit a new nominee--or resubmit Palmer's name. Reciprocal accusations have reached a fever pitch and, while there is no danger that Venezuela will cut off the nearly 1 million barrels per day of crude it provides the US, the future is uncertain, say most analysts and media outlets in the region.

Opposition returns to legislature

The context in which the situation is unfolding is complicated for the Venezuelan government. On Jan. 5, the opposition returned to the unicameral Asamblea Nacional (AN), with 67 of the 165 deputies NotiSur, Oct. 15, 2010, ending the governing party's absolute control, which it had enjoyed since 2005, when opponents of President Chavez's Revolucion Bolivariana boycotted the elections. While 65 of the opposition lawmakers belong to the Mesa de Unidad Democratica (MUD), which includes some 30 parties, the group is not homogeneous and has no common leader.

The two remaining opposition deputies represent a spin-off from the governing party and will be far less confrontational than the MUD bloc. The 98 deputies who comprise the rest of the AN all adhere to Chavez's Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV). They will clearly dominate the AN but do not have the two-thirds majority necessary to decide on issues requiring a "special majority."

Simultaneously, the government is facing criticism from the Catholic Church hierarchy, powerful agricultural groups, industrial chambers, and, especially, the large media groups. From abroad, the Revolucion Bolivariana must endure a persistent campaign from the Miami-based Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa (SIP), which includes owners of more than 100 of the largest media outlets in the region NotiSur, Jan. 7, 2011.

Palmer's congressional testimony proves his undoing

On Aug. 4, 2010, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the nominations of some 30 ambassadors to Latin America, Africa, and Asia, but Palmer was not among them. No one said so, but apparently his answers to a series of 12 questions from the senators were not satisfactory.

Those responses also angered the government in Caracas. The independent Venezuelan Web site http://www.entornointeligente.com published Palmer's responses. Commenting on the situation in his potential diplomatic destination, Palmer said that: 1) morale in the Venezuelan armed forces was "considerably low"; 2) "both the Army and the Air Force have suffered equipment maintenance problems, with potentially serious consequences for capability and readiness"; 3) Colombia's allegations that Venezuela harbors Colombian guerrilla groups "are very serious" and "Venezuela is obliged, as a member of the United Nations and the Organization of American States [OAS], to deny terrorist groups the ability to operate within its territory"; 4) Venezuela is strongly influenced by Cuba and, "while the Venezuelan government states that the Cuban presence in Venezuela is limited to the medical, educational, and technical spheres, there are credible reports of growing Cuban-Venezuelan cooperation in the fields of intelligence services and the military. Venezuelan military officers train in Cuba. Venezuelan 'social promoters' receive paramilitary training from Cuban officers in Venezuela. …