Slight Thaw in Relations between Venezuela and U.S

Article excerpt

Despite the harsh language used by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and high-ranking leaders of the Revolucion Bolivariana, the Venezuelan government is practicing a skillful diplomacy that even suggests the possibility for positive change in relations with the US. Diplomatic relations have been frozen since 2010, when both countries reduced their embassy missions to a minimal level.

Although Caracas has not stopped accusing Washington of interfering in its internal affairs, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua and Secretary of State John Kerry--who, like Maduro when he speaks of the US, resorts to harsh rhetoric when referring to the South American country--held an amiable meeting during the recent Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly in Antigua, Guatemala (NotiCen, July 4, 2013).

But that was not all, either in bilateral relations or in the Venezuelan government's insertion into the global community following the death of former President Hugo Chavez (1999-2013). Venezuela's successes included deepening dialogue and creating new business deals with Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil--the Southern Cone Common Market (MERCOSUR) countries that facilitated Venezuela's entrance into the integration body--as well as the support received at the summit of Petrocaribe--an economic alliance between Venezuela and various Caribbean countries--and Maduro's auspicious trip to Russia (NotiSur, Aug. 12, 2005).

Most important, however, was the recognition Maduro received in Europe, as Spain and France moved away from the Venezuelan right represented by Henrique Capriles, and Pope Francis gave Maduro a blessing and spoke of the "strength" of Venezuelan democracy. Maduro presented the pope with an ambitious proposal for Venezuela and the Vatican to carry out a global version of Operacion Milagro, which provides eye surgery and other vision care to low-income people who could not otherwise afford it.

A month before Maduro's European trip, which began in Portugal June 12 and ended in France a week later, Capriles, the defeated presidential candidate for the opposition Mesa de Unidad Democratica (MUD), was enjoying strong support from the western establishment. That support, expressed mainly through a virulent campaign against Maduro, was led by the administrations of US President Barack Obama and Spain's conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Both had refused to recognize the new president following the April 14 elections.

The media owners' powerful Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa/Inter-American Press Association (SIP/IAPA) and the Asociacion Interamericana de Radiodifusion (AIR) saw to it that the region's major dailies, radio stations, and television channels continually portrayed the Maduro administration as illegitimate and authoritarian, the product of alleged electoral fraud. The Venezuelan right had moved the seat of its fight against Venezuela's democratic, constitutional government outside the country.

With the June 5 meeting between Jaua and Kerry and the eventful week in Europe, the Venezuelan government accepted the challenge and also brought the issue to the international stage. Maduro demonstrated the diplomatic expertise he developed in almost six years as Chavez's foreign minister and was thus able to neutralize, at least for the moment, the support that Capriles was receiving from Washington and Madrid and to obtain the support of two important world players, Pope Francis and French President Francois Hollande. Capriles was left isolated, supported only by western media owners.

Maduro makes relations with US a priority

The most significant movement, however, concerned relations with the US. On May 12, the signs were still negative. That day, Maduro accused Obama of being used by the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and said that the US president was "making a grave mistake," listening to his advisors, who deceived him, telling him not to recognize the Venezuelan elections because Maduro would be quickly overthrown. …