Venezuela: U.S. Recalls Its Ambassador for Consultations in Response to Comments by President Hugo Chavez

Article excerpt

Relations between the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and the administration of US President George W. Bush were seriously strained when Chavez lamented civilian casualties caused by US bombing in Afghanistan. Although the Bush administration is re-evaluating its policy toward Venezuela, that country's role as a major supplier of oil to the US makes a break in relations unlikely.

Since taking office in 1999, Chavez has shaped Venezuela's foreign policy on the concept that no single nation should dominate international politics. He has maintained close relations with Cuba and visited oil-producing countries and OPEC partners, including Libya and Iraq, that the US says harbor terrorists.

Other issues on which Venezuela and the US have disagreed include the US-backed multibillion-dollar Plan Colombia and Venezuela's refusal to allow US military planes to overfly its territory on anti-drug missions.

Venezuelan officials insist the president's foreign policy is not anti-American, but rather independent. However, President Bush's statement following the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, DC, that countries are either "with us or against us" make independence more risky.

Chavez laments civilian casualties of war on terrorism

Chavez strongly condemned the Sept. 11 attacks, saying, "It was a tragedy not only for the United States, but for the whole world." He added, "We condemn in the most energetic manner these events that so moved us."

Chavez also pledged to cooperate in the anti-terrorism effort by supplying the US with a steady flow of oil and sharing intelligence.

On Oct. 29, in a television address following a three-week international trip, Chavez held up photographs of women and children purportedly killed or wounded in the US bombing campaign in Afghanistan.

"We must find solutions for the problem of terrorism," said Chavez. "We must find the terrorists....But not like this....Look at these children. These children were alive yesterday. They were eating with their parents and a bomb fell on them."

While repeating the condemnation of the attacks and the support for the international fight against terrorism, Chavez said the struggle should focus on poverty and social discontent that fuel terrorism.

"This has no justification, just as the attacks in New York [had no justification] either."

In Washington, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker called Chavez's remarks "totally inappropriate."

On Oct. 30, the State Department summoned Venezuela's ambassador to the US, Ignacio Arcaya, for explanations, while the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry did the same with US Ambassador to Venezuela Donna Hrinak in Caracas.

On Nov. 1, the State Department reported that the Bush administration had called Hrinak to Washington for consultations "to discuss the current state of our bilateral relationship with Venezuela."

Administration officials said Chavez's remarks contradicted Venezuela's position in the UN and in the Organization of American States (OAS), which expressed support for the military campaign.

Chavez said he supported "the fight against terrorism, and no one should doubt that." But, he added, "we have also said from the start that you cannot respond to terror with more terror. …