Ever since the death of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez back in March, his successors have been flinging insult after insult at the United States. The volley began at the very moment of Chavez’s death, when his anointed heir Nicolas Maduro, pointing an accusatory finger at the U.S., claimed that Chavez had been “assassinated.” Maduro then accused the U.S. of plotting to kill his opposition rival, Henrique Capriles, in order to engineer a coup. Finally, after weeks of blaming the U.S. for everything from food shortages to the violence that followed the disputed April 14 presidential election, Maduro recycled a barb that Chavez had previously deployed against George W. Bush, when he declared that President Obama was the “grand chief of devils.”
Now, however, conciliatory noises are emerging from Caracas. Over the weekend, Maduro’s foreign minister, Elias Jaua, announced that Venezuela wanted to mend diplomatic fences with the United States. “We are going to remain open to normalizing relations with the United States,” Jaua said during a television interview. “The first thing would be to resume diplomatic representation at the highest level.”
Should the United States restore its relations with Venezuela, which were severed in 2008 when Chavez expelled the U.S. Ambassador, Patrick Duddy? Here are three good reasons why it shouldn’t do so.
First, Venezuela last month incarcerated an American filmmaker, Timothy Hallet Tracy, on fabricated charges of stoking the violence which accompanied opposition accusations of fraud against Maduro, following his election victory by a margin of less than two points. Tracy’s arrest was personally ordered by Maduro, who insists that he is a spy, while the State Department maintains that he is a private citizen.
It might be argued that a returning American ambassador could secure Tracy’s release. If that is indeed the case, then the U.S. should demand that Tracy be set free as a non-negotiable condition for the resumption of any talks about restoring diplomatic relations. Essentially, this would amount to a test of Venezuela’s honorable intentions–one there is little reason to believe the chavista regime will pass.
Reason number two: sending an ambassador to Caracas would amount to a complete reversal of the American decision not to recognize the results of the April 14 election. There should be no doubt that Maduro would portray such a move as proof that the fraud charges leveled by Capriles and the opposition have no basis in reality. Additionally, a climbdown by the U.S. would silence the only significant objection to the election process voiced within the international community. Most of Latin America has already acquiesced to Maduro’s triumph, including countries like Brazil, Argentina and Chile, for whom military rule of the sort that now prevails in Venezuela–Maduro uses the sinister term “political-military command”–is a recent memory. There is nothing to be gained from the U.S. joining in with this chorus of hypocrisy.
Finally: given the degree of control the Cuban regime exercises over Maduro, one might reasonably wonder whether diplomatic relations are really being restored with Havana, and not Caracas. Venezuelans have spent much of today glued to their TV screens after the opposition released an audio recording of a conversation between Mario Silva, a prominent television anchor and incorrigible chavista, and Aramis Palacios, a senior official of the G2, Cuba’s secret police. As far as the opposition is concerned, the exchange between the two men amounts to satisfactory confirmation that Cuba is the real power behind Maduro’s throne.
The conversation, which largely consists of Silva confiding in Palacios his fears about the current situation, is certainly revealing. Silva uses some rather pungent language in describing his feelings towards Maduro’s principal rival, the National Assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello, whose corrupt business practices, he says, are partly responsible for the successive devaluations of the Bolivar, Venezuela’s currency. Silva also voices his approval of the view expressed to him by Fidel Castro that Chavez was wasting his time with such “bourgeois” trifles as elections. “Elections here as they stand right now, they can blow us and can bring our revolution down,” the breathless Silva tells the sympathetic Palacios, inadvertently
bolstering the opposition’s long-held belief that the chavistas will hold elections only if they are sure they can win them.
The Silva-Palacios recording builds on evidence of Cuban meddling that was recently unveiled by a former confidante of Chavez, Maj. Gen. Antonio Rivero, who defected to the opposition in 2010. According to Rivero, more than 200,000 Cubans arrived in Venezuela following Chavez’s assumption of power in 1999. Among the projects they launched was the “Strategic Cooperation Team,” which involved a wholesale revision of Venezuela’s military doctrine under the watchful eye of a Cuban commander. As Rivero’s own experience demonstrates, those Venezuelan officers who rejected their Cuban overseers quickly found themselves purged from the ranks of the military.
Meanwhile, Mario Silva’s own response to the broadcast of his conversation with a Cuban agent offers an instructive glimpse of what the U.S. can expect should it elect to deal with Maduro. Rather than comment on the substance of the exchange, Silva whined that he was the victim of a set-up. And who was responsible? Why, that bottomless pit of conspiracy and intrigue otherwise known as… “El sionismo.”