Tuesday, January 20, 2009

U.S.-Venezuela Relations Uncertain as Obama and Chávez Intensify Rhetoric

James Suggett - Venezuelanalysis.com
Mérida, January 19th, 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com)-- In statements to the press over the weekend, the president-elect of the United States, Barack Obama, and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez intensified their critiques of each other while reiterating their mutual desire to improve relations, leaving much uncertainty as to how diplomatic relations will take shape following Obama’s inauguration as the 44th president of the U.S. Tuesday.

In the wake of widely-circulated news about meetings between opposition leaders and U.S. State Department officials in Puerto Rico last week, Chávez expressed skepticism toward the incoming Obama administration, demanding actions that show that the U.S. will put a halt to its long history of interventions in the affairs of its southern neighbors.

“I demand of the new president of the United States that he does not mess with Venezuela, because Venezuela is a free and sovereign country,” said Chávez, whose administration has purchased the majority share of all oil production in Venezuela and who strongly denounces U.S. government funding for domestic opposition groups.

Chávez alleged that several of those who met in Puerto Rico have now met with U.S. officials in New York to plan strategies to defeat a referendum to allow the Venezuelan president to be re-elected without term limits, which will face a national vote next month.

“Obama has decided to meddle in the battle [over the referendum],” said Chávez, who hopes to be able to run for re-election to a third term in 2012 in order to advance what many call “Socialism of the 21st Century” in Venezuela. He accused the president-elect of “following a campaign format that is dictated to him by the Pentagon, where the real imperial power lies.”

Obama, who advocates new energy sources to help the U.S. depend less on the million barrels of Venezuelan oil it imports daily, responded to a question on Venezuela in an internationally televised interview Sunday.

“Venezuela is a country of critical importance to commerce in the region, it is an important provider of petroleum. We are willing to begin diplomatic conversations about how to improve relations,” said Obama. He added that “all countries in the region of have something of importance to contribute.”

Obama included Cuba among the countries with which he would meet, as long as Cuban President Raúl Castro “is also willing to develop personal freedoms on the island.” He mentioned more flexible travel and remittance laws between the U.S. and Cuba, but denied an end to the U.S.-imposed embargo against the communist island nation.

The governments of Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, and several other Latin American nations view an end to the embargo against Cuba as a necessary step for the U.S. to prove it is serious about improving hemispheric relations.

Asserting that he desires “a change” in U.S.-Latin American relations, President-Elect Obama said, “Our responsibility as Americans is not to dictate policies… but to find cooperation and mutual interest.”

Obama then re-hashed previous remarks that “Chávez has been a force that has impeded progress in the region.”

Echoing the “War on Terror” rhetoric of outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush, Obama declared, “We must remain firm when we see the news that Venezuela is exporting terrorist activities,” referring to allegations by the Colombian government that the Chávez administration finances the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Colombian guerrilla army. “This is not good international behavior,” Obama said.

Chávez responded in kind Monday, calling the U.S. the world’s top exporter of terrorism. He harshly criticized Obama’s silence about the bloody invasion of Gaza by Israel, the U.S.’s principal ally in the Middle East. “You ask [Obama] his opinion about the massacre of innocent children in Palestine, and he does not respond,” Chávez said.

If under Obama’s administration the U.S.’s wars and interventions in foreign states continue as they have under the Bush administration, said Chávez, this will be “a new fiasco for his own people and for the world.”

“If you want good relations, not only with Venezuela, but with Latin America, I recommend that you review things a little, and take your role seriously,” Chávez advised Obama. “I hope I am wrong,” said Chávez, “I already think that Obama will come to be the same miasma… it will be up to him to demonstrate the opposite.”

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