During the month of December, Venezuela’s authoritarian populist president actively used a lame duck legislature to expand his already unchecked executive power, culminating in a December 17 grant of “broad powers to enact laws by decree for a year and a half.” He did this before a new legislative body with a significant opposition presence took office on January 5.
While undertaking the power grab, Chavez continued to bait the U.S. by saying he would not accept nominated envoy Larry Palmer, whose critical comments regarding Chavez’s support for terrorism and politicized military drew the repeated ire of the Venezuelan president. On December 20, the Venezuelan government formally rejected Palmer, switching off the diplomatic green light it gave in early 2010.
The State Department, which previously vowed to stand behind Palmer, made public on December 29 that it was canceling the visa of Venezuela’s Ambassador to the U.S. Bernardo Alvarez. This was a milder course than expelling Alvarez by declaring him persona non grata, as Chavez did in 2008 to Patrick Duddy, the U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela.
However, on January 1, a mood change seemed to occur. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton beamed before the cameras as she shook hands with Chavez at the inauguration of Brazil’s new president. On January 4, the State Department’s Teflon-like spokesman P. J. Crowley seemed to indicate that the Obama Administration planned to move ahead with nominating a replacement for Palmer, one more palatable to Chavez’s taste.
Chavez savored his victory and farcically suggested that President Obama select Oliver Stone, Sean Penn, or radical professor Noam Chomsky—all Chavez sycophants—to serve as the next U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela.
On January 5, the State Department spokesman rushed to clarify the issue: “We are not looking for another candidate to be the U.S. Ambassador to Caracas. We’ve made clear that we felt very strongly that Larry Palmer was the appropriate candidate, fully qualified, and would have been and would be an effective interlocutor to improve relations between the United States and Venezuela. We have not changed our view, even though his nomination is technically expired.”
As the pull and tug continues between appeasers and the tough-minded, The Washington Post acerbically noted, will the next nominee speak the truth about Venezuela, or will he submit to Chavez’s standing gag order?
Advised former U.S. Ambassador Richard Williamson, “Chávez’s recent round of repressive actions should be a wake-up call. It is not too late. The U.S. should provide leadership in the Western Hemisphere and principled support for democracy and human rights in Venezuela.”
Added blogger Liz Harper, “Chávez is antithetical to our democratic values and security concerns. He is moving full steam down the field, while we sit on the sidelines.”
Moving to select a new Ambassador to Venezuela in the near term will not advance U.S. interests in Venezuela and sends a strong signal of inconsistency and complacency in U.S. policy toward Chavez and all he represents. On the diplomatic front, Chavez believes he has the Obama Administration on a short leash, and he wants to keep it there.