After a relatively calm period in the stormy diplomatic relationship between the United States and Venezuela, three new happenings show that relations between the two countries are still quite rocky.
First came the U.S. request for the government of Aruba to capture and extradite Gen. Hugo Carvajal, a former Venezuelan diplomat accused of drug trafficking. Aruba deferred the request to the Netherlands, which ignored the U.S. request and freed Carvajal.
Then came the news that the White House would be imposing restrictions on U.S. visas for Venezuelan officials in response to their brutal repression of Venezuelan citizens. The third blow is on the way. Senators Robert Menendez and Marco Rubio have introduced a bill in Congress that would freeze the assets of Venezuelan officials in the United States.
Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Affairs Elias Jaua has called this a new, "imperialist" offensive. Baloney. The truth, as Michael McCarthy, the expert in Venezuela, tells me, is that "drug trafficking and human rights violations have been a constant concern for this administration. The circumstances are right to send a message because we're at a moment of low-intensity where the protests have died down, the dialogue in the Union of South American Nations is practically finished and internally, Chavists are debating with the opposition to the country's compositional organization."*
Javier Corrales, professor at Amherst College, tells me:
"I don't think the sanctions are the way to go; they'll end up being counterproductive. The Venezuelan government is always fraught with internal confusion, and these sanctions will only help unify the dissidents around Chavism, which is the worst that could happen for the opposition. However, if sanctions must come, they ought to be focused on those with demonstrable links to illicit actions, instead of the entire government."*
I disagree. I believe that what is just is to be able to bring to justice, in Venezuela, those soldiers, ministers, judicial officials, governors, paramilitary and police responsible for killing more than 40 people and injuring, incarcerating and torturing thousands of citizens who were protesting against the rise in crime, food shortage, spiral of inflation, the violations of their freedom of expression, freedom of press and freedom to organize. Unfortunately, that is currently impossible in Venezuela. Hugo Chavez's justice system is rigged so that members of his repressive political system cannot be tried in court.
In this sense, I applaud the White House for imposing restrictions on visas for Venezuelan officials. I also agree with Menendez and Rubio, in that all legal resources should be used to freeze the oppressors' assets so that they feel the full force of the law. At the same time, I deplore the inexplicable decision of the Netherlands to free Carvajal for political — not judicial — reasons.
If Carvajal is not a drug lord, the Venezuelan Ministry of Defense should respond to the three questions that the Venezuelan newspaper Tal Cual voiced:
- Why have you remained silent in the face of reports of supposed "narco-soldiers?"
- What will they think in the national armed forces when they see the DEA has Venezuelan generals on its list?
- When will Gen. Hugo Carvajal make amends to the national armed forces for his actions?
While we await an answer, I can do nothing but support Washington in its efforts to punish the oppressors of the Venezuelan people.
*Editor's note: These quotations have not been verified.