Chavez and the United States

In February 1999, I met with President Chavez at La Casona, the presidential palace. A few days later I had to depart for Washington to take charge of our embassy there and, at that moment, I received his instructions regarding a simple task to complete. His words were precise: Maintain cordial relations based on mutual respect. In fact, several weeks previously, as ambassador to the United States, it fell upon me to accompany the president-elect on his trip tour of the country and bear witness to his meeting with President Clinton. It was the first of three encounters that would take place between both heads of state, whose common denominator was indeed cordiality and mutual respect.

Despite the fact that Washington was not accustomed to postures of outright independence that challenge its policies, the efforts of a Latin American president meant that the Clinton administration learnt how to assimilate them, maintaining bilateral relations on a constructive level. This changed drastically when Bush came to power. The tone and attitude of the new authorities who dealt with Latin America — in keeping with the style of the administration — were loaded with ideology and high-handedness. This was a world of satellites in which dissidence and independent judgment were not tolerated.

It was not long before the new U.S. government began to give the green light to and act in collusion with the Venezuelan opposition, which at the time was characterized by extreme political adventurism. This ran parallel to sustained efforts by other friendly governments to undermine Venezuela. In some cases, such as with Aznar’s Spain, there were clear results. In others, as with Blair’s Britain, efforts were fruitless. Thanks to the support offered to Chavez by the British unions and by the left wing of the Labour Party, the case of Venezuela became the only one on the international scene in which Blair could not pursue a common cause with Bush.

The arrival of Obama seemed to indicate a return to the parameters of his Democrat predecessor in relation to Venezuela. Such was the expressed desire of President Chavez who, while in Trinidad, announced to the new tenant of the White House that he wished to be friends. Lamentably, the foreign policy implemented by Hillary Clinton seemed more often than not to be a continuation of Bush’s rather than a return to her husband’s.

In its attempt to isolate Venezuela in Latin America and the Caribbean, Washington ended up isolating itself from the region. The strong impulse of our fallen president turned out to be fundamental in integrating the region around a group of new institutions, the most notable success being the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States; composed of 33 countries, 590 million inhabitants and 20 million square meters; the United States was conspicuously absent. But in addition to the achievements of this integration was the new economic presence of China in this part of the world, which Chavez did much to encourage. Let us hope that the U.S. understands the central role played by Venezuela in regional geopolitics and that it initiates a new engagement based once again on respect of our sovereignty.

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