If the White House had hopes for improved relations with Venezuela after the death of Hugo Chavez, those hopes were dashed over the weekend by the late leader’s handpicked (but elected) successor, Nicolas Maduro.
Annoyed by a remark made by President Obama’s nominee for ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, Maduro declared he was ending his efforts — which seemed minimal in any case — to mend fences with the White House.
Power had told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee she believed in “contesting” what she described as a “crackdown on civil society being carried out in countries like Cuba, Iran, Russia, and Venezuela.”
“Power says she’ll fight repression in Venezuela? What repression? There is repression in the United States, where they kill African-Americans with impunity, and where they hunt the youngster Edward Snowden just for telling the truth,” he declared. He also demanded an apology.
Maduro’s “kill African-Americans” remark was an obvious reference to the controversial Florida case involving neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, who was acquitted by a jury in the death of Trayvon Martin. That verdict triggered massive protests all across America last weekend.
“And the U.S. government says they want to have good relations? What tremendous relations they want,” Maduro, a former bus driver, said, adding that Power’s comments would please Venezuela’s “fascist right.”
After being elected in April, Maduro called for closer relations with Washington and in June his foreign minister, Elias Jaua, met Secretary of State John Kerry, who described the meeting as the “beginning of a good, respectful relationship.”
Jaua said the Maduro administration was open to a more positive relationship “based on the premise of mutual respect, non-interference in internal affairs and the proper treatment of disagreements.”
Jaua’s optimism didn’t last long. On Friday, he announced that his government had issued a letter of protest to the American embassy in Caracas. In the letter, he said, he asked if there is still “willingness” in Washington to improve relations.
The foreign ministry described Power’s comments as “interventionist” and boasted that the UN had often recognized Venezuela’s “solid system of constitutional guarantees” that ensured its citizens’ fundamental rights.
“By contrast, the whole world is constantly expressing its concern over repressive practices carried out by the United States,” the statement added.
Maduro earlier angered Washington by offering asylum to the fugitive intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden, who has been stranded in a Moscow airport while seeking a home where he’d be able to avoid prosecution by the United States. All but two have rejected his request.
“I have decided to offer humanitarian asylum to the young American Edward Snowden,” Maduro had explained, “to protect this young man from the persecution unleashed by the world’s most powerful empire.”
Washington may appear understandably preoccupied with pending talks between Israel and Palestine, the continued unrest in Egypt, the worsening situation in Syria and the sectarian violence in Iraq, but clearly the state department also must deal with hostility from certain parts of Latin America.
One oddity: More than 100 players on America’s Major League Baseball teams are natives of Venezuela, and their performances are closely watched by their friends, relatives and fans back home. And, unlike Cuban players, they didn’t have to defect to play in the United States. They’re well paid in this country.
Also, the United States is an important customer for Venezuela’s major export, oil. The two nations can keep sniping at each other, but they also need each other, and that fact may help save their relationship.
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