The United States and Venezuela begin to make nice
An exchange of ambassadors is part of Obama's policy of engagement over confrontation.
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Rocky relations between the two countries reached a breaking point last September when Chavez expelled the US ambassador over complaints from neighboring Bolivia -- a Chavez ally under leftist president Evo Morales -- that the US was meddling in its internal affairs. Washington returned the favor.Skip to next paragraph
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But underlying the bad blood are US concerns that Chavez, who has already held his office for a decade, is becoming increasingly authoritarian, while Venezuela continues to fault the US for hegemonic designs.
As a result, relations between the US and Venezuela -- a major oil supplier to the US that, under Chavez, has become a rival voice for Latin America’s path forward -- are unlikely to turn suddenly smooth.
The Venezuelan ambassador to Washington, Bernardo Alvarez, said as much upon his return to Washington, telling Reuters that Caracas will continue to criticize US foreign policy when it sees fit. Referring to the example of Washington’s failure to extradite Cuban exile and former CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles, who is charged in Venezuela in the 1976 bombing of a Cubana airliner, Mr. Alvarez said, “We have rejected and will continue rejecting all these attempts to unilaterally become the world’s judges.”
And no sooner had Alvarez returned to Washington than Venezuela’s foreign minister, Nicolas Maduro, was on the phone with Thomas Shannon, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs, to register Venezuela’s objections to comments made by the Pentagon’s top official for the region.
General Douglas Fraser, who assumed his duties as head of the US military’s operations in Latin America and the Caribbean on Thursday, questioned the purpose for Venezuela’s stepped-up military spending, especially with Russia. General Fraser signaled broader US concerns when he said that Venezuela faced no “conventional military threat in the region” so would not appear to need such a military build-up.
In the last four years Chavez has approved the purchase of more than $4 billion in weapons systems, including fighter jets and attack helicopters, from Russia and China. The build-up has alarmed neighboring Colombia, a close US ally whose relations with Caracas have deteriorated in recent years.