But just in case, the feisty Venezuelan president – who caused a diplomatic row by refusing Mr. Obama’s first choice for Washington’s new ambassador to Caracas – has a personal short list for the job. Mr. Chávez says he’d take director Oliver Stone, actor Sean Penn, linguist and philosopher (and longtime critic of US foreign policy in Latin America) Noam Chomsky, or – why not? – Bill Clinton.
Chávez offered his suggestions in a televised speech Tuesday, amid a diplomatic tit-for-tat that saw the Obama administration revoke the visa of Venezuela’s ambassador to Washington last week in retaliation for Chávez’s earlier rejection of Larry Palmer, a career diplomat, as US ambassador to Caracas.
Mr. Palmer had been critical of the Chávez government in his Senate confirmation testimony, suggesting there was low morale in the Venezuelan military and hinting at Venezuelan meddling in next-door-neighbor Colombia on behalf of leftist guerrillas.
Chávez – a leftist-populist whose authoritarian tendencies and cozying up to world leaders like Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have won him no points in Washington – suggested that Obama had a deep pool of potential candidates to chose from who would also be to his liking. “We have a lot of friends there” in the US, he said in his speech.
Chávez’s suggestion of Bill Clinton may have popped into his head as a result of his brief but cordial meet-and-greet with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton Saturday at the inauguration of Brazil’s new president, Dilma Rousseff.
Chávez, who has made long and folksy “conversations with the people” a trademark of his 12 years in power, also revealed in his speech that his “very bad English” led him to inquire of Secretary Clinton, “How is your wife?”
That, and not the sparring over an ambassadorship, would seem to explain the hearty laughter the two shared in Brasilia.