Some might see this as a victory for the ailing autocrat, though folks here are not looking at it that way, saying Palmer, in the end, wasn’t confirmable and wouldn’t have been a credible ambassador to Venezuela.
As we noted in February, the mercurial Chavez signed off on the nomination last summer. Palmer’s Senate hearing, however, raised concerns that he wasn’t forceful enough on Chavez’s human rights abuses. But when Palmer took a harder line in post-hearing questions, Chavez withdrew his consent and refused to accept Palmer.
Chavez relented after some diplomatic activity but then changed his mind after an anti-Chavez bomber escaped from prison and got a visa to come here. There again seemed to be some progress on the matter, but former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley publicly called Chavez “autocratic” and dictatorial, which upset the mercurial autocrat yet again.
At the end of last year, Washington told Venezuelan Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez Herrera not to come back. So now he’s happily in Madrid. And Palmer, who wasn’t renominated to the Caracas job, could soon be happily in Bridgetown.
The State Department is looking for candidates for Venezuela. As we said in February, there may not be an ambassador anytime soon.
Speaking of diplomatic matters and Latin America, the administration is looking for someone to replace former assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs Arturo Valenzuela, who’s gone back to academia.
There had been talk that career diplomat Kristie Kenney, who’s been ambassador to Ecuador, might be in line for the job, but she recently arrived in Thailand, and things there are a bit too unstable politically to yank her out just now.
Jose Fernandez, a Cuban American and political appointee now serving as assistant secretary of state for economic matters, also had been talked about for the job, but apparently the brass want to leave him where he is.
Best bet is there’ll be a long interregnum, with Roberta Jacobson, a career civil servant and veteran Latin America hand who had been top deputy to Valenzuela, holding the fort.
GOP sources say the White House has been floating the name of Art Estopinan, longtime chief of staff to House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), as a possible pick for the job.
The notion seems a bit unlikely, given that Estopinan’s views on Cuba and other matters in Latin America might be a bit at odds with some of the administration’s policies in the region.
On the other hand, we are approaching an election year, after all, and the Cuban American Estopinan just happens to be from Florida.