How Chávez tries to hide the truth about his government

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Friday, August 13, 2010

ONE OF the principal goals of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's foreign policy is preventing governments or international organizations from telling the truth about him. Over the past couple of years, captured documents and other evidence have established beyond any reasonable doubt that Mr. Chávez's regime has provided haven and material support to the FARC movement in neighboring Colombia -- a group that is known for massacres of civilians, hostage taking and drug trafficking, and that has been designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department and the European Union. That places Mr. Chávez in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions and, at least in theory, exposes him to U.S. and international sanctions.

Luckily for Mr. Chávez, the Obama administration and other Security Council members have shown little interest in recognizing what, in terms of state sponsorship of terrorism, amounts to a smoking gun. But discussion and debate about the evidence -- such as Colombia's recent presentation to a meeting of the Organization of American States -- makes this ostrich act difficult to continue. So Mr. Chávez has dedicated himself to bullying and intimidating those who dare to speak publicly about what everyone in the Western Hemisphere knows to be true.

His most conspicuous recent target was former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe, who ordered the report to the OAS shortly before leaving office. Mr. Chávez's response to the maps, photographs, videos and other documentary evidence laid out by Colombia's ambassador was to immediately break diplomatic relations and to threaten war. When Mr. Uribe's successor, Juan Manuel Santos, signaled that he was ready to address the FARC problem through private discussions, the Venezuelan caudillo instantly reversed himself. On Tuesday he traveled to Colombia to meet Mr. Santos and agreed to restore relations.

Mr. Chávez also focused his attention on Larry Leon Palmer, the veteran diplomat nominated by the Obama administration as its next ambassador to Venezuela. Some Republicans question whether the United States should retain ambassadorial relations with Mr. Chávez's government, and the nominee received a searching set of "questions for the record" from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's senior GOP member, Richard G. Lugar (Ind.).

To his credit and that of the State Department, Mr. Palmer answered truthfully. He said that he was "keenly aware of the clear ties between members of the Venezuelan government and Colombian guerrillas." He said that he was "concerned" that two individuals designated as international drug traffickers by the Treasury Department "are high-ranking officials of the Venezuelan government." He reported "growing Cuban-Venezuelan cooperation in the fields of intelligence services and the military" and "morale and equipment problems" in the Venezuelan army.

Mr. Chávez once again was quick to respond. On his weekly television show on Sunday, he announced that Mr. Palmer would not be allowed to take up his post in Caracas because "he has disqualified himself by breaking all the rules of diplomacy, by prejudging us." He said that the Obama administration would have to "look for another candidate." The State Department responded that it was sticking with Mr. Palmer. It should. If ignoring the facts about Mr. Chávez is a requirement for sending an ambassador to Caracas, then it would be better not to have one.


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