Advancing a Free Society

Hugo Chavez’ Comedy Act

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The President of Venezuela has once again distinguished himself, offering to allow a U.S. ambassador to take up work. Chavez had previously refused to accept the diplomatic credentials of Larry Palmer, who has been critical of Venezuela’s support for rebels in Colombia and suggested there is low morale in the Venezuelan military.

In keeping with the protocol of diplomacy, the Obama Administration cancelled the visa of Venezuela’s Ambassador to the United States. Chavez has now provided the Obama Administration with an off-ramp for the stand off by suggesting some Americans he would accept as the diplomatic representative of our country to Venezuela: former President Bill Clinton, actor Sean Penn, linguist turned leftist Noam Chomsky, or movie director Oliver Stone.

“We have a lot of friends there,” gushed the President of Venezuela. He just doesn’t have many in Venezuela, where he has closed down political opposition and the media, and impoverished the country. He has just coerced the outgoing legislature to grant him rule by decree for 18 months. Chavez’ comedy act isn’t funny because he is so damaging to the freedom and fortunes of the people of Venezuela.

Whether it advances American interests to put in place diplomats critical of the governments they will be seeking to work with and influence is a reasonable question. Where repressive governments are concerned, an American diplomat upholding our values and working with democratic forces in the country can be an enormous force for good. Lower-level diplomats at the Embassy can perform the functions of assisting American citizens in duress and routine interstate business.

Especially in the case of Venezuela, where Chavez is implacably anti-American. It’s not as though we would have had his participation in our war coalitions or support at the United Nations or assistance to prevent proliferation or engagement to assist governments struggling to protect citizens against violent challenges. The Obama Administration should hold to Ambassador Palmer as our diplomat for Caracas, and refuse to name a replacement more suitable to Chavez’ desires.

How unfortunate that the State Department’s response was, "we are interested in having good relations with Venezuela. And obviously that involves, among other things, having ambassadors at post who can help to, you know, manage that engagement.”  Another preemptive surrender by the people who have just claimed in their Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review to be "leading through civilian power."