Timothy Gill and David Smilde
On Saturday Venezuela vigorously responded to criticism offered by President Barack Obama earlier that day, calling on “compatriots” to “take up the slingshot of David to confront Goliath’s new aggression.” In an interview with Univision the night before Obama had said that the US was worried about the violence and the crackdown on the opposition. He said the US approach:
Is based on the notion of our basic principles of human rights and democracy and freedom of press and freedom of assembly. Are those being observed? There are reports that they have not been fully observed post-election. And you know, I think our only interest at this point is making sure that the people of Venezuela are able to determine their own destiny free from the kinds of practices that the entire hemisphere generally has moved away from.
In response, on May 4, Elias Jaua, the Venezuelan government’s Foreign Minister, read a government communiqué over national radio and television rejecting President Obama’s statements. In it, Jaua touted the sophistication of the Venezuelan electoral system and described Venezuela’s human rights record.
We find ourselves obliged to tell you what the rest of the hemisphere already knows, that in Venezuela there has been a total and absolute respect for the human rights of all, from the very moment that Commander Hugo Chávez assumed control of the Venezuelan state and pushed forward a Magna Carta that has the most advanced catalogue of rights in the region…President Obama, the people of Venezuela now fully enjoy rights and liberties that the US is still far from achieving.
Jaua went on to criticize Obama for his “imperialist double morality” for his silence regarding opposition attacks on government supporters. He said that what really is producing international concern is the United States’ inability to shutdown US detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, “where, for more than a decade, torture and other cruel treatment, degrading of human beings are practiced. This is one of the most shameful chapters of human history.”
Jaua concluded by saying that “Your false, harsh and interfering statements do not help to improve the bilateral relations between U.S. and Venezuela; on the contrary, they further deteriorate them. This only shows to the world the politics of aggression that you and your government pursue against our nation.”
This exchange came only a couple of days after an exchange with international critics of the violence in the National Assembly on April 30. On May 1, Secretary General of the Organization of American States Jose Miguel Insulza expressed concern about saying the violence “reflects, in a dramatic way, the absence of a political dialogue that could reassure the public and the branches of government, in order to resolve the outstanding issues in this country in a climate of peace between all Venezuelans.” Insulza also called on President Maduro to help “to reestablish the inalienable right of members of parliament to speak freely in the exercise of their functions.” Diosdado Cabello, the President of the National Assembly, has barred from speaking opposition assembly members that have not recognized Maduro as president.
On May 2, Jaua, stated that Insulza’s comments were made “in close coordination with spokespeople of the State Department and White House … [and were] intended to create a perception of political crisis in Venezuela which requires their mediation.” Jaua called theses statements “absolutely cynical and immoral, particularly when they come from those who have minimized and make invisible the acute facts of fascist violence, which occurred on April 15 this year and subsequent days, as a result of the lack of acknowledgment of electoral results on behalf of the loser candidate and his call to anger and violence after the April 14 elections.”
These exchanges would seem to make less likely an improvement of Venezuela’s relations with the US government and the OAS during the Maduro Administration.
On April 11, in response to an invitation from Tibisay Lucena, the President of the National Electoral Council of Venezuela, the OAS designated former New Mexican governor Bill Richardson as a Special Envoy that would travel with Alfonso Quiñonez, the Secretary for External Relations of the OAS, to “to be present in Caracas to mark the presidential election.” During their trip, Richardson and Quiñonez met with then-acting president Maduro, then-Vice President Elias Jaua, and opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, among other individuals. Richardson reported that the day before the election Maduro pulled him aside to say that “We want to improve the relationship with the U.S., regularize the relationship,” which Jaua also reiterated to him.
However, the close electoral result soured these good intentions. On April 15, Patrick Ventrell, the US State Department’s Acting Deputy Spokesperson, told reporters that “The results reveal the Venezuelan electorate that is roughly evenly divided. In order to meet all Venezuelans’ democratic expectations, it makes sense that such a recount should be completed before any additional steps, including official certification of the results, occurs.” The following day Ventrell told reporters that “the CNE’s decision to declare Mr. Maduro the victor before completing a full recount is difficult to understand.” Indeed the US did not recognize Maduro as elected president, restricting its statements to support for an audit.
In response to both the US position and the domestic opposition, Maduro said “Don’t recognize anything. We don’t care about your recognition. We have decided to be free and we are going to continue being free and independent with you or with out you. We don’t care about your opinion.”