July 9, 2007
James Brownfield officially stepped down as U.S. ambassador to Venezuela last week. Since assuming that post in August 2004, he has been assailed on repeated occasions -- verbally by President Hugo Chavez, and physically by pro-Chavez street mobs. In his departure remarks, he regretted the failure "to establish a direct, serious, pragmatic dialogue between the two governments..." He called attention to the fact that some of the terrorists who were conspiring to attack JFK Airport were planning to fly from Trinidad to Iran by way of Venezuela, which is nearby. Hugo Chavez is on very friendly terms with Iranian President Ahmadinejad. Brownfield again criticized the large-scale purchase of Russian arms by Chavez, insisting that "the United States ... will never attack Venezuela." Patrick Duddy has been chosen to succeed him as the new U.S. envoy in Caracas. See CNN.com.
There can be few more frustrating, thankless jobs that representing the United States in a foreign country in which the government's primary objective is to inflame popular hostility toward Uncle Sam. Any gestures of friendship are regarded in paranoid fashion as malign deception, and any attempts to put pressure on the host government are portrayed as acts of aggression. So what is there left to do? Trying to "keep up appearances" of diplomatic normality, while maintaining and building informal contacts with rational-minded government officials and businessmen, i.e., non-political hacks. Such alternate channels of communication can help to prevent a minor misunderstanding from escalating into a major confrontation. It will also keep up hopes among those who still resist Chavez's autocratic regime, and thereby defend what is left of the democratic movement in Venezuela.