The confirmation hearings for Condoleezza Rice are particularly important for Venezuela. As she is about to become the first African American woman to reach the top cabinet position of Secretary of State, one can wonder what the Venezuelan government thinks of the situation. After all, a few months ago Venezuelan president Chavez called her an illiterate (and probably is waiting for her to apologize the way he expects Colombia's Uribe to apologize, but I digress). But in addition of steering the secret cells of the Venezuelan high sphere of power, the hearings are also a unique opportunity to see what is Venezuela's image in the mind of the people who decide US foreign policy.
I was reading tonight one of the reports of the hearings and I found a few items worth picking up. As expected Ms. Rice had hard words for Chavez, words which had a strange effect on some senators. Thus I would like to start first with the perception that some senators have of Venezuela:
However, some senators criticized Rice for taking such a hard line on Chavez. "Repeating these statements over and over again only digs the hole deeper and deeper," Dodd said.
Mr. Dodd of course has a point. Though he does not offer much of an alternative, having been fleeced himself by Chavez a few days ago, though one wonders if he has realized that. He is just coming back empty handed from Venezuela. His mission with Florida Senator Bill Nelson was received by Chavez who played very nice and seem to have charmed them. Only to break with Colombia while the chair where Senator Dodd sat was still warm. At least Senator Nelson had the guts to declare on the matter, demonstrating that he does not believe a word from Chavez. But Senator Nelson has had a long career monitoring Venezuela and his mind seems quite made.
And Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., said her comments were "disrespectful of the Venezuelan people" who last August ratified Chavez by a broad margin in a referendum.
This left me a little bit aghast, I must confess. Senator Chafee surely knows that the August election is contested, and I doubt he listens very closely to what Carter says on such matters. Even if he thinks that the election of August was fair and duly won, he should abstain for such comment. Either it shows ignorance of the Venezuelan situation, or disrespect for the "official" 40% that voted against Chavez. And if he really thinks that the election was won fair and square, the recent happenings that range from sequestering the judicial power to curtailing some basic Human Rights should at the very least give him pause so as not to put his foot in his mouth. Amazingly the words of next door Senator made more sense than the ones from Chafee!
Now let us look at what Ms. Rice had to say on Latin America.
First she knows quite well which are the world governments who have "problems".
But Rice [snip] suggested that the administration would be more forceful in dealing with governments that take an undemocratic turn.
"To be sure, in our world there remain outposts of tyranny, and America stands with oppressed people on every continent: in Cuba and Burma and North Korea and Iran and Belarus and Zimbabwe," she said.
Not only Ms. Rice is quite direct in her message, but allow me to remind the reader that Chavez is the pupil of Cuba's Castro, has visited Iran twice(once "coinciding" with a raid on the Caracas Jewish school while complaining about the US in Iran), has received Zimbabwe' s Mugabe warmly, too warmly even when compared to other head of states received by him. Chavez position is not known on Burma and North Korea for absolute lack of interests of Venezuela there, but I bet Belarus through his "pal" Putin is not frown upon. After all, Chavez did try to help in avoiding the annulment of the Ukrainian election when he visited Putin a few weeks ago (that fraudulent election hit too close to home for Chavez? Heard that Senator Chafee?).
But the best part was this:
In the region she singled out Venezuela, a country she said was once a U.S. ally and had become what she called a "negative force in the region," citing Chavez's meddling in neighbors' affairs, cracking down on domestic dissent and muzzling the media - all criticisms denied by Chavez.
"I think it's extremely unfortunate that the Chavez government has not been constructive," she said. "And we do have to be vigilant and to demonstrate that we know the difficulties that that government is causing for its neighbors, its close association with Fidel Castro in Cuba."
She said the United States would work with other countries in the region and the Organization of American States to ensure that "leaders who do not govern democratically, even if they are democratically elected" are held accountable.
We know her work will be dominated by Iraq, but at the very least we will also know that Latin American affairs will be overseen by someone that will not be easily fooled, be it posturing Senators or petty wanna-be tyrants.