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Pedro M. Burelli: U.S. - Venezuela relations

I have said (many times) that for the U.S., Venezuela has become the perennial 6th crisis. Once an important neighbor and ally, a net exporter of democracy and the most secure source of imported energy, Venezuela is today a self-proclaimed rival (or enemy), a strident disruptor of liberal trends in the Hemisphere (and beyond), a mushrooming producer and exporter of cocaine, and an inept and very corrupt manager of what are potentially the largest oil reservoirs on earth. But the problem is that the world as a whole has also morphed into a multi-ring circus of chaos and mayhem. If dealing with 3 foreign crises simultaneously is now de rigueur , spending much time on crises # 4,5 or 6 is a republican (vs. royal) pain in the derrière for the U.S. or any other important government in the world. 

July 4th is U.S. Independence Day and July 5th is Venezuela's Independence Day, but July 2nd, seems to have been U.S.-Venezuela news day. Here is a summary:

  • The day started with an EXCLUSIVE note from REUTERS in Washington setting the record somewhat straight (off-the-record) on almost 90 days of high-level engagement between State Department Counselor Thomas A. Shannon and the topmost officials of the Bolivarian Revolution (or is it Involution?). The conclusion: talks indeed took place, talks did involve a narco who presumes to have power, talks have produced very little, ergo the two countries are nowhere close to an exchange of Ambassadors (they have been operating Ambassador-less since 2010) or a unilateral suspension of tame sanctions. This clarification was very timely because Diosdado Cabel lo, purported #2 figure in the chavista nomenklatura and reportedly #1 in the DEA's most-wanted list of Venezuelans, has been trumpeting an imminent normalization for which, one assumes, he would claim full credit and fair compensation (which reminds me of the line about never asking for favors of those you do not want to thank. or in this case, those you are about to indict). (See the full and well-dictated article at the bottom of this email)
  • Then there was a garbled answer from the State Department's spokesman on the REUTERS story, nothing memorable, except that for the second time since the chancy meeting between Counselor Shannon and Mr. Cabello, the narco, in Haiti, Cabello's role as head of the BRV's delegation is omitted from official U.S. pronouncements. The spokesman appears to concede that he hid this all-too-important factoid, or more, in a verbose mush by concluding. " So I know that's a lengthy answer, but there's nothing behind closed doors here; we maintain diplomatic relations with Venezuela ." (See full statement below)
  • Then came the requisite Independence Day message from the United States of America to the people of Venezuela. Signed by John Kerry, busy dealing with crises #1,2 and 3, the statement omits mention of the dialogue between the two governments; the key asks or demands of that dialogue or the results. On the latter point, it does trumpets two results that have ZERO baring on the wellbeing of the people who's past independence the U.S. is honoring. Whoever wrote this statement probably believes that Venezuelans in jail, in pain, in line or in exile, give a hoot about the fact that " that we  (the U.S. State Department)  have found common cause in our support for Haiti's elections, reconstruction, and development, as well as in our shared commitment to the Colombian government's ongoing efforts to achieve a lasting peace. " This statement merits no further comment, even though as a fan of Luis Aparicio, Gabriela Montero and Carolina Herrera, I sincerely appreciate they were mentioned.  (See full statement below) 
  • Finally, late in the afternoon, the office of Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued a forceful statement from Chattanooga about his just concluded trip to Venezuela (the first by an esteemed member of the U.S. Congress in a very long time). Mr. Corker, a prudent voice on foreign affairs, was obviously not happy that President Maduro stood him up after having planned his whole trip around the meeting with the bus driver turned head-of-state by less-than-divine intervention of the Castro brothers. Corker's statement does not mention his displeasure with the cancelled meeting (although it pointedly used the 'some' when referring to him meeting with government officials), but does not mince words when it comes to his dire assessment of the current - and likely future - path of the country. "Venezuela is a country with great unrealized potential and abundant resources,” said Corker. “However, it is very sad to see that the count ry's flawed economic policies and political system have put Venezuela on such a destructive path." I am comforted by the fact that the trip reinforced reality and not the erstwhile wishful thinking of some in his staff. (See full statement bellow).

Like all newsworthy days, yesterday came and went; now we have to deal with what all these words means for the future. 

In my opinion, and belaboring the point made in so many of my comments over the last decade, doing nothing is indeed an option until it indeed stops being an option. While I readily admit defeat on the matter of eliciting a sense of urgency or action (and I tried mighty hard), I did not fail in predicting the malignity of the current morass (I might have even fallen short). 

In dealing with government officials in DC, and other capitals, I have met with men and women who are both intelligent and principled, others are burdened by intelligence (as in, facts) but paralyzed by bureaucratic inertia, and yet others are all too happy to ignore hard intelligence - or basic facts - as a matter of principle. What has been building up in Venezuela for the best of three decades, and at a devilish pace for the last 16 years, has had disastrous effects on the lives of every single Venezuelan (including those who have enriched themselves beyond comparison, poor souls). But, it has also affected - and will continue to impact - the lives of millions of neighbors and not so neighbors. 

By not posing an imminent nuclear or terrorist threat, the Bolivarian regime has gotten a multi-year hall pass to do as it pleases. They got away with murder, torture, abuses of all types, corruption galore, drug trafficking and money laundering, meddling here-there-and-beyond, electoral shenanigans, insults of all tones, dangerous liaisons and alliances, and last but not least, the non-stop wrecking of civilized discourse in a region, the southern part of the Western Hemisphere, that for th e time being is blessed to be both nuclear and jihadist free. Doing nothing about all of these, has been a comfortable choice, doing something is usually hard and full of immediate and career risks. But, we are now between a pointy rock and a sharp sword, not a happy predicament, not something that can be wished away with empty statements or 24/7 spin, nor something that still fits under the huge rug of nonchalance. If I had the solution, I would gladly share it, but I cannot accept that taking smiley pictures and issuing self-congratulatory statements, can replace turning piles upon piles of facts into robust and definitive action. The known has replaced the unknown, and the unknown is unlikely to be better known by doing nothing. 

Finally, lets not forget that while Venezuela's core problems are for Venezuelans to resolve, some other problems are not just our problem, and in some instances, they are not even our problem at all. Spillovers, externalities, contagion, and global troublemaking are defining elements of that malignant tumor also known as Narco-Socialism of the XXI Century. PMB </p>

PS : To add perspective (or sheer weight) to my repetitive conclusion, and as a bonus given that it is a 3-day weekend in the U.S., I have also included once again Archbishop Desmond Tutu's apt Wall Street Journal Op-Ed titled "No More Hiding From Venezuela's Abuses".



Daily Press Briefings: Daily Press Briefing - July 2, 2015

07/02/2015 05:37 PM EDT

Excerpt on Venezuela 

John Kirby

Daily Press Briefing

Washington, DC

July 2, 2015

QUESTION:  There was a Reuters report yesterday about the United States and Venezuela speaking behind closed doors about normalizing relationship. Allegedly Tom Shannon flew to Caracas at least once, maybe several times. I don't remember the report accurately. I was hoping you can – you could speak to that a bit, if there was – if indeed these talks are taking place, things like that.

MR KIRBY:  Look, communication with other countries is – it's a hallmark of diplomatic efforts. As a key component of our conversation with Venezuela, whether it be the government or political opposition or others, we've underscored the importance of dialogue and respect for democratic institutions and elections and our commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms. We – and we maintain dip lomatic relations with Venezuela. There's embassies in both countries, and we have strong ties between our two people.

Ambassador Shannon was invited by Venezuelan President Maduro to Caracas in early April. They met on April 8th – not behind closed doors. There's no – there's nothing secretive here. And following the Summit of the Americas, Ambassador Shannon was invited again to Caracas for another conversation on May 12th. The conversations were positive and productive, and they will continue. In June when Ambassador Shannon was in Haiti, President Martelly of Haiti invited representatives of the United States and Venezuela to Port-au-Prince to discuss support for Haiti's elections and reconstruction and development there. Those talks were productive with President Martelly identifying areas where both countries could deepen engagement with Haiti in coordination with ongoing international efforts.

So the delegations – the U.S. and Venezuelan delegations – took advantage of that opportunity to continue bilateral talks. And as in previous meetings in Caracas, that delegation, again, was led by Ambassador Shannon.

So I know that's a lengthy answer, but there's nothing behind closed doors here; we maintain diplomatic relations with Venezuela. And as I said before, those discussions are going to continue.


Western Hemisphere: Venezuela's Independence Day

07/02/2015 01:50 PM EDT

Venezuela's Independence Day

Press Statement

John Kerry
Secretary of State

Washington, DC

July 2, 2015

On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I send my best wishes to the people of Venezuela as you celebrate 204 years of independence on July 5.

Today we reflect on the strong ties of friendship, family, culture, sport, and commerce that bind us together. Our mutual love for baseball has produced some of the greats, from Luis Aparicio to Miguel Cabrera. Gabriela Montero's music making and Carolina Herrera's exquisite designs are revered both in the United States and Venezuela, and around the world.

Francisco de Miranda and America's Founding Fathers shared ideals and a common spirit that paved the way for the American Revolution and independence in Latin America. Our nations were built on the same ideals of freedom, equality, justice, and democracy.

I am pleased that we have found common cause in our support for Haiti's elections, reconstruction, and development, as well as in our shared commitment to the Colombian government's ongoing efforts to achieve a lasting peace.

As you look toward legislative elections, political dialogue will be important in ensuring peaceful resolution of disputes and the integrity of your democratic process.

I look forward to further cooperation between our people and governments as we seek ways to improve a historically strong relationship that has endured for nearly two centuries.



July 02, 2015


CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today made the following statement upon returning from Venezuela where he met with members of the opposition party, the families of political prisoners, business leaders and some government officials during a two day trip.

"Venezuela is a country with great unrealized potential and abundant resources,” said Corker. “However, it is very sad to see that the country's flawed economic policies a nd political system have put Venezuela on such a destructive path. While its vast oil reserves might paper over some of these problems, until the government and leaders on all sides can find a way to take a far different approach that fully embraces free markets, disciplined monetary policy, respect for human rights and rule of law, fair elections and ridding the country of rampant corruption, Venezuela is heading to some very difficult times that will lead to even more suffering for their people who deserve far better. The months leading up to the December 6 elections will show the world whether Venezuela is willing to take even modest steps toward this end."




REUTERS  | World | Wed Jul 1, 2015 3:43pm EDT 

Exclusive: U.S., Venezuela launch quiet diplomacy to ease acrimony


The United States and Venezuela have embarked on their most extensive dialogue in years in an attempt to improve their acrimonious relations, according to a senior U.S. administration official.

The quiet diplomacy, the extent of which has not been previously reported, is a sign that U.S. detente with Communist Cuba may be helping to reshape another troubled Latin American relationship. The official, who has direct knowledge of the high-level talks, cautioned that the process is at an early stage.

The effort by Latin America's most ardently anti-Washington government and major U.S. oil supplier to improve relations comes as President Nicolas Maduro struggles with a decaying state-led economy that has been left more is olated by close ally Cuba's warming U.S. ties.

Maduro made the first move in March - around three months after Washington and Havana announced on Dec. 17 they were seeking to restore diplomatic ties - by requesting a "direct channel of communication" with U.S. President Barack Obama and the State Department, said the official. Cuba and the United States announced on Wednesday they had agreed to restore ties.

"He realized that if we can talk to the Cubans, we can talk to him," the official told Reuters, adding: "We approached it very carefully because we had seen this before, but there was also U.S. concern that the relationship was reaching such a dangerous point that it risked breaking completely."

Venezuela's Foreign Ministry, presidency and national assembly did not respond to requests by Reuters for comment on the dialogue with Washington.

Venezuelan officials say they are seeking to repair relations, which hit a nadir in March when Venezuela's socialist government ordered the United States to slash its embassy staff in Caracas and Washington impo sed sanctions on top Venezuelan officials.

The two foes have toned down their confrontational rhetoric in recent weeks.

In a further sign of the improving atmosphere, Republican Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is in Venezuela this week to meet both opposition and senior government figures as part of a fact-finding mission.


The dialogue has developed into a two-track effort to separate areas of disagreement, such as Venezuela's clamp-down on domestic political opposition, from those of shared interest including peace talks in Colombia and elections in Haiti, the U.S. official said.

Relations between the two countries have waxed and waned for over a decade, with periods of squabbling and diplomatic expulsions often followed by short-lived periods of conciliatory words.

Venezuela's powerful parliamentary chief Diosdado Cabello has been involved in the talks even though he is a controversial figure, the official said. U.S. media in May reported that U.S. prosecutors were investigating Cabello for possible drug trafficking and money laundering. He denies the allegations.

During a June 14 meeting in Haiti, U.S. officials pressed Cabello to set a date for parliamentary elections this year and to release political prisoners, including jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, the U.S. official said.

Washington made clear that if Lopez died from his hunger strike, which was partly in demand for an election date, it would signal the end of the dialogue.

The official said Cabello did not commit to setting an election date during the meeting. But a week later Venezuela's election authority, which had seemed to be stalling on a date for polls widely expected to be won by the opposition, announced they would be held on Dec. 6. Lopez ended his protest shortly thereafter, but remains in jail.

"We were very focused on keeping (Lopez) alive, and that meant engaging with the Venezuelans and telling them that Lopez 9;s death would end our rapprochement efforts," the official said.

The official, who asked not to be identified because he is not authorized to speak publicly on the subject, said it was important to engage Cabello because he is seen as a rival for power with Maduro, although the two deny it.

"The two most apparent power centers in the Venezuelan government are Maduro and Cabello," the U.S. official said. "We knew we had to connect Cabello and Maduro in some way. Even though they insist they aren't, they are competitors."

The meeting in Port-au-Prince between Cabello and Tom Shannon, a seasoned diplomat and the State Department's legal counselor, was to seal what the U.S. official described as an early success of the dialogue - a Venezuelan commitment to contribute funding for the election process in Haiti.

Venezuela agreed to provide funding for security and logistics of a U.N.-coordinated program in Haiti for the August polls, the official said, after years of running separate multi-million-dollar aid programs. It also agreed to cooperate in Haiti in the areas o f health, energy and agriculture.


Cabello was quoted by state-funded network Telesur after the meeting as saying that Venezuela wants better relations with the United States but that unnamed "interests" were blocking that.

U.S. diplomats are also seeking to boost Caracas' role in pushing Colombia's Marxist FARC rebels to lay down their arms as part of ongoing peace talks.

The dialogue with Venezuela did not begin in earnest until April, when Obama briefly met with Maduro in Panama at the Summit of the Americas, according to the official.

Maduro had threatened to confront Obama at the summit over the new U.S. sanctions. To avoid an awkward incident, Shannon traveled to Caracas beforehand to meet Maduro and open channels for dialogue.

U.S. officials have pressured Venezuela to release opposition activists arrested in violent anti-govern ment street protests last year. Rights Group Penal Forum says 75 people are currently imprisoned for political reasons, down from 77 after two were freed last week.

"It is our hope and our effort to see more of these students released," the official said.

The challenge ahead, the official said, was to reach agreement on meaningful observation of the December vote.

The head of Venezuela's elections council said in April that South American regional bloc Unasur would "accompany" the parliamentary vote. The 35-member Organization of American States has said that, if invited, it would be willing to help monitor the elections.

"We figure if we can help Venezuelans construct an election that everybody supports, and if we can help them get a result that everyone recognizes that is a starting point," the official added.

The official said it was too soon to expect relations with Venezuela to normalize anytime soon, including the appointment of ambassadors, or to consider easing sanctions.

"We're not getting back there anytime soon," the official said.

(Additional reporting by Brian Ellsworh and Girish Gupta in Caracas; Editing by Stuart Grudgings.)


WSJ | No More Hiding From Venezuela's Abuses

Don't be misled by news about elections—the government violates human rights, emboldened by the international community's silence.  


July 1, 2015 7:11 p.m. ET 

The Venezuelan government announced last week that it will hold parliamentary elections on Dec. 6. This news wouldn't have attracted much attention if it weren't the result of a 30-day hunger strike by imprisoned opposition leaders Leopoldo López and Daniel Ceballos. It is encouraging to see the Venezuelan government make motions toward respecting democracy—but a true election cannot be held when more than 75 political prisoners languish in jail. 

Venezuela must be held accountable for its human-rights abuses. We can start by speaking out against the imprisonment of the numerous opposition figures. Unfortunately, important voices—namely, Venezuela's neighbors in Latin America—have remained muted. 

This reluctance to take a stand is startling. Venezuela's economic and security situation is dismal, as is the government's response to citizen frustration. Since the 2014 street demonstrations, during which hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans protested against the corruption and repression that plague the country, President Nicolás Maduro's government and state-sponsored thugs have killed at least 43 people and arrested more than 3,000. 

Mr. L?B3pez recently completed his 16th month in jail for his role in helping organize the protests. This is not a criminal offense, and he should be a free man. He has advocated peaceful responses to injustice; he has urged the people of Venezuela to resolve their problems in accordance with the country's constitution. Much as with other practitioners of nonviolence—Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.—Mr. López is paying a high price for his pursuit of justice. Now that the hunger strike has ended, I urge the Maduro government to allow the Red Cross access to the 100 or so prisoners who joined the hunger strike in solidarity. 

During all this, Latin American leaders have been hiding behind excuses. When the U.S. in March imposed sanctions on human-rights violators in Venezuela, Latin American countries responded by adopting a resolution in support of the country, citing “the principle of nonintervention.” 

I understand the trauma of colonialism. Yet without the international community, my home country of South Africa would have suffered a lot more bloodshed. It was the boycott and sanctions regime, coupled with internal resistance, that ended apartheid, the dark est chapter in South Africa's history. The international community did not really mobilize, however, until after the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, in which 69 people were murdered for protesting peacefully. The world should not wait for a similar massacre to take action in Venezuela.

The way to address the grave human-rights situation in Venezuela is not to protect the leaders who manipulate postcolonial sensitivities and history to maintain an iron grip on power. Latin America and the world must go beyond rhetoric. Governments must demand the immediate release of all political prisoners as an imperative to global engagement with Venezuela. It is also time for Latin American governments to work with multilateral institutions like the Organization for American States and the United Nations to demand that Venezuela respect the dignity and humanity of all its people. Their inaction gives Mr. Maduro license to act with impunity. 

Yet I also believe, like the Catholic Church, in mercy and forgiveness. It is not too late for President Maduro to change course. In 2016, the Catholic Church will celebrate the Holy Year of Mercy, which, according to the Vatican, “serves as an invitation to follow the merci ful example of the Father who asks us not to judge or condemn but to forgive and give love and forgiveness without measure.” With the support of Pope Francis, I pray that Nicolás Maduro will honor the Holy Year of Mercy early and free Venezuela's political prisoners.

Mr. Tutu is archbishop emeritus of Cape Town and recipient of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize.



Pedro M. Burelli holds a BA in Political Science (Phi Beta Kappa) from the University of Southern California and MPA Degree from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. At present is Managing Director, B+V Advisors LLC, he was an Executive Board Member of Petróleos de Venezuela until November of 1998. Prior to that, he was Head of JPMorgan Capital Corporation – Latin America. Petroleumworld does not necessarily share these views.

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