Just days after United States Secretary of State John Kerry took the reasonable step of meeting Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua in Guatemala on June 5, the underbelly of US government policy was put on display when the UK’s Guardian newspaper revealed a massive global data collection program operated by the US National Security Agency. A classified NSA document obtained by the Guardian indicated that the NSA has been collecting private client information “directly from the servers” of tech companies including Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Apple, Yahoo, Skype, AOL and others. Since then, both the head of the NSA James Clapper and President Barack Obama have defended the secret program, known as PRISM. Clapper described the leak as “reprehensible”, and the NSA has called for a criminal investigation. The damage control after this latest leak follows the same routine as the handling of Bradley Manning and Wikileaks – defend secrecy and deception, and persecute truth tellers.
This mentality stands in stark contrast to the values of the Bolivarian revolution. While the White House was trying to defend PRISM, the Venezuelan government was likewise dealing with a case of abuse of power emanating from a government agency, but in a dramatically different manner. According to Venezuelan authorities, in response to denouncements from the public, the head of control and inspection at the Institute for the Defense of People in Access to Goods and Services (Indepabis) Trino Martínez was arrested on June 9. The arrest was in connection to allegations that some Indepabis staff have extorted money from businesses in Caracas. Following the arrest, President Nicolas Maduro went further by firing the president of the institute, Consuela Cerrada. Maduro even publicly thanked those who made the denouncements. So while in the US whistle blowers are treated as criminals, in Venezuela they receive the gratitude of the president – the contrast between the two governments couldn’t be clearer.
Yet nonetheless, after weeks of flatlining relations with Washington, the Venezuelan government made a breakthrough with this rogue state.
Despite allegations that US embassy staff have already tried to ferment a coup since the death of former president Hugo Chavez, the Maduro government has persevered with efforts to engage with Washington, requesting a meeting with Kerry on the sidelines of this year’s General Assembly of the Organization of American States. Despite pledges from both sides following the June 5 meeting to improve relations, during his address to the assembly, Kerry made a number of remarks that indicate that US meddling in Latin America is far from over. Rather than join the regional consensus of support for the outcome of the Venezuelan April 14 presidential elections, he made a vague statement that some nations in the region are failing to live up to democratic values, and falling behind on human rights. The latter probably wasn’t a reference to Guantanamo Bay, but the former may have been a veiled jab at the April 14 elections, the results of which Washington was yet to acknowledge at the time of writing (though interestingly, Kerry did appear to refer to Maduro as president after meeting with Jaua).
Although Washington has backed opposition calls for an impossible audit of all voter signatures and fingerprints, Kerry’s agreement to foster better ties with Venezuela could indicate an acceptance of his government’s current inability to easily project influence in Venezuelan internal affairs. For now, even at the OAS, the US is becoming increasingly isolated in not only its support for the Venezuelan opposition, but also on lynchpins of its regional policies like the war on drugs. Economically, the US also stands to lose if Maduro chooses to cut off the 900,000 barrels of Venezuelan oil that is imported everyday, as he warned could happen back in April if the US goes too far. For now, Kerry is advocating cooperation, but only as a last resort.