Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Responds to US Ambassador

Venezuelan Foreign Minister responded to US Ambassador's concerns over recent statements made by the President of Venezuela's National Land institute. Rumsfeld reiterates concerns over Venezuelan weapons purchases.

Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Relations  Ali Rodriguez Araque
Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Relations Ali Rodriguez Araque
Credit: Venpres

Caracas, Venezuela, April 6, 2005—Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Relations Alí Rodríguez posted an official communiqué on the Ministry website yesterday affirming that only the Venezuelan President, Vice President and Minister of Foreign Relations are authorized to speak of foreign relations. 

Rodriguez emphasized that personal opinions of any non-authorized persons are just that: personal opinions. The communiqué was released in response to comments made by the US Ambassador to Venezuela, William Brownfield, who had interpreted statements made last Saturday by the President of the National Land Institute, Eliézer Otaiza, as official declarations of the Venezuelan government.

Last week Otaiza had made comments in an interview with the weekly newspaper Quinto Dia, where he said, in response to a question if he believed that the U.S. was preparing a war against Venezuela, “The first thing one has to realize is that when one goes to war, one has to begin to hate one’s opponent. … we have to prepare to see the gringos as enemies, and this is the first preparation for combat.”

Late yesterday afternoon, Otaiza spoke with Radio Nacional de Venezuela, the State radio station, to clarify his statements. Otaiza maintained that he had not instigated hatred between Venezuela and the US.  However, he confirmed that when a journalist asked him last Saturday if he thought that there would be a confrontation between Venezuela and the US, he responded that he was unable to rule out the possibility. Otaiza affirmed that he knew it was not his place to speak of military affairs, but he was unable to “stand by with his arms crossed” as the US government took the life of the Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, even if this meant that he would have to leave his post.

Immigrants and Baseball in Common

While attending the opening of Santa Cruz del Este, a school in the Southern part of Caracas, William Brownfield responded to Otaiza’s initial statement, asserting that, “it is a shame that the officials of this government speak of hatred and the differences in the relations between both countries.  The United States has maintained good relations with the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela for almost 200 years, a very long and deep relationship.”

During the presentation of education donations, Brownfield emphasized that both countries have two characteristics in common:  they are countries of immigrants and they are fanatics of baseball.  He went on to explain that his objective is to look for areas of common interest with the Venezuelan government and move their relations forward, while accepting that there are and there will always be differences between the two governments. “My mission is to work for a relationship that is less hateful and more understanding, with fewer conflicts and more reconciliation, less problems and more solutions.”

Just before leaving the event, Brownfield commented on the recent decision by the Venezuelan government to expand the military reserves to two million people. “Every country is sovereign to organize its military forces as it considers best,” he noted.  However, he asked the Chávez administration to act with “greater clarity” with respect to the matter, in order to avoid misunderstandings.

Rodríguez’s communiqué responded to Brownfield’s concerns, clarifying that Venezuela’s foreign policy is the exclusive responsibility of the President of the Republic and the Minister of Foreign Relations. The communiqué stated: “The opinions of any non-authorized person about our foreign policy are only on a personal level; not in any way or for any motive do they involve or commit the responsibility of the official position or institution, which can only be established by the President of the Republic, by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or through the Vice President.”

The Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Affairs also made note of the efforts of various people and entities in the Venezuelan government to “open doors to improve relations between the US and Venezuela and ratify their disposition to deepen and advance commercial relations and the fight against terrorism and narco-traffickers in an environment of mutual respect.”

Rumsfeld Still Concerned

Yet prospects for improving US-Venezuelan relations do not look particularly promising.  Tensions between the United States and Venezuela have steadily increased since mid-January, when the US sided with Colombia during a diplomatic spat with Venezuela.  Since then, Venezuelan-Colombian relations have been fully restored, while Venezuela-US relations have continued to deteriorate.

Just yesterday US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld condemned Spain’s sale of eight patrol boats and ten transport planes to Venezuela, though neither the boats nor the planes have any offensive capacity, and not a single Latin American country has expressed concern over the purchase.

In a telephone interview with the Miami Herald, Rumsfeld wondered aloud what Venezuela will do with its new boats and planes.  “I guess time will tell,” mused the US Secretary of Defense. “The problem is that, if one waits till time tells, it can be an unhappy story,” he speculated.

The Chávez administration has defended the purchase on a number of occasions, arguing it will enhance Venezuela’s capacity to protect its borders and aid in the fight against terrorism.

Rumsfeld, who made no objections to Spanish President Zapatero’s recent donation of three military planes to Colombia, believes that Venezuela’s arms purchases could spark an arms race with Colombia.  When questioned by the Herald as to whether he would provide any evidence to back up these scenarios, Secretary Rumsfeld replied, “I don’t have any evidence… All I said, was, I asked a question, what in the world is the threat that Venezuela sees that makes them want to have all those weapons?”