Venezuela and US Want Better Relations in Spite of Recent Controversy

Venezuelan President Chavez said his government is willing to change the state of relations if the US "shows some respect for Venezuela. Venezuela's US Ambassador complains of lack of acces to State Department officials for weeks.

Feb 11, 2006 ( Venezuelan President Chavez said Friday that his government is willing to change the state of relations with the U.S. if his neighbor to the north "shows some respect for Venezuela".

"I hope they can change. If they change their attitude and show some respect for Venezuela, we will respond equally," Chavez said.

The Venezuelan leader demanded respect for his country’s sovereignty and decisions, and demanded a stop on all attacks from the U.S. government.

On Thursday, the U.S. State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack said his government is open to a positive relation with Venezuela, in response to Venezuelan Ambassador to the U.S. Bernardo Alvarez’s desire for "mature, sensible relations between the two countries, which have many things in common and numerous, significant political differences."

Chavez described as "an attack" the U.S. government’s recent veto of Venezuela’s purchase of Spanish and Brazilian military gear made with U.S. components.

Venezuelan officials routinely complain of U.S. government efforts to remove democratically-elected President Chavez from the presidency by supporting a 2002 coup attempt, a managerial strike at the Venezuelan oil company PDVSA, and by providing millions of dollars to anti-Chavez groups in Venezuela as documented in the book The Chavez Code.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently compared Chavez to Adolf Hitler, while U.S. Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte accused Venezuela of being the most serious threat to U.S. interests in Latin America and of seeking closer ties with North Korea and Iran.

Recently, the Venezuelan government expelled a U.S. military attaché accused of spying. In response, the U.S. expelled the ambassador’s chief of staff at the Venezuelan embassy in Washington DC.

Embassies complain of lack of access to officials

The embassy of the Venezuela in Washington D.C. reiterated today that Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez has not been allowed to meet with U.S. State Department officials for weeks.

Venezuelan and U.S. officials have recently expressed willingness to improve bilateral relations, affected by an escalating war of words and accusations dating back to 2002 when the U.S. allegedly backed a coup attempt on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

On Friday, in response to Venezuelan complains about lack of access to State Department officials, State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack said that Venezuelan Ambassador Alvarez has indeed had access to State Department officials, and has even met with Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon during a January 25 lunch.

U.S. officials have also claimed having difficulties at arranging meetings between U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield and senior Venezuelan government officials.

"At his request, the Venezuelan Ambassador met with the Director and Deputy Director for the Office of Andean Affairs as recently as January 23. Assistant Secretary Shannon spoke extensively with Ambassador Alvarez during a January 25 lunch. The State Department welcomes meetings with Venezuela," McCormack said.

The Venezuelan embassy, however, says that information was taken out of context.

Regarding a recent meeting with the director and vice-director of Andean Affairs at the Venezuelan embassy in DC, the embassy claims that "bilateral matters were not in discussion," and that the topic of that meeting was a trip that the U.S. Andean Affairs officials were planning to make to Venezuela. "This meeting was not manifested as a response from our request to meet Mr. Shannon," the embassy said through a statement today.

Venezuelan officials said that the encounter with Shannon that McCormack refers to was at a lunch of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean countries GRULAC, at which bilateral affair issues were not discussed.

The embassy claims that they have not received any response to their Nov. 15, 2005 request to meet with Assistant Secretary Thomas Shannon.

"We understand that we cannot assume social events as a way to establish bilateral, matured and respectful relations. We ratify our desire to keep relations built on good willingness and mutual respect towards our bilateral matters," the embassy said.