Mérida, October 30, 2007 (venezuelanalysis.com)- The United
States' new ambassador to Venezuela,
Patrick Duddy, met with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in the presidential
palace Monday night where he expressed his desire to improve relations between Washington and Caracas.
The meting took place in an activity with other foreign ambassadors to present their
credentials to the president.
"It's a good start," said Duddy to the press on his way out of the
presidential palace last night. The new ambassador assured that he had a
cordial conversation with the Venezuelan president, despite the cold relations
between the two governments in recent years.
"We spoke about a wide range of topics and our determination to work in
some areas, including the fight against drug trafficking for the wellbeing of
both countries," said Duddy.
The meeting with President Chavez lasted for about 30 minutes as a part of an
activity in which the new ambassadors of Vietnam,
Italy, and Chile also
presented their credentials and were introduced to the president and his
ministers. Duddy and Chavez spoke cordially about a number of topics, including
baseball and the Venezuelan President's passion for the sport.
"We had a very good conversation," said Duddy, who went on to express
his desire to work for the wellbeing of both countries. "I think it
was a good start," he said.
One of the major topics addressed by Duddy, drug trafficking, has been a big
source of hostility between the two governments. The Venezuelan government
ended its cooperation with the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in mid-2005,
after some members of the DEA were accused of collecting intelligence that
could threaten Venezuelan security and defense.
Since then, the United States
has made repeated claims that the flow of drugs through Venezuela has
increased due to the lack of cooperation with US authorities. The Venezuelan
government has rejected these claims, accusing the United States of using the fight
against drugs as a pretext to meddle in the affairs of the country.
The meeting between Duddy and Chavez, however, is a significant improvement in
the diplomatic relations between the two countries. The last two US ambassadors to Venezuela
did not ever meet with President Chavez and the relations between them and the
Chavez government remained tense during their time in Caracas.
William Brownfield, Duddy's immediate predecessor, was accused of interfering
internal affairs on a number of occasions and President Chavez threatened to
deport the ambassador at least two times. In January of this year, Chavez
warned Brownfield not to meddle in the internal affairs of the nation and
threatened to deport him after the ambassador expressed concern about the
Venezuelan government's nationalization of certain private companies.
The last meeting between a US
ambassador and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez occurred in 2002, a meeting the
Venezuelan president recalls as an unfriendly one. Shortly after the meeting
came the short-lived coup d'état that temporarily removed Chavez from power.
Since the 2002 coup, the two governments have maintained especially tense
relations. Venezuela has repeatedly accused the United States of having been involved
in and having promoted the coup and points to their financing of the opposition
groups that organized the activities leading up to Chavez' temporary overthrow.
The Venezuelan government also criticizes the US
for continuing to finance opposition groups and political parties in Venezuela
Duddy is a career diplomat who previously served as Deputy
Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs and before that as Consul General
in Sao Paulo and as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in La Paz, Bolivia.