Venezuela-US Relations Will Not be Affected by Otto Reich’s Statements

Venezuelan government officials said that US-Venezuela relations won't be affected by the negative statements made by US Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America, Otto Reich, about Venezuela.

For Vice-president Rangel, Reich’s statements are “ridiculous” and demonstrate a certain degree of “irresponsibility”.

Caracas, Dec 22nd ( Venezuelan Vice-president Jose Vicente Rangel stated this Saturday that “the routes of communication and the channels of understanding, between Venezuela and the United States are permanently open”. Rangel’s statements were in response to those made by the US Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America, Otto Reich, in a television interview last Friday.

Reich declared that Venezuela is undergoing “the worst crisis of Latin America”, that “two thirds of Venezuelans reject President Hugo Chavez” and that the opposition managed to collect “up to four million signatures” to request a referendum against the President.

In his description of the Venezuelan economic crisis, Reich failed to mention the three-month lock-out and oil industry sabotage organized by opposition leaders aimed at toppling President Chavez. This led to an estimated 7.3 billion US dollars in losses, and a historic 27% drop in the country’s GDP for the first trimester of 2003. The lock-out reminded many of the CIA-sponsored bosses strike to destabilize Chile’s Salvador Allende in 1973, which ended in a coup d’etat. The Venezuelan economy is now showing strong signs of recovery as the political situation has somewhat stabilized and the government has implemented somewhat effective economic measures.

Reich’s four million signatures figure is somewhat unexplainable as no one in the Venezuelan opposition has claimed having collected more than 3.4 million signatures. An opposition figure recently said in a taped phone conversation that SUMATE, the company in charge of providing technical support to the opposition’s anti-Chavez signature collection campaign, admitted being worried as they only managed to collect 1.9 million signatures, short of the 2.4 million required to trigger a recall referendum on the President.

The Venezuelan Embassy ratified that the National Electoral Council is the only entity authorized to verify and tally the signatures collected both by government supporters and by the opposition for the possible recall referenda in Venezuela.

When speaking about Chavez’s chances of staying in power, Reich said that the South American leader “has the control of the weapons”. For the Venezuelan Embassy, in spite of the fact that the President is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, Chavez has always said that his main weapons are the Constitution and the support of the Venezuelan people. When active in the military, Chavez participated in an attempted coup against corrupt president Carlos Andres Perez in 1992. After being released from jail, the charismatic leader has won landslide elections twice.

In the opinion of Vice-president Rangel, Reich’s statements are ridiculous and demonstrate a certain degree of irresponsibility when expressing opinions on the present political situation of Venezuela. “Anyone who is capable of making statements such as Reich’s can only be described as a provoker,” said Rangel.

Statements not adjusted to reality

For the Embassy of Venezuela in Washington, Reich statements are “outside the framework of understanding” between both countries and they do not adjust to the reality.

Recent numbers released by polling companies suspected of being biased towards the opposition, have given Chavez around 40% of support, “an exceptional figure in Latin America,” according to the Venezuelan Embassy. The polls show an upward trend as government-implemented social programs have had mild positive effects on the lives of the poor, and the opposition economic sabotage and plans to overthrow Chavez has caused them to lose credibility.

Last October, the global rating agency Fitch Ratings issued a report of possible political scenarios in Venezuela, predicting that President Chavez will survive the recall referendum the opposition is promoting against him.

Otto Reich continues his attacks on President Chavez in spite of actions in the opposite direction by other US government officials.
Reich playing a dissonant note

The Embassy of Venezuela in the United States said that Reich’s comments break the recent implied agreement between the US State Department and Venezuela of discarding “microphone diplomacy” in favor of dialogue and the handling of matters of common interest -as well as differences- through institutional diplomacy.

Venezuela-US relations seem to have improved in recent months. Last month a Venezuelan oil sector delegation was warmly received by several US congressmen and Bush administration officials. President Chavez has abstained from making negative comments about US government officials’ criticisms of Venezuela, and the frequency of negative comments about the Chavez administration coming from Washington have come to a minimun.

Several US military and government officials have dismissed recent reports that suggest links between the Venezuelan Government and Colombian guerrillas, and that the Chavez administration is providing assistance to Arab terrorists from the Middle East and other terrorists.

Reich is described by many as a right-wing Cuban-American who is obsessed with overthrowing Cuban president Fidel Castro, and is reported to be heavily supported by wealthy Cuban-American elites in south Florida. Chavez seems to be now another target for overthrowing, as his relationship and cooperation with Fidel Castro is seen by Florida Cuban exiles as giving oxygen to the Cuban leader. According to a report by the New York Times published shortly after the April 2002 coup d’etat against President Chavez, Otto Reich and other Bush administration officials were stage-managing the coup by would-be dictator Pedro Carmona.

Dialogue and understanding will continue

“Our government is working with US diplomats in the development of a bilateral agenda and we estimate that a high level meeting will take place at the beginning of year 2004,” said the Venezuelan Embassy.

“The government of Venezuela ratifies its will to maintain an institutional and constructive dialogue with the representatives of the government of the United States,” said the Embassy’s press release.

According to a Venezuelan TV network, Venezuelan diplomats are working on arranging a meeting between Chavez and Bush for early 2004.