Mérida, June 30th 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – On Monday, United States President Barack Obama nominated Dr. Larry Palmer to be the new ambassador to Venezuela. Palmer is the former U.S. Ambassador to Honduras, a free trade advocate, and current president of the U.S. government-funded Inter-American Foundation.
Obama announced Palmer’s nomination along with nominations for new ambassadors to the Czech Republic, Indonesia, and Nigeria. A written White House statement quoted Obama saying, “I am proud to nominate such accomplished and dedicated individuals to fill these important roles. They will be valuable additions to my administration as we work to confront our challenges at home and abroad, and I look forward to working with them in the months and years ahead.”
Palmer, a former Peace Corps volunteer, holds a Ph.D. in Education. He was a university professor in Liberia and the U.S. during the 1970s, and joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 1982. He held various diplomatic posts in the Dominican Republic, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Sierra Leone, South Korea, and Ecuador throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and was the U.S. ambassador to Honduras from 2002-2005. In 1989, he worked as assistant to the president of the University of Texas at El Paso, where his portfolio included promoting the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), according to the U.S. State Department website.
Palmer is currently the president of the Inter-American Foundation (IAF), a U.S. foreign assistance agency which channels funds to non-governmental organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean and pledges to “promote entrepreneurship, innovation, and self-reliance; strengthen democratic principles; and empower poor people to solve their own problems,” according to its website.
The IAF’s Board of Directors, which appointed Palmer as president, includes Jack Vaughn Jr., a veteran oil industry manager; Roger Wallace, a vice president at the oil and gas company Pioneer Natural Resources Company; Kay Arnold, the vice president of public affairs at Entergy Corporation; Thomas Dodd, the former U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica and to Uruguay; and John Salazar, a corporate lawyer.
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Palmer will be the first ambassador to Venezuela appointed by Obama. He will replace Ambassador Patrick Duddy, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush in 2007.
Palmer will inherit a legacy of strained bilateral relations with Venezuela, an OPEC member that provides approximately one million barrels of oil per day to the U.S.
In 2002, the U.S. provided diplomatic and financial support for a two-day coup against the democratically elected government of President Hugo Chavez. U.S. foundations have given millions of dollars to Venezuelan opposition groups during Chavez’s two terms as president, prompting the Chavez administration to accuse the U.S. of destabilization and intervention.
The Chavez administration opposes the U.S.’s free trade agenda and military expansion in the region. In September 2008, recalled his ambassador to the U.S. in protest against the U.S.’s collaboration with violent elite separatist groups in Bolivia.
Shortly after taking office in 2009, Obama shook hands with Chavez and the two countries restored their respective ambassadors. However, the good will faded after the Obama administration tacitly supported a coup against the democratically elected president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, and signed a military deal to expand the U.S. military operations on seven Colombian bases. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has continued the Bush era policy of arbitrarily placing Venezuela on a series of lists of countries that support terrorism and violate human rights.
A Change in U.S. Policy?
Speculation has already begun over whether Palmer’s nomination indicates a change in U.S. policy toward Venezuela.
Outgoing Ambassador Patrick Duddy said with Palmer’s arrival, “it is possible we could begin a new stage” in bilateral relations.
In a speaking event at the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institute on Tuesday, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela said Venezuela is “the most difficult” relationship the U.S. has in the region. Valenzuela said the U.S. is “open to maintaining a dialogue with [Venezuela] about issues of mutual interest, but the discussion has to be frank.”
Eva Golinger, a lawyer and journalist of dual Venezuelan-U.S. citizenship, called Palmer a “diplomatic token of the Bush and Reagan era.”
Golinger said Palmer’s background at the IAF is a bad sign, considering that U.S. and European foundations have poured as much as $40 million into anti-Chavez organizations over the past ten years, according to Golinger’s most recent disclosure of a FRIDE Institute report. “[Palmer’s] principal work has been with social networks and organizations, financing and supporting them in what they call promotion of democracy, which is in reality a form of interference and subversion,” said Golinger.
While Palmer differs from previous U.S. ambassadors because he is African-American, his record as a diplomat is similar to those of Ambassador Duddy and former Ambassador William Brownfield. Duddy and Brownfield were both career U.S. State Department diplomats with extensive experience in Latin American and Caribbean countries. Duddy taught at the National War College in Washington, D.C.
In an opinion piece for the Venezuelan alternative news website Aporrea, Diogenes Diaz of the Venezuelan Afro-Descendants Network wrote, “The new U.S. ambassador, Larry Palmer, will dedicate himself to cleansing the image of the Obama government, a complicated task in these times, and to directing from Caracas the plans for enemy penetration in the afro-descendant movements.”