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U.S. Nominee Ambassador Palmer “Cannot Enter the Country” says Venezuela’s Chavez

Guanare, December 22nd, 2010 ( – Yesterday Venezuelan Foreign Affairs Minister Nicolás Maduro reiterated his country´s rejection of proposed U.S. ambassador Larry Palmer in an ongoing diplomatic dispute between the two countries that began earlier this year. On Monday, Venezuelan authorities presented the U.S. Embassy in Caracas with a formal note of protest regarding Palmer´s candidacy and officially withdrew a diplomatic agrément required for U.S. diplomats to serve in Venezuela. In response, U.S. State Department spokesperson David Crowley warned of “consequences” for bi-lateral relations if Venezuela insists on refusing Palmer´s designation.

"It's well known how Palmer broke the basic rules of respect for the country that was going to receive him, crudely insulting Venezuela´s institutions,” said Maduro in reference to written and public statements made by Larry Palmer before and after his June nomination to the ambassadorship by the Obama Administration.

In a written letter to the U.S. Senate – later made public – Palmer first suggested that the Venezuelan Armed Forces had “morale and equipment problems”, saying the U.S. government could take advantage of such difficulties, and accused officials within the Chavez administration of having “clear” links to Colombian insurgent groups deemed “terrorists” by the U.S. State Department. Palmer also committed himself to “safeguard American economic interests and investments,” if chosen to be ambassador.

Palmer´s comments came at a time of heightened tension between Venezuela and Colombia, after ex Colombian President Alvaro Uribe made similar accusations that led Chávez to freeze all bi-lateral trade and diplomatic relations with Colombia.

Palmer also verbally expressed “concerns” about Cuba´s influence in Venezuela´s armed forces and suggested that members of the Venezuelan armed forces were supplying Colombian insurgent groups with arms and logistical support to move drugs.

In response to Palmer´s early statements, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez denied the accusations and said they were “undiplomatic for a supposed diplomat.” In early August, Chávez affirmed Palmer had “disqualified himself by breaking all the rules of diplomacy, by prejudging all of us, even our armed forces.""The best the U.S. can do is look for another candidate," said Chávez at that time.

According to Article 41 of the UN´s Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961), diplomats “have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs” of the host State.

On Tuesday, after U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela suggested Palmer´s nomination was close to approval, Maduro reiterated the assertion that “[Palmer] committed serious violations of international law, by which he made himself ineligible to come [to Venezuela] and represent his government.”

Also on Tuesday, after a 20-minute meeting with Foreign Affairs Ministry representative Temir Porras, the acting U.S. Charge D´Affairs in Caracas, Darnall Stuart, affirmed that Venezuela will “bear the responsibility” for withdrawing the diplomatic agrement that would have allowed Palmer to serve at the U.S. embassy in Caracas.

In statements made on national television on Saturday, Chávez directed the Foreign Affairs Minister to prevent Palmer from entering the country. “If he arrives at Maiquetia [International Airport], grab him, Nicolás, grab him," Chávez said.

"Buy Mr. Palmer a coffee on me, and then 'bye-bye.' He cannot enter this country," affirmed Chávez.

Though Venezuela has made it clear that Palmer would not be allowed to serve as a top U.S. envoy, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State said recently that if the U.S. Senate approves Palmer´s nomination, he will be sent to Caracas.

“If it's approved, then Ambassador Palmer would travel to Caracas and get to work establishing increased dialogue with Venezuelan authorities,” said Valenzuela.

In response, the Chávez administration issued a statement affirming that the State Department´s position ratifies, “the historic line of interventionism and aggression against the Venezuelan people, their institutions and democracy."

President Chávez on Saturday also stated that Valenzuela considers himself the “King of Latin America” and affirmed that, “wherever you see a North American ambassador, you see a conspirator, an intriguer, a spy.”

A final yes or no vote on Palmer´s nomination by the U.S senate is expected in the coming days.

State Department spokesman David Crowley left open the possibility of sending home Venezuela´s ambassador to the U.S., stating that, “frequently in these kinds of cases, when there's action on one side, there's action on the other side."

"[Venezuela] made this decision, and obviously we will evaluate what to do," said Crowley. "We will evaluate the consequences to our relationship."

Larry Palmer was U.S. Ambassador to Honduras between 2002 and 2005, and has been president of the Inter-American Foundation (IAF) since 2005. According to the IAF´s website, the organization is “an independent U.S. government agency that assists the organized poor in Latin America and the Caribbean and the groups that support them. Since its founding in 1969, the Inter-American Foundation has awarded 4,578 grants worth more than $586 million.”

As reported by last week, cables released by the whistleblower website Wikileaks detail ongoing U.S. efforts to foment the opposition in Venezuela using “the NGO community and local civil society groups.” 

Patrick Duddy, the previous U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela, spent most of 2008 unable to serve after Venezuela expelled him from the country in solidarity with Bolivia´s decision to remove U.S. diplomats for having encouraged opposition violence against the Morales administration. Duddy later returned to Venezuela but formally left his position in mid-2010, leaving the U.S. without an ambassador in the country.

Published on Dec 22nd 2010 at 6.24pm