US State Dept.’s Roger Noriega Says Venezuela Could Soon be “Hopeless”

During a hearing at the US House of Representatives, State Dept. Official Roger Noriega said that Venezuela's neighbors must become "aware" of the stakes involved in Chavez's desire to spread the "Bolivarian Revolution."

Caracas, Venezuela, March 10, 2005—During a hearing at the U.S. House of Representatives, Roger Noriega, the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, said that Chavez’s “efforts to concentrate power at home, his suspect relationship with destabilizing forces in the region, and his plans for arms purchases are causes of major concern.”

Noriega went on to say that the U.S. government “will support democratic elements in Venezuela so they can fill the political space to which they are entitled.” He did not specify what form this support would take, but recent investigations have shown that the U.S. Congress, via the National Endowment for Democracy and the US Agency for International Development is spending an average of $5 million per year to support opposition groups in Venezuela.

With regard to Venezuela’s neighbors, Noriega explained that the administration wants them to “understand the stakes involved and the implications of President Chavez’s professed desire to spread his ‘Bolivarian’ revolution.” According to Noreiga, “Should the United States and Venezuela’s neighbors ignore President Chavez’s questionable affinity for democratic principles we could soon wind up with a poorer, less free, and hopeless Venezuela that seeks to export its failed model to other countries in the region.”

In testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, Noriega had said that the Bush administration was involved in a campaign to “increase awareness among Venezuela’s neighbors of President Chavez’s destabilizing acts with the expectation that they will join us in defending regional stability, security, and prosperity.”

Various members of the International Relations Committee took issue with Noriega’s assessment of Venezuela. Rep. Donald Payne, a Democrat from New Jersey said, “I think that we need to try to work with Venezuela.” According to him, “There are some changes going on that are going to help the quality of life of the poorest people.”

Also Representative William Delahunt of Massachusetts, who has been observing Venezuela very closely and is a member of the “Boston Group,” of three Congressmen who have visited Venezuela several times, said with regard to US-Venezuela relations, “A deterioration in this relation, if it continues, bodes ill for both countries.”

Relations between The U.S. and Venezuela have recently made a turn for the worse, particularly since the appointment of Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State. Both State Department officials and Chavez have launched repeated accusations against each other over the past few months. According to the State Department, Chavez is destabilizing the region with alleged support for the opposition in Bolivia and of Rebels in Colombia, a charge that Chavez denies. On the other hand, Chavez has recently suggested that the Bush administration is supporting an assassination plot against him and warned that if one should happen, Venezuelan oil supplies to the U.S. would be cut off.