The U.S. Embargo against Venezuela: The State Department’s Mock Indignation Gives a Bad Name to U.S. Diplomacy

Following the announcement by the State Department that it was imposing an arms sale sanction against Venezuela, a Chávez advisor infuriated Washington when he responded with an apparently retaliatory announcement that Caracas would consider selling its American-made F-16’s to Iran. The proposed sale irritated U.S. policymakers, whose initial imposition of the embargo was rationalized by the vague, if not totally contrived, accusations involving Hugo Chávez’s friendship with the leaders of U.S. classified rogue states of Cuba and Iran. Caracas’ threat of selling off the F-16 is somewhat logical, as the U.S. earlier had denied Venezuela the parts necessary to maintain its fleet of 21 F-16’s, rendering those aircraft – which are in need of upgrading and repair –little better than scrap metal.

In a certain sense, Washington’s new round of bluster can be properly seen as merely part of an ongoing war of words and spleen against Caracas, in which Chávez more than holds his own, much to the joy of the average Latin American. Venezuela and the U.S. have exchanged countless salvos of sharp rhetoric at each other, with Chávez describing the U.S. as a “pig” whose appointment at the slaughterhouse is imminent, and Secretary of State Rice portraying the Chávez administration as unconstructive and as being “a negative force in the region.” Venezuela’s gonzo response to the new U.S. embargo fits into the milieu of bounteous hot air that has become increasingly typical between the two countries, though it has not yet ended up with the CIA ultimately being called in to settle matters.

Bringing in Goebbels
There is some reason to believe, however, that the State Department actually does have a plan, and that these verbal jabs on Washington’s part have a calculated purpose, as they seem to represent a concerted attempt to undermine the legitimacy of Chávez’s constitutional government. This effort already has included backing a failed coup against him in April 2002 – which has resulted in unremitting hostility ever since. It is also worth commenting that Chávez’s own reaction has been only slightly less confrontational. The big difference is that Chavez is being the playful, irascible, confounding and confrontational wunderkind that he always has been.

As for the State Department, with Secretary Condoleezza Rice as its author, its Venezuela policy continues to be bovine, hypocritically cynical and grossly unprofessional in promoting a heavy handed policy against Venezuela, as much based on inventions and gross exaggeration as on facts. This strategy, after it condemns all other peaceful options and decides to turn to a CIA deployment or negotiates an agreement with a contract killer to eliminate Chávez in order to safeguard the U.S.’ oil supply from the regime, would cost Washington dearly.

Taking the high road that should strike a responsive chord with most Latin Americans, the Venezuelan leader observed that the United States “tramples on small and weak nations.” Yet at this point, Chávez neither has threatened nor halted supplies of oil to the United States. Nor did he seem particularly distressed by the sanctions. An official Venezuelan foreign ministry communiqué was issued stating that the U.S. accusation was “despicable” and was “based on a futile campaign to discredit and isolate Venezuela, to destabilize its democratic government and prepare the political conditions for attack.”

One can only hope that somewhere in the Bush administration, a concentration of fast disappearing wisdom remains, and that it can bring to a halt to the State Department’s precarious – if not suicidal – descent into reckless arrogance and sprawling self-indulgence. As of now, the administration’s game plan is primitively simple and grossly offensive. Inspired by Nazi-era propaganda czar, Joseph Goebbels, the model is to keep on relentlessly denouncing Chávez as a “dictator” until the public begins to automatically accept the connections between the word and the man.

Of course, standing in the way of the administration’s success in convincingly making its case is the fact that Chávez’s political movement has won twice the number of highly attended elections than President Bush has, and by consistently far larger majorities—around 60 percent better. Furthermore, the TV networks are overwhelmingly dominated by the Chávez-hating middle-class opposition, and the same is true for the print media. To describe today’s Venezuela as a dictatorship is an unmitigated lie, and despite the adamant pleas of Rice and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, it is subscribed to only by a questionable sector of the U.S. media, led by Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl and the extraordinary science fiction editorial page of the Wall Street Journal.