Hugo Chávez Death: Fixing the U.S.-Venezuela Relationship Won't Be Easy

Dan Restrepo, a former senior Latin American affairs advisor in the Obama administration, told Univision that Maduro's decision to expel U.S. embassy officials on the day of Chávez's death "doesn't bode particularly well that the current Venezuelan government is particularly interested in a different relationship with the United States."

"Now you're going to have a different political dynamic in Venezuela. The system without Chávez is going to be different. Nobody knows exactly how different and what direction that's going to go," he added. "There is a change coming and it could take a bunch of different forms."

Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas and Americas Society, said that it's in Maduro's political self-interest to maintain Venezuela's current tack against the United States.

"My strong belief is that Maduro is going to keep relations with the U.S. in the deep freeze because he has to establish his own legitimacy," he said in an interview with ABC/Univision. "He doesn't have his own base of support. He's got to keep tensions high with the United States." Tried and true tactic."

In a statement, President Barack Obama said his administration would seek to build a "constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government" moving forward, adding that the U.S. supports policies that "promote democratic principles, the rule of law, and respect for human rights."

That's a long road, given how deep the divide runs. Venezuela has some of the richest oil and natural gas reserves in the world and Chavez spread that wealth to many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean enabling him to curry influence. For example, in 2001 the Chávez government helped bail out Argentina, a regional power, from a financial crisis, a move that helped him gain popularity there. He has also built ties with left-wing governments Bolivia and Ecuador and helped financially backstop the Castro government in Cuba.

During his presidency, Chávez earned the scorn of U.S. officials for cracking down on his political opposition and hostile media outlets. He also had a knack for spinning conspiracy theories against the American government. For example, in 2002 he accused the U.S. of being involved in a failed coup attempt.

Chávez also made overtures to Cuba's Fidel Castro and to Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who lead governments that are also hostile toward the United States. A Univision documentary that aired last year revealed that a Venezuelan consulate official in Miami was involved in plotting cyber attacks on the U.S. that allegedly involved agents from Iran and Cuba.

The U.S. government expelled the Venezuelan official, Livia Acosta Noguera, from the country and Venezuela eventually shuttered its Miami consulate.

But on a key economic front, Venezuela's government has taken a pragmatic approach to the United States. The South American nation remains one of the top contributors to the U.S.'s oil imports, ranking in the top four last year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

"Oil is their political weapon, but with the U.S., they never used it," Richardson said.

Eric Farnsworth added that the Venezuelan people have not traditionally been anti-American throughout their history and it may be possible for a leader to eventually bridge the gap between the two nations.

And it is uncertain whether Venezuela can sustain its efforts to enrich its neighbors with its oil wealth. The country has a gaping budget deficit, which was exacerbated by the millions of dollars in foreign aid doled out by Chávez. That has done damage to the nation's domestic economy.

But regardless of what happens next, any healing process will will take time.

See Photos of Venezuelans Mourning the Death of Hugo Chavez

"This isn't going to change one day to the next, you're going to build out a constructive relationship piece by piece starting with small things if you have a willing partner in Venezuela," said Restrepo.

Page
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...