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South America: Venezuela and the US Make Tentative Steps Towards Thawing Relations
Posted on Friday, December 15 @ 08:51:07 UTC by admin

Venezuela and Chavez By Steven Mather, Venezuelanalysis.com
December 14, 2006

The Venezuelan and United States governments are taking first tentative steps at reconciliation after several years of cold war. Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro is to meet U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield today.

Brownfield said that while relations were still far from normal, both sides are beginning to show signs of improvement. "It is in the interests of both countries to have a positive dialogue, but you have to learn to walk before you can run." He suggested starting with issues such as the "wars" against terrorism and drugs.

From the Venezuelan side of the divide positive signals are coming from strange sources. Vice-president José Vicente Rangel, normally very outspoken with regards the US government, said on Tuesday that he does not rule out better relations, provided that they come free of, "interferences, far from adventures such as that of April 11, 2002 [the coup attempt] or insolent statements from the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department and even the Southern Command."

Venezuelan Deputy Foreign Minister Jorge Valero was also quoted saying President Chavez "has taken good note" of the remarks made by US officials over the last couple of days. Thomas Shannon, the Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America has acknowledged that "there was a clear winner" in the December 3 elections, with 62.8% of the vote, even though he still seems to have problems mentioning the "clear winner" by name.

Still, this is a major improvement on the remarks of then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who placed doubt on the democratic credentials of Hugo Chavez. "He's a person who was elected legally, just as Adolf Hitler was elected legally, and then consolidated power," said Rumsfeld a while ago.

Then there was the speech of President Chavez himself at the United Nations in September, which described U.S. President George W. Bush as the "devil" and prior to that had frequently referred to him as "Mr. Danger."

The potential thawing of relations is going almost in parallel to the Venezuelan opposition's new-found engagement with the democratic process. Manuel Rosales has been encouraging all those opposed to Chavez to join forces in a coalition over the last week or so.

While refusing to give legitimacy to President Chavez by name, Shannon did speak warmly of Rosales. He said the fact that Rosales got 40% of the vote was significant and that it showed he "is committed to democracy, to democratic institutions that cannot show him as coupster, as the Government used to label some opposition leaders."

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