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miércoles, febrero 08, 2006

More than "tit-for-tat"

You've probably heard by now that Venezuela kicked a U.S. naval attache out of the country, and that the U.S. retaliated by expelling a Venezuelan diplomat.

Most U.S. papers are portraying the incidents as "tit-for-tat," implying that the U.S. response was equal to (and provoked by) Venezuela's initial action -- and more subtly, that Venezuela and Chavez are to blame for the escalating tensions. But they gloss over two key facts:

1) The U.S. attache, John Correa, was expelled over accusations of espionage. We don't know if the accusations are true, but considering he was in Venezuela as part of the U.S. military mission, even suspected spying is a pretty good reason to kick him out, no?

On the other hand, the Venezuelan diplomat Jeny Figueredo is not accused of anything; personally, she has done nothing to warrant expulsion. Even the Seattle Times acknowledged that "[Figueredo's] expulsion carried no allegation of improper behavior, in contrast to Venezuela's accusation that Correa was in league with some Venezuelan military officers and helped to pass state secrets to the Pentagon."

2) Even putting aside the motivations, the U.S. action was not "equal and opposite". Correa is merely a naval attache. Figueredo is the chief of staff at the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, making her the embassy's second-highest ranking staffer. The non-partisan Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) describes the situation well:

With the State Department's unwarranted recent expulsion of Venezuelan diplomat Jeny Figueredo from her post as second-in-command of that country's Washington's embassy, Washington's actions lacked all proportionality and broke with diplomatic convention that, under normal circumstances, if one nation is expelling a person on the resident diplomatic list of that country, one should closely match it only with a person of comparable rank and station, as a candidate for retaliation. In this instance, the State Department decided to make its harsh point by choosing to expel the second highest ranking diplomat at the Venezuelan embassy in Washington.


COHA's piece goes on to discuss the case of Maria Corina Machado, emphasizing once again that accepting money from a foreign government for domestic political activities is simply illegal:

While Washington is attempting to portray the Sumate trial as a case of a political vendetta by an authoritarian government against a bona fide democratic leader, the truth is that the established norm in many countries -- including in the U.S. -- is that locally-based political groups are forbidden from accepting financial contributions from foreign sources for election purposes.

. . .
The case against Plaz and Machado seems to be clear cut: Venezuela's Ley de Partidos Politicos, Reuniones Publicos y Manifestaciones (Political Party Law), which dates to 1965 contains the clause in Article 25 that parties "may not accept donations or subsidies...from foreign companies...or from foreign governments or organizations." Caracas authorities claimed, then, that the organization's acceptance and administration of a $31,000 grant from the NED was precisely that, and that Sumate's behavior in the 2004 referendum -- actions which were funded by the grant -- constituted political organizing rather than non-partisan "democracy promotion."

. . .
[W]hat Machado and Plaz admit that they have done would have been met with comparably raised legal eyebrows in the U.S., where the Federal Electoral Code expressly prohibits donations to U.S. campaigns from foreign nationals or governments. It was precisely this prohibition which was a central part of the 1997 John Huang scandal when the Democratic fundraiser was accused of funneling donations from Chinese authorities wanting favors to Democratic Party officials. Yet somehow Washington believes that similar restrictions under Venezuelan law lack comparable validity or application.
[Washington believing it should be exempt from the laws that apply to everyone else -- hmm, does that sound familiar?]


The U.S. seems to be doing more and more lately to provoke Chavez. Personally, my opinion is that he should refuse to take the bait. Respond by focusing on serving the people of Venezuela, and reaching out to the peoples of the rest of the world, including the U.S. - that, not more name-calling, sounds like the way to win hearts and minds.

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