Monday, December 04, 2006

Cuba, Venezuela and the United States: Getting Warmer?

Nicaraguan President-elect Daniel Ortega, right, shakes hands with Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon

In a wild moment of optimism, after Chavez's triumph Sunday night, I postulated that the US may have to finally give in to the reality and try a different, more humble game in its dealings with its southern neighbors. I didn't expect any of it to come into the realm of possibility.

But yet, already maybe there is some movement - and some press has taken note. I first sensed a new tone when Correa got a cheery reception and a phone call from Bush himself (Morales got nonesuch). Same with Ortega (see above photo).

Now I believe there may be something new at work with Venezuela, evidenced by this unusually cheery statement by State department spokesman Sean McCormack in response to Sunday's landslide result: "From our standpoint, there doesn't have to be any friction. We would hope that we can have a positive, constructive relationship."

12/5/06 UPDATE: Chavez responses:

"If the United States wants dialogue, Venezuela will always keep the door open. But I doubt they are sincere in this,'' Mr Chavez said at a news conference shortly after electoral authorities formally proclaimed he had won another six-year term in Sunday's presidential vote.

The statement contrasted with the tone of MR Chavez's remarks and sounded outright positive following years of relations marked by bitter verbal attacks and mutual distrust.

"As of Monday, a process of communication has started between the two governments,'' US ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield said on Union Radio on Tuesday.

"Hopefully it will be positive because I think we have several areas that are of national interest to both Venezuela and the United States,'' he said.

Before the election, there was this US-Chavez "olive branch" that got noticed by the NYTimes:

He (Chavez) responded to remarks by Thomas A. Shannon Jr., the United States assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, which had quoted him as saying, “The political battle that is unfolding within Venezuela is now conducted through democratic institutions.”

Mr. Chávez said that Mr. Shannon “at least recognized we have democracy in Venezuela,” and added, “I think these are good signs.”

And in response to what has also been called an olive branch by Raul Castro the US said no thanks but also: " any deepening of our engagement with Cuba depends on this dialogue and the willingness of the Cuban regime to adopt concrete measures towards a political opening and a transition to democracy”, said Sunday Janelle Hironimus from the White House spokesperson office."

It's not much, but those are relatively soft words from the State Department. Instead of calls for "multi-party elections" we have "measures towards a political opening..."


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