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After Noriega, What Comes Next for US Policy?

By Scott Sullivan

02.08.05 | More questions have been raised than answered in the removal of Roger Noriega as Assistant Secretary of State and his rumored replacement by Tom Shannon of the NSC. Will US policy be harder or softer on Chavez and Castro as a result? Speculation that a hard line shift in US policy was underway was fueled by the surprisingly harsh remarks against Chavez by DoD’s DASD for Western Hemisphere Affairs Rogelio Pardo-Maurer at the Hudson Institute during the previous week. Pardo-Maurer has kept a low profile on Chavez until now and —unlike Noriega – has largely escaped censure by the Venezuelan government. For the very first time, Pardo-Maurer was emphatic and explicit in presenting Chavez’s growing threat to the region, without however even suggesting the outlines of a plan to stop Chavez.

Yet the escalation of DoD rhetoric may actually signal a significant retreat in US policy on Chavez. That such a retreat could be the case is signaled by the appointment of Tom Shannon to State. While at NSC, Shannon coordinated the phantom “contain Chavez” plan. Insiders say that DoD, not State, was the main opponent of containing Chavez, first arguing that it was not necessary, and then that it was too late and could not be done. Thus, Noriega’s removal makes it less likely that a plan will be approved and implemented.

What is clear is that pressure is now on Shannon and Pardo-Maurer to stand and deliver. The issue of the Chavez takeover of Bolivia is at center stage. If a US plan is not forthcoming, with decisive new elements, Congress may soon be forced to step in.

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