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Venezuela, USA, and the Axis of Dr. Evil

By Alex Beech

25.10.06 | Something bizarre took place at the Venezuelan National Assembly on Tuesday, October 24. US Ambassador William Brownfield brought Carl Meacham, senior foreign policy advisor to Senator Richard Lugar (Rep. – Indiana), to meet Venezuelan lawmakers. Senator Lugar is the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Meacham and Brownfield had an appointment with ruling party lawmaker Saul Ortega to discuss a bill on international cooperation waiting for approval at the National Assembly, which is almost entirely comprised of pro-Chavez lawmakers.

Saul Ortega arrived late, saying that he'd been delayed in traffic because of the rain, and when he invited Brownfield and Meacham into his office, the US government representatives explained that they couldn't stay because Meacham had a flight to catch.

From there, interesting things happened in the Venezuelan media. Ruling party lawmaker Iris Varela virulently asked, "who do they think they are? Thinking we're going to meet with an ambassador from the empire. We're busy here. We have things to do."

Brian Penn, a US embassy spokesman, spun the matter gently, saying that Saul Ortega had been caught in traffic, and unable to meet with Meacham. "There's bad traffic everywhere," said Penn, in a very kind and understanding and diplomatic tone.

Back in Chavista land, the ruling party lawmakers weren't satisfied. They were going squeeze as much noisy paste out of Meacham's visit as possible.

"I refused to meet with him," said the vice chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. "He didn't have an appointment. Those were the old days, when the US Ambassador showed up…and, he didn't want to sit with the other citizens who have to wait for an appointment. Who does he think he is? When they showed up asking to meet with us, someone asked me, 'do you have an appointment with them,' and I said, no. I went ahead with my regular scheduled appointments."

One reporter asked, "Would you have done the same had it been the Cuban Ambassador to Venezuela?"

The lawmaker stumbled and continued talking about his agenda.

Over at the Ministry of Foreign Relations, Meacham met with Jorge Valero, the Vice Minister for North America, a relatively insignificant nose-picking bureaucratic post. This was a snub of a different kind.

Obviously, relations between Venezuela and the United States have deteriorated to a point where even the smallest efforts dwindle. While Meacham is one of the most capable policy advisors in Congress, it was Senator Lugar and not his policy advisor who needed to travel to Venezuela. These are times when half measures avail us nothing, particularly in foreign relations.

As Venezuela heads into yet another historic election period in December, it is time that the US government wake up and implement effective strategies in the region. Let us not forget that Chavez is Castro with money. As Castro heads to meet his maker, it is Chavez who will take over and become much more influential and dangerous. Having an Axis of Dr. Evil in our own backyard will be a headache in a world where aspirin is running short.

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