A State Department Spokesperson Berates the PanAm Post
The US State Department has taken aim at the PanAm Post for an article critical of Elliott Abrams dismissal of the potential use of force against the Maduro dictatorship in Venezuela.
Earlier this week we published an opinion piece entitled “Maduro Defeats Trump, Abrams Announces the Surrender,” that seems to have ruffled some feathers at the State Department.
On Friday we received a call from Lydia Barraza, a Spanish Language Spokesperson for Foggy Bottom, expressing her displeasure with our piece. To our initial amusement she threateningly mentioned that the NSC and the White House would consider the PanAm Post “a Russian Troll.”
Our regular readers surely would find cause for hilarity with this statement, knowing, as they do our editorial line. Usually we are accused of being too libertarian, too pro-Trump or too conservative.
Amongst Latin American socialists we are as popular as Ayn Rand or Ludwig von Mises. A conservative, libertarian, anti-socialist, pro=Trump, Russian Troll. What a great idea. Maybe we can collude, and surely we’ll have Democrats reading our stuff now!
Our initial amusement ceased when we realized the words were meant to be taken seriously.
Ms. Barraza objected to our columnist’s analysis of statements given to a Colombian radio station by Elliott Abrams, the U.S. Special Envoy for Venezuela, and she particularly objected to our headline (chosen by yours truly), which she expressed she wanted “changed.”
After our initial conversation, in which we expressed our willingness to publish whatever the State Department considered necessary to clarify, or even a correction, if they could provide proof of an error on our part. We talked two more times. By the third call Ms. Barraza was demanding we change our headline, or else!
Unfortunately for Ms. Barraza, she was oblivious to the fact that most of us at this publication have suffered much worse than threats from a Washington bureaucrat.
Many in our team have suffered gun-shot wounds, been tear gassed, chased by a tank, and taken to court by Hugo Chavez or Nicolas Maduro’s regime. Several in our staff live in exile. Threats are not a good approach when dealing with us.
As the article and Mr. Abrams words speak for themselves, an explanation is in order for the headline.
The Venezuelan Constitution’s Article 187, Section 11 states that the National Assembly can request a foreign armed intervention in the country. In other words, the Venezuelan parliament can request a foreign military presence in the country, which would then be completely legal under international law.
Mr. Abrams statement to Radio Caracol was initially innocuous: “I do not think Europe, Latin America, Canada and the United States are thinking, at this moment, of a military reaction.” He has made similar statements several times since March 1st. It is, indeed, perfectly reasonable to say that – at this time – the U.S. is not considering a military reaction.
However, when questioned about the Venezuelan National Assembly’s discussion on requesting the intervention according to article 187.11, Mr. Abrams chose to answer. He could have remained silent, or he could have punted, but he chose to answer as follows: “I think it’s premature. I think it’s not the right time…My advice would be that at this time it would not be very useful.”
Mr. Abrams was telling the Venezuelan National Assembly that, in his considered opinion, invoking Article 187.11 of the Venezuelan Constitution would not count with his support.
Such a statement, coupled with the initial ratification that no military action was on the table, translates in plain English into something like this: “We are not thinking of a military action, nor do we want you to ask for one, even a legal one.”
In other words, the proverbial camel will more easily pass through the eye of a needle than the U.S. consider military action.
The superb article from our columnist Orlando Avendaño makes it abundantly clear why such a dramatic statement could be considered a victory for Maduro, and how this could be very dangerous for some of Venezuela’s top opposition leaders. But there is another consequence.
Mr. Abrams with his statement meddled directly into the internal political fray amongst Venezuela’s opposition parties.The invocation of Article 187.11 has been the main political discussion in Venezuela for weeks. Interim President Guaidó stated only last Monday, two days before Abrams’ statements, that he would ask the National Assembly to vote on the measure as soon as possible.
Within Venezuela’s opposition there are three broad groups. The Clearly pro-free market, pro-American, anti-socialists. The middle roaders, who are generally favorable to free markets and representative democracy, and the collaborators, who reached parliament thanks to Maduro impeding many leading figures from running through fake legal procedures and even imprisonment.
The first group has actively been promoting Article 187.11. They are aware, as our article states, that Maduro will only leave office by force. The second group has been ambivalent, partly due to fear, and partly due to an almost automatic rejection of whatever the first group proposes. The third group has been actively hostile to the idea, although not publicly, as it would be political suicide to oppose the measure.
In comes Mr. Abrams with his statement, not only giving oxygen to the collaborators and weakening the political stance of those closest to the U.S. and free markets, but also making it exceedingly difficult to ever take up the measure!
If the National Assembly rejects the measure, some will claim it was rejected at the request of the U.S, State Department. If it is approved, some would think that American military action is imminent, as the U.S. must have given its approval.
For anyone who understands these issues, Mr. Abrams’ statements represented a complete retreat from any credible threat of force against the Maduro regime, at least in the foreseeable future. Evidently Maduro will see this, at least, as a temporary victory, particularly given the official U.S. rhetoric during the early months of 2019, when the administration made huge efforts to make a credible threat that the use of force was clearly a possibility against the Venezuelan regime.
This publication has indeed supported nearly every action taken by the Trump administration in Latin America since day one. We cheered Mr. Trump’s foreign policy elsewhere, from Israel and Syria to Korea. We were particularly happy with Mr. Abrams appointment as Special Envoy to Venezuela after years of Obama’s appeasement in the region.
We admire Mr. Abrams’ past record in the region and his determination in the face of opposition, back in the day, from the likes of former Senator Chris Dodd.
However, in this case, we called a spade a spade. If there is no credible threat of force on the Maduro regime, Venezuelan opposition leaders are in grave danger, and the Venezuelan dictator will be another case of a hated regime that clung to power by force.
With no credible threat of force against him, Maduro has indeed won a great victory, even if, in the long run, the United States changes its posture. Sanctions will indeed weaken him, but as in Assad’s case, they will not dislodge him from power.
As for Ms. Barraza our suggestion is that next time she tries to cow someone into obedience she should first find out who she is dealing with.
Luis H Ball is the Publisher of the PanAm Post