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Maduro’s Poker Face on US Relations

By: María Teresa Romero - @mt_romero - Jul 8, 2015, 1:02 pm

EspañolNicolás Maduro‘s mixed messages and contradictions give us reason to doubt his true intentions when he says publicly that Venezuela is working to fully restore diplomatic relations with the United States.

One could say the same about the Cuban regime, which negotiates with the United States while it continues to oppress its dissidents on the island. The Castros are at least better at masking their true colors, and their contradictions are much less apparent to observers who are unskilled in matters of political manipulation.

The most recent contradiction in Maduro’s government was the president’s refusal to sit down with US Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), chairman of the US Senate Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, even though he had publicly expressed his desire to negotiate.

According to sources cited by Miami’s El Nuevo Herald, Maduro left the senator waiting for several hours, before finally letting him know he would not meet with him. This when, just a few days ago, he agreed to meet with Corker “as a result of a series of diplomatic and lobbying efforts undertaken by Caracas in order to try to improve relations with Washington.”

What’s more, Maduro had Corker instead meet with Diosdado Cabello, Venezuela’s National Assembly president currently being investigated by the US government for his ties to drug trafficking.

The fact that the US government would send the Republican senator, recognized as one of the most influential and respected public officials involved with US foreign policy, highlights the seriousness and priority President Barack Obama has assigned to restoring relations with Venezuela.

On the other hand, Maduro’s refusal to meet with Corker at the last moment, after an intense lobbying effort, is a serious diplomatic offense, and clearly shows that the president is not really interested in normalizing relations with the United States. All this despite the fact that Maduro has hired US public-relations firms to try and change the growing perception that under his watch Venezuela has become a narco-terrorist state and a dictatorial regime.

This entire episode demonstrates more than just a mistake by Maduro’s government and a missed opportunity, all because the senator’s visit had been leaked to the press a day earlier. The problem is deeper still.

This government simply does not wish for serious ties with “the Empire.” It cannot let go of “anti-imperialist” politics, and less so during the campaign season for legislative elections set for December 6. Any self-respecting “revolution” cannot make friends with its primary political enemy.

If it does, the nationalist discourse it feeds on would be weakened, and with it goes its dwindling popular support. What Maduro truly wants is to manipulate the possibility of bilateral normalization according to his political and economic convenience. He wants the same thing Cuba is getting, albeit in a less diplomatic way, even if the Obama administration doesn’t.

It’s no coincidence that after he snubbed the US senator, Nicolás Maduro told a special session of the National Assembly that “there are political and economic factors involved in the border issue” with Guyana. He is, of course, referring to Exxon Mobil and the Pentagon, since it’s all part of the “Empire’s plan.”

During his speech, Maduro claimed, without evidence, that the transnational oil giant was behind the election of Guyanese President David Granger, in order to promote their own interests along with those of the US government.

Meanwhile, Maduro’s offense did not prevent Corker from fulfilling his mission of verifying and directly assessing the serious crisis facing Venezuela, as well as the true disposition of Maduro’s dictatorial government in contrast with the democratic opposition.

In the end, it was a good opportunity for Venezuela’s opposition, who gained more this time around than with the visit from the State Department’s special envoy, Thomas Shannon.

Translated by Vanessa Arita.

María Teresa Romero María Teresa Romero

Romero is a journalist with a PhD in political science, specializing in international politics. She's a professor at the Central University of Venezuela, a columnist in several Venezuelan and international newspapers, and the author of several books. Follow her at @MT_romero.