Rubio hints at possible change of Venezuela embassy head

'Trump's policy on Venezuela is not going to change, but what could change is the Chargé d'Affaires of the Embassy'

todd robinson marco rubio
Robinson’s statements show that he speaks in a personal capacity or that there is no coordination in the Department of State. (Twitter)

Since last December, Todd Robinson has been the head, or Charge d’Affairs, of the US embassy in Venezuela. He arrived revamping the two nation’s diplomatic dynamics: offering statements to the media, visiting and meeting politicians from the “opposition” and of Nicolás Maduro dictatorship. He has been seen in the Venezuelan Parliament and with the members of the illegitimate National Constituent Assembly.

His much more candid position on the nation’s tyranny led him to contradict Donald Trump’s administration and to assure, in a radio interview, that Venezuelans are the ones that are going to decide if the fraudulent May elections are valid. In addition, he said the United States would back that decision.

“There are several theories about the results of the elections and, in the end, the Venezuelans are going to decide if the elections have credibility or not, and we are going to wait for their decision,” Robinson told journalist Vladimir Villegas of the Union Radio.

The Chargé d’Affaires also raised the possibility that President Donald Trump could be willing to meet with Nicolás Maduro, even though the U.S. President has made it clear that there will not be talks as long as democracy is found wanting in Venezuela.

Robinson’s statements go against the position held by the Republican administration. He knew full well that when the illegitimate National Electoral Council (CNE) agreed with the advanced presidential elections, obeying the Constituent Assembly, the United States reacted by saying that it would not recognize the false elections or its outcome.

This inconsistency with the firm position of Donald Trump – supported by the majority of Venezuelans – generated discomfort in the exile community and from some important Republican politicians, such as Senator Marco Rubio, who supports the Trump administration’s foreign policy towards the Chavista dictatorship.

“It’s odd… How can you say that Trump would be willing to meet with Maduro when he has already rejected him twice?”

–  Alberto Conde, human rights activist

The president of the Venezuelan American Leadership Council, Martin Rodil, told El Nuevo Herald that “Robinson’s statements are clearly against the position of the secretary of state, the White House spokesman, the National Security Council, and of both president and the vice president of the United States.”

“Within the United States there are different approaches and unqualified people have taken advantage of the gaps created by the lack of coordination [in the US Government], casting doubts about the position of the administration,” added Carlos Ponce, head of the Latin American Program of Freedom House.

Faced with the uproar generated by Robinson’s statements, Marco Rubio, Republican senator of Florida and an influential politician in the current administration, challenged the Chargé d’Affaires and suggested that President Donald Trump could remove him.

“There has been no change in the policy of President Trump and of the United States over Maduro and Venezuela. But what can change is the head of the US embassy in Venezuela,” the senator wrote on his Twitter account.

The Venezuelan political scientist, human rights specialist, and university professor, Alberto Conde, told the PanAm Post that it is natural that Todd Robinson’s statements have generated concern because they disagree with a position that the United States has been brandishing for months.

“It’s odd. It could be perceived as if Todd Robinson spoke in a personal tone or, also, that there is no coordination within the Department of State. How can you say that Trump would be willing to meet with Maduro when he has already rejected him twice?” Conde said.

Conde insisted that Robinson, an experienced diplomat in Latin America issues from Barack Obama’s administration, could have his days numbered if he continues to act on his own.

“Robinson has been seen meeting with members of the dictatorship. We know how diplomacy works, but those small actions, coupled with these statements, could make him an uncomfortable figure for the Republican administration,” said Alberto Conde.

Obama’s ambassador

Conde said that Robinson (1963) is a man of the Obama administration. Before becoming a diplomat, the native of New Jersey was a journalist. He then graduated from the Edmun A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.

His first job was with the Government in 1986 as a member of the United States Foreign Service. In 1987, he was part of the diplomatic mission in Colombia and, after two years, he worked in El Salvador.

He returned to Washington D.C. at the early 90s and held a position in the international communications’ administration of the Department of State.

From 1993 he was part of the missions in Italy, the Vatican and Bolivia. “As of 2004, Robinson was the main political and economic adviser to the United States ambassador to Albania before becoming general consul in Barcelona, Spain,” says a post at the Black Past organization website.

His most important position was granted by President Barack Obama in 2014. That year, he was sent to Guatemala to serve as Ambassador. His tenure there was criticized by the conservative wing of the Republican Party.

He has been denounced for his close relationship with the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), an independent body, backed by the United Nations, whose purpose is to support institutions in anti-corruption investigations.

The CICIG ended up following the agenda of the Ambassador in Guatemala, who according, to what was said at the time, was nothing but the agenda of the left itself.

Late last year, the international analyst and Guatemalan political scientist, Nicholas Virzi, told the PanAm Post that the CICIG was perceived by many on the right as turned into an “instrumentalized” body that prosecuted only right-wing officials and ignored the corruption of the left.

Virzi said that the Barack Obama administration came to finance causes of the left using its ambassador in Guatemala, Todd Robinson. “In fact, the perception on the right was that the embassy itself had become the focus of meetings with leaders and people from the left in the country,” he noted.

Numerous pictures circulated widely on social media by prominent left-wing actors which showed them meeting privately with the ambassador or at official embassy events did not help to combat this negative perception.

Robinson left Guatemala in September 2017 and was, in a way, demoted: The Republican administration appointed him as the Chargé d’Affaires in the United States embassy in Caracas.

Already in this position, Todd Robinson even said in an interview that the United States would back a military attempt to overthrow the dictator Nicolás Maduro. They were firm statements. A position that shifted and materialized with its recent conciliatory tone.


Correction: A previous version of this post did not include the full quotation from Mr. Virzi. It has been added at his request for context.
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