Just days ahead of the referendum on President Hugo Chávez’s proposed constitutional reforms, Venezuela has threatened to expel a US diplomat if a document outlining supposed CIA plans to foment unrest proves to be real. The document, entitled “Final Stage of Operation Pliers” (“Plan Tenaza”), is supposedly a memorandum from CIA officer Michael Middleton Steere to the director of the US agency, Gen. Michael Hayden. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro declined to name the diplomat, identifying him only as “a CIA official at the United States Embassy in Venezuela.”
The controversy also comes as Chávez announced he is breaking ties with Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe, Washington’s closest ally in South America. “As long as President Uribe, a President capable of lying shamelessly, of disrespecting other presidents, remains President, I will not have any type of relation with him or with the Colombian government,” said Chávez. Having secured Uribe’s approval to negotiate a resolution of Colombia’s ongoing hostage crisis with the FARC guerillas, Chavez said he was “betrayed” when Bogotá dropped him as a moderator Nov. 21. “I don’t trust anybody in Uribe’s government,” Chávez said in a speech four days later.
Uribe retaliated verbally, accusing Chavez of “talking of imperialism while you want to build an empire based on your budget.” He added that Chávez was not a neutral negotiator: “Your words, your positions, suggest you are not interested in peace in Colombia, but rather in Colombia becoming the victim of a terrorist government of the FARC.”
Uribe charged that Chávez committed a breach of protocol when he telephoned Colombian army commander Gen. Mario Montoya to discuss the hostage situation, despite a request from Uribe to refrain from direct contact with high-ranking military officials
Chávez also said he is now ruling out rejoining the Andean Community of Nations, a trade bloc of which Colombia is a prominent member. Venezuela withdrew from the group last year following its decision to join Mercosur, a trade bloc led by Argentina and Brazil. (VHeadline.com, AP, AFP, Nov. 30; NYT, Nov. 23)
Chávez, who is notoriously paranoid about assassination attempts (perhaps with reason), is also miffed at CNN for airing footage of him with the caption “¿Quién lo mató?” (Who killed him?). Chávez threatened to expel CNN correspondents, and said his advisers recommended suing the network. The Spanish-language edition of CNN apparently ran the caption erroneously in a report on the Venezuela-Colombia squabble. CNN said in a statement the caption was supposed to be for a story about a recently slain NFL player found dead in his Florida home. (UPI, Infobae.com, Nov. 28)
An estimated 100,000 marched in downtown Caracas Nov. 29 in opposition to the constitutional changes, packing Avenida Bolivar, waving placards, blowing whistles and shouting slogans. A day earlier, violence erupted in the capital as hundreds of student protesters lobbed stones at police and National Guardsmen, who responded with water cannons and tear gas. (VHeadline, London Times, Nov. 30)
Opposition to the reform is being spearheaded by the Social Democratic PODEMOS alliance, which recently broke with Chávez’s Fifth Republic Movement (MVR), as well as the traditional Christian Democratic party, COPEI, and their longtime populist rival, Accion Democratica (AD). (VHeadline, Nov. 20)
In a rally for the reform package, Nov. 30, Chávez addressed tens of thousands bussed in from across the country. After serenading the crowd with traditional holiday gaitas, Chávez warned that “if the ‘yes’ vote wins on Sunday and the Venezuelan oligarchy, playing the [US] empire’s game, comes with their little stories of fraud,” he will cut off oil to the US. (CNN, Nov. 30)
Our last post on Venezuela.