Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Waiting for Hugo

Grab a chair, some drinks and snacks and get ready for the show.

The United States slapped sanctions on Venezuela’s state oil giant PVDSA for trading with Iran, a move that could worsen Washington’s already sour relations with Caracas. Now we’re waiting for President Hugo Chavez to respond.

Expect a lot of noise, in typical Chavez fashion. In the warm-up act, one ally called the sanctions “ridiculous” and accused the United States of wanting to “once again…turn into the global policeman.”

Chavez himself might make some threats against his biggest foe, including an old one about cutting off oil supplies to the United States. He’s done it before — in 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010, and maybe more times than we can count.

But it never comes to anything. The fact that 45 percent of Venezuela’s oil goes to the United States might explain why. With that kind of dependence, Venezuela is unlikely to stop the shipments, though there may be some tit-for-tat retaliation. The United States and Venezuela need each other, no matter what the Presidente says and no matter how long he talks.

Here are our top stories from Washington…

US sanctions Venezuela’s oil giant for Iran trade
The United States slapped sanctions on Venezuela’s state oil giant PDVSA in its latest effort to disrupt Iran’s fuel supplies, a move that may provoke a fierce response from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The sanctions would bar PDVSA from access to U.S. government contracts and import/export financing. But their impact is likely to be modest, as they do not affect the company’s sale of oil to the United States and other markets.

Ambassador Sean Penn? Dream on, President Chavez


Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez regularly vents his fury against the United States, but there are a few Americans he’d like to talk to — such as Sean Penn, Oliver Stone, Noam Chomsky and even former President Bill Clinton.

Chavez named his U.S. dream team on Tuesday as possibilities to fill  the role of U.S. ambassador to Caracas after his government turned down the Obama administration’s nominee, Larry Palmer.

The State Department was not nearly as starry eyed.

“We appreciate President Chavez’ suggestions but the fact is we are not looking for another candidate to be the U.S. ambassador to Caracas,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said, adding that the administration still believed Palmer was the best man for one of the most difficult diplomatic jobs going.

Is Venezuela the new Cuba?

CUBA VENEZUELAIt takes a brave man to mention the word Cuba among certain company in Venezuela.

 For detractors of President Hugo Chavez, the island is synonymous with all they dislike in their country– the swing to socialism in the last decade; Chavez’s alliance with Fidel Castro; the stifling of private industry; and an increasingly authoritarian political system.  So it is impossible in Caracas opposition circles to have any sort of rational conversation about Cuba — everything is seen through the perspective of Chavez.  You like anything about Cuba, you think there’s any merit in anything on the island like its health or education services, then you’re ’comunista’.

For diehard “Chavistas”, it’s precisely the opposite. Cuba’s free health and school services, its record on sending volunteers around the world, and its thousands of workers in Venezuela, are to them a model of south-south cooperation. You think Fidel Castro failed to carry through the ideals of his revolution, turned the island into a dictatorship? You’re obviously a Yankee agent.

Chavez’s space plans have Foggy Bottom in stitches

Russian PM Vladimir Putin flew all the way to Venezuela for a quick 12-hour visit to boost oil and military ties with President Hugo Chavez, the loudest basher of U.S. “imperialism” in Washington’s backyard. 

VENEZUELA-RUSSIA/TIESBesides guns, tanks, jet fighters and missiles, Chavez wants a Russian hand in developing nuclear energy to cope with chronic electricity shortages in his oil-producing country, and technology to start a space industry.

“We are not going to build the atomic bomb, but we will develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes,” said the former paratrooper who has been in power for 11 years.