Venezuela (Where Almost No One Has Toilet Paper) Kicks Out Three U.S. Diplomats for “Flaming” Student Protests

— Domani Spero

In October 2013, Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro accused the top U.S. diplomat at the US Embassy in Caracas and two other embassy officials of “acts of sabotage” — allegedly, they caused the blackouts that plagued the country — and ordered them to leave (what career track is that?) U.S. Embassy Caracas Charge d’Affaires Kelly Keiderling and two diplomats, reportedly Consular Officer David Moo and Elizabeth Hoffman, who worked in Embassy Caracas’ political section were given 48 hours to leave the country. Soon thereafter, the AP reported that the State Department  expelled Venezuelan Charge d’Affaires Calixto Ortega Rios, Second Secretary Monica Alejandra Sanchez Morales at its embassy in Washington and Consul Marisol Gutierrez de Almeida at the Venezuelan consulate in Houston. (see Venezuela Kicks Out Top US Diplomat, Two Other Officials For … Wait For It ….Blackouts!).

This weekend, Secretary Kerry expressed deep concern over  “rising tensions and violence surrounding this week’s protests in Venezuela.”  His statement also says, “We are particularly alarmed by reports that the Venezuelan government has arrested or detained scores of anti-government protestors and issued an arrest warrant for opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. These actions have a chilling effect on citizens’ rights to express their grievances peacefully.”Here is Leopoldo Lopez on YouTube. See WSJ Venezuelan Opposition Leader Says He Will Risk Arrest.

The Venezuelan government wasn’t happy with this “interference.” Now the Miami Herald is reporting that Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Elías Jaua has given three American diplomats 48 hours to leave the country as  he accused them of fanning the flames of student protests that have rattled the country for more than a week.

The El Universal reports that Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jaua identified the three officials as Vice Consuls Breeann Marie McCusker, Jeffrey Gordon Elsen and Kristofer Lee Clark.  They’ve been accused of  “trying to infiltrate Venezuelan universities under the cover of doing visa outreach.”We should note that the US Embassy Caracas has improved its visa wait time for Venezuelan visa applicants to 70 days in January but it is still #2 in Top Ten Visa Wait Time at U.S. Consular Posts (pdf) via Liam Schwartz’s Consular Corner.

We expect a reciprocal expulsion for three Venezuelan diplomats in the United States to follow. Today, the State Department denied these allegations releasing the following statement:

“The allegations that the United States is helping to organize protestors in Venezuela is baseless and false. We support human rights and fundamental freedoms – including freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly – in Venezuela as we do in countries around the world. But as we have long said, Venezuela’s political future is for the Venezuelan people to decide. We urge their government to engage all parties in meaningful dialogue.”

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“To be Venezuelan today is to live on the edge of the apocalypse, convinced it will happen tomorrow,” said Alberto Barrera, a poet, screenwriter and biographer of the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. According to Globe and Mail,  the oil engineers have emigrated to Calgary, the soap opera stars fled to Mexico and Colombia, and women “both rich and poor have cut back to just one blow-dry or manicure each week.”

The country where inflation has been running reportedly at over 50%, where television stations are state controlled,  and where billboards apparently boast that “Venezuela has never been stronger,” almost no one has toilet paper in their bathrooms.

Whether its blackouts, protests or lack of toilet paper in the world’s fifth-largest oil producer — some people claim that there’s always Uncle Sam to blame.  As long as the Mr. Maduro’s government  convinced itself that all the country’s ails come from its powerful neighbor and refused to acknowledge how poorly it has managed Venezuela’s  affairs, nothing will change. It can continue blaming the United States, but sooner or later it will be forced to faced up to reality.  Venezuela produced 2.45 million barrels a day in 2012.  It exports on  average 792,000 barrels a day in the first 11 months of 2013 to the U.S. according to Bloomberg (apparently, the lowest since 1985). The report also says that Venezuela’s export basket price rose to $97.18 a barrel in the week of Jan. 27-31.

So the most important question — with that kind of money, how is it that there is a shortage of toilet paper in the country?

Early this year, LAT reported that U.S.-based American Airlines and United Airlines and Panama’s Copa Airlines were halting ticket sales in Venezuela in lieu of the government’s failure to pay arrears that has totaled $2.6 billion.  According to USA Today, Toyota Motor Co. said it would shut down its assembly operations in Venezuela due to  to the government’s foreign exchange controls.  The country is also running out of newsprint. Last week, the Guardian reported that El Impulso, the country’s oldest newspaper will be reduced to one section because it is running out of paper.

But to President Maduro this is all good since the late Hugo Chavez had reportedly appeared to him as a bird more than once telling him he was doing a good job.

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