Posted: 19:07 EST
Saturday was going swell and all until I saw the news out of Venezuela. Apparently, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is not handling the TP for oil offer from Trinidad and Tobago very well. The Caracas Chronicles calls it Revolutionary TPlomacy or quite simply “toilet paper diplomacy.” It’s not just toilet paper, of course, but …
“The concept of commodity sharing is simple -– the Government of Trinidad and Tobago will purchase goods identified by the Government of Venezuela from T&T’s manufacturers, such as tissue paper, gasoline, and parts for machinery,” Persad-Bissessar said.
— Slate (@Slate) February 26, 2015
Running out of TP. A TP-oil swap. While you’re digesting that, take time to read Daniel Lansberg-Rodríguez’s New Yorker piece, Comedians Waiting for Cars and Coffee.
Bloomberg Business reported that due to the plunging oil prices, “Venezuela’s economy will contract 7 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund, while inflation, which accelerated to 69 percent in December, is already the fastest in the world.”
It’s that time of year again. One wonders when is President Maduro going to declare “Blame the Yanquis for Everything” as the national motto? Of course, sometimes, it just has to be somebody closer.
On February 19, the twice elected mayor or Caracas, Antonio Ledezma was arrested reportedly by some 80 men on charges that he was part of a conspiracy to mount a coup against the Maduro regime.
According to The Economists, this is just the latest of a dozen alleged plots against the president whose government has approval ratings below 20%.
The arrest of the mayor of Caracas, Venezuela, shows that the regime will do whatever it takes to hold on to power http://t.co/jTpSKnI0kf
— The Economist (@TheEconomist) February 21, 2015
Here’s something shocking; I’ll never look at a box of cereal the same way again:
This box of imported cereal in Caracas at 1720Bs. represents ~1/3 of current MONTHLY minimum wage in Venezuela pic.twitter.com/HXFsClJgLW
— daniel duquenal (@danielduquenal) February 26, 2015
The NYT also reported that four American missionaries were detained on Wednesday in Ocumare de la Costa, a small coastal town west of Caracas. The missionaries from the Evangelical Free Church in Devil’s Lake in North Dakota were reportedly providing medical aid to the coastal town’s residents and support to a local church. I don’t know about you but this is not hopeful news for American tourists or for approximately 36,000 Americans living in Venezuela.
Maduro says Venezuela captures U.S. citizens linked to espionage http://t.co/TPSsBpHEHh
— Reuters World (@ReutersWorld) March 1, 2015
And there were dueling protests.
— Vox (@voxdotcom) February 27, 2015
Because what do you do when queues for food are getting longer? Hold a major rally “for sovereignty and against U.S. interventionism,” claro que sí! TeleSUR reported that during the rally, Maduro announced that he would “reduce the number of U.S. diplomats working in Venezuela.” The report includes the following actions directed against the United States:
- Maduro to cheering crowd: “I have ordered the foreign minister, Delcy Rodriguez, to immediately, in compliance with article 11 of the Vienna Convention, to reduce and minimize the number of U.S. embassy officials in Venezuela. They have over 100 officials, while in the U.S. we have no more than 17.”
- Rodriguez stated that current United States diplomats in Venezuela will have to re-apply for their visas.
- The U.S. embassy will be required to inform his government of meetings that it has with different sectors of Venezuelan society.
- United States citizens will have to pay the same price – in dollars – “for obtaining a visa to travel to Venezuela as the U.S. currently charges Venezuelans to travel to the U.S.” (see the Visa Reciprocity Schedule note that fees are for visa processing and not for visa issuance).
- Lists Americans who will not be allowed to travel to Venezuela “because of their involvement in human rights violations.” For starters, the list includes George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, George Tenet, Robert Menendez, Marco Rubio, Ileana Ross-Lethinen, and Mario Díaz Balart.
— Nathan Crooks (@nmcrooks) March 1, 2015
It’s worth noting that the U.S. Embassy in Caracas is one of the top 10 nonimmigrant processing posts in the world. In FY2013, the embassy issued 204,758 visitor’s visas and 6,184 student visas (pdf). The wait time to get an appointment for a visitor’s visa in Caracas is currently 59 days. Although the reported reduction of the US Embassy Caracas staff has not been confirmed by the State Department, it is highly likely that if it proceeds, the US Embassy Caracas will soon return to the 2011 wait time for appointments for visitors visas which hovered at 264 days. Or depending on how many consular officers will be left at post after this reduction of staff, we could see a much longer wait than that for Venezuelan applicants.
Here’s something else: in FY2013, 124 diplomatic visas (A-1, A-2) were issued to Venezuelan officials assigned to the United States. That’s a lot more than “we have no more than 17” that the Venezuelan president announced at his blusterous rally.
In any case, the last Senate-confirmed Ambassador to Caracas was Patrick Duddy who served from August 6, 2007 to September 11, 2008, during the Bush Administration. He was later expelled by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Eight months after that he was returned as Ambassador to Caracas by the Obama Administration. He left the mission on July 2010. That same month, Larry Palmer was nominated by President Obama. By December 2010, the Venezuelan Government had withdrawn its agrément on the appointment of Larry Palmer to Caracas.
On October 1, 2013, the Venezuelan Government declared the U.S. charge d’affaires persona non grata and ordered her expulsion. The United States Government reciprocated by declaring the Venezuelan charge d’affaires persona non grata. The U.S. Embassy in Caracas is currently headed by career diplomat Lee McClenny who assumed post as Chargé d’Affaires in July 2014. The Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, D.C. is currently headed by the former Venezuelan ambassador to Brazil, Maximilien Sanchez Arvelaiz.
Despite the difficult bilateral relations, we anticipate that Venezuela and the United States will continue to maintain diplomatic relations and embassies in one another’s capitals. Why? Below via the Congressional Research Service:
Venezuela remains a major oil supplier to the United States, even though the amounts and share of U.S. oil imports from the country have been declining because of Venezuela’s decreasing production and the overall decline in U.S. oil imports worldwide. In 2013, Venezuela provided the United States with about 806,000 barrels of total crude oil and products per day, about 8.2 % of total such U.S. imports, making Venezuela the fourth-largest foreign supplier of crude oil and products to the United States in 2012 (after Canada, Saudi Arabia, and Mexico). This is down from 2005, when the United States imported 1.53 million bbl/d of total crude oil and products from Venezuela, accounting for 11% of total U.S. imports.129 According to U.S. trade statistics, Venezuela’s oil exports to the United States were valued at almost $31 billion in 2013, accounting for 97% of Venezuela’s exports to the United States.
The CRS report also notes that Venezuela is scheduled to have legislative elections in September 2015, and that a recall referendum for President Maduro is not possible until 2016. The country’s next presidential election is not due until December 2018.
So what’s in the fopo fortune cookie? “The next 3-4 years will continue to be loud and noisy. The Yanquis will be trotted out at fault at every opportunity.”
* * *