Less than 24 hours after Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced that his government had named Commander John Correa, U.S. Naval Attaché to the U.S. embassy in Caracas, persona non grata for alleged espionage, the U.S. retaliated by declaring that Jeny Figueredo Frías, chief of staff to the Venezuelan ambassador in Washington, had 72 hours to leave the U.S. “We don´t like to get into tit-for-tat games like this with the Venezuelan government, but they initiated this and the U.S. chose to respond,” said Sean McCormack, the U.S. State Department spokesman in Washington.
Hours after Chávez’ announcement of Correa’s expulsion on Thursday, U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield had warned that, historically, Washington has responded in “a massive, decisive, and asymmetrical fashion” to such actions.
“We expelled Correa because he was in violation of the Vienna Convention. We asked Washington to cycle him back, and they respond by kicking out a top diplomat, without offering any evidence,” said Rondon.
Brownfield pointed out on Thursday that the Venezuelan government had given no specific reason or evidence for the allegations against Correa.
María Pilar Hernández, Venezuela´s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for North America tried to be more specific on Friday, but still avoided giving evidence. “Correa violated the Vienna conventions, specifically Article 3, No.1b that says you cannot obtain information through illicit means,” Hernandez said.
But she and the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the specifics of Correa’s alleged violation.
“They haven’t told us either of the precise ways in which Correa violated that article,” Penn pointed out.
“Correa performed his duties well, in accordance with what is expected of a naval attaché,” he added.
The Daily Journal reported Friday that Correa had left Venezuela almost two weeks earlier. On Friday, the Pentagon issued a statement to the press which read that, “the U.S. Naval Attaché in Caracas, Venezuela has been rotated back to the U.S. mainland for further duties as assigned.”
Reminiscent of the Cold War
“I can’t remember the last time a U.S. diplomat was expelled from Latin America,” Professor Riordan Roett of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies told Reuters. “For Chavez to do this means he is looking for a fight or has found a fight he wants,” said Roett.
Hernández disagreed and expressed some hope that this latest row could be settled amicably. “We don’t want to escalate tensions,” she said. “But this is an important act of retaliation.”
Indicating a pragmatic approach, she added that “We are awaiting further explanation for the U.S. order. For now, we are simply going to withdraw Figueredo and attempt a diplomatic solution.”
Toby Bottome, Editor and head of VenEconomía, thought the spat might end with this latest expulsion. “I don’t see this going anywhere,” remarked Bottome. “These accusations don’t mean a thing. This should die down.”
In Washington, Roett sounded a similar note. “This is not going to lead to a break in relations, but the government’s decision will have repercussions,” theorized Roett.
Meanwhile, Venezuelan Vice President José Vicente Rangel characterized relations with Washington as “complicated and difficult”, but added that the government would not allow the dispute to get out of hand. “They are moving their pieces and we are aware of the game and we will respond in a calculated manner to these aggressions without going to the extreme,” Rangel told reporters in Caracas.
Though echoing Roett´s warning that Chávez may want more sparring, Bottome pointed out that “Chávez has characterized himself by sticking his finger in Uncle Sam’s eye every chance he gets.”
Chávez himself warned earlier in the week that if he uncovers more evidence of alleged espionage, he will throw out the entire U.S. military mission. Reports indicate that there are 21 U.S. military personnel currently attached to the U.S. embassy in Caracas.
Washington’s expulsion of Figueredo is indicative of the strained relations between the U.S. and Venezuela.
On Thursday, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that leaders such as Chávez and Bolivian President Evo Morales who advocate the radical redistribution of wealth to the poor represented a “worrisome” trend in the hemisphere.
“You’ve got Chávez in Venezuela with a lot of oil money,” Rumsfeld said at the National Press Club in Washington.
“He’s a person who was elected legally -- just as Adolf Hitler was elected legally -- and then consolidated power, and now of course is working closely with Fidel Castro and Mr. Morales and others. It concerns me.”
Rangel, during a televised press conference Friday called Rumsfeld’s comments “unacceptable”.
If any world leader today can be compared to Hitler, “it is precisely President Bush,” Rangel said.
Meanwhile, Brownfield lamented the poor state of relations between the once close allies.
“I lament, and my government laments, that bilateral relations have reached this point,” said Brownfield. “There are many serious and important issues between our governments that perhaps deserve more of our time.”
By Sacha Feinman and Russ Dallen
Daily Journal Staff
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