Venezuela: The Chávez Question

October 23, 2009 — Mark P. Sullivan, a specialist in Latin American Affairs for the Congressional Research Service who recently returned from a trip to the region, joined us for a discussion on the current status of Venezuela and the future of U.S. relations with the home of the Bolivarian Revolution.

Mr. Sullivan discussed the internal political situation in Venezuela and the current status of the Chavez government. He highlighted the deterioration of democratic institutions and the rise in human rights violations within the past ten years. The discussion focused on the vulnerabilities of President Chavez and his diminishing support among the public because of a rise in violent crime and the flailing state of the economy. Though President Chavez’s public support may have decreased, the opposition parties in Venezuela remain weak due to internal feuding and no other national figure has proven strong enough to challenge him.

The briefing turned to the relationship between the United States and Venezuela. Even though friction has increased under the Chavez government, the two countries still retain close economic ties, particularly because of oil. Tensions increased in 2008 because of the expulsion of both respective ambassadors from the U.S. and Venezuela, but in June 2009, diplomatic relations returned to normal. Tensions have the possibility of increasing in the future because of issues such as Venezuela’s human rights abuses and interference in other countries like Iran and Cuba.

The Question and Answer session delved into Venezuela’s relationship with Iran and the FARC in Colombia. The effect of President Chavez’s policies on U.S. interests was also discussed, along with Venezuela’s role in terrorist organizations, the likeliness of a public uprising against the government, and threats to President Chavez’s power.

Security for a New Century is a bipartisan study group for Congress. We meet regularly with U.S. and international policy professionals to discuss the post-Cold War and post-9/11 security environment. All discussions are off-the-record. It is not an advocacy venue. For more information, please call Mark Yarnell at (202) 224-7560 or write to [email protected].

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