Venezuela-US ties unlikely to thaw soon: experts
Posted Wednesday, March 6 2013 at 07:14
The US has long hoped that a post-Chavez era could herald a new era in ties with Venezuela, but allegations of a US plot to kill the leftist leader show any rapprochement is still far off.
After a long battle with cancer, President Hugo Chavez died on Tuesday, aged 58, throwing his country's immediate political future into doubt and leaving Washington wondering what lies ahead for the Latin American nation.
"I think the hardest days for our relationship with Venezuela are not behind us, they are ahead of us," warned Carl Meacham, director of the Americas program with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"The willingness is there" from America, he told AFP, "I just don't think it's in the Chavista group's interests to make nice with the United States."
Within hours of Chavez's death, US President Barack Obama said Washington hoping for "constructive" future ties with the major oil-producing nation.
But he added: "As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history, the United States remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law, and respect for human rights."
Caracas and Washington have been operating embassies in each country without an ambassador since a diplomatic spat in 2010.
And analysts said it would be business as usual, particularly after Chavez's anointed heir, Vice President Nicolas Maduro blamed Washington of a conspiracy to kill his mentor and expelled two US Air Force attaches.
"I think it was a sign the Chavez brand of accusing the United States of every possible crime will continue," Ted Piccone, deputy director of foreign policy for the Brookings Institution, told AFP.
"The US approach for these many years has been to lay fairly low, don't make the United States the story, don't give Chavez even more ammunition."
US officials have denounced Maduro's allegation as absurd, but Piccone said it highlighted the "very strong ideological affinity for an anti-US agenda" in Venezuela.
CSIS expert Meacham agreed, saying Maduro now had to shore up his base within the Chavismo movement, with some intense political jockeying likely in the coming days ahead of elections.
"The question you have to ask yourself is, how does a Chavista benefit from making friends with its arch enemy? We believe in capitalism, we believe in free markets, we believe in things that are completely contrary to the Chavista system," he said.
Maduro took over as interim president and elections will be called within 30 days, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua told state news channel Telesur.
"It is the mandate that comandante President Hugo Chavez gave us," Jaua said, but worryingly adding there was an "absolute absence" over the constitutional procedure to replace Chavez.