February 19, 2014
Greg Weeks, a professor who specializes in Latin America at UNC Charlotte, did not seem to understand my column yesterday in the Guardian. He dismissed the recent statements from the U.S. government about Venezuela as meaningless. Since he is Chair of the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, perhaps there were others who did not understand these statements as well. So I wrote some further explanation for him and posted it on his blog. Today, of course, U.S. statements got even more hostile, after Venezuela expelled three U.S. diplomats. But as explained below, these are not just unfriendly comments by administration officials, but words chosen carefully and deliberately to encourage certain actions by Venezuela’s opposition. Below is what I wrote yesterday:
Greg, maybe this will help your readers to understand what these statements mean. I wanted to include the White House statement on the Honduran coup for comparison but didn’t have room.
You can find it here:
The White House statement on the day of the coup did not condemn it, merely calling on “all political and social actors in Honduras” to respect democracy.
This diplomatic language is very important. As any diplomat in this town will testify, this is one way in which governments communicate their positions and alliances. Everybody I know realized immediately from the White House statement after the Honduran coup that Washington supported the coup, and there were no surprises for us in what the Obama administration did in the months and years that followed.
So you see, these statements from Kerry and the State Department are not just random “vanilla” comments on the state of democracy or the economy in Venezuela or concern about arrests. (Maybe you didn’t read the piece very carefully, but my point on the arrests was that in other countries, if protesters are arrested for violent acts, the U.S. does not call for their immediate release.) These are carefully worded statements, like the White House statement on the coup in Honduras, that communicate their position without putting the U.S. government in the position of saying that they support a military coup in Honduras or a strategy of “regime change” in Venezuela, but making it clear to their allies and adversaries that they actually do. They have enormous impact, as you can understand. When Kerry changed his position on the April elections, he didn’t have to say “these elections were free and fair and the opposition should give up its attempt to pretend that they were stolen.” He just implicitly recognized the result and that was the end of the opposition’s campaign, since U.S. allies Spain and José Miguel Insulza at the OAS had already given up, so the Obama administration was the last ally that the Venezuelan opposition had holding out for non-recognition of the election results.
I hope this makes it clearer for you and your readers.