What is a US citizen to do when a foreign Head of State accuses the American of planning to kill the country’s opposition candidate? The American in this case happens to be a former US Ambassador to Venezuela and Assistant Secretary of State [that has been very critical of the organized crime enterprise misruling Venezuela.]
Not for the first time, Venezuela’s appointed president and candidate of the ruling party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), Nicolas Maduro, has alleged that I am plotting against the life of the opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles. How does one prove a negative?
I hereby, once more, categorically deny Maduro’s absurd charge and publicly challenge him to present the “proof” he claims to have. If he does not, he demonstrates his charges are false and malicious. Incidentally, alleged victim Capriles has stated that if something does happen to him he holds Maduro responsible, no one else.
Maduro’s latest hateful fabrication is part of a cynical strategy aimed at distracting Venezuela from the man-made disaster of his party’s 14-year “socialist” rule. Since Maduro could not win the election by offering the Venezuelans bread, because bread is just one of the many foodstuffs missing from store shelves, he offers circuses.
Maduro cannot defend a record of unprecedented official corruption that has seen a trillion dollars stolen or squandered in 14 years; of imported food rotting in countless containers at the ports while Venezuelan mothers riot in the interior of the country seeking milk, poultry, rice, beans and other staples that have disappeared; of illicit fortunes amassed by scores of cabinet ministers, military officers and favored businessmen who live lavishly alongside the misery they have wrought at home while investing hundreds of millions abroad; a record that now has Venezuela on the list of the world’s top ten countries in homicides and the worst in Latin America; and of the surrender of Venezuela’s treasure and sovereignty to a foreign nation, communist Cuba, that runs Venezuela’s strategic and internal security, from the Military High Command down to Acting President Maduro’s own bodyguards.
Maduro now claims that the US CIA and Defense Department have joined the conspiracy against Capriles and implores President Obama to “stop it.”
The State Department spokesperson dismissed Maduro’s conspiracy theory clearly: “The United States categorically rejects allegations of any U.S. government involvement in any plot to destabilize the Venezuelan government or to harm anyone in Venezuela.”
Maduro’s charges are so far removed from reality that we must ask what is their real purpose; what do they conceal? It is feared they could be a smoke screen behind which the current Venezuelan Government itself plans to eliminate Capriles, as it has eliminated others that challenged its monopoly of power and information, such as former Prosecutor Danilo Anderson, assassinated in 2004 while investigating political murders attributed to then-president Hugo Chavez’s allies. No one in Venezuela has been brought to justice for Anderson’s murder by car bomb.
Maduro’s claims could also be aimed at further undermining the integrity of the electoral process, which is so politicized and stacked against the opposition that Henrique Capriles deserves the admiration and support of democrats everywhere for the courage and patriotism embodied in his selfless act of running for president a second time in less than a year against a vicious and unscrupulous cabal.
Maduro’s charges are so groundless that the outside world must demand that Venezuelan authorities guarantee the safety of Henrique Capriles. Violence against peaceful political opponents in Chavez’s and Maduro’s Venezuela is common. Students demonstrating for political rights are regularly shot, beaten or jailed. Hunger strikers are allowed to die. One week before the end of the 2012 presidential race, eventually won by Hugo Chavez, a Capriles caravan was fired upon by Chavez activists, according to eyewitnesses, resulting in the deaths of three oppositionists.
Maduro is not very original; the late Hugo Chavez made the same false claim about a plot to kill Capriles in last year’s campaign, just as Chavez claimed to have proof of many such plots to kill him, about which he warned in every election.
Though Maduro’s strategy is not original, it is not as dull-witted as it appears. With the election in Venezuela scheduled for April 14, less than a month away, every day that the media focus on non–existent conspiracies is one day less that Venezuelans hear there may be a peaceful, honest, and democratic alternative to the Maduro regime.
Every day Venezuelans talk about foreign devils, they don’t discuss shortages of water and electricity, of cornmeal and cooking oil, of soap and diapers, of antibiotics and insulin. It is one day less to wonder how Caracas became the third most violent city in the world and about the 150,000 Venezuelan victims of homicide in the 14 years of 21st Century Socialism.
It is one less day for Venezuelans to ponder where their government exhausted one thousand billion dollars – a trillion in US terms; more money was spent in the last 14 years than Venezuela earned in its first 180 years of independence. It is no wonder, then, that China is demanding that Venezuela deposit all its gold reserves in Chinese banks as collateral for the latest multi-billion dollar loan requested by Maduro’s near-bankrupt government.
With such an indefensible record, Maduro needs distractions, and has therefore chosen a time-tested device favored by demagogues of both Right and Left: create a big lie, a distraction, blame the Americans, thereby rallying nationalist fervor among the population and hoping they will forget their problems long enough to fabricate another diversion or to win the next election. It did not work for the right-wing Argentine Generals that invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982 and we must hope it does not work for the left-wing Venezuelan kleptocrats.
* Otto J. Reich has been, among other presidential appointments, US Ambassador to Venezuela, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, and Senior Staff Member of the National Security Council. Twitter: @OttoReich