Back when Hugo Chavez was running Venezuela, Americans became accustomed to sundry denunciations and to taking the fall for whatever ailed that workers’ paradise. And a lot did. It was a bit surprising that President Obama hasn’t been blamed for the cancer that claimed Chavez’s life.
There was modest hope that things might change with Venezuela’s new president, even if he was Chavez’s protégé, Nicolas Maduro. After all, Chavez encouraged Maduro to seek better ties with the United States. That appeared to be happening until recently.
Not that all was going well in Venezuela. The economy is in shambles, and inflation has been hovering at around 40 percent. What’s more, Venezuelans are running out of foreign currency and consumer goods, including toilet paper. President Maduro had to dispatch the National Guard to occupy a company that produces paper goods.
These aren’t the sorts of problems that make for a contented electorate. They can, however, be the sorts of problems that cause leaders to gin up conspiracy theories to explain them away. Which is what Maduro and his advisers did.
On Sept. 30, Maduro gave American Charge d’Affaires Kelly Keiderling — the chief diplomat in the absence of an ambassador — and two other Americans 48 hours to leave Venezuela. Maduro felt impelled to say in English, “Yankees go home.”
What did the diplomats do to draw Maduro’s ire? Mostly they were convenient scapegoats. Maduro decided that they had been working with the “extreme right” in his country and sabotaging Venezuela’s electrical system. This is the same electrical system that worked pretty well until Venezuela nationalized it. Blackouts are now common; early last month two-thirds of the country was left without power for 24 hours. When in doubt, blame America.
Americans who were unaware of this needn’t feel bad. Maduro hit upon this conspiracy as the government shutdown was pushing other news aside and as Americans were trying to decide which of their own lawmakers was straying the farthest from reality.
Unfortunately, kicking out U.S. diplomats isn’t likely to improve the lot of Venezuelans. Nor is it likely to improve U.S.-Venezuela ties. One of the unwritten rules of diplomacy is that any nation whose diplomats have been kicked out must order out the other nation’s diplomats. That took all of one day.
Given the dim prospects of immediate improvement in bilateral ties, we’re left to shrug off Maduro’s insults and hope Venezuelans grow weary enough of their status quo to change it .