Why are State Department diplomats meeting with Nicolas Maduro?

While the United States is forced to have at least some level of interaction with every nation on the planet, we’ve traditionally tried to keep a bit more distance from the truly odious ones unless it’s to exert pressure to nudge them toward democracy. And when tyrants get in trouble on the home front in the face of popular uprisings, well… let’s just say that’s not exactly all bad news. With the socialist regime of Nicolas Maduro on the ropes down in Venezuela and starving citizens rioting in the streets, you might think that we’d be working with receptive members of the legislature who are fed up with his abusive rule.

But you’d be wrong. Turns out that one of our top State Department diplomats was visiting the nation this week and it wasn’t to talk to the rebels or the newly elected majority in the legislature. He was meeting with Maduro trying to smooth things over. (Reuters)

A senior U.S. diplomat on Monday met with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro as part of an effort to support dialogue between the government and the opposition amid an escalating political standoff and a worsening economic crisis.

The arrival of Tom Shannon, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and an expert on Latin America, may help spur negotiations between the two sides, which over the years have repeatedly held talks that generated few concrete results.

Venezuelan state television briefly showed images of Shannon shaking hands with Maduro and speaking informally with other ruling Socialist Party officials in the Miraflores presidential palace.

Maduro was quickly on television boasting about this, describing the meeting as “productive” and saying they talked about bilateral relations.

While again acknowledging that we have little choice but to do some business with his government I’m compelled to ask what prompted this meeting and why would it take place right now with a State Department Under Secretary? Let’s keep in mind that we reported quite recently on the fact that Maduro’s regime is sitting on a knife edge right now and his legitimacy is seriously in question. Just in the past month he cancelled a recall election which the public demanded and then overrode the legislature’s attempts to impeach him. Having a meeting with the United States to discuss exports, trade or any other sort of “bilateral relations” only lends an added air of legitimacy to him.

Even if there was something so pressing that an immediate conference was required, surely it could have been handled by a less high profile representative of the State Department or even a civilian. Failing that, couldn’t these conversations have been handled by Lee McClenny? After all, we have ambassadors precisely so they can deal with such routine communications. And it’s not as if we owe them any favors on the diplomacy front. Keep in mind that it was only in May of this year that we had to curtail a number of services at our embassy there because Maduro was refusing to issue visas for U.S. Embassy personnel there. This isn’t the sort of relationship which appears to merit such high profile treatment.

Maduro is only one or two bad days away from being toppled, and that wouldn’t exactly be a bad thing for the west. I’m not advocating any sort of direct intervention or a return to the banana republic style maneuvers we engaged in during the seventies and eighties, but all that may really be required here is to sit back and allow this corrupt regime to collapse under its own weight. If nothing else, the White House should be acknowledging the horrible human rights violations taking place around the country at Maduro’s hands and the democratic pressure he’s under to allow his people a voice in their leadership. Before agreeing to any meeting such as this the United States could have sent a powerful message by saying that it would have to include discussions of the recall and impeachment questions as well as the fact that Venezuela’s people are starving.


Jazz Shaw Jul 03, 2022 10:01 AM ET