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Marco Aurelio García

The International Relations Advisor to Brazil’s President Lula, Marco Aurelio García, defended Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez yesterday against harsh criticisms made by the Bush Administration, asserting that the criticisms were "ill informed" and that Chávez "is not only a democratic president, but he has also reaffirmed twice his democratic character” in the recall referendum and in the last regional elections.

According to Aurelio García, "although the current situation is no different," the attitude of the US government has taken a 180 degree turn from when they worked with Brazil in the "Group of Friends of Venezuela." He contends that this change in policy and these hostile remarks are unjustified.

Aurelio García, who also mediated in the "Granda Affair" between Venezuela and Colombia, singled out comments made by Roger Pardo-Maurer, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the Department of Defense, as being particularly unsubstantiated. While speaking to a group of US senators on Tuesday, Pardo-Maurer alluded to a possible US policy change towards the oil-rich nations. "We have expressed our concern about actions taken by the Venezuelan government... and also about Venezuela’s intentions in the region... we have reached the end of the road with the current approach."

Over the past two months relations between Washington and Caracas have steadily deteriorated. The Bush administration has criticized Chávez for allegedly supporting Colombian guerrillas and popular movements in Bolivia, and for purchasing arms from Brazil and Russia.

General Bantz Craddock, the Commander of the U.S. Southern Command, joined in the back and forth between the two countries last Monday, referring to Venezuelan arms purchases he said, "We are wondering what is the intent here. If it is for sovereign defense, obviously each nation can do their own... If it is to export instability, that is a different situation." U.S. officials have repeatedly suggested that Venezuelan arms purchases are either intended for Colombian rebels or will inadvertently end up in their hands.

In response to such comments, Venezuela’s Ambassador to the United States, Bernardo Alvarez, recently expressed concern, in an interview with Dow Jones Newswires, that the intensification of US criticisms may indicate a "a policy change [that] might mean going back to the policies of the Cold War that created so much trouble in Central America, and so much discontent within the United States."

Alvarez was particularly alarmed by recent remarks made by Pardo-Maurer as well, but not only for what he referred to as a "very simplified and distorted view of Venezuelan reality." In the midst of a slew of statements from Pentagon and State Department Personnel, Alvarez explained, Pardo-Maurer’s comments stuck out in his mind for another reason: his close affiliation with the Nicaraguan “Contras.” "We are worried that in the development of a new policy a person who was involved in the insurgence against the Sandinista government might participate," Alvarez stated.

During the inauguration ceremony for the Regional Information Office in the state of Zulia yesterday, Andrés Izarra, Venezuela’s Minister of Communication and Information, reiterated the position expressed last Sunday by Chávez on his weekly television show, Aló Presidente, that US foreign policy should be aimed at "strengthening and normalizing relations with Venezuela." The Minister went on to add that he hoped that the declarations coming from Washington belong to a handful of "isolated spokespeople" that "in no way" represent United States’ foreign policy.

General Raúl Isaías Baduel, the Commander of Venezuela’s Army, not only expressed his concern over U.S. policy towards Venezuela, but also towards the entire region. Baduel considers that US military aid to Colombia creates a significant disequilibrium between the armed forces of two countries, which, considering the nature of the Colombian conflict, is natural - but only up until a certain point. When questioned as to Venezuela’s decision to replace their 50 year old Belgian rifles with more modern, sophisticated Russian models, Baduel replied, "Venezuela is pacific... Venezuelans have the right to not be a target of the consequences of this violence." Baduel went on to affirm that this is a "sovereign decision" of Venezuela and "we are respectful of the sovereign decisions of other countries and because of this we ask for respect for our own decisions."

Venezuela’s Vice-President José Vicente Rangel concurred with Baduel in that "Venezuela is not arming itself," justifying the country’s recent arms purchases from Russia and Brazil based on the need to defend itself. He assured that Venezuela is not interested in any type of conflict with any country, especially not with the United States. "President Chávez has already said it. We don’t want a fight, we don’t want to confront the United States..."

According to Rangel, there are "hawks" in Washington who have a "deliberate and calculating policy of provoking Venezuela." Rangel said he believes that the daily slew of statements made by Washington are based on "contaminated" information from "mercenaries of the opposition," and that the United States would take an entirely different position if they took the time to directly observe the Bolivarian process and the changes it has instigated in Venezuela.

In another statement by a high level U.S. official against the Venezuelan government today, CIA Director Porter Goss classified Venezuela as a "potential foci of instability," reiterating that Chávez is "consolidating his power with technically legal tactics against his opponents," and that he is intervening in the internal affairs of other countries, "supported by Cuban President Fidel Castro."