Pedro Burelli sent me Questions for the Record to Ambassador – Designate Larry Leon Palmer by Senator Richard Lugar, of the US’ Senate Foreign Relations Committee. To be frank, I am pleasantly surprised by the level of detail of some of those questions (bold added):
- In response to a February 2010 report issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) regarding violations of human rights and intimidation of citizens in Venezuela based on their political beliefs, I released a joint statement with Senator Dodd in March 2010… Please provide your views of the performance of the Organization of American States (OAS) in safeguarding human rights in Venezuela. If confirmed, how will you work with U.S. Permanent Representative to the OAS, Carmen Lomellin, to ensure that the OAS is responsive to these repetitive and blatant violations? A worsening of the situation in Venezuela should be of concern to all the Member States of the OAS as it is a clear violation of Venezuela’s obligations under the American Convention on Human Rights and the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Many believe that the United States should invoke the Democratic Charter. Under what circumstances would the U.S. seek to invoke the OAS’s Democratic Charter?
- Many critics of President Chávez have gone into exile to avoid jail time. The effort to silence critics comes at a time when the opposition is preparing for National Assembly elections in September. Please explain your views regarding the credibility of these elections given the political persecution of dissenters in Venezuela. Please comment on the objective conditions for this election in light of the highly critical election observation reports by the OAS and the EU on the 2005 legislative elections.
- Please provide your assessment of the Venezuela’s military in light of President Hugo Chávez’s orders to break off diplomatic relations with Colombia. A recent GAO report that I commissioned states that at least one branch of the military, the National Guard, is deeply involved in the narcotics business. Please comment on the fact that two out of three individuals designated as “kingpin” under OFAC procedures remain entrenched in high-level positions in the Venezuelan security apparatus. It is particularly troublesome to hear that one of them, General Henry Rangel Silva, has recently been promoted to the most important operational post within the National Bolivarian Armed Forces.
- How would you describe Venezuelan-Cuban military-to-military interaction over the years? How would you describe it today? Could you discuss the level of involvement of the Cuban Government in the internal affairs of Venezuela?
- A great deal has been said in public and in private about President Chávez’s meddling in the affairs of Colombia; most recently Colombian Government officials stated that Venezuela is harboring as many as 87 guerilla camps used to smuggle cocaine and launch terrorist attacks across the border. Please provide your views…
- Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez recently threatened to cut oil supplies to the United States in case of a military attack from Colombia as a dispute escalated over charges his country harbors Colombian rebels. Given that Venezuela, a member of OPEC, gets more than 90 percent of its export income from oil sales, mostly to the United States, and that the South American country’s economy would collapse quickly if it stopped shipments, could you provide your views regarding President Chávez’s repeated and bombastic threats to the United States.
- In the first quarter of 2010, Venezuela’s economy contracted by 5.8 percent. Earthquake-ravaged Haiti is the only other country in the Western hemisphere to see its economy shrink so far this year. Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) produced 3.3 million barrels of oil per day (bpd) in 2001. But a massive strike in 2002, the firing of thousands of PDVSA employees that followed, and mismanagement have taken a toll. The Government claims that it still produces 3 million bpd. Some experts claim the number is closer to 2.6 million. OPEC says Venezuela is now producing closer to 2.3 million. In June, inflation hit 31.2 percent year on year. Venezuela imports nearly three-quarters of its food, but shortages of basic foodstuffs in state-run grocery stores have eroded Chávez’s popularity. A scandal erupted this spring when officials discovered tens of thousands of tons of imported food that had been abandoned to rot in state-run warehouses. Please explain the implications for the region of an implosion of Venezuela’s economy. Please provide your views on the funding and trading implications for countries within the so-called ALBA group.
- In order to properly assess the imminence of economic and political turmoil it is key to understand the financial situation of the Venezuelan Government. Please provide your assessment of the true level of reserves held at the Central Bank of Venezuela. Different estimates have reached my attention that would indicate that a correct evaluation of existing reserves differs from the official numbers due to improper accounting of arrears related to expropriations, delayed payments, and possible legal rulings against the Government of Venezuela. Please provide information regarding the quality of assets held by the bank in light of a decision announced a few years ago to move monetary reserves away from the U.S. dollar and U.S. institutions, and the possible purchase of debt from financially risky political allies in the region (Argentina, Bolivia, Cuba, and Nicaragua).