Embassy Row: Crisis in Caracas

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A former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela is warning of a possible political crisis if Hugo Chavez,the country’s cancer-stricken, authoritarian leader, loses the Oct. 7 presidential election.

Patrick Duddy, who served two tumultuous years as ambassador to the South American country, noted that Mr. Chavez, seeking a fourth term, is facing his toughest challenger, Enrique Capriles Radonski, the “young and energetic” former governor of the state of Miranda.

Mr. Capriles, 40, is a center-right candidate who supports a free-market economy.

Mr. Chavez, 58, is an anti-American socialist with strong ties to Cuba and Iran. He has created a national militia and staffed the military high command with loyalists.

Violent Chavez supporters already have attacked Mr. Capriles’ campaign rallies.

Mr. Duddy warned the Obama administration to expect riots if Mr. Chavez loses the election or if he dies before the voting begins.

Chavez supporters “will not willingly surrender power and would be willing to provoke violence, orchestrate civil unrest or engage in various forms of armed resistance to avoid doing so,” Mr. Duddy warned in an article for the Council on Foreign Relations.

“Over the course of the past year, Chavez and several of his most senior associates have asserted that there will be instability and violence if he is not re-elected.”

He also predicted that Mr. Chavez would impose martial law if Mr. Capriles’ supporters suspect he stole the election and take to the streets in protest.

“This would almost certainly trigger a major political crisis in the Western Hemisphere that pits countries, including the United States, seeking to restore democracy and the rule of law in Venezuela against those who support Chavez and the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states,” Mr. Duddy said.

He added that U.S. options are limited. He ruled out military intervention to prevent Mr. Chavez from illegally clinging to power.

The Obama administration could freeze financial assets of any Chavez supporters with bank accounts in the United States. It could appeal to the United Nations or the Organization of the American States to bring pressure on Mr. Chavez.

However, the OAS, where Mr. Chavez has significant support, would be unlikely to take strong action, and the U.N. Security Council might do little more than open an investigation, Mr. Duddy said.

Mr. Duddy, now a visiting lecturer at Duke University, served as ambassador in Caracas from August 2007 until September 2008, when Mr. Chavez expelled him after claiming the U.S. was plotting a coup. He returned under President Obama in July 2009 and served there for the next 12 months.

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About the Author
James Morrison

James Morrison

James Morrison joined the The Washington Times in 1983 as a local reporter covering Alexandria, Va. A year later, he was assigned to open a Times bureau in Canada. From 1987 to 1989, Mr. Morrison was The Washington Times reporter in London, covering Britain, Western Europe and NATO issues. After returning to Washington, he served as an assistant foreign editor ...

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