- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 18, 2010

New Europe envoy

The European Union on Wednesday announced the appointment of a new ambassador to Washington in a major move that changes the diplomatic relations between the United States and the 27-nation alliance.

Joao Vale de Almeida is the first European ambassador to the United States under a new EU treaty that expands the power of the union’s diplomatic service and makes the new EU envoy a true representative of an organization that counts 500 million citizens among its member nations. The so-called Lisbon Treaty created a foreign service for the entire EU, headed by a high representative for external affairs, essentially an EU foreign minister.

Mr. Vale de Almeida, a top EU diplomat in Brussels, will come to Washington at a time of what one observer called “patchy” relations with the United States, especially over President Obama‘s decision to skip an annual U.S.-EU summit, scheduled for May in Spain.

John Bruton, the former EU envoy in Washington, wrote last week on his blog that Mr. Obama’s decision “will deeply disappoint many Europeans who believe that a structure should exist for regular top-level contact between the European Union and the United States.”

Mr. Vale de Almeida, a 53-year-old Portuguese envoy, has served as director-general for external relations since June 2009 and is a close ally of Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU.

“EU-U.S. relations are a top priority for the European Union,” Mr. Barroso said Wednesday. “The decision … to appoint the highest senior official in charge of external relations to be our representative in Washington testifies to our political commitment to enhance and deepen the trans-Atlantic relationship in a crucial moment for bilateral relations and global governance.”

Catherine Ashton, the new EU foreign minister, called the appointment one of “great value to the trans-Atlantic partnership.”

Crack in Caracas

A former Latin American ambassador in Washington revealed a crack in the support for Hugo Chavez by publicizing a letter this week from former allies who called the socialist Venezuelan president “autocratic” and “totalitarian” and demanded his resignation.

“Like many other stories coming out of Venezuela, this one should have been big news in the American media but wasn’t,” said Jaime Daremblum, Costa Rica’s ambassador to the United States from 1998 to 2004 and now director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the Hudson Institute.

“What made the letter so striking was the list of signatories, who collectively referred to themselves as the ‘Constitutional Axis,’” he added.

Mr. Daremblum identified prominent signers of the letter published in local newspapers in the capital, Caracas, as: Yoel Acosta and Jesus Urdaneta, two former rebels who supported Mr. Chavez in his failed military coup in 1992; Raul Isaias Baduel, a former defense minister; Luis Alfonso Davila, a former foreign minister; and Hermann Escarra, a former legal adviser.

“These ex-Chavistas have concluded that the Venezuelan president ‘has neither moral nor material authority to rule the country, since he cannot meet people’s demands satisfactorily.”

They accused Mr. Chavez of failing to curb crime and corruption, undermining the economy and allying the country with “outside elements,” which Mr. Daremblum said was a reference to Mr. Chavez’s close ties to communist Cuba.

The letter shows that Mr. Chavez “is facing growing resistance among many of his former comrades,” the ambassador added.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

• James Morrison can be reached at jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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