Former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela Otto Reich tells Newsmax that whoever replaces ailing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is “not going to be good for the United States” — which has seen its influence in Latin America drop to an all-time low under President Obama.
Reich also asserts that Cuba’s Castro brothers have been running Venezuela through “puppet” Chavez in recent years, and Cuban control of the country is likely to continue following Chavez’s death.
Reich was appointed ambassador to the South American nation during the Ronald Reagan administration and served from 1986 to 1989. He has also served as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, and was a foreign policy adviser to John McCain during the 2008 presidential campaign.
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Chavez is hospitalized in Cuba after he had surgery for cancer. His government announced earlier today that he will not be present at his swearing in for his next presidential term on Thursday, Jan. 10.
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax TV on Tuesday, Reich was asked what is likely to happen if Chavez is not in Venezuela by Thursday.
“According to Venezuelan constitutional lawyers, if Chavez is not in Venezuela by Thursday to be sworn in, he cannot be sworn in,” Reich says.
“However, what the ruling party is trying to do is simply violate the constitution by sending a delegation from the Supreme Court to Havana to swear in Chavez in his hospital room where he is either dead or dying or perhaps in very good health, nobody knows.
“Or alternatively, another faction of the government is saying that Chavez does not have to be sworn in because he’s already the president, so he’ll just continue being the president. Either way it’s a violation of the constitution and it’s indicative of the lack of respect that the Chavez government has had for the people and the laws of Venezuela ever since he came into power 14 years ago.”
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Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello are running the country in Chavez’s absence and are the leading candidates to replace Chavez after his death.
The two men “are a distinction with a lack of difference,” Reich observes. “Maduro is not a very charismatic leader, neither is Cabello.
“Maduro came up through the ranks of the labor movement. He is far left, as they all are. But honestly he appears to be the selected candidate of choice of Fidel and Raul Castro in Cuba.
“The Castro brothers — and I know this is going to be hard for Americans to believe — have been running Venezuela through Hugo Chavez for the last several years. They make all the important decisions. Chavez is basically just a puppet. He talks and talks but the main decisions are made by the Castros in Havana.
“There are 60,000 Cubans inside Venezuela running all the strategic communication, the intelligence networks, involved in the military down to the platoon level, and so Maduro is the candidate of the continuation of the Cuban control of Venezuela.
“Cabello is also a leftist. He is the nationalist, a leftist nationalist. Maduro is a leftist pro-Cuban. So whichever one comes to power in Venezuela is not going to be good for the United States.”
But the opposition to Chavez and his cronies “is not very strong,” Reich maintains.
“They’re not well financed. They have lost several elections, but there are a lot of questions about whether those elections were legitimate or not. Hugo Chavez always at the last minute has this magic surge in votes and he ends up winning.
“But whether or not the opposition has been able to garner enough votes, the fact is that the rules of the elections have been unfair. They have not been fair once in Venezuela since Hugo Chavez came to power.”
With leftist governments in Venezuela and several other nations in Latin America, the United States has lost much of its influence in the region, Reich adds.
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“The U.S. certainly does not have the influence that we’ve had in the past and the reason we’ve had influence in the past is because we were dealing primarily with democratic parties. I’m talking the last 25 years.
“I’d say the U.S. influence is at an all-time low, but it’s also because the U.S. is not utilizing its influences. The influence, the potential influence is there, but the Obama administration has elected not to use it — certainly not to use it in the interest of the United States’ strategic betterment in the region.
“The United States under the Obama administration has reached out to all these leftists. They have slapped our hand away and [the administration has] ignored the Democratic governments in the region like Colombia, like Chile, like Peru. We’ve had very few initiatives of any significance with those countries.
“But at the same time we have told all these leftist governments to work with them. We’re not recognizing that these are not left-of-center governments, kind of European socialists for example, but these are Marxist governments. These are governments where the leaders having come to power begin to dismantle the democratic institutions, beginning with the electoral process and the judiciary, then the freedom of the press.
“They try to control all the civil institutions like labor unions. And they’ve undermined businesses. Pretty soon they end up, for example, like [Evo] Morales in Bolivia and [Rafael] Correa in Ecuador or [Daniel] Ortega in Nicaragua. They take control of the country.”
In his exclusive Newsmax interview, Reich also accuses Argentina of “saber-rattling” by renewing its claim to the Falkland Islands.
Editor's Note: See the exclusive excerpt of the Newsmax interview with former Ambassador Otto Reich:
Reich to Newsmax: Argentina's Demand for Falklands 'Saber-rattling'
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