CARACAS – One of the many goals of the revamped National Assembly in Venezuela is to restore the country’s blemished image in the U.S. and the rest of the world, where 16 years of Chavismo rule practically have redrawn the foreign policy canons.
Angel Medina, a lawmaker with the new opposition majority, said partisan and ideological bias have been at the center of all the decision-making in the last decade — including diplomatic appointments and all consular maters.
“In Miami we have the most dramatic case,” said Medina, who serves as vice-president of the Foreign Relations Committee.
“More than half a million of [Venezuelan exiles] live there but the government shut down the consulate four years ago,” he said, adding, “They now have to drive more than 10 hours to New Orleans to vote or complete any paperwork.”
Medina told Fox News Latino that diplomatic authorities worldwide mistreat the more than a million Venezuelans living overseas because they are deemed political opponents.
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He said that although according to law only the executive branch has jurisdiction over the opening or closing of consulates, the Assembly plans to discuss the matter with President Nicolas Maduro in the foreseeable future.
Also, Medina said, the congressional foreign relations committee’s agenda this year includes an overhaul of the Foreign Policy Code and a bill of “international cooperation” focused on reviewing all agreements signed by Venezuela since 1999.
A new foreign policy law would, among other things, establish a minimum number of years of service to be eligible to a diplomatic post overseas. In the last decade, Chavismo has increasingly appointed inexperienced people to embassies and consulates around the world, mostly as a reward for their loyalty.
“This hurts Venezuela’s image because these people don’t know how international bodies work,” said Oscar Hernandez, a renowned international affairs expert, to FNL. “[They] haven’t been trained as negotiators, they lack the required international affairs knowledge.”
“That’s the reason behind the country’s current propagandistic diplomacy,” he added.
According to Hernandez, before Hugo Chavez took office in 1999 some 70 percent of Venezuela’s ambassadors were career diplomats. Now the number has reversed and most high-ranking officials representing Venezuela around the globe are former government senior officials, retired generals or relatives of political figures.
Chavez’s daughter, Maria Gabriela Chavez, was appointed second ambassador to the United Nations in 2014.
A prominent member of the ruling party contacted by Fox News Latino said Chavistas are open to have a discussion about the matter — even though they reformed the Foreign Policy Law only two years ago.
“Any law can be changed,” said Roy Daza, vice president of the Latin American Parliament in Venezuela.
Nonetheless, Daza said there is nothing wrong with the current state of affairs. “Those who have been appointed [to a diplomatic post] had accumulated a lot of experience in the last years,” he said. “Foreign policy is also a political matter.”
But Medina, Hernandez and many in the opposition say it is imperative to reassess the entire foreign affairs machinery, clean the country’s image overseas, and this includes addressing the problem of liberally issuing diplomatic passports.
The issue became especially relevant after two nephews of president Nicolas Maduro and first lady Cilia Flores were arrested on Nov. 12 in Haiti for alleged taking part in a cocaine trafficking scheme – and they were carrying diplomatic passports.
“In the next weeks we will be announcing a formal plan prepared by the Foreign Relations Committee about [the diplomatic passports] issue,” Medina told FNL.
According to Medina, many Venezuelans have received these documents even when they don’t fulfill the legal requirements. But Chavistas disagree and are willing to take the fight to the Assembly. They are demanding proof that the diplomatic passports have in fact been issued illegally or have been mishandled by their recipients.
“The government has the right to decide who to give diplomatic passports to,” Daza told FNL. “If the opposition wants to address the issue, first they will have to prove why they want to do it.”
Franz von Bergen is a freelancer reporter living in Caracas.