The highly expected showdown between Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden did not occur. The reason: The Venezuelan leader canceled his trip to Chile for the inauguration of President Michelle Bachelet on Tuesday, March 11.
Meanwhile, President Bachelet’s ceremony went smoothly, and she will lead her country until 2018. She certainly will have plenty of challenges at the domestic and international level, including returning Chile to regional preeminence.
Biden visits Santiago
In theory all eyes were supposed to be onPresident Bachelet.She is Chile’s only female head of state, and she is now a two-term president; she previously ruled from 2006 to 2010. After leaving the presidency, she had a fairly successful time as the executive director of UN Women. However, the attention was focused on what would happen if Vice President Biden and President Maduro met while in Santiago. The general consensus was that there would not be a memorable photo shoot between the two–unlike when President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro shook hands during Nelson Mandela’s funeral.
Relations between Washington and Caracas have reached a new low point in recent weeks due to theongoing protests in Venezuela. In late February Caracas expelled three diplomats from the consular services at the U.S. embassy in Venezuela. The Venezuelan government stated that the three diplomats had met with Venezuelan university students, implying that Washington supports the protesters. Washington retaliated by expelling three Venezuelan diplomats.
Moreover, at the beginning of March, the Organization of American States passed a resolution essentially supporting the Venezuelan government through this crisis. Only Panama, the U.S. and Canada voted against this resolution while all other members of the OAS (which include all Western Hemisphere nations except Cuba) voted in favor. In retaliation for siding with Washington, President Maduro broke diplomatic relations with the Central American state. Ultimately, the Venezuelan head of state decided not to go to Santiago.
Arevalo Mendez, Venezuela’s ambassador to Chile, declared that “President Maduro is very busy, he has not left Caracas as he is dealing with internal issues.”
It is not difficult to imagine what has President Maduro so occupied these days.
It is probably better that Vice President Biden and President Maduro do not meet in order to avoid a verbal joust. Nevertheless, this is one small diplomatic victory while Washington-Caracas relations remain thorny, to put things very mildly.
Meanwhile a U.S. administration official told the Associated Press that the Vice President has discussed the “difficult situation” with other Latin American leaders in Chile. It is doubtful that Vice President Biden may get much regional support, considering the U.S. diplomatic fiasco at the OAS.
The heads of state and ministers of foreign affairs of UNASUR (a regional bloc made up of all 12 South American nations) will meet on Wednesday, March 12, in Santiago. It is expected that the situation in Venezuela will be discussed.
As for Bachelet herself,her inaugurationenjoyed the presence of senior policymakers. Besides Biden, other VIP guests in attendance included presidents like Peru’s Ollanta Humala, Mexico’s Enrique Peña Nieto, Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Prince Felipe de Borbon, heir to the Spanish crown.
It is worth noting that Bachelet has stated that one of her foreign policy objectives is to improve Chile’s influence in Latin America.
“Chile has lost its stance in the region, its relations with its neighbors are problematic, a mercantile vision of our Latin American relations has been imposed,” the head of state has declared.
At the foreign policy level, the head of state will certainly have plenty of challenges. Most pressing is creating a unified South American response to theVenezuelan crisis. As the aforementioned UNASUR meeting will take place on Wednesday in Santiago, President Bachelet, now in command at La Moneda, will have to manage the discussions between the attending heads of state.
Additionally, in the near future President Bachelet will have to address issues like the fallout of the International Court of Justice’s ruling on a maritime dispute between Chile and Peru, as well as an ongoing border dispute with Bolivia. Moreover, if Bachelet wants Chile to recover its presence in the global stage, Santiago should give priority to its current seat at the UN Security Council .
Biden cancels visit the DR
As a corollary, Vice President Biden was scheduled to visit the Dominican Republic as the second stop in his brief Latin American tour. Nevertheless the Vice President cancelled his trip at the last minute in order to return to Washington, where he will meet with President Obama and Ukrainian interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
It seems that both President Bachelet and Vice President Biden will have a busy Wednesday ahead of them.