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Comedy and Tragedy, Venezuelan-Style

Next up on the world’s stage of Theater of the Absurd: Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro. Like his predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez, Maduro has as his mentors—in things big and small—Fidel and Raul Castro of Cuba. Always the masters of deception, the Castro brothers were caught red-handed this summer trying to ship weapons to North Korea. Now it is Maduro whom might have been caught red-handed, or should we say “red-faced,” trying to sneak Cuban intelligence agents into the United States.

Maduro had planned a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York. He never made it. Traveling on Cubana Airlines with a Venezuelan delegation that included his wife, son and daughter-in-law, a hair dresser and a bevy of Cuban security experts carrying Venezuelan passports, his plane landed in Canada for refueling, on a return flight from China. ABC, Madrid’s daily broke the story reporting that the United States denied visas to the Cubans, part of Maduro’s entourage. But according to U.S. government sources, what happened was that Maduro ordered his aircraft “to turn away when the US wouldn’t give them assurances that they would not be denied entry.”  The State Department spokesman said that “No visas have been denied for the Venezuelan delegation to this year’s UN General Assembly.”

Maduro left in a fury vowing retaliation and “drastic actions.”  Caracas’ El Universal quoted Maduro saying that “he dropped his trip to New York in order to safeguard his physical integrity.”  El Universal also reported that the Venezuelan president “fingered former US officials Roger Noriega and Otto Reich for allegedly planning ‘a provocation’”. The possibility of Noriega and Reich, two Republican political appointees, directing any initiative of any kind by the Obama administration is zilch.

There was also some speculation that the Venezuelans feared the Cuban 767 would be seized, as Cuban vessels have been detained in various foreign countries in the past due to Havana’s failures to fulfill financial obligations.   

Be that as it may, Madrid’s ABC reported that there were 120 people in Maduro’s entourage: “12 security agents, Cuban physicians, an expert on explosives, an expert on ‘food security,’ an epidemiologist, the son and bodyguard of the president, his daughter-in-law, grandkids, two friends, stylist and a hair dresser for the First Lady, as well as several personnel identified as medical security.”  The group had booked reservations at New York’s Hyatt Grand Central hotel at a reported cost of $800,000.

Relations between the two countries have been difficult for some time. Toronto’s Globe and Mail reported that “the two countries have been without ambassadors since 2010,” and that “both countries appeared to be on a fast track to normalize relations… in early June after [Venezuela’s foreign minister] met with U.S. Secretary of State.”  But, the article continues, “Mr. Maduro announced the following month that he was freezing the effort after the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said at a Senate confirmation hearing that Venezuela was guilty of ‘a crackdown on civil society’.”  

The visas episode hardly matches Havana’s efforts to pack a cargo of weapons under bags of several tons of sugar and ship them through the Panama Canal to North Korea. Inspectors for the Panamanian government discovered that ruse, a clear violation of UN prohibitions on providing weapons to North Korea.

It was not, however, Maduro’s first performance in the theater of the absurd. His first was telling Venezuelans that a little bird had come to him with messages from the late Hugo Chávez. Maybe Maduro learned about Reich’s and Noriega’s machinations from the same bird.

*Frank Calzon is executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba in Washington DC.

Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Tags: Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, Cuba, United States, United Nations General Assembly

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