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Venezuela - Foreign Relations

For a long time, and more or less without getting involved , the international community watched as the Venezuelan government nationalized the media, filled just about every key government position with party members, imprisoned hopeful opposition politicians or excluded them from elections by coming up with dubious accusations over the past 15 years. Only the US exerted any kind of concrete pressure, for the most part in the form of travel restrictions for Venezuelan politicians.

President Chavez promoted his "Bolivarian Revolution" as a model for other countries to follow. The policy calls for the establishment of a "multi-polar" world, the end of alleged U.S. hegemony, and greater integration among developing countries. Venezuela supports regional integration through its PetroCaribe and PetroSur petroleum initiatives, the further institutionalization of the South American Community of Nations (UNASUR), the establishment of a new Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), and the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA, a political, economic, and social integration project proposed by President Chavez as an alternative to the Free Trade Area of the Americas).

In April 2006, President Chavez announced he was withdrawing Venezuela from the Andean Community trade bloc (CAN). In July 2006, Venezuela officially joined the Southern Common Market, MERCOSUR. Before it can become a full member of MERCOSUR, Venezuela must conform to the trade bloc's economic regulations. Congressional approval by Paraguay is also still outstanding. The Venezuelan Government maintains very close relations with Cuba.

President Chavez attempted to reorient the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) along "Bolivarian" lines. UNASUR, composed of the twelve South American nations, was formally constituted in a meeting in Brasilia in 2008. It was initially intended as a political forum at the presidential and ministerial-level. The presidents of the member states were to rotate in the position of "President Pro Tempore" of UNASUR. UNASUR was not originally intended to require any budgetary outlays, but President Chavez' aim has been to institutionalize UNASUR through the creation of a permanent secretariat. Chavez had proposed Quito as the site of the headquarters and former Argentine President Nestor Kirschner as its Secretary General; Chavez clearly considered both Ecuadorian President Correa and Kirschner as allies. The Venezuelan press reported on 29 December 2010 that Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Falconi announced that work on the UNASUR headquarters in Quito would begin in 2010.

On the regional economic front, President Chavez launched Petrocaribe and the ALBA development bank and has proposed a common currency (the "sucre") for ALBA partners. Initiated in 2005 with 14 members, 17 countries in Central America and the Caribbean now participate in Petrocaribe. These countries receive preferential terms on oil shipments from Venezuela and in many cases cooperate bilaterally with Venezuela on other energy-related projects. The Venezuelan government (GBRV), acting through the state-owned oil company PDVSA, has not delivered the full quota of oil to which it committed under Petrocaribe: according to PDVSA's financial statements, in 2008 the GBRV delivered an average of 85,000 barrels per day (b/d) as opposed to a commitment of 162,000 b/d. Nonetheless, the deliveries represent an important savings for many cash-strapped governments. While one of Chavez' goals may have been to improve his political standing and influence with Petrocaribe member states, one indicator of such influence - voting records at the United Nations -- shows no trend toward greater correlation between Venezuela and Petrocaribe members since Petrocaribe began.

The GBRV supports regional medical initiatives through the expansion of some of its domestic social welfare programs, the "Bolivarian Missions." "Miracle Mission," a GBRV program that pays for Cuban doctors to perform free eye surgeries, is the most significant of the missions. The GBRV claims that the "Miracle Mission" has helped over 400,000 people - mostly Venezuelans according to official statistics - but the program has also been extended to other ALBA member countries, including Nicaragua and Bolivia. "Mission Gregorio Hernandez" was founded in Venezuela in March 2009 to assist people with genetic diseases or disabilities. In addition to its work in Venezuela, the local press reported in November 2009 that the GBRV had donated USD 21 million worth of medical equipment to Ecuador, including wheel chairs, crutches, and food, to support "Mission Manuela Espejo," a separate program between Ecuador and Cuba to help the disabled.

President Chavez has distanced himself from regional organizations that do not respond to his attempts at influence. In April 2006, Chavez announced Venezuela's withdrawal from the Community of Andean Nations (CAN) after Colombia and Peru began negotiating free trade agreements with the United States. While the GBRV has not formally completed the withdrawal procedures, under CAN rules, only tariff-related decisions and resolutions remain in force for 5 years from the date of a member's formal withdrawal. Likewise, Chavez has criticized the OAS [OEA in Spanish], saying in April 2009 that "the ill-fated ["funesta"] OEA has become an 'unburied cadaver.'"

Venezuela has long-standing border disputes with Colombia and Guyana but seeks to resolve them peacefully. Bilateral commissions have been established by Venezuela and Colombia to address a range of pending issues, including resolution of the maritime boundary in the Gulf of Venezuela. Relations with Guyana are complicated by Venezuela's claim to roughly three-quarters of Guyana's territory. In 1814, Great Britain had acquired British Guiana (now Guyana) by treaty with the Netherlands, but the treaty did not define a western boundary. Venezuela claimed its borders extended as far east as the Essequibo River--an effective claim on two-thirds of British Guiana's territory. Arbitration in 1899 directed that the border follow the Schomburgk Line. Since 1987, the two countries have held exchanges on the boundary under the "good offices" of the United Nations.

Disputes with Colombia include the maritime boundary and Venezuelan administered Los Monjes islands near the Gulf of Venezuela. The most visible irritant in the relationship between Venezuelaand Colombia is the boundary demarcation of the Venezuelan gulf, a conflict that stretches back to colonial times. This conflict reached its peak on August 9, 1987, when the Colombian warship "ARC CALDAS" (an Exocet-equipped corvette) entered Venezuelan waters in a clear violation of sovereignty. Venezuela avoided direct confrontation with its neighbor and the problem was solved diplomatically.

The Venezuelan Government broke diplomatic relations with Colombia after a July 22, 2010 special session of the OAS Permanent Council in which Colombia charged that the Venezuelan Government was permitting members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) to use Venezuelan territory to rest and regroup, engage in narcotics trafficking, and extort protection money and kidnap Venezuelans to finance their operations. On August 10, 2010, newly-inaugurated Colombian President Juan Manual Santos and President Chavez met in Santa Marta, Colombia, and announced the restoration of diplomatic relations, including the establishment of a bilateral commission with five working groups, including one on security. Since then, there have been ministerial-level meetings to discuss bilateral commercial and security issues.

On November 19, 2010, Venezuelan Minister of Interior and Justice Tarek El Aissami and Colombian Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera publicly announced their intention to begin bilateral cooperation to combat narco-trafficking and said a bilateral agreement reflecting this commitment would be signed at a summit meeting in February 2011. Following a December 2010 ministerial-level meeting, the Venezuelan Government announced that it would share real-time information on drug trafficking routes with the Colombian Government. Since the reestablishment of bilateral relations, the two governments have exchanged several high-profile narcotraffickers and FARC leaders. On April 25, Venezuela deported FARC leader Joaquin Perez Becerra to Colombia, and on May 31, announced the capture of another FARC leader, Guillermo Torres Cueter (aka Juan Conrado). On May 9, 2011, Colombia extradited alleged drug kingpin Walid Makled Garcia to Venezuela to stand trial.

Since 2005, President Chavez deepened relations with Iran, a U.S.-designated state sponsor of terrorism, by signing multiple economic and social accords and publicly supporting Iran's controversial nuclear program. Chavez continued to define Iran as a close "strategic ally." During 2010, the two governments announced further measures to strengthen their bilateral relationship, especially in the energy sector. On August 18, the Venezuelan Ambassador to Iran publicly said, "We are at the service of Iran and whenever Iran needs it, we will supply it with gasoline." On October 28 the Minister of Energy and Petroleum said that Venezuela had ceased to sell gasoline to Iran because Iran had "resolved its issues with gasoline." During President Chavez' October visit to Iran, he signed 11 agreements in the oil, energy, industrial, and commercial sectors. In a June 10 communique, the Venezuelan Government condemned UN Security Council Resolution 1929, which imposed new sanctions on Iran, claiming the resolution "attacks again the dignity" of Iran. The statement reiterated the Venezuelan Government's "unrestricted support for the legitimate aspirations" of Iran for the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. During his October visit to Iran, President Chavez underscored his opposition to the "illegitimate" sanctions against Iran and asserted that the Venezuelan Government "will back Iran under any circumstances and without conditions."

President Chavez also reached out to North Korea, Belarus, and Syria, the latter another state sponsor of terrorism. The Venezuelans have also embarked on a worldwide effort to increase their presence in embassies overseas in Africa and Asia and strengthen economic, political, and military ties with Russia and China. President Chavez also launched a major arms purchase program for the Venezuelan Armed Forces, including the purchase of new and advanced weaponry. Since 2005, Venezuela purchased over $4 billion in arms from Russia. These purchases include 100,000 AK-103 rifles from Russia; the construction of a rifle and ammunition complex; Russian Mi-35 HIND attack and Mi-26 transport helicopters; 24 Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jets; IGLA-S man-portable air defense systems; and K-8 jet trainers from China. Other proposed purchases include an advanced integrated air defense system, over 90 T-72 tanks, a few hundred armored personnel carriers, Smerch mobile rocket launchers, and four KILO class diesel submarines, all from Russia.

During 2010, the Spanish Government asked the Venezuelan Government for information regarding allegations that it was providing support to the Basque terrorist group Euskadi ta Askatasuna (ETA). In October, the Spanish Government requested the extradition of Arturo Cubillas Fontan, a naturalized Venezuelan citizen, in connection with an ongoing investigation in Spain about ETA-FARC links in Venezuela. Chavez "dismissed and denied" the accusations that ETA members had received training in Venezuela. The Venezuelan prosecutor general said the constitution prohibited the extradition of Venezuelan nationals.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez presented the official letter 27 April 2017 to start the process for the country to pull out of the Organization of American States, which she said was attempting to intervene and promote a coup in Venezuela. "Today we formalize and present the letter to definitely pull out of this organization," said Rodriguez in a press conference from the Foreign Ministry's office in Caracas. "We will defend the self-determination of our people." Rodriguez said the move was based on a question of dignity and that President Nicolas Maduro's decision, which was taken to defend Venezuela from arbitrary abuses and illegal actions carried out by the OAS against the country, had been both praised and respected.

Rodriguez criticized OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro, accusing him of responding to U.S. interests to destabilize Caracas, adding that the organization has a historical precedent of promoting interventions, coups and invasions in the region. Almagro had repeatedly called for the Democratic Charter to be applied against Venezuela, which would have lead to its suspension from the organization.





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