Will the State Department Legitimize a Narco-Authoritarian Regime in Venezuela?

Roger Noriega at AEI’s The American:

Will the State Department Legitimize a Narco-Authoritarian Regime in Venezuela?
If Congress does not act soon, career diplomats may get their wish of normalizing relations with Caracas.

As cancer-stricken Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez remains in Cuba recovering from emergency surgery, rival factions within his leftist movement may be closing ranks to hold on to power for the foreseeable future. At this critical moment, rather than pressing Chávez’s successor for progress on drugs or democracy, U.S. diplomats are secretly plotting to normalize diplomatic ties with Caracas. Such a move would bestow the Obama administration’s blessing on a criminal, autocratic, and anti-American regime.

Before rushing back to Cuba, Chávez anointed his vice president and foreign minister, Nicolas Maduro, as his successor. After hiding the gravity of his condition for two years, Chávez conceded that he might not recover fully after this latest surgery and implored Venezuelans to vote for Maduro in any election to choose his successor.

Critics have tried to belittle Maduro as a former bus driver. However, he has served in the National Assembly and, for the last six years, has run circles around the U.S. State Department as Chávez’s foreign minister. Chávez, his Cuban handlers, and others in his inner circle believe that Maduro stands the best chance of connecting with the country’s very poor majority in a snap election required to choose a successor. Described in the Western media as “affable,” Maduro is poised to be a front man for a dangerous regime.

A possible rival to Maduro is Diosdado Cabello, a former military man who is president of the National Assembly and vice president (under Chávez) of the ruling socialist party. According to well-placed witnesses who are cooperating with U.S. law enforcement, Cabello leads a powerful cadre of dozens of retired and active-duty military officers who are responsible for moving tons of cocaine through Venezuelan territory. These men — including former minister of defense General Henry Rangel Silva and army chief General Cliver Alcala — will never risk losing power and being held accountable for their crimes. It is not clear that Cabello and the narco-generals will defer to Maduro and the civilian leadership being promoted by the self-interested Castro regime.

Since Chávez’s terminal cancer was diagnosed by Cuban doctors 18 months ago, the Castro brothers have been grooming a successor who will continue to provide the $3.5 billion in oil subsidies each year to the desperate Cuban economy. Their problem is that Cabello is well aware that Fidel Castro counseled his demotion to state politics in 2004, due in part to Cabello having amassed too much wealth and power of his own. Cabello’s return to the center of power was engineered in January by narco-generals as their life insurance policy, after Chávez’s faltering health threatened the continuity of the regime.

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