By Jordan Flores.
Additional reporting, by Carlos Camacho in Caracas.
After ten years without exchanging ambassadors between Washington and Caracas, James Story was confirmed as a new ambassador to Venezuela by the US Senate Thursday, November 19. The post had been vacant since the late President Hugo Chavez expelled the last two US ambassadors, Patrick Duddy and Larry Palmer.
Since Chavez came to power, diplomatic relations between Venezuela and the US were, when not tense, not very cordial. After Duddy got declared persona non grata, and there was no agreement to receive Palmer as the new Ambassador, Barack Obama’s government maintained a presence in the country through the figure of the Charge d’Affaires, with strictly commercial and consular functions. This freezing of relations transcended the death of Chávez in 2013 and has been even worse during Maduro’s succession.
The new ambassador, James Story, was in Charge d’Affaires Office for Venezuela. The diplomatic has the approval of the National Assembly president, Juan Guaido. But it is not the same as the Nicolas Maduro regime, which controls the institutions in the country, including the Foreign Ministry.
The ambassador Story, whose office is currently in the city of Bogota, Colombia, must face not only the lack of diplomatic staff in his embassy, which remains empty since 2019 but also the hostility from Maduro’s government, which considers the US as one of the main enemies of its socialist project.
Here we tell you about some of the most intense episodes in relations between the US and the Maduro administration:
1.- Things went wrong almost as soon as they started. After years of deterioration under Chavez, on the same day he died in early 2013, Maduro, as president in charge, expelled air attaches of the US embassy, David Del Monaco and Deblin Costal, for allegedly contacting the Venezuelan military to destabilize the country during his transitioning. Days later, he indicated that he would not deal with the Obama administration until the relationship between the two countries clarified.
2.- On September 30, already as a constitutional president under questioned elections, Maduro expelled for the first time in his government a US chargé d’affaires, in this case, Kelly Keiderling, together with Vice-Consul David Moo and diplomat Elizabeth Hoffman, for being involved in an alleged “economic and electrical sabotage” forged with the opposition.
3.- The arrival of Donald Trump to the Presidency in 2017 did not improve US relations since the Republican from the beginning manifested his interest in doing everything necessary to reestablish democracy in Venezuela. After imposing the first of a series of sanctions in force to date against Venezuelan officials such as Tareck El Aissami and Maikel Moreno, then Foreign Minister Samuel Moncada announced that his government would make a review of its diplomatic relations.
4.- Also, in 2017, given the crisis produced by the repression of civil protests and Maduro’s repeated accusations regarding a plan to overthrow him promoted by the United States, the Trump government ordered the relatives of his diplomatic personnel to leave the country preventively for their safety.
5.- Despite open hostility between Trump and Maduro, Todd D. Robinson arrived in the country on December 18, 2017, to take over as the new Charge d’Affaires, but the peace did not last long. On May 20, 2018, Maduro was elected president, in a process considered illegitimate and fraudulent by the opposition and several international organizations, the United States being one of the first countries to ignore the results. Because of this, during his proclamation act two days later, Maduro declared Robinson persona non grata and expelled him together with the head of the Political Section of the embassy, Bryan Naranjo, whom he accused of being an infiltrated agent of the CIA.
6.- On January 23, 2019, after declaring the vacancy of power due to the illegitimacy of the 2018 elections, the lawmaker, Juan Guaido, was sworn in as interim president, immediately receiving the support and recognition of the United States. In retaliation, Maduro announced that same day the total rupture of his relations with the American nation and gave 72 hours for the departure of all his embassy personnel. This situation forced James Story, who was already the country’s chargé d’affaires, to operate virtually from an external office in Colombia.
7.- The day after the rupture of relations, the evacuation of all US personnel began, in a process that in the end lasted several days longer than the period imposed by Maduro. On March 14, the last lot of diplomats left in a C-130 Hercules plane of the US Air Force, leaving the embassy officially empty.
8.- Maduro also ordered the return of his ambassador in Washington, as well as the definitive closure of the embassy. Later, the Trump government accepted as ambassador the diplomatic envoy from Guaido, Carlos Vecchio.
9.- In April 2019, the Code Pink collective, along with other US leftist activists, took over the Venezuelan embassy in Washington as an act of protest in defense of the Maduro government. The invaders, presumably with the support of outgoing diplomats from the government, installed themselves in the residence where they played loud music and hung banners, as well as held demonstrations out front that usually ended in confrontations against groups of Venezuelan migrants who demanded their departure from the installations. It was not until May that the police managed to enter to expel the activists, while Ambassador Vecchio announced the recovery of the headquarters on May 26.
10.- On April 29, 2020, the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, predicted an eventual reopening of his embassy in Caracas, although, conditioned his return to a political transition after the end of Maduro’s usurpation. “I have asked my team to update our plans to reopen the US Embassy in Caracas so that we are ready to return as soon as Maduro steps aside,” he commented at the time.