The PJ Tatler

Walid Makled, Venezuela, Latin America and the United States

Good for Chávez, good for Colombia, good for Obama;  bad for Makled, bad for freedom in Latin America and bad for the United States.

In a PJ Tatler article, Bryan Preston reported that Colombian President Santos had accepted Venezuelan President Chávez’ request that narcotics king Walid Makled (a Venezuelan citizen of Syrian descent)  be extradited to Venezuela and that the United States had dropped the ball. True, but President Obama is not accustomed to playing ball with our allies unless it’s hardball. If the Obama Administration had accepted the Colombian offer last fall to extradite Makled to the United States he would probably now be in the United States awaiting trial and talking like crazy to save whatever of his skin he could.  President Obama might have had to play a little bit of hardball with el Presidente Chávez, but since he is a dictator and is not our ally that’s very difficult.

Bryan also noted that Makled’s

information could change the world’s perception of Venezuela, from a developing socialist country to a narcostate similar to Manuel Noriega’s Panama, but with Islamic terrorism overlayed as an additional threat.

I am not sure that the change isn’t already happening, despite President Obama.  As a bit of a side note, Noriega was hated in Panamá while he was here (I live in Panamá, but only for the past eight years or so) and he still is hated. Many people were murdered and/or lost their property because of him. One small but significant indication is that there are now many public and private buildings in Panamá named after Omar Torrijos, the nominal boss of Noriega whom Noriega may (or possibly may not) have arranged to have killed in an aircraft “accident” in order to assume all of the reins of government. There are no such buildings named after Noriega.

During the most recent (December 2009) presidential election in Panamá, the PRD candidate (the then ruling party) was Balbina Herrera, a close  friend and confidant of Noriega.

Balbina Herrera is closely associated with former military strongman Manuel Antonio Noriega, who has been in a US prison since 1989, convicted of money laundering and drug trafficking. The people who spent years protesting against Noriega calling for a return to democracy were called “civilistas” and at one point Balbina Herrera declared that all civilistas should basically be shot on sight (“civilista visto, civilasta muerto“). Although that was more than 20 years ago, today Panamanians who are old enough to remember link Balbina Herrera closely with Noriega and the fear his reign of terror inspired.

Ricardo Martinelli, a conservative businessman,  won handily, soundly defeating Herrera. Since then, the PRD has pretty much withered and died. In the immediately preceding presidential election, PRD candidate Martin Torrijos, the bastard (but fully supported and acknowledged) son of Omar Torrijos, had won a clear victory to become the President; his campaign posters had usually portrayed Papa Omar wearing his campaign hat, smoking a cigar and looking down through the mists from heaven above at his beloved son. Aside from the rather radical labor unions, generally thought to be Chávez supported, and various hangers on, the name of Chávez is very rarely spoken here with any respect.

Is Chávez’ Venezuela viewed throughout Latin America simply as a benign and developing socialist country? Probably by enough in Nicaragua for Daniel Ortega to get another term as president, Nicaraguan constitutional term limits notwithstanding,  by partisans of ex-President Zelaya in Honduras and in a few other countries heavily dependent on Venezuela. Cuba? Not so much; Venezuela is generally considered a colony of Cuba. Chávez’ aura seems gradually to be fading as the Venezuelan economy and quality of life in general there continue to crash. At least I hope so. Brazil is rapidly becoming the ascendent power in South America, perhaps followed closely by Colombia.

The Obama Administration would have little to gain by giving Makled a forum in the United States from which to air his and lots of others’ — mainly Chavistas–  dirty laundry. Were that to happen, there might well be pressure to do something about Chávez’ Venezuela and that would be very awkward. What would Bill Ayers, a great fan of Chávez, and other like minded Obama friends, say? That in and of itself could be distressing to President Obama’s base, and he needs to rejuvenate not to fracture it further.

Although Colombia has given U.S. officials, primarily Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents, “full access” to Makled, little seems to have come of it to disparage Chávez and his merry band;  once he is sent to Venezuela, nothing more will. He will not be in a position to testify in any U.S. court and it seems unlikely that anything he has said or is likely to say once in Venezuela will become publicly known in the United States.  Former Colombian President Uribe has stated that he opposed Makled’s extradition to Venezuela.

The way it worked out, probably without any wise guidance from the Obama Administration, Venezuela will soon silence Makled, at least for a while or perhaps permanently, and that’s a good thing for el Presidente Chávez as well as perhaps  for President Obama. Besides, Colombian President Santos seems to have got some good from it and that probably hurt Chávez. A perceptive blogger in Venezuela notes,

Chávez really, really wants narcocelebrity Walid Makeld back to Venezuela where a mock trial will silence, for a few weeks at least, all the narco charges pressed against some of the highest military ranks of the Venezuelan army, and who knows how many that are into the laundering system of Venezuela, made proficient through extensive washing of corruption dirty clothing. So Santos had no trouble to force Chávez to seat [sic] down with cursed Honduras president Lobo and have the picture published, with a Chávez looking so ill at ease that for a brief instant I had some kind of sorry pity feeling for him. But very brief, rest assured, as soon as I remembered that he has only himself to blame for all the blackmail that Santos and Colombia are putting him through. Big hit for Santos if you ask me! With an additional slap at Lula, by the way as now Roussef will have it easier to renew ties with Honduras. Don’t you love this moments of ground shifting?

Another English language blogger in Honduras wrote recently that since Honduran President Lobo wanted Honduras back in the OAS he had to talk first to Colombian President Santos, the circus owner, and only after things were arranged to Chávez, a mere circus clown.

Not that the Obama Administration had all or any of this in mind; very little attention is paid (or has for a long time been paid) to goings on in South and Central America and what interest the Obama Administration has shown has generally been maldirected, as the Obama Administration waffle flipping contest in Honduras during the “military coup” that wasn’t a military coup pretty clearly demonstrated. President Obama’s Ambassador to Honduras, Hugo Llorens, was firmly on Zelaya’s side and would have been better employed monitoring EPA noxious gas emission gauges in some remote corner of Montana. The former U.S. ambassador, Charles Ford, had a very good grasp of what Zelaya was about and Llorens did not.

If we had a strong president, more interested in freedom and democracy than in “democracy” without freedom, it would be a good thing if he were more attentive to and active in Latin American affairs. As things stand, it’s better if he continues to remain aloof.