Venezuela: Nicolas Maduro’s ‘Gringophobia’

In New York, the so-called “pragmatic” Iranian president Hassan Rouhani urged the United States and the West to abandon “Iranophobia” in order to engage in a mutually beneficial quest for Middle East peace.

“Iranophobia” brings to mind another word, quite common in the Americas, “Gringophobia,” a condition or syndrome prone to afflict leaders like Nicolás Maduro, president of Venezuela, Cuban dictators, and other aspiring authoritarians.

The latest dust-up between Maduro and the U.S. triggered a fresh attack of “Gringophobia.” It began when an outraged Maduro claimed he was denied permission to overfly Puerto Rico (what he calls “a colonized land”) on the way to a China state visit in an aircraft belonging to “Air Castro.”

While denounced as “yet more U.S. aggression,” the real snafu rested with procrastinating Venezuelan minions who failed to file a proper clearance request three days prior to the flight. The clearance was granted but feelings were bruised.

Why Air Castro? It turns out that Venezuela’s presidential jet is in the shop for repairs. Maduro claimed its maker —Airbus — botched a five-month overhaul, leaving the flying Miraflores Palace grounded with a damaged wing, detected not by its mechanics but by the president himself. Maduro promised a lawsuit against Airbus.

This fresh beef with the French follows in the wake of a major embarrassment: a massive cocaine bust in Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. How without high-level connivance did 31 unaccompanied suitcases filled with cocaine — 1.300 kgs in all — arrive on the Air France flight? Madrid’s prestigious daily El Pais labeled Venezuela as South America’s “air hub” for cocaine shipments.

In China, Maduro enjoyed a two-day respite from Gringophobia, meeting with General Secretary Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang. Feted by his smiling hosts, Maduro praised the growing strategic partnership, co-signed 12 cooperation agreements and locked Venezuela into ever-expanding export of oil. With China now Venezuela’s second largest trading partner, the antidote for “Gringophobia” is a fresh infusion of Chinese investments and the embrace of the dragon.

While Maduro may have hoped for a quick injection of Chinese-held dollars to help alleviate Venezuela’s liquidity crisis, it appears he was forced to settle for $5 billion in long-term investments for which one can be sure the Chinese will, unlike the Venezuelan people, demand accountability.

On the homeward leg, Maduro landed in Vancouver where it was suddenly decided to return to Caracas rather than fly to New York for the United Nations General Assembly. Unfortunately, Venezuelan authorities had neglected to ask Canada for visas for Maduro’s hefty entourage to visit Vancouver city, thus forcing the fuming Bolivarians to wait in an airport lounge rather than leaving behind large amounts of Venezuelan petrodollars in Vancouver stores as planned.

Maduro’s abrupt change of destination caused a fresh spike in speculation. Were Maduro’s Cuban handlers worried that his inflammatory presence at the UN might cause fresh embarrassment for the cause of Latin America’s radical left? Perhaps it was a fear that the Cuban-owned jet might be impounded by court order against outstanding property claims. Or did Maduro suffer a fresh attack of “Gringophobia?”

Scarcely a week has passed, since Maduro took office in March, without one plot or another being “exposed”, hatched by the “usual suspects:” former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, former U.S. Assistant Secretaries of State for Latin America Roger Noriega and Otto Reich, and the 85-year old anti-Castro warrior Luis Posada Carriles.

“The clan — the mafia — of Otto Reich and Roger Noriega,” Maduro announced, “once again had planned a crazy, terrible provocation that can’t be described in any other way.”

The U.S. State Department took the unusual step of publicly denying that any plot is being hatched against Maduro and demanded a show of proof to the contrary.

In July, a regime confidant solemnly reported that enemies of Chavismo had purchased a phantom fleet of aircraft to attack Venezuela. In August, Maduro warned of a secret White House plan to engineer “total collapse” by sabotaging Venezuela’s electrical grid and disrupting food supply.

Back home, Maduro dashes from smoldering crisis to raging fires of domestic difficulties — toilet paper and food shortages, a foreign exchange control system that has become a casino, backlogged ports and rampant corruption.

The approach of municipal elections on Dec. 8 will require fresh, frenetic efforts and ever more inventive allegations of conspiracy and Gringo-bashing in order to rally dispirited Chavistas.

Venezuela teeters on the edge of permanent crisis. Economic disorder, a polarized electorate, crime and narco-activity and erratic leadership create permanent stress. These results are reflected in Maduro’s baseless accusations, recurring fulminations and periodic bouts of dreaded “Gringophobia.” Little relief or hope for a cure is in sight as long as Venezuela’s downward spiral continues.

Ray Walser is executive director of the Americas Forum and a retired foreign service officer.

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