As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton led a team committed to delegitimizing the politics of the late Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution.
While Hillary Clinton publicly welcomed improved relations with Venezuela as secretary of state, she privately ridiculed the country and continued to support destabilization efforts, revealed her emails leaked by WikiLeaks.
In 2010, Clinton asked Arturo Valenzuela, then assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, how “to rein in Chavez.” Valenzuela responded that, “We need to carefully consider the consequences of publicly confronting him but ought to look at opportunities for others in the region to help.”
His answer was in line with the U.S. embassy strategy in 2006, also revealed in WikiLeaks intelligence cables: “Creative U.S. outreach to Chavez’ regional partners will drive a wedge between him and them,” said the confidential cable from the embassy. “By refusing to take each of Chavez’s outbursts seriously, we frustrate him even more, paving the way for additional Bolivarian miscalculations. We also allow room for other international actors to respond.”
When keeping an eye on regional meetings, Clinton was especially concerned with Venezuela. Responding to a United Nations statement against the coup in Honduras in 2009—that she supported—Clinton shifted the attention to Venezuela: “Ok—but have they ever condemned Venezuela for denying press freedom?” she wrote to Deputy Chief of Staff Jake Sullivan.
Clinton was cautious not to respond to all of Hugo Chavez’s “antics,” but her staff insisted that Venezuelan politics were a threat to U.S. interests.
An email advising how to spend US AID funds strongly suggested refraining from backing leftist states like Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Cuba because the money “could undermine real democratic development to hand over ‘ownership’ to populist centralizers.”
Clinton should use language like “‘local ownership’ in a nuanced way” to avoid having her words “used against her by demagogues and kleptocrats,” said the email. Any funds channeled into such unreliable states, it added, must be accompanied by “(h)uman behavioral changes.”
While giving the cold shoulder to Venezuela, Clinton was cozy with Latin American players that opposed the country’s leftist politics.
Clinton also drew fire for saying, “We’re winning!” when the Venezuelan opposition won a majority of seats in parliament in 2015 and for serving as secretary of state while the National Security Administration regularly spied on Venezuela.
Clinton’s heavy-handed treatment of Venezuela prevented Chavez from any kind of rapprochement between the two countries. While declining oil prices, a failing economy, and an industrial base that included only oil exportation could have provided an opportunity for greater unity (particularly because the U.S. was the largest purchaser of petroleum from Venezuela) Clinton instead was looking to spike the ball and declare victory against “enemy” Venezuela. This caused a widening gap between the two countries, which help usher in the mass starvation.
Venezuela was already on the ropes when Chavez died, and Clinton could certainly have made overtures to the new president. Unfortunately, that is not how she works. Hillary prefers a burned over field and taking no prisoners approach.