US appoints ambassador to Venezuela amid tensions

CARACAS (AP) – Washington appointed its first ambassador to Venezuela in a decade despite the fact that the United States does not have diplomats in its embassy in Caracas due to the breakdown of relations.

James Story’s nomination as ambassador was confirmed Wednesday in a vote by acclamation in the US Senate. It will carry out its work from the capital of neighboring Colombia, while Venezuela suffers a historic economic and political crisis.

Story, 50, of South Carolina, could play a key role in helping guide US policy in Venezuela during President-elect Joe Biden’s transition. Relations between the two nations have a long and complicated past that includes the victory of the government of Donald Trump in getting charges against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro for alleged narco-terrorism.

Biden’s victory has sparked a debate between those who support Trump’s tough approach in isolating Maduro and those who say it is time to take a new course. Critics allege that the heavy sanctions have failed to remove Maduro from power, opened the country to Washington’s competitors such as China, Russia and Iran, and complicated the lives of millions of residents in the South American nation.

The United States and Venezuela have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010, when their relations began to deteriorate under the presidency of Hugo Chávez. The complete severance of diplomatic ties occurred last year, with diplomats withdrawing from each other shortly after Washington endorsed opposition Juan Guaidó as the country’s legitimate leader.

The United States leads a coalition of dozens of countries that rejected Maduro after his re-election to a second term in 2018 in a vote widely viewed as a fraud because the most popular leaders of the opposition were barred from running.

Since then, the United States has imposed harsh sanctions on Maduro, his inner circle and the state oil company in a bid to isolate them. The Trump administration offered a reward of $ 15 million for the arrest of the Venezuelan leader after a US court charged him with drug trafficking offenses.

Story, a career diplomat nominated by Trump in May, has served as embassy affairs manager, who is the diplomat who leads a mission in the absence of an ambassador. His career has taken him to Mexico, Brazil, Mozambique, and Afghanistan. Today, he leads a depleted team in a “virtual” embassy in Bogotá.

Despite the challenge of working from outside of Venezuela, Story holds a weekly 30-minute conversation via Facebook Live in an attempt to maintain ties with millions of Venezuelans in their country or with those who have fled the crisis. The diplomat responds, in fluent Spanish, to questions from both Venezuelans and the few Americans who are still there, addressing the latest intrigues and disturbances that arise in the country and in the United States. Sometimes he expresses himself in English with a marked accent. from South Carolina.

Story does not hesitate to point to Maduro and his executive for what critics say is an increasingly authoritarian government and for the corrupt practices blamed for the destruction of the once prosperous oil sector, which has left the country in disarray. the ruin.

“Look, this is not a true democracy,” Story said in an online chat earlier this year, later criticizing Venezuelan officials whose families lead luxurious lives in Spain and Panama while the majority of the population is in poverty. Yes, they are being deceived ”.