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Former U.S. Ambassador To Venezuela Discusses Current Political Turmoil


Well, relations between Venezuela and the U.S. have been challenging for a long time. It's been nearly nine years since the U.S. had a full ambassador in Venezuela. The man who held that job is on the line now, Patrick Duddy. Ambassador Duddy, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

PATRICK DUDDY: Thank you very much for having me.

KELLY: Well, let me ask you, as someone who has served as U.S. ambassador under both Republican and Democratic administrations, do you agree with the current U.S. policy with no longer recognizing President Maduro and siding with the opposition leader Juan Guaido?

DUDDY: Yes, I do. This is really an evolution, not so much a departure. In recent years, the U.S. has in fact sanctioned several dozen senior Venezuelan officials for either undermining democracy, their complicity in various illegal activities or for egregious human rights violations.

Beginning some months ago, we also restricted access for the de facto regime of Nicolas Maduro to the U.S. financial system. Things have changed both internally and externally in recent months. And I think that recognition of Juan Guaido as the interim president is a logical development. The administration of Nicolas Maduro has led the country to the brink of complete disaster. It's really a failing state now. And his last election was widely viewed as a complete sham.

KELLY: On the other hand, he did win it. And there are many critics who would argue that the U.S. should get out of the business of regime change in Latin America.

DUDDY: Well, what you're asserting - that he won - was really a kind of choreography, which is why it's not just the United States, but most of South America, the EU, Britain, Canada, are all recognizing Guaido. And to a very large extent, what we have seen in the last few years has been a very careful effort by the United States to make clear our unhappiness and, indeed, concern for the well-being of Venezuelans. But at the same time, the U.S., for instance, has refrained - at least, to this point - from directly sanctioning the oil industry, which is their principal source of income, out of fear that it would impose even greater hardship on the Venezuelan people.

KELLY: What are the risks of this approach, of backing someone as president who has never been elected president of this country?

DUDDY: Well, it is certainly a very dangerous moment in Venezuela. Now, Guaido emerges from what is widely recognized as in fact the last genuinely democratic institution in the country. But Nicolas Maduro remains the de facto president with apparently the support of the military.

KELLY: What is the risk if things don't go the way the U.S. would like to see them go in Venezuela? Nicolas Maduro stays in power. With Russia and China and Iran and other countries lined up behind him, do we risk good even further deterioration in U.S.-Venezuela relations?

DUDDY: Well, it would be hard for things to be any worse than they are now.

KELLY: Fair.

DUDDY: But certainly things will continue to be very, very bad. Now, what will happen with the oil industry is an open question. Maduro has announced that he's pulling all of his diplomats out of the country. The U.S. remains their largest client for oil. So how he hopes to finesse this issue and whether or not the U.S. agrees to continue both to purchase Venezuelan oil and what will happen with the receipts from those purchases is not clear to me.

KELLY: That's Patrick Duddy, former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela. He is now director of Duke's Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. Ambassador Duddy, thank you.

DUDDY: You're very welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.