Brownfield celebrates July 4th
Jens Erik Gould
Daily Journal Staff
July 5, 2005
A crowd of American citizens and embassy officials were on hand at the US Embassy on Monday as United States ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield hosted a ceremony commemorating Independence Day. In honor of the occasion, four members of the US Armed Forces raised a large American flag on the Embassy hill overlooking Caracas.
During his speech, Brownfield praised his country, saying it allowed citizens to "speak our mind and to live as we wish, so long as we do not impinge on our neighbors."
He also said Americans were possibly the "most observed" people in the world. Asked about the comment later, he told The Daily Journal, "since about 1945, the US, its government and its people seem to attract more attention, more analysis, more news and press coverage than any other people in the world and perhaps any other people in history."
One American woman attending the event said that she felt under the microscope living in Caracas. She added that she sometimes felt unsafe as government criticisms of the United States have increased.
Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez often refers to the United States as an "imperialist empire" and has nicknamed President George W. Bush "Mr. Danger." US officials have called Venezuela a threat to the region.
Bilateral relations have been strained by recent events, including the row over the fate of suspected terrorist Luis Posada Carriles and President Bush's reception of S˙mate director Maria Corina Machado at the White House in early June.
The ambassador said there was "no question whatsoever" that the "rhetoric and dialogue" between the two governments had changed in the past few years. Political and diplomatic factors accounted for this change, as well as "the new nature of the economic relationship between the two countries," he said.
Venezuela has sought to strengthen commercial ties with countries such as Iran, China and Russia and is also a principle advocate of Latin American economic integration.
Brownfield said he was not "deeply troubled" by the Venezuelan effort to develop new economic ties. "My task is to manage this relationship in a way that most meets the needs and the interests of the American people and the Venezuelan people for the years to come," he said.
The ambassador did put politically motivated economic decisions in a separate category. "We have a right to express a view if we believe that some markets are being acquired or there is penetration that is driven more by political consideration and political decisions as opposed to economic and commercial decisions," Brownfield said.
Regarding stricter policies towards foreign oil companies by Venezuela, Brownfield said the government had a sovereign right to determine how to handle its natural resources and to set its own tax and royalties policy. Yet he also said that Venezuela had an "obligation to respect the contracts that it has already signed and voluntarily entered into."
Asked about the local sentiment towards Americans, Brownfield said he could not define how Americans were perceived because Venezuelan society was very diverse. "I think overall, however, our relations people to people are very good and I think they're as good as you'll find almost anywhere else in Latin America," he said.
He said the bilateral relationship was almost 200 years old and also said there existed a "very close relationship that is tied to certain economic principals-prinicpally petroleum," which has lasted 80 years.
Similar flag ceremonies were be held on Monday at 160 embassies worldwide, the ambassador said. He added that traditional parades, picnics, baseball games and fireworks would take place across the US.
The native Texan said his favorite place to spend Independence Day was on the banks of the Colorado River in Austin, Texas, listening to the Austin Symphony Orchestra and watching a fireworks display.
JENS ERIK GOULD
Jens Erik Gould is a political, business and entertainment writer and editor who has reported from a dozen countries for media outlets including The New York Times, National Public Radio and Bloomberg News.