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Venezuela's Bohemian Rapsody ... "Is this the real life, Is this just fantasy?"

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VHeadline editor & publisher Roy S. Carson writes: Arguments for, and arguments against the debasement and decline of the Venezuelan government administration (and its Foreign Service-MRE, in particular), are symptoms of an unfortunate politicization of the country's civil service with still-wet-under-the-collar party wannabees sadly replacing well-versed career professionals.

Mind you, its nothing new considering that the malpractices of previous presidencies encouraged well-paid "jobs-for-the-boys" in exchange for political favors. But wasn't President Hugo Chavez Frias' Bolivarian Revolution supposed to bring all this to an end in the name of new-found democracy?

Apparently not!

We could cite a plethora of examples stretching from the fact that the current Minister of Communications & Information (MinCI) Andres Izarra has achieved no formal qualification in communications, much less as a journalist; leaving one wondering how he was able to get to be a news director at privately-owned Radio Caracas Television (RCTV) until his famous resignation when ordered to transmit Hollywood cartoons rather than live coverage of President Hugo Chavez' return to power in the wake of the unsuccessful April 2002 coup d'etat by 'Dictator for a Day' Pedro Carmona Estanga. Is it possible that Andres' father, Chavista ideologue could have had something to do with him securing a sinecure at the Venezuelan embassy in Washington DC in advance of his accelerated career through MinCi to TeleSur and back again to MinCI?

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...or the fact that current Foreign Minister (MRE) Nicolas Maduro rose quickly through the ranks of Chavez' Fifth Republic Movement (MVR) from being a 'por puesto' bus driver on Caracas' busy streets to become a congressman and ultimately Speaker of that august body ... a position inherited by his wife, Celia Flores, who has lately been accused of stuffing the National Assembly payroll with some 40+ family and friends.

Professional qualifications and/or career-long experience in administration and diplomacy appear to have been thrown out the window as party faithful are ensconced in embassies, consulates, ministries and government offices to the exclusion of staff who have grown into the job over a space of years. The latter attempt to preserve their dignity by refusing to politicize their daily business on behalf of the Bolivarian Republilc of Venezuela but they're ostracized, bad-mouthed and called 'escualidos' simply because, while they swear allegiance to the Constitution and the Venezuelan Flag, they do not necessarily see it as their role to swear blind and dedicated allegiance only to a political party which represents a fraction of Venezuela's totality in excess of 25 million citizens.

To hell with the fact that Venezuela is such a multiplicity of ethnics, political persuasions and individualities ... it's a replay of George W. Bush's 'you're with us or your're against us!' plagorization of Stalin's political departmentalization ... and we all know where that led millions of Georgians and Ukranians in a previous era.

Felix Plasencia Gonzalez

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Venezuela's charge d'affairs in London, Felix Plasencia Gonzalez put it succinctly in an article published some months ago in Aporrea in a rejoinder to an article published by one Juan Francisco Contreras in the January 31 (2008) issue of El Universal. He wrote that, from his perspective and capacity as a career diplomat and with knowledge gained from many years experience in Venezuela's Foreign Service, the cited interviewee was politicizing a function that should be professionally structured and which, in recent years, has led to a decreasing number of career officials remaining in the diplomatic service. Placencia Gonzalez cited the Foreign Service Act of 1961 (reformed in 2001 and 2995!) and insists that career diplomats must be appreciated for professional qualities they bring to Venezuela's foreign affairs, their usefulness must be guarded, given primacy and that their functions not simply left to die...

"Ultimately, the ideals enshrined in the 1961 Act, guaranteed a professional career structure that is NOT politicized and which serves the State rather than partisan interests of the government. I can only speak for what I know as an diplomatic career official, who entered the service in 1991 according to parameters set at that time under the Foreign Service Act of 1961 which specifically established the mechanism for entering the service ... the same law stipulated that 'exceptional and discretionary commissions' could be made for specific functions and for a specified period of time, and that -- as such -- they should be of a 'temporary' nature and only with the support of qualified career diplomats."

"The dynamics of the diplomatic service that prevailed under the 1961 Act is NOT sustainable," Placencia Gonzalez adds. Referring to the El Universal article he claims that Contreras "shows incredible ignorance in his misinformation ... perhaps the sources are 'anecdotal' and that qualified people in management of the Foreign Ministry simply show their frustration at losing privileges and benefits enjoyed for nearly forty years of Adeco-Copeyano politicization of the diplomatic service after the fall of the dictatorship in 1958."

Venezuela's diplomatic service had less than 25% career diplomats in 1991, and over 75% were appointed by the government under 'exceptional and discretionary' provisions as stipulated in the 1961 Act. Those favored by political patronage within the Foreign Ministry were famously known as "tribes" ... imposed by various Adeco-Copeyano partisan until 1998 ... controlling embassies, consulates and delegations in the Foreign Service. Very few if any of the ambassadors and heads of mission in western countries of real importance to Venezuela's foreign policy (the European Union, United States, Canada, Japan, the UN Missions in New York, Geneva, Unesco, FAO and OAS) were career diplomats ... most, if not all, were government appointees.

While Plasencia Gonzalez personally holds that Venezuela's foreign service should be 100% composed of qualified bib-politicized diplomatic staff, he emphasizes that it should be recognized that no previous government had held so many qualifying examinations for those entering the diplomatic service as the current (Chavez) administration with the number of new officials admitted after such examinations at around 200 under the first Reform Act (2001) while the Reform Act (2005) stipulates at least 50% career professionals.

A worthy ambition, perhaps, but the situation remains far from reality with many embassies packed with diplomatically unqualified political wannabees and politically-favored ex-minister ambassadors who simply haven;t a clue!

Placencia Gonzalez says that political and social developments in Venezuela and international events are reflected in the dynamics coupling of the rule of law to changes in the new "realities." Legislators must deal with the situation, since the National Assembly is the responsible institution for the drafting and adoption of appropriate laws. "Our country is in a revolutionary process of profound change, which is being developed simultaneously to the major changes taking place in the international arena. We are immersed in a changing scenario and we can NOT simply conform with outdated laws and inconsistencies with reality ... nor can we justify the possible existence of people who are committed to the interests of enemies to the changes led by our National Government."

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However, while the 1999 Constitution, confers foreign policy on the President of the Republic in accordance with guidelines laid down as the responsibility of the Foreign Minister who must comply with the staffing requirements and foreign policy within the National Government. Considering Maduro's own lack of diplomatic career qualifications the perennial conundrum is left hanging in the air...

It is NOT within the gift of any college or guild or diplomatic official to decides diplomatic staffing, but rather the Foreign Service's own Diplomatic Academy, the Institute of Higher Diplomatic Studies Pedro Gual (IAEDPG) and the Ministry's office of Human Resources training scheme.

It is NOT simply for graduates from any university in Venezuela to automatically become a professional diplomat ... the training and the qualification of Venezuela's diplomatic corps is uniquely the function of the IAEDPG!

So ... Charge d'Affairs Plasencia Gonzalez enthusiastically assures us that improvements in the quality and structure of Venezuela's Foreign Service are in progress ... however, ten years into President Hugo Chavez Frias' continuing revolutionary presidency we just can't get the lyrics of Bohemian Rapsody out of our minds...

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Roy S. Carson is veteran foreign correspondent (45+ years in the business) currently editor & publisher of VHeadline Venezuela reporting on news & views from and about Venezuela in South America -- available for interviews -- call Houston (more...)

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