Opinion articles written in the style of their author." These texts are to be based on verified facts and must be respectful towards people, even though their actions may be criticized. shall feature, along with the author's name (regardless of their greater or lesser renown), a footer stating their office, academic title, political affiliation (if any) and main occupation, or the occupation related to the topic being assessed

An open letter to Mr Maduro

Former US government official responds to Venezuelan leader's charges

Mr. Maduro: I hereby answer your most recent allegations. Don’t worry, it’s not a bother – you just continue inventing and I will continue responding.

No, Mr. Maduro, I had nothing to do with the cancer that killed Hugo Chávez, nor do I have any intention of attacking Mr. Henrique Capriles (or any other of your country’s citizens); I have not made any donations to the Capriles campaign, nor have I raised money, or have I sabotaged or plan to sabotage any targets in your country. These allegations made by you can only have two explanations: either you do not know the truth, or cannot distinguish between lies and truth. You tell me which one it is.

Despite the fact that no one of importance in the United States takes you and your so-called government seriously, I wish to exercise the right to defend myself. I do so not only because in my country I have that right, but because I think, perhaps naively, that in doing so I speak for the many Venezuelans who cannot defend themselves from the lies, insults and abuses of your government.

This week, I answered your allegations about my or the US government’s reported involvement in giving the cancer that ended the life of former President Hugo Chavez. I will not repeat it. I now want to talk about Capriles.

This isn’t the first time that you, as interim president or as candidate of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), have accused me of conspiring against the life of Henrique Capriles or that of other Venezuelans. How can one prove something that one isn’t doing? I can start by restating the obvious:

Through this means, I once more categorically deny your absurd accusations, and I challenge you to present the "evidence" you claim to have against me. Mr Maduro, if you do not present hard evidence, then you demonstrate that your accusations are false and malicious. It is important to point out that the alleged victim of the conspiracy, Henrique Capriles, has publicly stated that if anything happens to him, he holds you – and no one else – responsible.

It is very clear that your latest infamy against me is part of a cynical strategy whose purpose it is to distract Venezuelans from the disaster that your Socialist party has created in its 14 years of bad government. Since you cannot win the election by offering the Venezuelans bread – because bread is one of the many staples that are missing from the store of Venezuela – you instead offer circuses.

Your strategy makes some sense, however, since you cannot run successfully on an unprecedented record of official corruption, where more than a trillion dollars disappeared in 14 years; or while Venezuelan mothers in the country’s interior fight each other to buy milk, chicken, rice, beans, and other foodstuffs that were once abundant, but now have disappeared; or where imported food rots away in ports while scores of your government ‘s ministers, military officials and favored businessmen accumulate fortunes from illicit activities, live luxuriously beside the misery at home while investing their hundreds of millions abroad. You cannot separate yourself from a period of government that made Venezuela one of the 10 countries in the world with the highest number of homicides – the worst in Latin America – and which turns over its treasure and sovereignty to a foreign nation, communist Cuba, whose dictator General controls the strategic and internal security of Venezuela and personally selects those in charge – from the military high command to your own bodyguards.

You now say that the CIA and US Defense Department have joined in the conspiracy against Capriles, and have asked President Obama to "stop" it. Speaking on behalf of the entire government, the State Department spokeswoman said: “The United States categorically rejects allegations of any U.S. government involvement in any plots to destabilize the Venezuelan government or to harm anyone in Venezuela.”

Your charges are so removed from reality that we have to ask ourselves what is their true purpose? What are you hiding behind this smokescreen? Here, we fear that they could be part of your government's plans to eliminate Capriles, just like others have been eliminated for challenging the "socialist" monopoly on power and information. This is what happened with prosecutor Danilo Anderson, murdered while investigating political killings for which supporters of then President Chávez were suspected.

Why hasn’t anyone in Venezuela been brought to justice for Anderson’s murder?

Your charges could also be designed to further undermine the integrity of the electoral process, which is so polarized and rigged against the opposition that Henrique Capriles has won the admiration of the world's democrats for his courage and patriotism personified in his second run for president in less than a year. The only sympathy for the government’s candidate comes from countries like Iran, Cuba, Belarus, Russia, Ecuador, Bolivia, and other countries that have received billions of dollars from Venezuela.

Mr Maduro, your accusations are so unfounded that the world is calling on the Venezuelan authorities to guarantee Henrique Capriles’ safety, because it knows the government’s capacity to instill violence. For example, a week before the 2012 presidential elections, a Capriles caravan was attacked by armed pro-government activists, according to witnesses. Three opposition supporters died in that incident.

You say that you are the right man to lead Venezuela, but a real man does not give orders to beat or shoot defenseless students protesting for fair political rights. A real man doesn’t humiliate and throw in jail a judge who is suffering from cancer just because she fulfilled her professional duty. A real man doesn’t allow citizens on hunger strike to die for lack of attention, as happened to Franklin Brito.

Mr Maduro, with all the resources the Venezuelan state has at its disposal, can you not find a more original accusation? The late President Chávez made the same false charges about a plot to kill Capriles during the campaign last year while also claiming have evidence that he himself was the target of assassination plots. But he never made public any evidence. And now you think that the outside world is going to believe you?

Although your tactics are not original, I admit that they are not as dull-witted as they appear. With elections scheduled in less than a month on April 14, each day that the media focus on nonexistent conspiracies is one day less that Venezuelans do not hear that there is a viable alternative for peace, honor and prosperity in their country, and not their current arbitrary and corrupt regime.

Each day Venezuelans focus on foreign devils is another day lost to discuss the problems of water and power shortages, the scarcity of cornmeal, cooking oil, soap, diapers, antibiotics and insulin, or the destruction of the national oil infrastructure. It is one day less for Venezuelans to ask themselves how Caracas became the third most violent city in the world, with about the 150,000 people murdered during the 14 years of 21st century socialism.

It is one day less for Venezuelans to guess where your government spent one billion dollars a thousand times over. Socialism has spent more money in the last 14 years than Venezuela earned during its first 175 years of independence. It is no wonder, then, that China requires that Venezuela deposit its gold reserves in Chinese banks as collateral for the latest multi-billion dollar loan requested by your government – which they know is on the verge of bankruptcy.

It is clear that with such a record to defend, you must distract the people by resorting to mechanisms long-favored by demagogues from both the right and left of the political spectrum; that is to manufacture a big lie, a huge distraction, and blame foreigners, in order to generate nationalist fervor among the population with the hope that they forget their problems long enough to buy time for you to win the next election.

That ploy did not work for the rightwing Argentinean generals who invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982, and hopefully it will not work either for the leftist generals, ministers and officials in Venezuela today.

Otto J. Reich served as US ambassador to Venezuela, assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, and senior staff member of the National Security Council, at the White House.

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS