December 2, 2003

Ode to Francisco Diez
and the style of diplomacy he represents

You know something is seriously twisted in this cosmos when the news you read in serious newspapers start to echo the flip comments you'd read on this site a few hours earlier.

Not 12 hours ago I was guffawing about Chavez's impossible predicament now that the Organization of American States has said they see no reason to suspect fraud over the weekend. What's Chavez gonna do now, argue the oligarchs paid off Cesar Gaviria?!!?

Erm...uh...eeeh...actually, yeah! According to Reuter's, that's precisely what he's gonna do!

"Dr. Gaviria said he saw nothing abnormal. ... I think you overstepped the mark, Dr Gaviria," said Chavez, who also complained that the OAS Secretary General failed to seek a meeting with him during his stay.

Chavez, who has ruled the world's No. 5 oil exporter since 1998, questioned the OAS chief's impartiality, commenting that he "spent a lot of time with the opposition."

Now, several of you have written in to say this is all a giant sprawling conspiracy by the government to stop the referendum. Chavez won't change because Chavez is psychiatrically unable to change...he will never give up, yaddi yaddi yadda.

Now, I don't doubt that you're right, in the narrow sense that Chavez is crazy enough that any rhetorical line is imaginable coming out of him, even one as silly and hare-brained as questioning the integrity of perhaps the best respected diplomat in Western Hemispheric affairs. But it's perfectly clear to me that his room for maneuver is closing down dramatically and quickly. What Chavez intends to do is more and more beside the point.

The contribution the Carter Center and the OAS have made to this state of affairs is hard to overstate. (Yes, I'll admit, I was once quite skeptical myself...mea culpa!) Yet, I know from your emails a lot of you passionately detest the brand of international engagement symbolized by Jimmy Carter and followed closely by Gaviria and OAS. But just think how far we've come by following their comeflor path, think how screwed the government is now, and realize how important Carter/Gaviria style softly-softly diplomacy has been in getting us this far.

Over the weekend, Carter Center and OAS were at their understated best. If you read the Venezuelan press reports closely, for instance, you'll see that Francisco Diez, the Carter Center's main guy for Venezuela, was everywhere, going from one minor flashpoint to another, all day, putting out tiny little fires before they could spread. His intervention was crucial, especially in the nervy first few hours of the drive.

On Friday, when the chavista and the opposition witnesses at the signature gathering center in Parque Central started to beat each other up, Diez was there literally within minutes to do a bit of impromptu mediation and calm nerves down. Later, when a small mob of chavistas attacked Juan Fernandez as he tried to sign in the Carapita Metro station, Diez again was there within minutes to snuff out the violence before it could escalate. Either of these incidents, or any of a number of others (like the idiotic airport shutdown) could have escalated into a major crisis threatening to derail the entire recall process if no one had been there to deal with them in an efficient and professional way.

So add me to Francisco Diez's fan club. Sure, he didn't give any high sounding speeches to the cameras. In fact, if you weren't paying particular attention, it would have been easy to overlook his contribution altogether. He studiously shies away from cameras, as a diplomat should - if you don't believe me, try finding a picture of him on google.

In his own quiet way, Francisco Diez rendered a huge, indeed heroic, service to Venezuela this weekend. The nation will really owe a debt of gratitude to him and his colleagues. Of course it was not only Diez - though one has the feeling his fireman-for-a-weekend assignment was the toughest of the lot. It's also Gaviria himself, and Congressman Ballanger and Congresswoman Watson and Jennifer McCoy and Fernando Jaramillo, and the hundreds on unsung heroes from the OAS/Carter Center observation mission...the quiet people who saved us from our own worst tendencies.

To my mind, when this is all said and done, we're going to have to re-name a couple of prominent Caracas avenues. Avenida Presidente Carter and Avenida Presidente Gaviria - he'd be the first Colombian prez to get his own avenue in Caracas, if I am not mistaken. I like the ring of it already.