New York TImes
July 06, 2007
CARACAS, Venezuela, July 5 — State Department aspirants to become Washington's top envoy to Venezuela, take note: Ambassador William Brownfield is leaving upon completing three years on the job here, after dealing with incidents ranging from the pelting of his motorcade with eggs to expulsion threats from President Hugo Chávez.
Mr. Brownfield offered "two rules for anyone who holds this job in the future" in an interview before he left on Thursday for Bogotá, where he is to be the next United States ambassador to neighboring Colombia.
"You absolutely have to have the patience of Job — if you are not an extremely patient man or woman, this job will drive you crazy," said Mr. Brownfield, a West Texas native who was called "the Texan" by Venezuelan news outlets for his swaggering approach to verbal tit-for-tats with Mr. Chávez's government.
"The second rule is that you had better have a sense of humor, because if you don't have a sense of humor in this particular country at this particular point in time, you will quickly become suicidal," Mr. Brownfield added.
The ambassador's taste for irony was on display at an Independence Day celebration at the United States Embassy this week, where he wore a T-shirt reading, "Uh! Ah! Brownfield IS Leaving!" a play on a pro-Chávez slogan ("Chávez is NOT leaving") chanted at rallies. (The shirt was bright red, the color identified with the Chávez administration.)
Patrick Duddy, a senior State Department official with tours in Brazil and Bolivia, will replace Mr. Brownfield as ambassador at a time when Mr. Chávez's growing use of nationalization is showing the door to American companies like Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, Verizon Communications and the AES Corporation.
Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela's foreign minister, appraised Mr. Brownfield's term in Venezuela as a "failure." "We advise our Colombian brothers to have much caution," Mr. Maduro told reporters on Thursday.
"William Brownfield came to Venezuela with one mission: to destabilize the government of President Chávez and assist in toppling him."
Indeed, distrust of Washington persists in Mr. Chávez's government, since the Bush administration indirectly offered support for a coup in 2002 that briefly removed Mr. Chávez from office. Mr. Chávez has since frequently claimed that the United States is hatching plots to oust him or to invade, assertions Mr. Brownfield has frequently denied.
As Mr. Chávez returned this week from a trip to Iran, where he tightened an alliance with its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and to Russia, where he discussed a deal to buy as many as five diesel-powered submarines, Mr. Brownfield surmised that relations between the United States and Venezuela had yet to reach a low point.
"This relationship is probably going to get worse before it gets better," said Mr. Brownfield, who sought to ease bilateral tension during his time here through donations of mitts and bats at baseball diamonds throughout the country. "We have to accept that reality."