U.S. sees no ‘unusual threat’ to Americans after Chavez dies

Olivier Knox
The Ticket

Six months after the deadly attack in Benghazi, Libya, U.S. officials said on Wednesday that they remain “very vigilant” for possible violence against Americans and American personnel in Venezuela after Hugo Chavez’s death, but see no “unusual threat.”

“Cooperation with the Venezuelan security services has been excellent, and we have no reason to think there is any unusual threat” to U.S. citizens or personnel, a senior Obama administration official told reporters on a conference call.

The official, who spoke to reporters on condition that she not be named, predicted that an official American delegation would attend Chavez's funeral, set for Friday. But the State Department is also considering the tit-for-tat expulsion of Venezuelan officials from U.S. soil after Caracas kicked out two American military attachés on Tuesday. "We’re not ruling anything out at this point," she said.

Shortly after Chavez’s death became public on Tuesday, the U.S. Embassy in Caracas issued a warning to U.S. citizens to be cautious, avoid political gatherings or demonstrations, and keep emergency supplies including flashlights, cash, medicine and a cellphone on hand. And the embassy announced it would be closed through Friday.

The official said authorities in Washington and Caracas “remain very vigilant” after Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro delivered a “broadside” against the U.S. on Tuesday.

The embassy’s “warden message” is the kind of warning the State Department delivers “pretty regularly when we think there are reasons for Americans to be cautious,” but “everything seems to be going very well for now,” the official said.

“Venezuela is one of the most violent countries in the world,” another State Department official said on the conference call, pointing to the country’s high murder rate. “It’s inherently a violent place.”

The comments came after Republican Sen. Marco Rubio urged the Obama administration and other democratic governments in the Americas to "keep a watchful eye on the security situation."

Neither official mentioned Benghazi, where, on Sept. 11, 2012, terrorists struck an American compound and killed four U.S. citizens, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. But State Department officials have repeatedly said that that strike led to a comprehensive review of security mechanisms at U.S. missions worldwide.

A day after President Barack Obama expressed hope that Chavez’s death would open a “new chapter” in relations but did not express condolences, the first official said the U.S. had expressed “our sympathy to his family and to the Venezuelan people.”

“The way I was raised, when someone dies, you always express condolences, so we’ve done that,” she said.

Will the U.S. be represented as Venezuela formally mourns Chavez on Friday? “I do expect that there will be a delegation,” the official said. But an announcement will come from the White House so, she added, “stay tuned.”