The United States will back off trying to mend relations with Venezuela following the death of its president, a State Department official says, while the country focuses on re-establishing its government under a new leader.
The death of Hugo Chavez Tuesday afternoon came amid statements from Vice President Nicolas Maduro—the interim president—that the United States deliberately attacked Chavez. The Venezuelan government summarily expelled two U.S. officials from the country.
America hopes to strengthen relations with the oil-rich nation, but now may not be the best time.
"That's been a bit of a rocky road," a senior State Department official told reporters Wednesday. "Electoral campaigns may not be the best time to break new ground on policy."
"We will continue to desire that positive relationship, to continue to have open conversations, while recognizing it may take a little while before the Venezuelan government is ready to have that conversation," she said.
The government in Venezuela has revolved around one man since Chavez came to power in 1999, she added. His death does not necessarily change the rhetoric from Venezuelan leadership. The claims Maduro made on Tuesday are "absurd," she said, and the State Department rejects them.
"The campaign itself may raise issues, it may be a difficult campaign for many," she said. "We will no doubt continue to hear things about the Untied States that will not improve this relationship."
Maduro went on Venezuelan television Tuesday hours before announcing Chavez had died.
"There's no doubt that Commandante Chavez's health came under attack by the enemy," he said. "The old enemies of our fatherland looked for a way to harm his health."
The White House issued a short statement Tuesday night following news of Chavez' death that offered no condolences. "The United States remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law, and respect for human rights," it said.
The surest way for Venezuela to prove it is committing to an open election would be to invite international or local observers.
"That would be one thing where the absence obviously concerns us, and the presence would be extremely helpful," says the State Department official. "That's going to be critical moving forward, and that hasn't always been as transparent as it should be."