Hugo Chavez’s envoy to US dies, leaving legacy of openness
BOGOTA, Colombia – Bernardo Alvarez, a longtime ambassador to the United States who led Hugo Chavez’s diplomats in defending Venezuela’s socialist revolution to skeptical foreign governments, has died. He was 60.
President Nicolas Maduro led a chorus of government officials who went on state television to express condolences about Alvarez. Maduro said he died Thursday in Caracas. He gave no cause of death but said that Alvarez had been looking ill the last time he saw him two weeks ago.
Alvarez served as Venezuela’s ambassador to the U.S. between 2003 and 2010. Although that coincided with a period of deep strain in relations between the two countries, U.S. officials had long seen in the former Caracas college professor a pragmatic conduit they credited with preventing ties between the countries from deteriorating even further.
“He was the last of the moderate Bolivarians,” remembers Michael Shifter, president of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue, which recently hosted Alvarez for an event. “With Bernardo there was always a willingness to engage in dialogue that wasn’t necessarily true of others in the government.”
For the past year Alvarez had been serving as Venezuela’s ambassador to the Organization of American States, where he helped stymie a hemispheric push to isolate Maduro for jailing opponents and squashing an opposition campaign to cut short his term through a recall referendum.
Maduro said that in recent days Alvarez had been reaching out to President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team in a bid to improve ties with the U.S.
Venezuela and the U.S. haven’t exchange ambassadors since 2010. Alvarez himself was expelled twice, in 2008 and 2010, in retaliation for Chavez’s decision to oust U.S. Ambassador Patrick Duddy for allegedly plotting his overthrow and then denying credentials for his named successor.
Alvarez was also posted as ambassador to Spain, served as deputy foreign minister and from 2013 to 2015 headed the Chavez-created Bolivarian Alliance of 11 leftist-run Latin America and Caribbean nations.