American diplomats are no strangers to adversity, but a foreign service post in Latin America does not generally rate as life-threatening duty. The shooting of two U.S. embassy staffers at a nightclub in the Venezuelan capital adds a new dimension to the job description.
In a still-murky incident, the two officially unidentified embassy personnel were shot in an apparent altercation outside what the State Department is calling a “social spot” but which independent reports labeled as a strip club.
In a press briefing yesterday, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell gave sketchy details of the incident, saying only that the two individuals sustained non-life-threatening injuries and were hospitalized in Caracas. When pressed for details, Ventrell added, “I’m not sure if it was a restaurant, or a nightclub, or what the actual establishment was.”
Other media, including Reuters and BBC, described the scene of the shooting as a strip joint known as Antonella Club 2012. There, according to local media, guns were drawn and one of the embassy employees reportedly took a bullet in the leg while the other was shot in the abdomen. Venezuelan media identified the injured Americans as Roberto Ezequiel Rosas and Paul Marwin.
With more than 70 murders for every 100,000 inhabitants, Caracas has earned its reputation as one of the most violent cities in the world. However, whether yesterday´s after-hours shooting was just another statistic for the Western Hemisphere’s most crowded police blotter or one more incident of gringos gone wild in the tropics is an open question.
Last year, two American Secret Service agents were sent home after allegedly cavorting and then publicly bickering with Colombian call girls in the hallway of a luxury hotel in Cartagena. Part of the advance security detail tasked with protecting President Barack Obama during his visit to the city for the Sixth Summit of the Americas, the agents allegedly had engaged the services of the escorts at a nightclub, invited them back to their hotel for a nightcap, and then shortchanged them at the end of the evening. Washington apologized to the Colombians for the incident and launched an investigation into rogue behavior by the Secret Service.
The uproar over the Cartagena incident had barely subsided when, a few weeks later, word got out of an earlier caper that until then had been kept quiet. The incident, in December 2011, involved three U.S. Marines at the embassy in Brasilia who were fingered for roughing up a prostitute outside a strip club in the Brazilian capital.
This time, America's finest were blamed not just for the raucous confrontation but for throwing one of the call girls from a moving minivan in the club´s parking lot. Romilda Aparecida Ferreira, a 31-year-old exotic dancer, landed in the hospital with a fractured collarbone and ribs, and a punctured lung. She later sued the embassy personnel for damages.
Rodrigo Machado, an attorney representing Aparecida Ferreira, branded the crime an "attempted homicide" and, "ultimately, an offense to Brazilian sovereignty."
The State Department spokesman, Ventrell, told Washington reporters that U.S. officials were in close contact with the Americans injured in Caracas. “Embassy security and health-unit personnel are at the hospital and have been in touch with the two individuals and their families,” he said.
Authorities in both countries are looking into the incident. Whatever the outcome of the investigation, the headlines will do little to mend fences between Washington and Caracas. Relations between the two nations grew increasingly strained during the 14-year rule of Hugo Chávez, who rarely missed an opportunity to decry U.S. “imperialismo.”
Chávez died in March, after a long bout of cancer, but his successor, Nicolás Maduro, has taken up the anti-gringo refrain, insinuating that the Americans secretly “inoculated” Chávez with cancer.
In March, Venezuela expelled two U.S. military servicemen from the country, allegedly for trying to “destabilize” the country. Washington reciprocated, ordering two Venezuelan diplomats to go home.