Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Mr. Dirceu "goes" to Caracas
Or, is Brazil throwing its weight around?
Tuesday 18, November 2003

An interesting op-ed in EL Universal, from Alberto Garrido brings back the spot light to the declarations a few days ago from the chief of Staff of Brazil’s president Lula da Silva. The least that we can say is that the declarations of Mr. Jose Dirceu are disingenuous.

Mr. Garrido reports the declarations from an AP cable of November 10, in particular:

1) “If the US occupies Colombia, it will occupy the Amazon. Besides, it would never leave Colombia”

2) “2007 is not that far. The [Venezuelan] opposition should wait.”

The refresh the readers mind, Mr. Dirceu, as a very close collaborator of president Lula, can only come from a background of mild leftist anti US ideas, at the very least. But this is par for the course. However, as a new leader of the most powerful nations in South America, by far, he is certainly not immune to the sweet imperialist siren’s calls.

Mr. Garrido makes a precise analysis of the role of Chavez within the presumed Brazilian plans.
“Brazil has set itself to confront the USA on the political, diplomatic and economical terrain so as to extend its hegemonic power in Southern America and climb up steps in the main world power ranks.

In this scheme, Venezuela and Brazil are these days in an alliance where the national reformism of Lula walks in front holding the hand of Venezuela’s anti US revolutionary project of Chavez. [this would explain the recent attitude of both countries at the recent Bolivian summit]. When Brazil and the US will establish their sphere of influence there will be other definitions. Meanwhile, Lula, the head of the “group of friends” [in charge of supervising dialogue between the opposing Venezuelan parties] stamps his signature against the recall election” [my notes or summary].

Let’s forget about the stupid idea of the US invading Colombia. Such an adventure would make Iraq look like at picnic at the beach. Colombia is not a very good trampoline to conquer South America, even less when countries like Chile and Peru are already knocking at the door of NAFTA. Dirceu must be saying those silly lines for the peanut gallery on his left.

The fact is that Brazil has an imperial tendency, just like the US has/had, or Russia had/has. Big countries seem to show such signs. Brazil is already half of South America and just like Germany within the EU, it is the natural leader of South America. Except that Germany is far less than half of the EU and has plenty of competition on the leadership front.

Chavez is the useful buffoon. For the Brazilian elite worried about securing its future power in the world, accepting Lula and some of his program is a small price to pay. Lula, certainly understanding the role of Brazil, and the historical chance he has been given, does not want to rock the Brazilian boat more than necessary. Chavez is the ideal surrogate to be used by Lula when he needs to be seen as more leftist than he really is, or can be. Who cares in Brazil whether Venezuela is held by a banana republic dictator? One cold almost hear behind closed doors in Brasilia “They elected him, it is their problem. Meanwhile let’s use Chavez to scare the IMF, the OAS, the EU, etc, to illustrate how well behaved Brazil is.” This is how we must interpret the second comment of Dirceu: he probably meant to say “We need Chavez at least a couple of years more while we build up our defense lines against the US. Then if necessary we will remove him ourselves”. All indications point out that Lula has not been very impressed by Chavez. But Chavez is far away and he can useful. Mr. Garrido is quite right when he sates that Lula is not a disinterested party on Venezuela, even though he chairs the “group of friends” that is supposed to help ease tensions in Venezuela. The opposition seems to understand that very well: they did not protest the Dirceu declaration.

The second declaration of Mr. Dirceu is actually at the heart of the problem on how the outside world is viewing Venezuela. Since the end of the general strike in early February the casual observer might have forgotten the millions marching in December. That observer might think that Chavez has regained the upper hand. Most casual observers never understood the complex nature of the Venezuelan troubles where a middle class refused to be taken for a ride and was eventually joined by significant sectors of the lower classes in the face of an inept totalitarian project. The casual observer who is limited by the old left/right/back/white cliches really never understood this. It is easy for him to suggest that we admit defeat and wait for their next electoral contest in December 2006. A casual observer as Mr. Dirceu does not realize that the way institutions are been subverted and it might be too late in December 2006 to have free and fair elections.

Is Mr. Dirceu naïve or machiavellian? One could say that he is both.

He is naïve because he appears not to understand that a government that has been so grimly opposed for two years by its people is a government unlikely to restore a minimum of consensus to get the country out of the ditch. Political miracles are hard to come by. Asking us to wait two more years on top of the two we have endured is either insensitive or stupid, or both.

He is machiavellian, though he reveals his colors: perversely Brazil needs Chavez. It cannot escape Brazil that the way Chavez is handling Venezuela, by 2007 Venezuela will be totally eliminated as a possible financial contender in South America. With a solid oil industry Venezuela could become a financial center, a possible counterweight of sorts to Sao Paulo’s might. Argentina, at least for the time being and probably for years, will be unable to offer that necessary counterweight. Even if Chavez leaves in 2007, the damage done in Venezuela might be very long term, long enough to ensure an uncontested Brazil as the sole US counterpart, as the country holding the director’s baton in South American organization and treaties. Is Mr. Dirceu rally speaking for Lula? Is Lula hoping that the recall election fails?

It is also a stern lesson for us in Venezuela. If anyone harbored illusions for an external savior, it should be clear that we are facing Chavez on our own, as it should be. Nobody is going to make sacrifices to get us out of our folly.

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On a tangentially related matter. Chavez big mouth has provoked yet again a diplomatic incident. At the Bolivian Ibero-American summit last week-end he proclaimed that Bolivia should get back its access to sea, an access that it lost fair and square to Chile a century ago. Regardless of the merits of the Bolivian cause, I wonder what Mr. Chavez would say if somebody would emit such an opinion on our own border conflicts. The Chilean ambassador has been recalled “for consultations” by the Lagos administration, a socialist from Allende’s years himself. Chile apparently is not amused by Chavez meddling.

Perhaps Mr. Dirceu should be well advised to avoid the roads to Caracas as some unpleasant declaration could come any day from Chavez on Brazilian internal matters. Caracas is a dangerous place Mr. Dirceu.

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