Monday, December 20, 2004

Venezuela Foreign policy, or rather, Chavez one

Foreign policy considerations do not need to be very complicated. If one were to consider foreign policy as based on the type of alliances and trade deals that are supposed to guarantee a maximum of safety for one country, and a maximum of prosperity for its inhabitants, Venezuela natural and principal partnership would be with the United States, with essential side links toward Colombia, the Caribbean and to a lesser extent the rest of South America. Europe would be a purveyor of luxuries and Asia of electronics. Why?

As the geographically closest supplier of oil after Mexico and Canada, Venezuela could negotiate tightly with the US to get a good deal on other import-export matters besides barrels of oil.

Colombia is the only neighbor with whom we can trade easily and its agricultural vocation suits Venezuela who is less gifted on this respect.

The Caribbean is the Venezuelan mare nostrum. We can supply it with tourists and feed stuff so they can buy our gas and energy with what the other tourists bring.

All of these with minimum transportation costs, a common language (English is spoken by all business people).

Now, before I criticize Chavez foreign policy I must say that this very simplified scenario was never seriously considered. Past governments were only too happy to bicker with Colombia when the internal situation was tense. The US was never considered a potential partner but rather a wanna-be colonial power, who too often gave the natives reasons to be weary.

But what Chavez is doing now makes no sense for Venezuela. It might not even make sense for him.

Relations with Colombia have been tense since he reached office and the only reason they keep going on is simply because it is too important a source of feed stuff for Venezuela, because there is a too long a tradition of textile and manufactured goods imports that Venezuela is just unable to produce for the time being.

Relations with the US are strictly based on sending oil there faithfully so that the US does not look too much Venezuela's side while Chavez does his revolution. Right now the government makes every possible effort to find new clients even if costs are higher. And any supplier different from the US is more than welcome.

The Caribbean is a mess. Oil is used to browbeat any country that is not supporting Chavez adventures, in an aggressive role unheard of from Venezuela since democracy came in 1958. Venezuela is behaving worse than an Empirelet there. Cuba has become the tutelary agent of Chavez and thus Venezuela foreign policy is pretty much aligned with Castro's wishes.

Chavez has inaugurated an all out offensive into the South American circles. It looks more like the proverbial elephant in the China shop. Until a few months ago, saddled with a difficult referendum, Chavez could not exert as much muscle as he wanted, trying instead to sign up for any possible concession that would bring good photo-op for domestic usage. When not lambasting the US at any opportunity. That anti US stance became a main pillar of the referendum campaign although probably no more than a few thousand thought of that when they cast their vote. Chavez last affront was to ask people that have been working for years patiently to establish an economic union between non complementary economies to throw away everything and create UNASUR. That is right, all the advances that Mercosur has realized, all the slow process of the Andean Community which is extensively sabotaged by Venezuela, in particular since Chavez came into office, are to be passed over and leave room for an immediate political union. That should come first according to Chavez, regardless of whether people want it or if it is even feasible.

Not only this reveals the inner contempt that Chavez has for his colleagues in the Western Hemisphere and their work, but it reveals his own deep seated ignorance on how the world moves. NAFTA and EU came to be only after people decided that it would bring a betterment of their daily lives. It keeps existing and expanding because most people do detect improvements. No matter what, it is always a slow and heavily criticized progress.

But why is Chavez following such an obnoxious and brazen foreign policy whose sole aim seems to piss off the United States? Using the excuse of creating a multipolar world is only that, an excuse. Even if the United states wanted to control the whole world it would be impossible, and at any rate it would not last long. No Empire has survived the test of time though its culture might. And US culture, if we can call McDonald and rap culture, has already won the battle.

Pretending that chavismo foreign policy corresponds to a grand leftist design for the victory of the Venezuelan Revolution and the protection of the country from invasions is another chimera. That foreign policy is carried by hoping around in a luxurious airplane bringing along a claque, and financing all sorts of local entities to make sure adoring crowds and local pols welcome Chavez. No, any design is for the glory of the leader of the revolution.

The fine analysis by Julio Cesar Pineda realistically looks at all the advantages that Chavez has now, whether ill acquired or by sheer luck. It clearly demonstrates that a pragmatic foreign policy could greatly enhance Venezuela's influence. And indeed some steps have been taken such as changing foreign minister. But all these efforts are always in great danger as an irrepressible Chavez one day signs ALBA with Cuba's Castro just to spite the US it seems; and almost the next blurts out UNASUR.

Since August 15 Venezuela is too small for Chavez. He has trashed everyone inside and now he must seek glory outside. Narcissistic personalities are very predictable. As long as he is in office Chavez will always revert to his favorite role: trouble maker, just like his mentor Castro, a glamorous international personality that ultimately is used by all and achieves nothing.

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