Thursday, May 15, 2008

The art of transforming oil in human waste: Venezuelan diplomacy

Ah! One good thing about chavismo is that there is never a dull moment and even 10 years into office we can still be astounded by the latest "barbaridad".

It all started this week end through a few articles form El Nacional (subscription only). In one article we learned that out of 97 Venezuelan embassies only 15 are served by professional diplomats, that is, trained staff with a career record which justifies them to become ambassador at some point. In other words 84% of Venezuelan embassies are directed by a political appointee of some chargé d'affaires that might or might not be a political employee. Now, let's not be more Catholic than the Pope here: an embassy is always a nice reward for a big political benefactor and the US is certainly a country used to such type of rewards. However no matter what political appointee is sent to the Court of St. James's, the second in command is always a career diplomat.

So, what is a career diplomat? A legal spy, something invented long ago to allow countries to do reasonable spying on each other. Overtime embassies and diplomacy became also an extension of the local chamber of commerce wanting to buy or place goods. Thus the training is easy to guess: languages, table manners, ability to mimic native customs, a certain ability to do market surveys, demonstrated capacity to write complete reports, and many more, but one above all: professional discretion. This last one is not learned quickly and that is why there is such a thing as career diplomats: they are the ones that can pass out drunk if needed for the sake of their country without spilling a single bean.

OK, I did exaggerate some for effect but I trust the point is clear: someone fresh out from some ministry post or some army barrack IS NOT a born diplomat. Which is exactly what is happening in Venezuela today. You are a Chavez minister and your failure was particularly galling? no problem, you are dismissed during an Alo Presidente and a few weeks after your name is proposed for the embassy at Podunkonia. There your only real obligation will be to promote the glories of the Bolivarian revolution, create a groupie association to welcome Chavez were he ever to visit Podunkonia, identify possible recipients of payments to ensure votes at the UN that favor Chavez and such activities. Not for you of course to hold boring meetings where trade is promoted: this is done directly in Caracas with the local embassies, once juicy commissions are decided though discrete intermediaries.

In short, since you are not put there to defend Venezuela interests but to defend Chavez interests alone, you need no stinking diploma to justify your entry into the diplomatic career. Chavismo through the voice of Ali Rodriguez was not embarrassed to confirm this (1). From that interview published in EL Nacional last Monday we can read the following pearls:

- The wanna-be diplomats are sent to Cuba to study what they need for their career. [since when is Castro's Cuba a reference to make diplomats?]

- "Diplomacy has to be politics" "To diplomacy to project internal politics". [Quite clear, no? Venezuelan diplomats role is to promote the image of Chaevz since all that is done inside Venezuela is to promote the image of Chavez]

- "A college degree does not make a diplomat" [we know, we know, devotion to Chavez is the ONLY credential required if you want to get a state job in Venezuela]

- "The need for academics and of career diplomats is a silly prejudice" [Well, I suppose that we should thank him for his frankness]

- "[Cuba] has more embassies in Africa than Europe" [a new meaning for 'mine is bigger than yours']

Of course the results of such a diplomatic corps eventually become a disaster for the country who holds such values. We have two examples kindly provided as soon as these El Nacional articles were published.

Angela Merkel, German chancellor, a victim of the Stasi, had the misfortune to state an elemental truth: Chavez was not the voice, the spokesperson of South America. Of course, Yo, El Supremo was deeply offended in his silly pride and could not resist himself to insult Merkel publicly in the most outrageous terms we can think of. If Chavez had someone like me working for him he would have received the following memo:

Dear Comandante Presidente

The words of the Merkel woman must be countered. We suggest that you stress her links with the devil president of the US. You should suggest that she is too close from Bush to have any valid
opinion as to whom is a leader anywhere in the world.

Under no circumstances mention her name in the same sentence as the words Nazi, Hitler, or fascism: this would only result in Germans rallying behind her and a possible reaction of support from the European Union.

Patria, Socialismo O Muerte.

Obviously either no one was able to write such a memorandum or worse, was unwilling to mail it to Chavez. Thus sure enough Merkel benefited from a supportive opinion at home and the president of the EU went one further deploring all forms of populism in particular the leftist brand now seen in Latin America. (2)

That the president of the EU is right now held by a Portuguese, Jose Barroso, is a delicious coincidence as I present the second evidence as to why such organization of foreign policy can only result in trouble and public humiliation for Venezuela. With great fanfare the government has announced a deal to buy lots of food from tiny Portugal in exchange for oil. For this, the prime minister of Portugal, Socrates, made an official visit to sign for the juicy contracts. In all of this charade nobody in the diplomatic corps of Venezuela seems to have noticed how humiliating was the show.

See, first we should explain how come that after 10 years of glorious bolibanana revolution we need to knock Portugal's door to buy its agricultural surplus. And I am not talking olive oil or canned fish here, we are talking pasta! soy oil! powdered milk! Things that we would never associate a priori as great Portuguese exports!!!!!

Second we would like to know how come Venezuela is spending its oil money in food that, after a brief transit, will end up in the sewers instead of buying development high technology items such as trains from Germany. With those imports Portugal will get more money to finance its agro-industrial complex (since it has one and apparently Venezuela as a lesser one than Portugal) while Venezuela will get food which will last, well, you know, a few hours. With these exports, bought to private capitalistic companies in Portugal, that country might be able to produce even more food while in Venezuela private food producers will face yet a new unfair, subsidized competitor and thus lose money, and thus invest even less in Venezuelan agricultural production and thus eventually force the government to import yet more food.

Hard working, business savvy Portuguese will be laughing all the way to the bank... But in Venezuela the government is clueless about its admission of failed agricultural policies when a small country, half the people of Venezuela, a fraction of Venezuela area, is able to rescue it form some of its food shortages! I suppose that among the chavista hardcore some will find the news wonderful, but I am pretty sure that among the very few remaining chavista with some sort of a brain there must be a realization that we used to depend on the local Portuguese grocer for our food and now we must ALSO depend on the country itself....... that has got to be sobering for a few folks.

But I suppose that I should not be so hard on the present Venezuelan diplomacy: after all they did manage the deal with Portugal. Just as they are scouring all around the globe for the food not produced at home. Why Socrates allowed himself to be convinced to go to Caracas to sign is puzzling as many other countries sell food to Chavez without accepting to have their picture taken next to Chavez. So score one for the cheap political acts turned diplomats through a Cuban crash course.

And score all sorts of minuses for them in helping Chavez turning oil into human waste.


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1) Ali Rodriguez is a former guerilla who never lost his extreme leftist views, even though he projected moderation through his speech ways. He got them fulfilled under Chavez. After serving in many critical positions (read: those where money circulated) he ended up as ambassador to Cuba where he was also treated for diverse ills. Considering that the Havana job is today the main foreign post for Venezuela, where Chaevz dispatched his own brother for years, you know that Ali Rodriguez knows of all subventions, legal or illegal, all stolen monies, all secret accounts, etc... Ali Rodriguez is someone who will end up in jail if Chavez eventually leaves office, even if he never stole a coin for himself.

2) Mirjam Gehrke at DW of Germany even writes "To compare Angela Merkel to Adolf Hitler was disrespectful and ignorant. The reference was so stupid in fact, that the chancellor herself wouldn't respond to it." Yeah well, they are all finding out eventually how ignorant Chavez is. They could have saved lots of time had they be reading this blog :)


-The end-

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