Once we start recovering from the immorality of Chavez foreign adventures it is time to start looking about what is going on really.
Long time readers have known that I never discuss a Venezuelan foreign policy per se. What takes place as a foreign policy is an instrument designed to serve Chavez interests and ambitions exclusively. There is absolutely no consensus about foreign policy in Venezuela, not even within chavismo. The reasons are very simple: the opposition does not count at all and once the links with Cuba are cemented and the ideology of a big Latin America is spouted for show, the rank and file chavismo is satisfied with the foreign outlook of the country. It should not because Chavez interests seem to go much further than that. In fact I am actually wondering if Cuba is directing Venezuelan foreign policy as much as I thought it did. If it is the case, then castro-cubans are sicker in their minds than what I thought.
The latest tour of Chavez, if totally obscene, still has a remarkable coherence. Al the heads of state visited are anti West, almost anti US. In fact a case can be made for Spain's Zapatero to be somewhat pro West but definitively a tad anti US. Though the Zapatero visit was probably a pay back call from Chavez. Still, the coincidence is troubling.
Lybia, Syria and Iran own absolutely anti US and anti Western values.
In Lybia Chavez met Sudan and Zimbabwe, which can certainly be classified as the above.
Turkmenistan, Belarus and Russia are rather anti West and rather anti US but this is probably due at least in part to their difficulty in fitting in, in developing any democratic value within their society. Let's say that they are anti West and anti US by default or incompetence than by sheer ideology as opposed to the above mentioned countries.
Algeria is anti West alone, and certainly not militantly anti US since this one somewhat supported the Algerian side during the colonial wars of the late 50ies. But then again fundamentalism has reared its head in Algeria.
Except of the Spanish fluke, there is a noticeable coherence in these visits: Chavez was touring countries that reject Western values, of democracy in particular, and countries that are militantly anti US or that could become so very easily. The multipolar world that Chavez pretends to be seeking is not so: it is a revived ersatz cold war world of an unholy alliance of countries only united in their resentment against the West.
There is much more to it than just sticking his tongue out at the US in this journey: there is a policy to create a strong anti US block, profiting from the economic crisis of the US and its myriad problems in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan and even China, North Korea and what not. If to this you add the recent exposes about the financial collusion between Venezuela and Iran, the Venezuelan offer to sell Iran gasoline so making any further UN sanctions a joke should tell you that Chavez is not at all a prince of peace as his recent anti Colombia propaganda is trying to present him. Chavez is more than preparing for war: he is looking for conflict.
We can add an additional element here. While Chavez was away Brazil made a major arms deal with France, a deal which if it is carried through will give Brazil access to advanced technology to build its own fleet of warplanes. Hence the reply of Chavez announcing billions of weapons purchase in Russia, including missiles that cannot go beyond 300 kilometers, that is, not even to Puerto Rico. Who are these missiles going to be pointed at? In which way do they serve any defensive purpose when Chavez has been promoting something like a guerrilla war system for Venezuela for all these recent years: La Guerra Asimetrica, the asymmetric war.
Chavez is playing a dangerous game here.
The US can knock out Venezuela very easily whenever it wants to. A few bomber flights and a few missiles can shut down the country effectively while Colombia intervenes. Let's underline first that the US has absolutely no need to do anything of the sort at the time being since it gets the only thing that interests it: Venezuelan oil. The point here is that it is not with the recent weapons purchase that Chavez is goign to withhold any US invasion. And Chavez must know that very well or he would have dropped his oil export to the US much faster than what he has done. The weapons are not against the US.
The weapons bought to Russia are mostly garbage. Whatever Brazil and Colombia are getting is of much better quality and will likely perform much better than the Venezuelan army, dispirited and dedicated to political activity and repression rather than the country defense.
Brazil is the rising power and it is not going to let Chavez take this role away of them. They got new oil reserves, they will be oil interdependent for the most crucial needs while having access to ethanol. They are a major food producer AND exporter and as such are already in much better shape to become a world power than anyone else, including China.
But worse for Chavez long term prospects is that his alliance with Iran (and Syria and Lybia) is not goign to be accepted either by the US, Europe or Israel. And it is going to be useless becasue these countries are not going to come to the rescue of Venezuela if it ever were needed. If Obama is a potential wuss, there is no telling that he can turn into a hawk suddenly. It has happened in US history. Furthermore, for Israel Iran nuclear program is a matter of life and death and if Europe and the US fail to ensure its safety, Israel will act alone and probably most of the Middle East will stay put as they all know that once Israel is eliminated they will become Iran-Syria next objective. Whatever Venezuela does during such conflict would be irrelevant as a few bombs dropped in Maracaibo and Puerto La Cruz will shut the country while none of Chavez allies can do a thing about it.
In other words the coalition that Chavez is trying to put up for some unforgivable reason could backfire really bad for Venezuela. Any money we lend to these countries is almost a sure loss. Any military problem they get involved in could result in bombs over Caracas while any military involvement we coudl get involved with Colombia is very unlikely to see Russia or even Brazil intervene. In fact a post Lula administration could even find itself on the Colombian side.
But what makes the whole thing even worse, and downright pathetic is that with this recent trip Chavez might have reached the peak of his strategy without realizing it. As of now, exposed as a terrorist supporter of his own doing, he is more likely to be taken seriously and will start seeing that Europe and the US are not going to put up with him anymore. France already criticized the latest weapons purchase by Chavez while the Morgenthau report in the US is only the first salvo in a series of financial revelations that are sure to come, in addition to exposing drug trafficking and other crimes.
All this effort and all of this expenses from Chavez and we are probably going to lose it all without being able to inflict any significant penalty. The costs for Venezuela of Chavez folly are going to be paid for a generation or two while the worst that awaits him is a few years in jail.
I had started this post before my trip but only got around to finish it as rains keeps me trapped inside.
PS: the economist seems to agree with me.