Tuesday, December 14, 2004

France and Venezuela relations (with a British coda)

Monday we had the French sub secretary for foreign affairs visit the Venezuelan vice president, Jose Vicente Rangel.

Business between France and Venezuela has been brisk since Chavez made it to office. According to Monsieur Renaud Muselier French investments have multiplied by 12 between 1997 and 2003. Thousand of jobs have been created as a consequence. That might be but one cannot help to notice the 1997 date when Chavez rule started on February 2 1999. A way to improve the numbers and make the Chavez administration look good? The reader might think that I am again being overly critical but I will reply by citing further declarations of Monsieur Muselier. Some of them are actually translated into English by El Universal.
[Monsieur] Muselier called his meeting with Rangel "satisfactory and fruitful."

I bet! And then comes the coup de grâce:
"I have greeted and congratulated Venezuelan Vice President for he is a man who respects democracy. I would also like to seize the opportunity for congratulating the Venezuelan people for the latest events in this country," he added.

With two sentences Monsieur Muselier validates a vice president who is behind too many of the irregularities experienced in this country in the past 5 years, and sweeps away all the electoral irregularities and human rights abuses that have been extensively reported just this year. These, he would not tolerate for a second in Europe, but perhaps for its French African colonies. Oops! I meant ex-Colonies such as the Ivory Coast.

Now, let's be clear about something. France needs to sell its wares. And the international competition is stiff. Considering France top heavy social laws it probably tries to farm out jobs as much as it can to sustain an expensive welfare state that it is unwilling to reform. In this respect Chirac's administration is basically a populist one, very clumsy when it tries to promote a few ineffectual reforms. To protect himself from the left attacks he has found convenient to bolster cheap anti US stances, De Gaulle style . But he is no De Gaulle.

But did Monsieur Muselier need to add that last part? Does he read the papers? The answer is no, of course. That is the job of the French embassy which prepares such visits and advises its superiors on what is convenient to say. Responsibility for this statement is strictly due to the personnel of the French embassy in Caracas who has shown once too many its partiality towards the chavista regime. Monsieur Muselier job is to be nice to the guys in place and try to get some juicy contracts for French oil interests quite in trouble in the Middle East.

Meanwhile the British Minister for Latino American Affairs, Bill Rammell also visited the vice president. Business matters also, we all need to expand markets. But at least Mr. Rammell had the good taste to worry aloud about the recently passed "gag" law. Two countries, two diplomacies.

There is a final tidbit to nail the coffin of French diplomacy, if it can be charitably called so. El Universal also reports these words from Monsieur Muselier.
The French visitor underlined that Venezuela is a country respectful of the environment and "clear proof of it is that Venezuela is the first oil producing country that just ratified the Kyoto protocol, which is an example and a signal for the world"

Oh boy! Could one take this and run!?!

I will stay away of the Kyoto discussion. However Venezuela is a massive violator of its own environment. French embassy personnel are known for liking to travel around the country. They certainly know the myriad of environmental problems that Venezuela has from incredibly polluting cars, to extensive deforestation, to the near dead Maracaibo lake not to mention that half of our beaches get direct sewer hits. And they know of the blissful disregard for these problems by the authorities, starting with the central government, only prodded into action when the scandal is visible from a satellite (think Maracaibo Lake). Whoever inserted that in the information dossier of Monsieur Muselier made him look like a fool and should get fired on the spot.

As I write, France is once again the laughing stock of Venezuelan thinking class, probably even the chavista portion. But France has long shorn defense of democracy and moral values in the world for its petty mercantile interest. Very fitting as this month France commemorates 200 years of the coronation of Napoleon as emperor, the dictator that bled France, Europe and along the way postponed democracy for 70 years.

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