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Venezuela Foreign policy: the Peru case

By Daniel Duquenal

02.05.06 | The first thing that the casual observer must be made aware of is that there is no such thing as a Venezuelan foreign policy. There is only a Chavez foreign policy that is bankrolled through the unfair oil revenues that Venezuela is benefiting of (1).

This being said, we now must turn to define what Chavez foreign policy is. Unfortunately this is not made it any easier after dissociating Venezuela’s fate from Chavez interests. The problem is that been the opportunist that he is, Chavez accessory goals can change as needed as long as they serve the only constant goals in Chavez mind: his glory, his leadership of Latin America, his inheritance of Castro’s mantle. Curiously, not necessarily in this order. This is what gives Chavez “diplomacy” this rather erratic behavior, though constant aggressive tone.

Finally, we must keep in mind that foreign policy can quite often be a reflection of the troubles at home. There is a political dictum of sorts in the US: the second term tend to be more about foreign policy than the first term. Presidents find some problems at home intractable and even if they were not tempted by foreign policy in their first term, they turn to it in their second in the hope to achieve abroad what they cannot achieve at home, for the history books of course. If we observe that Chavez is in his in his 8th year of rule (sworn in February 2, 1999) and that in seven years has failed in making significant dents in Venezuelan social problems such as the creation of real jobs, bringing the per capita income above the 1998 figure, failing to establish (or even reform) a comprehensive social security / health / unemployment / worker safety plan, we can see why he is seeking overseas “successes” to distract the hoi polloi at home. Because no matter what some folks say, the shine is fading as un-kept promises keep piling up.

Thus, after surviving the Recall Election of 2004, in a contested way, Chavez sought fast glory abroad to silence all. Helped with a fat wallet that now he disposed at will, as if it were his very personal charity fund, he has set to wreak havoc through LatAm in the name of resistance against the Empire (read: George Bush rather than the US per se). This had not stopped him to remain a reliable supplier of oil to the US through all of these two years of confrontation, an inner contradiction that is duly observed by the people whose business he meddles in. But Chavez is not going to be bothered by such contradictions as the anti US language ensures him, unquestioned, the support of the knee jerk left, which is all that he needs to inherit the mantle of an obviously ailing Castro.

The Peru intervention, as an example

It is vox populi that Chavez has been helping any leftist or pseudo leftist in LatAm since he has reached office. A short list: the ambiguity over the Colombian FARC; financing all sorts of suspicious operations in Argentina; open charity in Uruguay though this one has a per capita income MORE than double Venezuela’s; blackmailing Caribbean countries for cheap oil; allowing the trade deficit grow in favor of Brazil in gigantic proportions; openly supporting Morales of Bolivia; and more recently, direct conflicts such as insulting Mexico president, killing the Andean Community (CAN), manipulating the Mercosur, sending free oil only to pro Sandinista mayors in Nicaragua, and supporting Ollanta Humala in Peru. Quite a busy agenda that is far from including all the mischief Chavez incurs.

The Peruvian intervention is quite a representative case, even more interesting as it illustrates quite well how unhinged Chavez is becoming as no one at home seems to be able, or even willing, to tell him that certain things are just not said. It all started with the candidature of Ollanta Humala. This right wing military turned leftist for political expediency (and Venezuelan campaign money) has managed to win the first round balloting of last April. Though with only a 30% while some polls seemed to hope for a higher result (2). This must have upset Chavez as for once serious Peruvian polls did get the result except that they missed on Lourdes Flores: it was ex-president Alan Garcia that got the nod with almost 25%.

To this we must add that the relationship between Toledo and Chavez was never very good. Chavez could never find a good way to attack Toledo since his economic policies were more successful that Chavez’s policies (3), since Toledo was a real Peruvian Native (un Cholo), since Toledo was a real democrat. The arrival of Ollanta, who strangely looks mestizo unlike Toledo in spite of his similar native heritage, and the signing by Peru of a TLC with the US gave finally Chavez a way to attack this pesky successful center right guy form Peru. Now Toledo is a Vanilla Oreo, yellow outside, white (serving the Empire) inside.

But Chavez is an elephant in a china shop. And the lame 30% of Humala must have agitated him at the idea that Garcia could win, just as Uribe is apparently assured of a vote result better than whatever Chavez might get in December. That could sway Ecuador to stick with its two neighbors in its own elections, splitting once and for all LatAm in two, with much less complacency toward Chavez in general once the new governments have experienced close up and personal the animosity of Chavez.

So in short order we have had the following highly distasteful and inappropriate events. Ollanta was accompanied on Peruvian election day by none other than Jorge Rodriguez, of infamous Venezuelan CNE reputation. This single event is enough to etch in stone the Venezuelan intervention in Peruvian electoral matters, in addition to gauge once again the immoral position of the CNE ailed shrink.

Then, as Alan Garcia seemed to climb on top to ensure his pass to the second round, Chavez agitated that Garcia was, in his mind, a more dangerous adversary than Flores, decided to strike somewhere and found nothing better than to leave the Andean Community. When all deplored the hasty departure, wanting to call for some summit to straighten the mess up, Chavez in his munificence declared that if Colombia and Peru annulled their signature of the Free Trade agreement with the US, he would accept meeting them. Such unacceptable blackmail, from some one who had done its best to sabotage the CAN at any opportunity, did get the reply it deserved. Uribe for one dared Chavez to negotiate a real free trade agreement for a “Bolivarian” CAN. No reply from Caracas of course, probably quite humiliated at been reminded that Bolivar does not belong to Venezuela alone, and even less to Chavez.

But it got worse: even Humala did not applaud at Chavez leaving the CAN. Only Morales, who is looking more and more as Chavez agent than the president of his country as he is fast alienating more people in Bolivia, sort of chimed in, going as far as signing a free trade treaty with Cuba and Venezuela (4). A more unhinged Chavez decided to accuse Garcia of becoming the “empire” candidate now that Flores was out. Escalade was fast: Chavez threatened to break ties with Peru if Garcia won the run off election. And soon Chavez added personal insult by calling Toledo and Garcia “caimanes de un mismo pozo” (crocodiles from the same pit). Of course in his fury Chavez has forgotten that Garcia was certainly not the candidate of Toledo, a bitter enemy in fact. But when you yield to low passion and no one at home dares to tell you to shut up, that is what happens.

Sure enough Toledo had no option but to recall his ambassador to Venezuela, adding the following (5):

"Señor Chávez, aprenda Ud. a gobernar en democracia y trabajar con nosotros para integrar a América Latina, no para desestabilizarla con una chequera" (Mr. Chavez, learn to rule in democracy and to work with us to integrate Latin America, not to destabilize it with a check book).

Today we got an even stronger reply of Garcia to Chavez, where he even said "I am not afraid of Chavez. I am not a Venezuelan conscript". Precious! When you think at what has happened to some of Venezuelan conscripts during Chavez tenure.... (in Spanish with more details here)

What is left to say? If Garcia wins the Peruvian election he will have cold relations with Venezuela as long as Chavez is president, something that will certainly not help the CAN. Chavez having dragged Morales in his personal vendetta will also deteriorate durably the Bolivia-Peru relations. The Mercosur partners will have now a full appreciation to the cantankerous guy who wants to become a full member of the Mercosur, going already on record as demanding a revision of the Mercosur on his own terms. The predicted result: increasing isolation of Venezuela.

Whenever a powerful leader has confused his interests with those of his country, the country suffered. A lot sometimes.

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1) I mean unfair not in the sense of high prices, I am all for them if anything to teach the modern world that oil is a non renewable resource, that in addition pollutes a lot, so the less we consume the better off we are. By unfair I mean that the Venezuelan windfall has fallen into the hands of such an incompetent but mean and driven individual who is squandering all that income for his glory.

2) This is the opposite to Bolivia where Morales surprisingly won strongly on the first round, with a much higher vote than the polls expected. Apparently some in the left took that as an omen for all future LatAm elections.

3) Toledo is leaving after an unprecedented 5 year economic expansion, which astoundingly sped up to 6.6% in 2005! With a low 1 digit inflation as a cherry on the cake. No matter Chavez is envious and resentful!

4) That trade treaty seems a joke, a purely political move as it was “negotiated” in record time, probably due to the simple fact that besides some Bolivian soy and Venezuelan oil there is really nothing to trade between these countries. This did not stop Morales to ask for a renaming of the CAN as "Anti-Imperialist Community". There are some things that just cannot be made up!

5) There is an interesting interview in La Republica, a Lima newspaper, that I recommend. Fabian Novak, a Peruvian expert on the matter, states quite well what is the perception of Chavez that more and more people are starting to have. Nothing new really, but nicely stated in that interview. You can also read in El Commercio of Lima a detailed expose of motives by the Peruvian government. At home, nobody cares, most think it is yet again some "malacrianza" of Chavez (ill breeding) or simply oppose Chavez as Petkoff did eloquently: "This country cannot be ruled by a man that on occasion gives the impression of a degree of arrogance almost demential."

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