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How anti-U.S. is really Venezuela's government?

By Oscar Medina, El Universal

This has proved to be the year of the most furious anti-imperialist talk for Chávez' entourage. The government's spokesmen seem to make efforts to demonstrate who is the most anti-Yankee boy in the block. This verbal burst may have started the day when the Americans began to sniff out in the muddy ground of the revoking referendum. But the big bang occurred on January 9, when the U.S. Homeland Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice challenged President Hugo Chávez to allow the Venezuelan people to resolve the crisis through a recall.

This fulminated Chávez' patience. The president launched the famous statement calling Rice illiterate. "What the heck do you have to do with the recall in Venezuela? I don't give a damn what they call me! The U.S. government needs to accept that the time when the governments of this continent were subject to Washington's empire is coming to an end," he said.

Since then, many words have gone and come back. Several U.S. spokespersons, including "Comrade Kerry," have had something to say about Chávez' manners and relations with unwanted personalities and the minefield that the recall is going through.

Of course, according to the Chávez doctrine, President Bush and company are even guilty of people who died on April 11, 2002, in Caracas. But how anti-U.S. is really Venezuela's government? Is it possible to sell oil to a country that, in the words of Chávez and company, is in a permanent conspiracy together with the Venezuelan opposition?

"Today's revolutions cannot survive without financing," said internationalist María Teresa Romero. "And Venezuela sells the oil that finances the revolution, both locally and abroad. Chávez may reaffirm his relations with China and the Arab block as buyers, but still needs the United States. Besides, the companies that make business with Venezuela always privilege their own interests, especially if they obtain very cheap prices."

However, Ítalo Luongo, who is also an internationalist, said that Chávez' "double discourse is not really (double)," because there is not contradiction in the president. "One thing is to have good commercial relations with the private sector of the United States and another is to be against that country's government," Luongo said.

"You sell oil to private buyers. There is never a contract by which (the state oil firm) Petróleos de Venezuela sells oil to the government of the United States," he added.

Former Venezuelan Ambassador Julio César Pineda is convinced that the high political spheres in the United States understand that Chávez' attitude "is just a strident speech, as great oil agreements are now signed more easily than in the past."

But Pineda conceded that this may bring consequences. "With (the Iraq War), Venezuela gained a new relevance. The Unites States needs a trustable oil supplier that does not cause problems in the region. That is why you have to be careful, and that is why the Venezuelan ambassador to the United States is always trying to correct what Chávez says. That is also why they are paying a costly lobby firm," he said.

Let them come

"Just as he plays with the Constitution, Chávez plays with the limits of the international community, especially with the United States," Romero said. "And (he does this) to capitalize his image in the revolutionary market (...). And even though the international community see this clearly, its capacity of response is too slow."

In March, Chávez repeated in an interview with Brazil's Folha de Sao Paulo what he had said in his radio show "Hello, President!": "If Bush has the crazy idea of destabilizing Venezuela, I would be forced to suspend crude sales." Meanwhile, the Pdvsa mission was in Washington showing an opposed position: Venezuela remains a trustable supplier to the United States.

Days later, Roger Tissot, an analyst of oil risk for PFC Energy, disdained the threats. "It would be a suicide for Venezuela," he said.

And he criticized the discourse as well. "In Venezuela, we can see what I call 'the Club,' a selected group of international companies favored by the government, and with which it must have some kind of economic, technical and other relation," he commented.

This year, Chevron Texaco will invest $50 million in the Platforma Deltana project (in the western part of the country), and other companies are expected to pour $100 million next year. These are what Chávez calls "My U.S. brothers."

Venezuela has proven reserves of gas of 147 trillion cubic feet, and an estimated 196 trillion are still to be discovered. Ranked as the country with the world's eighth biggest gas reservoirs, Venezuela needs investments for its gas industry. And, curiously, one of its goals is to sell that gas to the United States. Might that be the sparkle that ignited the tensions in Bolivia? Exploiting Venezuela's offshore gas potential requires $50 billion during the first 30 years.

The "brothers" from Chevron Texaco, Conoco Phillips and Statoil have already invested $170 million for prospect activities in the Deltana project. The Mariscal Sucre Project, in the Gulf of Paria, in Sucre state, will receive $2.7 billion from its partners Pdvsa, Shell, Mitsubishi and Qatar Petroleum. How can a discourse knock down businesses this big?

Is it possible?

The Stratfor intelligence agency said in March that oil shipments to the United States were not likely to be stopped. If this eventually happened, the United States would interpret it almost as an hostile action that would unfold a massive wave of lawsuits from U.S. firms against Venezuela.

Luongo said that if the Venezuelan government ever feels that it can survive by exporting the minimum amount of oil, it might seek another market. This market might be China.

"But his substitution would take at least two years to become effective, and we would starve - yet remember that for this government, the revolution is more important than the nation's economy," he commented.

In the hypothetical case that the situation gets too tense, as Luongo said, the firms would stop negotiating, "but everything would depend on whether Venezuela is considered an enemy."

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson believes that this scenario is not that remote. Nelson spent three days in Venezuela and he did not like what he saw. ''We may reach the point where the U.S. has to treat this government as a hostile and unfriendly government to the U.S. and the U.S. interests,'' he said.

In Romero's opinion, that moment may come. "Numerous political and military voices are sounding louder and louder," she said. "The continental security problem that Chávez might represent if he manages to spread his revolution is a general concern. That is what Nelson points out. No matter how many times Venezuela argues that it is a safe supplier, something has to be done. And the Organization of American States should take a role in it."

Translated by Edgardo Malaver

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