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Hugo Chavez faux pas in Brazil

By Daniel Duquenal | Venezuela News and Views

11.05.05 | Today and tomorrow there is a curious summit between South America and the "Arab" countries. The meeting is in Brasilia, hosted by Brazil's president Lula, trying to increase his international standing in organizing "multipolarity" in a serious and old fashioned way: increasing bilateral trade. Not to mention that Brazil is also a country constantly increasing its energetic needs, and looking for more foreign markets to export and pay the energy bill. Lula is a serious politician, a serious president also, who knows how to manage international tensions to benefit Brazil first, and him second. Something not as apparent from Chavez very personal brand of foreign policy.

So off went Chavez to Brasilia yesterday. For the Nth time since Lula has been elected, first to court him, and now apparently to upstage him in his own turf, as a few weeks ago in Porto Alegre. Although Brasilia is not Porto Alegre, sure enough, Chavez made today's summit his own stage to promote conflict with the US. Not quite in the agenda. Apparently Lula is not amused. Kirchener left early, which might not have much to do with Chavez speech and more with the spat between Argentina and Brazil, but let's not forget that Argentina has anti semitic problems still pending from the AMIA bombing and the Brasilia circus could not help him on that front. The aimed resolution which apparently has Chavez input, left a few murmuring if this one wanted to divide the world into good terrorists and bad terrorists. Lagos was not trying to stay longer either, probably too pleased to rush home and prepare the reception of the Palestinian authority leader, who curiously has not been invited in Venezuela that I know.

But Chavez blunder goes further, it becomes a faux pas.

Whether we like it in Hispano America, we are the cultural heirs of Moros y Cristianos, the long 800 year epic of the Reconquista, who gave us one of our founding language documents: El Cantar del mio Cid. That is, just as Beowulf and the Arthurian legend occupy the mythical spirit of the Anglo countries, an idea that can be traced down to Star Wars, so are the epic battles between the Moors and the Christians even if the Alcazar of Granada is a most beloved site of Spain. For some in Spain 1492 is more important for the fall of Grenada than for the landing of Columbus.

Of course, this does not stop us from welcoming a large Muslim immigration. For example in Venezuela, "Arabs", los Arabes, whether they come from Syria or Morocco have been able to integrate quite well. Caracas has the largest Mosque in South America. Arabic sounding names can be heard in the National Assembly. Venezuela had no problems swimming inside the OPEC. And Menem was elected Argentina president.

I suppose that our Spanish heritage also brings us an intuitive knowledge of what Islam was in Spain. Our vocabulary is littered with words of Arabic origin. These perhaps make us abler than other European to mingle more freely with Islam; this allows Zapatero to speak of "encounter of civilizations" without being as ridiculous as any other Western leader would. Islam does not threaten our basic Christian structure: we already resisted once and along the way we took what we needed from Islam. However, we do not like it when one of us plays lightly with this, and for his own benefit. I would even venture that the silly pro Arab anti Bush speech of Chavez in Brasilia fell flat, for both Latin and Arabic audience. The only Western Culture truly respected in the Middle East might be the Spanish one, the only one able to push Islam back in history. Certain cultural parameters cannot be tampered with lightly.

PS: note added next day. Miguel seems to have had the same idea last night and also covered the summit. He also added a note as to Venezuela being involved into some weapon deal in Mexico. Imagine that!



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