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Hugo Chavez diplomatic set backs piling up

By Daniel Duquenal | Venezuela News and Views

03.08.05 | I should be writing about the sad electoral perspective in Venezuela, which is making a mockery of democracy no matter who wins. But there are so many other interesting things to discuss that will affect any of the winners of next Sunday (and next December) that I prefer to write on them. The one that catches my fancy tonight is the recent series of Venezuelan, or rather Chavez, diplomatic failures.

Hugo Chavez, president of the bolibabana republik thinks that with the fat check book courtesy of Iraq problems and huge oil appetites of China, and now India, he can buy his way to world class leadership. Sure, he does also present ideas that are very fashionable in Porto Alegre and the streets of Davos or Seattle, but let's say that all indicates that he prefers the check book diplomacy. Unfortunately it does not seem to work very well.

Sure enough, landing in, say, Argentina to buy 500 USD millions of bad debt and shopping for some shipping does help Kirchner forget his displeasure at watching shooting of civilians in Caracas streets on February 27 2004 while he was visiting (1). But there is a limit as to what Kirchner or Lula in Brazil (who Chavez will be visiting soon to "order" a couple of dozens of oil tankers WITHOUT any bidding -2-) are willing to do to tolerate from Chavez. See, Kirchner and Lula are from the serious left, the one that agrees with nasty capitalists that the best social program is still a stable job with a decent pay check. One cannot blame them from smiling at Chavez in spite of their reticence: after all, shipyard do create lots of Argentinean or Brazilian stable jobs. But one is allowed to consider thinking that Chavez is starting to find Lula rather expensive lately, not to matter of a slightly tarnished image. So Chavez advisers turned him back to smaller, cheaper targets.

One idea that failed as soon as it was applied was the PetroCaribe summit or Puerto La Cruz, a few weeks ago (3). Trying to use the presence of Fidel Castro "as a last minute appearance due to the importance of the summit" Chavez tried to impose a new oil venture where all small Caribbean countries would participate, get cheaper oil, and eventually join a trade association, ALBA, promoted by Venezuela and Castro to counter any US proposed trade deal. Well, it did not work as planned as the two richest Caribbean countries said "no thanks!" Trinidad and Barbados have a much higher income than Venezuela, a much higher idea of what their country should be about, a much clearer vision of what is good for their citizens rather than their leaders. And that was that, poof! the grand PetroCaribe. Chavez will have to settle for the smaller version.

But Chavez was not going to let this setback stop him. After all, basking on Castro sucking up to him has given him the idea that other leaders should also do that (Did it ever occur to Chavez that Castro being subsidized by Chavez at enormous costs might actually be a victory of Castro diplomacy rather than Chavez? That the one taken for a ride was not Castro?). Not giving up on sinking the CAFTA accord of some Central America countries with the USA Chavez tried to force a Central America summit to include a reference to PetroCaribe and to ALBA (4). He did get something on PetroCaribe (who would refuse cheaper oil?) but ALBA was crossed out of the agreement (did anyone told Chavez that several countries had already signed up on CAFTA and that Congress just approved it?). A furious Chavez , like a spoiled brat that will play only with his toys and his rules, decided to shun the Panama meeting.

But that was unfortunately not all. Still ignoring totally that diplomatic victories are the result of long and patient diplomatic negotiations by professional players, Chavez tried to launch at the last minute its own candidate at the BID (IDB) (5). Ex-finance minister Rojas was the chosen victim as the only financial person of any caliber that the bolivarian revolution could send as a candidate. That failed so badly that Rojas candidacy had to be removed quite fast and the long planned Colombian candidate, Moreno, won without trouble. As un-bolivarian a candidate as one can think of: he likes clear accounts and balanced sheets.

But Chavez big mouth, probably infuriated by his foreign set backs, did play a further trick on him. In some fiery speech, long and fiery speeches that he is unable to control as Castro has learn to do so well, Chavez announced that the Latin American countries should not attend any further all-Americas summit meeting if Cuba was not reintegrated (6). Although many countries would like Cuba back in, even with the unpleasant Castro, the Chavez shout has been received with a deafening silence. All bets are that Chavez will attend, even if Panama was the first time he missed one of these summits that he so criticizes but so loves to attend, with sniffing dogs and usually the largest delegations of any LatAm country.

And so it goes, personal diplomacy of the worst style with the most awful results, not only for the Venezuelan people whose opinion is not consulted on that matter, but apparently with no more success for the its glorious leader.

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(1) In this infamous date a delegation of opposition marchers was shot down in their attempt to bring a letter to a group of world leaders including president Kirchner. The Argentinean president who early had refused to meet opposition leader, invited them to his embassy for a long meeting and left early that summit.

(2) Reported in El Nacional, with many details, unfortunately by subscription.

(3) PetroCaribe would be a subsidiary of Venezuela state oil company, PDVSA, as a special company to serve the Caribbean area, with lower oil prices due to the elimination of intermediaries. A good initiative indeed if it were not for the fine print on it.

(4) CAFTA is part of the series of free trade deals that the US is trying to set across the Americas. There is certainly many things to criticize on the strong arm tactics of some of the US negotiators, but at least there is a negotiation taking place and no country is forced into them. CAFTA just passed in the US and the Dominican Republic is about to join it in spite of Venezuela's best efforts to block it. ALBA is the counter offer of Chavez. It is structured around Venezuela and Cuba, its only members so far, with rather poor offerings besides Venezuelan oil, not to mention an insignificant market when one can opt for the US one! But Chavez and Castro forge ahead, already holding the first ALBA sports meeting!

(5) The BID is the Inter American Development Bank, an institution that channels the help money coming mostly from Europe and the US. Europe and the US are not going to put their tax monies in the hands of some bolivarian dealer. The miscalculation of Chavez there was dramatic!

(6) Cuba has been expelled from the OAS in the 60ies for its open intervention in other countries affairs. Something that might eventually happen to Chavez as he keeps meddling, at least with his mouth, in Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador.

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