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Sanitizing US Policy on Chávez
Posted: Sunday, January 26, 2003


The changing configuration of current US foreign policy being adopted towards the political vagaries of the regime of populist, reformist President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela can best be described as ambivalent and at worst, congenital bungling.

The US had unmistakably left its fingerprints in the botched up, short-lived April 12 coup. This belief gained further currency/credence from the ill-advised, premature US recognition of the Pedro Carmona regime on April 13. It would appear that the US has not learnt from its previous April 13 diplomatic faux pas committed against President Chávez having regard to its December attitude towards the Opposition led 4th strike action. It is now attempting to sanitize its position and salvage its reputation for being a supporter of democratic regimes.

The US is caught in the throes of a petro cum military dilemma. It is pathologically ill -equipped to play a carefully crafted, balanced, diplomatic role towards Venezuela-a country that is politically and ideologically cosmopolitan in its foreign policy posturing but uncompromisingly pro-USA energy-wise. In short, US foreign policy hitherto adopted towards the Chávez regime lacks credibility, consistency and democratic underpinnings.

It is patently that clear the US is now backpedaling. It has now made a virtual climb-down from its earlier December 2002 strong anti-Chávez rhetoric. Department of State press spokesmen including US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon are now reading from a re-written script. They are now underlining the position that the US supports the Government and people of Venezuela as well as the three mediators in their quest to achieve a solution to the current political/economic crisis that is "peaceful, democratic, constitutional and electoral".

In mid-December the State Department rallied its support behind an Opposition call for an unconstitutional "early elections" scenario. Ari Fleischer, State Department spokesman a few days later had to soften and dilute this position to support a 2 February "non-binding referendum". It would appear now that the US supports the constitutionally prescribed 3 August binding referendum midway through President Chávez's current term that began in 2000. The mid-term referendum is in fact a more democratic provision in the Venezuelan Constitution than any principle or checks that regulate the tenure of the US Presidency.

What are the political, strategic, military and economic underpinnings that are now clearly mitigating/softening/sanitising the US policy towards the Chávez regime? It is clear that the Anglo-American alliance has in fact decided to initiate hostilities against Saddam Hussein. This offensive has as its pre-condition the prior need to achieve a rapid restoration of the status quo in the 3.5m bpd producing oilfields of Venezuela. Striking PDVSA workers are pivotal to the current shutdown that has virtually crippled the Venezuelan economy, decimated oil production causing oil price to rise above $30.00. Venezuela and Iraq account for 5.5 million bpd of a world market/demand of 76 million bpd of which OPEC supplies 24 million bpd. Were the Iraqi invasion to take place simultaneous to a Venezuelan oil shutdown, oil price will escalate to $80.00 per barrel. This will cause havoc and convulsions in the world economy. The US cannot afford this consequence to its own economy.

In addition to its current bilateral initiatives geared to normalise/sanitize US-Venezuelan relations that will definitively weaken Carlos Ortega's led Opposition shutdown, the US has brokered the "Friends of Venezuela" mission consisting of Brazil, Mexico, Spain, Portugal, Chile and the USA that took shape during the installation of populist President Lucio Gutierrez of Ecuador on January 10. The US also supports the mediation roles being conducted by Cesar Gavaria, S/G of the OAS as well as by former President Jimmy Carter. The S/G of the UN, Kofi Annan has also underscored the need to achieve a constitutionally determined settlement in the current impasse in Venezuela during Chávez's recent visit to the UN. It seems that democratic justice may be done in Venezuela only because of a US/British penchant to remove/disarm Saddam Hussein even though several other states possess weapons of mass destruction.

The Bush Administration may also be realising, albeit rather late, that it cannot buck the growing popularity of 'el proceso"- a new populist political philosophy that has sunk deep roots among the huge working class in Brazil, Ecuador, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia and Venezuela.

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