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  1. Wealth
April 20, 2009

Chavez doesn't fool me

By Spear's

As commentators wet their pants at the Chávez-Obama rapprochement, I want to spit with rage at their naïvet’.

Oh, puh-leeze! Historic handshake my elbow! So what if Chávez walked over to Obama, playing to the cameras, and handed him a book, and then, hours later announced his choice for his would-be ambassador to the US.

If the Americans are smart, they’ll let Chávez cool his heels for a few days before letting him know whether they intend to reciprocate with their own ambassador or indeed even accept Roy Chaderton’s credentials.

After all, they ejected each other’s ambassadors after the US (rightly) accused Chávez of aiding the FARC terrorist group and turning Venezuela into one of the world’s premier cocaine conduits.

As news commentators the world over get all bleary-eyed and wet their pants with excitement at the New World Order signalled by the Chávez-Obama rapprochement, I want to spit with rage at their naïveté. Let’s examine the evidence and see if we can surmise what is really going on here.

First, Chávez is mercurial, to say the least. He considers it his God-given right and there is nothing he likes more than being in the news. One way he can achieve this is by being unpredictable, for each change of direction will bring a fresh round of press coverage.

Given that, he would certainly want to muscle in on Obama’s space and ride his charm coattails, for he must feel that Obama is muscling in on his space: how dare he hop on a plane, be beloved, have everyone excited to meet him (in ways Bush never inspired) and get all the press coverage?

So Chávez, always a quick study, adopts a if-you-can’t-beat-’em-join-’em strategy. Never mind that a fortnight earlier Chávez was insulting Obama on national television; at Port-of-Spain he nearly asked Obama for his autograph!

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Second, with the oil price falling, a decade of overspending on thankless foreign initiatives has taken its toll on the Venezuelan budget. After all, the United States remains Venezuela’s biggest market and Venezuela still owns Citgo, a giant petrol chain that is a major source of national income.

So, not withstanding his recent billion-dollar deal with France’s Total to extract and partly refine oil in Venezuela before shipping it to Quandong, China for further refinement and distribution in that energy-hungry industrial behemoth, Chávez must be worried by Obama’s vow to stop buying Venezuelan oil within a decade.

Third, Chávez’s resentment was visible only recently when, in one of his blanket broadcast speeches, Chávez sniffed: ‘I don’t care what Obama thinks of me. It’s neither here nor there for me what the American Empire thinks. It really isn’t.’

This was the same speech in which he called Obama ‘an ignorant slob who should study, who should read.’ Hence, presumably, the book: ‘The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent,’ a series of essays the central theme was the exploitation of natural resources of Latin America since the arrival of European powers at the end of the 15th century.

If Chávez is trying to educate Obama about the source of Latin American anger with the US, he should have given Obama a readily-available English edition of the book, not a Spanish one. But as ever, Chávez’s actions were all about media effect, not substance.

Yet Obama might have to learn more than just Spanish to make heads or tails of the book, for it is written in a very peculiar style: the author himself has said the book was written ‘in the style of a novel about love or about pirates.’ Good luck, Barack!

The US would do well not to trust Chávez’s overtures, for he will always do what makes good propaganda for him and feeds into the mythology that keeps him in power – not what is actually good for the country. A crippled economy, a crumbling infrastructure, the world’s most dangerous city (Caracas) and a near civil war atmosphere are all testaments to his brutal incompetence.

Oh, yes, he’ll shake Obama’s hand and try to get himself invited to the White House and then brag on national television how the Empire ‘needs’ him, how they ‘fear’ him, how they have come to pay their respects. And oceans of red T-shirts will cheer.

But the drugs will keep flowing, the kidnappings will continue rising and he’ll continue to take over land to turn it over to the FARC he is hosting. No, this is not rumour: this is what actually happened over Easter to a close friend of mine: the FARC, on Venezuelan soil, came to her house and told them the Venezuelan army would be kicking them out in three days’ time. Then the guerrillas sat down in her kitchen and had supper.

Chávez has turned Venezuela into Colombia’s trash bin. If Obama wants to help Latin America, he would do well to keep that in mind.

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