Venezuela, Frustrated by the U.S., Turns to Containment

After years of vitriolic rhetoric on the part of United States leaders, the government of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has decided on a policy of containment of the U.S.

After years of vitriolic rhetoric on the part of United States leaders, the government of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has decided on a policy of containment of the U.S. “We recognize the U.S. government as having been elected through a fairly democractic process, despite unanswered questions as to the validity of the last two presidential elections,” said a high-ranking Venezuelan foreign ministry spokesperson, speaking on background, “and we look forward to having the U.S. play a constructive and mature role in the development of the Americas.”

Venezuelan political and military experts have long been dismayed by the fiery populist language of U.S. president George W. Bush, a man not known for subtlety of analysis. Using concepts of class struggle and religious fundamentalism, Bush in his first term of office brought about a sharp division of his nation into separate and competing blocks of “red” and “blue” states, generating a wide arc of instability stretching from the East to the West coast, and reaching as far as Hawaii in the Pacific and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean.

The experts concur that Mr. Bush has championed policies that favor the rich–whom Mr. Bush refers to as “our base”–for electoral as well as ideological reasons. They also point to a growing lack of democratic rights within the U.S., justified by Mr. Bush on the grounds of national security. “It’s true that Bush adroitly works through apparently democratic processes, aided by Washington grey emminence Karl Rove and a compliant Congress and Supreme Court, but the content of what he does is profoundly undemocratic. We are concerned about the direction of the country,” pointed out political scientist Edgardo López Matas, of the Caracas-based think tank Venezuelan State Enterprise Institute.

Military leaders, on their part, express their concern about the unrestrained arms buildup by the Bush administration, noting that ideologists within the latter openly discuss their plans for world domination based on overwhelming military superiority. A study produced by members of the Venezuelan Defense Advisory Council has questioned the need for large-scale U.S. increases in the production of equipment such as small arms, personnel carriers, military communications gear, and helicopters, poiting out that these are likely to be distributed around the region, provoking a dangerous arms race, as well as ending up wih illegal groups, threatening elected governments in the Southern Hemisphere.

Bush´s close ties to the right-wing government of Álvaro Uribe in Colombia, in particular, are troublesome to President Chávez. Bush sends money, arms, and advisors to Colombia´s radical government, and the alliance between the two governments is stronger now than ever. This worries Venezuelan Army Commanding General Ismael Badwell, who told Miami´s Channel 23 that “together the United States and Colombia are a destabilizing force in the region”. “Venezuela will not sit idly while the alliance of Bush and Uribe tries to destabilize Latin American democracies,” he added.

Mr. Bush’s foreign economic policies have also raised concerns, in particular his nettlesome insistence on grouping all regional countries into a free-trade area to be led and controlled by the U.S. Editorials in Venezuelan papers have decried U.S. “bullying” of smaller countries in Central America into unfavorable trade agreements tending to facilitate U.S. penetration of the services sectors of those countries, as well as of the more traditional agricultural and manufacturing markets.

Samuel Sosa, Venezuelan Assistant Minister of Foreign Relations for North America, signaled a disdain for Mr. Bush as recently as December of last year, when he said of Mr. Bush that “he does not play well with others,” and called for Mr. Bush to “grow up.”

Venezuela has not, however, sponsored a coup in the U.S., nor has it in general shown signs of attempting to overthrow the Bush government. That may be because the U.S. is a major purchaser of Venezuelan oil, and Venezuela’s state-owned oil corporation operates the large network of CITGO gas stations in the U.S. Mr. Bush has warned that if Venezuela attempts to kill him or attacks the U.S. the latter will not “buy not a penny of oil from Venezuela.” For all of Mr. Chavez’ exasperation with the antics of Mr. Bush and his fervent followers, Mr. Chavez has settled on a policy of containment of the U.S., rather than of regime change.

In support of that goal, he called last week on all Latin American countries to pressure Mr. Bush into more-civilized behavior, using the OAS and other multinational organizations as well as bi-lateral diplomatic channels. A foreign ministry spokesperson, declining to be named, said that “we are trying to find a way to let him know that he (Bush) was not elected king and emperor.”

At the same time, the multi-party Venezuelan National Endowment for Popular Democracy (NEPD) has announced that it proposes to continue to fund democratic forces in the U.S. that will work as part of civil society to combat Mr. Bush, within the parameters of democratic institution-building. The charter of the NPED call for it to provide funds and technical assistance in countries where the government denies the democractic will of the majority.

The NPED has been interested especially in helping to break the hold of the big media corporations on news and opinions, in the manner in which the Bush government has trumped scientific studies with ideological positions, and in the lack of effective political participation by the people of the U.S. About half of the electorate does not bother to vote, and, as surveys have shown, a similar proportion considers as true assertions–for example, having to do with the war in Iraq–that even high-ranking officers of the Bush government no longer assert as fact.