U.S. National Security Strategy Cites Venezuela as a Challenge

The Bush Administration’s 2006 Strategy document calls Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez a demagogue “seeking to destabilize the region” and focuses on security importance of free market reforms.

Caracas, Venezuela, March 17, 2006—Yesterday, the White House made public its 2006 National Security Strategy, the second document to be released by the US government which discusses Venezuela as a regional problem in the past month and a half.

“In Venezuela, a demagogue awash in oil money is undermining democracy and seeking to destabilize the region,” the report says, listing Venezuela as a challenge which “[demands] the world’s attention.” By contrast, it complements oil producing Saudi Arabia’s “preliminary steps to give its citizens more of a voice in their government.”

In another apparent reference to Venezuela, the report says, “The deceptive appeal of anti-free market populism must not be allowed to erode political freedoms and trap the Hemisphere’s poorest in cycles of poverty.”

In the past years of the Chávez administration, Venezuela and the United States have disagreed on the value of what the US calls free market policies. While Venezuela’s private sector has grown as a percentage of the Venezuelan economy since the election of Chávez, the government has implemented some protectionist measures including exchange controls and staunch opposition to the US backed Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement. Government officials have also been vocally opposed to “neoliberal economic policies.”

The NSS implies that these types of actions are a threat to the security of the United States. It lists “[igniting] a new era of global and economic growth through free markets and free trade” as one of eight tasks the US must accomplish to meet the challenges of the modern world and says protectionist economic policies stem from a “path of fear.” 

The report justifies its concerns about the dangers of protectionism by saying such impulses “put at risk the benefits of open markets and impede the expansion of free and fair trade and economic growth.” However, between1980 and 2000, years of economic liberalization, the region saw an almost 8 fold decrease in economic growth over the previous 20 years, according to a study of the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research. 

Another document mentioning Venezuela, the Quadrennial Defense Review, released early last month by the Department of Defense, said, “Slow economic growth, weak democratic institutions and continuing stark economic inequality have led to a resurgence of populist authoritarian political movements in some countries, such as Venezuela.” Press reports said the mention of Venezuela was notable, since the QDR rarely mentions countries by name.