Caracas, Venezuela, Julio 31, 2006 —After spending the previous 3 days in Iran, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez arrived in Vietnam on Sunday evening on his international tour, where more cooperation agreements were signed.
It was a like a trip from one era to another. Iran, although a long time foe of the US since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, really epitomizes today, in the era of the “War on Terrorism,” the new enemy the US has chosen to fight. Vietnam, a ghost from the Cold War era and, for the US, the communist menace. Both countries in these distinct periods saw themselves fight US imperialism. The Symbolism was surely not lost on Chávez.
The visits themselves on this tour have now become somewhat routine for Chávez. Guided tours, agreements, warm and kind words of mutual support, and plenty of photo opportunities.
In Iran, besides signing eleven commercial agreements with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Chávez was given the highest badge of honor Iranian Republic bestows on foreign dignitaries.
As usual, Chávez spoke of the importance of a united front against the US, “If we are united, we can not only resist but we can also defeat imperialism.” The Iranians, predictably, agreed.
The eleven commercial agreements were for the energy, pharmaceutical, civil aviation, medicine and environmental protection sectors. The Iranian state oil company Petropars plans to invest four billion dollars in agreements with its Venezuelan counterpart PDVSA.
There has been much made about the relationship between the two countries. Being the world’s fourth and fifth largest oil exporters respectively and both members of OPEC, Iran and Venezuela are natural allies in the arena of oil politics. And they are both under constant criticism and pressure from the US government, which is the reason Chávez pushes for a common united front.
There are limits to their cooperation, however. Iran is an Islamic Regime and first and foremost looks towards the Islamic world to build alliances. Also, while Chávez has used the windfall from the high price of oil to increase the quality of life of Venezuelans, Ahmadinejad has done little in this arena. On the contrary, his regime oppresses efforts by Iranians to form labor unions and fight for better wages.
In fact, much closer ideologically to Venezuela, at least rhetorically, is Vietnam, or more correctly, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
While in Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital, Chávez praised its socialist model and said he was very keen to learn from it. He also, naturally, referred to Vietnam’s achievement in forcing the US to withdraw from its lands, “Vietnam, with its bravery, was victorious over imperialism not only on the battlefield. Vietnam has also been maintaining the socialist standard in the ideological field.”
Commercial agreements were signed between the two countries, in particular, a petroleum cooperation agreement. Vietnam’s largest export is crude oil and due to the high oil price recorded growth of 8.4% last year. This made it, along with Venezuela, one of the world’s fastest growing economies.
Chávez made the point that while Vietnam exports crude oil (eighteen million tons/year) it imports refined products like gasoline. He said that they were losing two billion dollars a year and recommended they build a refinery in Vietnam. It is hoped the cooperation agreement would facilitate this development.
Chávez also said that he wanted Vietnam’s help in creating a multi-polar world.
For the first time on the tour, however, he was met with silence on this topic. Vietnam’s President Triet has been trying to build a strong relationship with the US. The US is now Vietnam’s number one trading partner.