Caracas, Venezuela, September 1, 2006—Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was given a royal welcome on his first ever visit to Syria this week, where he and his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad spoke as one, slamming US imperialism in the Middle East and calling for respect for national sovereignty the world over.
The trip to Syria was one stop in a four stop tour. Chávez had already visited China and Malaysia. The final stop was in Angola on Thursday, before returning to Caracas today. Venezuela says all these countries will support its bid for a seat as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council when it is vacated by Argentina later this year.
Chávez and al-Assad agreed with regard to what they perceive as the negative role the US government plays in the Middle East and the world, “We have the same position, we reject imperialism and the hegemonic attacks on the part of North American imperialism…We are two countries and peoples that resist and confront imperialist aggression,” said Chávez.
Echoing Chávez, al-Assad said Syria and Venezuela were very close on international policy and agreed with another Chávez favorite, “We reject a unipolar world.”
The Syrian president also publicly backed Venezuela’s Security Council ambitions, citing the recent UN resolutions regarding the crisis in Lebanon as grounds for a new independent voice at the UN, “If the UN adopts other resolutions on the same principle, that doesn’t in any way invite optimism, it could end up with chaos and blood…Peace in our region will be even further away. ”
Chávez was given a warm reception wherever he went in Damascus. Hundreds of Syrians of all ages lined the streets as he toured the city, cheering and waving both Venezuelan and Syrian flags.
Also, the University of Damascus awarded Chavez an honorary doctorate. Wail Muala, the president of the university, said that the doctorate was in recognition for his position, “in defense of justice in the world.” This is the sixth such award Chavez has received since becoming president in 1998.
Venezuela and Syria, although very different domestically, have similarly difficult and contradictory relationships with the United States. Syria, while helping the US in its “War on Terror,” finds itself lambasted as a terrorist state for supposedly sheltering and funding Palestinian resistance groups and aiding Hizbullah.
Likewise, Venezuela supplies around 12% of the US’s petroleum demand – economic relations are normal – but Chávez is constantly under attack for his supposedly authoritarian tendencies and for what US officials describe as a “destabilizing influence” in Latin America.
Following his visit to Syria, Chávez spent Thursday in Angola, where he was welcomed in the capital Luanda by President José Eduardo dos Santos. Chavez announced that Venezuela will be opening a Venezuelan Embassy in Angola shortly. The two countries established diplomatic ties in 1986, but until now they were never formalized.
Top of the agenda was economic cooperation, where there are plans to work together in oil and mining sectors, in which both countries are resource rich. Angola has also shown an interest in joining OPEC and has recently been given observer status in the organization.
However, the talks were broader in scope as the Angolan Minister for the Americas, Balbina Silva, talked of broadening links between Mercosur and Austral (the Community of African Countries).
Venezuela´s Vice-minister for Asia, Africa and Oceania, Olga Fonseca, spoke up for Africa saying its image in the world is inaccurate, “[Africa is] impoverished but not poor, because it is a continent rich in natural mineral resources, so much so that the great powers are involved in them, principally in the oil industry.”
President dos Santos praised President Chávez for his efforts to support countries with weaker economies and for his attempts to rescue the dignity of South American countries.
Prior to his stops in Syria and Angola, Chavez had visited Malaysia and China.
In Malaysia, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Budawi also promised to back Venezuela’s UN bid. Chávez spent in all four days in the Muslim country where he discussed oil, the Middle East, and South-South economic cooperation.
Regarding South-South cooperation, Malaysia is an experienced producer of African Palm Oil, which is used in many perfumes, vitamins, and medicines. With Africa’s raw material and Malaysia’s expertise, Venezuela hopes to add its ideal soil conditions in the south of the country to cultivate the plant from which the oil is extracted, “We have decided to industrialize and modernize…in the National Simón Bolívar Project.”
His trip’s first visit was to China, where agreements were signed to increase importations of Venezuelan crude oil from 150,000 barrels per day (bpd) this year to up to 500,000 by the end of the decade. Investment contracts were also drawn up with PDVSA, Venezuela’s state oil company, and other more modest deals were signed. The agreements are expected to amount to $5 billion in total and Venezuelan Minister for Energy and Oil, Rafael Ramírez said the agreements were done as part of the government’s plan to increase oil production to 5.8 billion bpd by 2012.
Chávez arrives back in Venezuela Friday where he will be met by a march organized by his supporters, as part of his re-election campaign.