Venezuela’s Chavez Demands Respect from Mexico’s Calderon

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez demanded respect from his Mexican counterpart, Felipe Calderon, during his weekly program, Aló Presidente, yesterday, and denied that his government planned to seize private property.

Caracas, January 29, 2007 (— Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez demanded respect from his Mexican counterpart, Felipe Calderon, during his weekly program, Aló Presidente, yesterday, and denied that his government planned to seize private property.

“Mr. President of Mexico, if you want people to respect you, then you must show respect,” Chavez responded during his weekly television program, which lasted 7 hours and was broadcast from a cattle ranch on the outskirts of the small city of San Carlos, in central Venezuela. Chavez was inaugurating one of several "socialist formation centers," where he said Venezuelans will study socialist ideals while undergoing job training.

Chavez’s retaliatory remarks came after Calderon criticized Venezuela’s, Argentina’s and Bolivia’s economies at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Calderon issued a warning that Latin America was divided into two camps: between those countries that embraced a failed past of state-led models of development, and those that sought economic growth through foreign investment, and stated that, “many countries in Latin America have chosen a move toward the past, and among their most harmful decisions are seeking nationalizations, expropriations, state control of the economy and authoritarianism,” according to Bloomberg.

Calderon last week criticized existing prejudices in Latin America against free trade agreements and stated that investors would be better off taking their capital to Mexico rather than Venezuela, Bolivia or Argentina, where he claimed, “there have been expropriations which investors believe threaten their wealth,” in a reference to Chavez’s recent announcement that his government would nationalize the country’s electric and telecommunications companies, and to Bolivia’s moves to nationalize natural gas production.

“Several countries in Latin America are acting against foreign investors, but we are thinking all day, every day, how can we attract more investment to Mexico,” Calderon said.

In response, Chavez told Calderon that building strong ties with the US was jeopardizing Mexico’s future by making it “subordinate to [US] imperialism and world capitalism,” and said he doubted Mexico was the “hope for the future,” as expressed by Calderon.

Chavez also said that Calderon was following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Vicente Fox as a “puppy dog of the empire,” referring to the ex-President’s submission to North American interests.

A diplomatic spat ensued after the exchange between Chavez and Fox late 2005, when Chavez called the then Mexican leader a “puppy dog of the empire.” The comment was in response to Fox’s criticisms of Chavez’s opposition to the free trade agreements with the United States. The incident led to both countries withdrawing their ambassadors and relations have remained tepid ever since.

Chavez admitted Sunday that until now, he had abstained from making any comments on the recently-elected Mexican President, despite the fact that “the Mexican right-wing insulted me when they called me the dictator of the Caribbean during the election campaign against [Manuel] Lopez Obrador,” he said.

Calderon, whose negative campaigning against Obrador included portraying him as an extremist and comparing him to Chavez, won the Mexican Presidential elections by an extremely narrow margin of 233,831 votes, a margin of 0.56 percent. The results were strongly contested by Obrador who refused to acknowledge the result.

“Someone who is meant to be the President of a country […] and seizes on, or uses a President of a beautiful country as an excuse to attack his internal opponent, is simply making it difficult, if not destroying, the possibility of having relations, good relations,” he added.

Chavez rejected declarations made at the World Economic Forum in recent days that claimed there was an energy and terrorism risk in Latin America , and which went as far as to qualify the Venezuelan President as the third threat to the region.

“The only terrorist threat that exists in America at present is the one represented by the government of the United States,” Chavez declared.

Private property

In separate comments made during Aló Presidente , Chavez denied that private property was under threat and urged Venezuelans not to fear the country’s accelerated move towards Socialism.

"If anybody should be scared, we should be scared of capitalism, which destroys society, people and the planet," said Chavez.

Chavez’s comments were an attempt to assuage fears of the wealthy and the middle-class who believe the government will seize assets such as second homes, yachts or expensive cars.

Chavez reminded his audience that the right to private property was enshrined in the 1999 Constitution.

“We are building our own model in Venezuela: a mixed economy. We do not reject private property, but it does have to act more and more in the interests of social wellbeing.”

Chavez also reiterated his call to private businessmen and small producers to participate in the construction of Venezuelan socialism.

Chavez explained that there is also social property, which is made up of strategic resources such as oil, energy and agriculture that cannot be privatized and must be run by the State.

Lastly, Chavez stressed that Venezuela’s socialist model was original and could not be compared to any other similar experience. “Cuba is Cuba and Venezuela is Venezuela. Bolivia is Bolivia in its own time and space.”