Sunday, July 31, 2005

Hugo vs. Condi 

In the ongoing struggle for hearts and minds in Latin America Venezuela seems to keep besting the U.S. at every turn. The O.A.S. elected Venezuela’s preferred candidate for its Secretary General over one preferred by the U.S., a thinly veiled resolution against Chavez under the guise of “monitoring democracies” was voted down in the O.A.S., and vitually all elections in Latin America these days are being won by pro-Chavez, leftist candidates. Some neo-cons in the U.S. used to complain that Collin Powell neglected Latin America. But his successor, Condoleezza Rice seems to be doing even worse. That South American rascal, Hugo Chavez, seems to be besting her at every turn. Even the Wall Street Journal is starting to get concerned as seen by this article in their Friday edition entitlted “Despite Cafta, U.S. Clout Wanes in Latin America”:

The U.S. may be losing the wider war over Latin America’s future, despite President Bush’s victory in getting congressional approval of the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

That drop in U.S. standing south of the border has boosted anti-American and anti-Globalization critics like Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Nearly every major country in the region has elected a left-leaning government….

Mr. Chavez’s combination of lavish social spending and virulent Yankee-bashing has proved a successful formula for staying in power. It also makes a compelling model for populist politicians in some of the regions most unstable countries, such as Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua. Ecuador’s new government has unsettled Wall Street by getting rid of an oil-reserve fund used for debt payments, while raising social spending. It has criticized the U.S. war on drugs, and says it won’t renew a U.S. lease on air bases there.

Mr. Chavez also is taking advantage of high oil prices to buy goodwill around the region, emerging as the lender of last resort to cash-strapped countries. This potentially allows them to thumb their noses at the U.S. and the International Monetary Fund, which usually impose conditions for their loans. So far this year, Venezuela has acquired $500 million of Argentine bonds. Last week, Ecuadorian officials were negotiating a Venezuelan purchase of $200 of bonds, a figure Ecuador hopes eventually will increase to $500 million.

“The U.S. is not putting money anywhere in Latin America, and Chavez is,” says Eduardo Gamarra, the head of Latin American Studies at Florida International University.

Polls show Mr. Chavez is striking a chord with the Latin American street. He is the most popular political figure among Bolivians, and the second most liked political figure in the Dominican Republic.

One interesting formulation that struck me in the article is that Venezuela’s financial help of other countries is referred to as “buying support”. Funny but when the U.S. gives money to countries I’ve never heard to it referred to that way. U.S. money is generally referred to in the press as “humanitarian aide”. No one would dare to think that the billions in cash handed out by the U.S. in Iraq were a crass attempt to “buy” support. American’s just have such a deep seated love for others that wanting to help them comes naturally and is uncontaminated by any impure thoughts such as wanting to get political support, votes in the U.N., troops for the “Coalition of the Willing”, or information on insurgent hideouts. No, the selfless U.S. just has everyone else’s best interests in its heart. And if you believe that I have some great untapped oil reserves right under the Caracas subway I can sell you!!

But I must confess I did find it interesting that Chavez not only is far and away the most popular political figure in Venezuela but he is even the most popular figure in some other countries! Not bad. I wonder why they didn’t release the numbers on what Condi is polling at in those countries?


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