Monday, October 16, 2006

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Nice try, Hugo

The BBC reports that Hugo Chavez's efforts to win himself a rotating seat on the UN Security Council do not look like they are going to succeed:

A crucial fight for one of Latin America's UN Security Council seats remains deadlocked.
Guatemala leads the race even though its share fell to 110 votes in the fourth round, ahead of Venezuela's 75 but short of the 124 needed to win.

The race can now be thrown open to other regional candidates, including Costa Rica, Panama and Uruguay....

Diplomats told Associated Press news agency that the campaign of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez may have hurt his country's chances.

President Chavez denounced George W Bush as "the devil" in a speech at the UN last month.

But Venezuela's UN ambassador Francisco Arias Cardenas put the poor performance of Venezuela's candidacy down to lobbying by the US.

"We're not competing with our brother country [Guatemala]," he said. "We are competing with the most powerful country on the planet."

The US has been working behind the scenes to raise support for Guatemala, but the intensity of Washington's lobbying may have been counterproductive, our correspondent said.

It is true that Guatemala would likely be a more pliant U.S. ally than, say, Costa Rica or other compromise candidates. However, the gap between those countries and Venezuela on the UNSC is much, much larger.

So, in this case, the U.S. wins so long as Venezuela loses -- and that looks pretty much certain at this point.

For more on those who did win seats at the UNSC, click here.

UPDATE: Oh, I forgot to mention -- the Chavez-backed candidate for the Ecuadorian presidency suffered a bit of a setback yesterday. Here's the AP report by Monte Hayes:

A Bible-toting banana magnate who favors close ties with the U.S. defied expectations by narrowly outpolling an admirer of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in the first round of Ecuador's presidential election.

Alvaro Noboa, Ecuador's wealthiest man, will head to a Nov. 26 runoff vote against leftist outsider Rafael Correa after neither won an outright victory in Sunday's election.

With slightly more than 70 percent of ballots counted, Noboa received 26.7 percent of the vote, compared with 22.5 percent for Correa, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal said. The winner needed 50 percent, or at least 40 percent and a 10-point lead over the rest of the field, to avoid a runoff.

Although a runoff had been expected, the result was unexpected because Correa had led recent polls....

"In the second round there are two clearly defined options," Noboa said. "The people will have to choose between Rafael Correa's position, a communist, dictatorial position like that of Cuba, where people earn $12 a month, and my position, which is that of Spain, Chile, the United States, Italy, where there is liberty and democracy."

Because of Noboa's showing, Ecuador's benchmark bond had its biggest gain in at least six years.

I've said it before and I'll say it again -- the U.S. needs more adversaries like Hugo Chavez.

UPDATE: Bloomberg reports that Guatemala still leads Venezuela after the 10th ballot -- though Venezuela caught up to Guatemala in the 6th round.

posted by Dan on 10.16.06 at 02:18 PM


Actually, if we had fewer presidents like George Bush, we wouldn't have so many adversaries.

posted by: Randy Paul on 10.16.06 at 02:18 PM [permalink]

I certainly agree that W is the worst president in recent history, but he did not cause the anti-Americanism common around the globe. It existed during the Clinton administration, having grown substantially after the fall of the Soviet Union. There have been volumes written on the causes of this phenomenon, and most of it has little to do with the policies of the guy currently in the White House.

Chávez in particular, has his own reasons for demonizing the US. He needs a bogeyman to justify his iron grip of Venezuela and his hegemonistic goals in South America. Bush may play into his hand, but Chávez would play his hand the same regardless.

posted by: OpenBorderMan on 10.16.06 at 02:18 PM [permalink]

certainly agree that W is the worst president in recent history, but he did not cause the anti-Americanism common around the globe.

He has certainly exacerbated it and made it arguably the worst since Nixon and Vietnam/Cambodia.

His administration's obsessive focus on Chavez has given Chavez some street cred and has played into Chavez's hands, giving Chavez a convenient bete noire.

The only saving grace is that Chavez is the sort who just doesn't know when to quit. The two of them are like a couple of legless men in a kicking contest.

posted by: Randy Paul on 10.16.06 at 02:18 PM [permalink]

I'd agree Bush is the worst president in a long time but US foreign policy towards latin america has been pretty much the same since world war 2 regardless of who was in charge. Chavez has a lot of very legitimate longstanding grievances to play with.

I think its also t inaccurate to characterize him as having an iron-grip on the country. He has a lot of democratic support at the moment and hasn't had to take away civil liberties to do it. The press there is free and far more overtly anti-government than we see in the US. I travelled there fairly extensively two years ago and the mainstream press published things like whole speeches from US officials against Chavez and his oil policy and so on. When was the last time that Chavez' energy minister or whoever got an entire speech on the frontpage of the NYT?

As to using the word 'hegemony' with regards to Chavez I think that's also a bit inaccurate. The US certainly has hegemony in the region at the moment and Chavez is challenging that. But V isn't nearly powerful enough to establish a hegemony of its own. What Chavez is pushing for is more of an alliance of equals against US hegemony. Its an important distinction.

posted by: peter on 10.16.06 at 02:18 PM [permalink]

Chávez used his initial popularity to stacked the congress and courts in his favor and is now trying to change the constitution so he can become "president-for-life". Doesn't sound very democratic to me. Human Rights Watch considers Venezuela to be hostile to freedom of expression. I also personally know several Venezuelans who are afraid to say anything negative about their president. This sounds an awful like like totalitarianism.

Do you really have any doubts about Chávez' ambitions as a modern-day Bolivar? He openly talks about re-uniting South America. I don't expect that all of those countries would chose such a thing by referendum, do you?

Also, since the end of the cold war, the US has cleaned up its act quite a bit in central and South America. Not that anyone has noticed. Perceptions take a long time to change. But just because you don't like Bush (I don't either), doesn't mean he's always the bad guy.

posted by: OpenBorderMan on 10.16.06 at 02:18 PM [permalink]

Back in the early 90s the Canadian prime minister of the time appointed additional senators to get a bill through. It wasn't exactly good sportsmanship but nobody started bandying words like 'totalitarian' around. Our governments don't like Chavez and so he gets held to a different standard then our own leaders.

Your assertion that Chavez is changing the constitution to be president for life is quite simply without foundation.

As to the Bolivarian dream of unity, there is such a thing as unity amongst equals. And yes, it would be based on referenda and other democratic institutions if no other reason than that V is not nearly strong enough to go for empire.

I question how much US foreign policy has changed with regard to LA. Do you really think a president willing to invade Iraq to seize control of its energy resources would hesitate to do the sort of things that past presidents have done in LA if it suited him?

posted by: peter on 10.16.06 at 02:18 PM [permalink]

If a US president had the power to appoint senators, and used that power to push through a change in the constitution, trying to make himself president-for-life, that wouldn't raise a few eyebrows? Would it make a difference to you if it were Bush or Clinton? Give me a break.

Secondly, during the cold war, US foreign policy toward LA, and every other region, was seen through the lens of global confrontation with USSR. In retrospect, it was misguided and over-zealous. It led us to support dictators in Guatemala, Chile, Panama, and others. It led us to support a bloody insurrection in Nicaragua. Every president from Truman to GHW Bush did it and no one is proud of it. US policy in LA could now be best described as neglect, except where we can take advantage economically. We're not exactly the best neighbors, but that is a long way from supporting dictators.

You offer as evidence of Bush intentions in LA his invading Iraq for its oil. To quote Saddam's press secretary, I must tell you now that you are too far from reality. I agree that invading Iraq was a monumental screw-up. But do you seriously believe that Bush intended to steal Iraq's oil reserves? Then why are we still paying for our oil? Even if true, do you seriously believe that it signals the intent to do the same in Venezuela?

posted by: OpenBorderMan on 10.16.06 at 02:18 PM [permalink]

I didn't say anything about stealing the oil. I said that Bush wanted to seize control of it. Gives the US potential leverage against India, China, Europe. Oil is a strategic asset of some importance and about the only genuine reason Bush had to invade.

I don't know what your fixation on "president-for-life" is about. Not an issue in V.

There is a 40 year pattern of US foreign policy apologists asserting that the US has cleaned up its act in LA and regrets what it has done in the past. There is usually little to support such assertions either now or in the past. The US supported the coup against the democratically elected government of V not too long ago. And it continues to supply absurd amounts of money to help the Colombian government terrorize and murder its own people. The last I heard the School of Americas has a new name but is still training the future's practicioners of state terror in South America. Other examples abound.

You might also look a bit into what Chavez is doing in V and why he has so much support. Education, health care, supporting small enterprises, agrarian reform to cut down rural poverty, the encouragement of independent political activism at the grass-roots level to strengthen democracy. Some good things going on there. Worth your time to look into it.

posted by: peter on 10.16.06 at 02:18 PM [permalink]

Peter, Please explain the difference between stealing and seizing control. We are still buying oil on the open market. Any producer can sell to any buyer. What does "seize control" mean in this context?

Yes, Chavéz has filtered some of the country's oil money into high-profile programs that benefit ordinary Venezuelans. But considering the magnitude of V's oil wealth, I think he has some explaining to do about where most of it is going. Regarding Chávez' attempts to avoid term limits, we'll just have to agree to disagree. I do have to admit that he is one charming son-of-a-gun, though. His "Mr. Danger" speach was a hoot.

US/Columbian cooperation in the attempt to reduce cocaine production in Columbia is not terrorizing the population, unless you consider the drug cartels to be ordinary citizens who deserve to be left alone. According to Latin Amer press (which I do read), although cocaine production has not diminshed, the general reduction in crime in Columbia is widely seen as the only positive outcome of the program.

posted by: OpenBorderMan on 10.16.06 at 02:18 PM [permalink]

Seizing control means that you can stop sales to a particular customer if you decide you want to in the future. Stealing it implies using it for yourself for free or taking 100 percent of the profits from its sale. Now, I don't know for sure, but I don't think US oil companies are getting Iraqi oil 100 percent free for resale to whomever they want. So I don't use the word 'steal'. But seize control seems to me fairly uncontentious.

I don't think Chavez has much explaining to do regarding use off the oil money. Social programs, beefing up the military in case the US unleashes a contra war, helping poor people in the US with their heating bills, aid to Bolivia and so on....

Drug cartels...The ones run by the Columbian paramilitary with the connivance of the government and US authorities are doing just fine I'm sure. The war in Colombia has as much to do with drugs as the one in Iraq has to do with WMD.

How concerned are you about the degrading of US civil rights? I understand that the US president can now declare someone (even a US citizen) an enemy combatant and then arrest and torture him without habeas corpus. We can agree, I hope, that that is an undeniable step towards totalitarianism. Now you don't like Bush so you probabely are worried about the state of democracy in the US but would you say that you are more worried about Bush than with Chavez?

posted by: peter on 10.16.06 at 02:18 PM [permalink]

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