Monday, August 31, 2009

Summary on Venezuela 40 by Enrique ter Horst, PhD

Subject: Summary on Venezuela - The Extraordinary Summit Meeting of UNASUR
Summary on Venezuela 40
Enrique ter Horst

On travel, 31 August 2009

The Extraordinary Meeting of Heads of State of UNASUR held on 28 August in Bariloche, Argentina, was a big and painful political defeat for President Chávez. The agreement on the use of seven Colombian military bases by the US was not only not condemned by the conference but, quite remarkably, not mentioned at all in the final communiqué (for the full text in Spanish click

Furthermore, the summit meeting decided to establish and revitalize two mechanisms that will, on an urgent basis, design confidence-building measures in the area of regional security “complementary to the existing instruments of the OAS” (the meeting of ministers of foreign affairs and defense), and define “a strategy to fight the illicit traffic of drugs and strengthen cooperation among the specialized organs of our countries”, a task entrusted to the South American Council to Fight Drug-trafficking, also a UNASUR body. The Bariloche meeting could sound the beginning of a regional multilateral strategy to contain Chávez´ expansionist ambitions.

The Bariloche final declaration, both in its preamble and in its operative part, mentions no country by name and includes statements that, although of a general nature, also appear directed at Chávez, like when it says “Establish a confidence building mechanism in the area of defense and security sustaining our decision not to have recourse to force or the threat of force against the territorial integrity of another UNASUR member state”, or “reaffirms…its rejection of the presence and activity of armed groups outside of the law”. Only Chávez has repeatedly threatened Colombia with military action (moving ten battalions to the border, threatening to use his Sukhoi 30 fighters against it, as well as talking of cutting diplomatic relations with Colombia and of “winds of war”), and his support of the FARC and the ELN is certainly very well documented.

The extraordinary meeting of UNASUR´s ministers of foreign affairs and defense called for in paragraph 4 of the final declaration (to be held within the next two weeks) will necessarily also have to deal with stopping the present costly arms race initiated by Chávez. It will have to act quickly and decisively, as on his return from Bariloche the president of Venezuela only stopped-over in Caracas to declare “victory” before continuing on his next arms buying spree in Russia and Byelorussia, and which will include, Chávez dixit, air and marine defense systems (radars), a large number of last generation tanks, and the fearfully effective Iglas S anti-tank missiles, all assets that would mainly be of use in a war with Colombia.

It will be recalled that Chávez was the one to motorize this meeting, using an increasingly bellicose discourse with the intention of diverting attention from the Venezuelan army rocket launchers found by Colombia in a FARC camp. Isolating Uribe and strengthening his own position, after the loss of his democratic credentials and his Honduran debacle exposing him, once again, as undermining the political system of a sovereign state, had been concentrating his entire attention in the last weeks. In the days preceding the Bariloche meeting he stated that the US presence at the Palanquero military base in Colombia (the most important of the seven, and the only one that apparently really interests the US) was geared to keep an eye on the Venezuelan oil reserve north of the Orinoco, as well as on the natural resources of the Amazon basin and on the sweet water reserve on the borders of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay (!). He added that “with the US bases in Curacao and Aruba, Venezuela is surrounded”, ending by stating that “we hate war, but we must prepare for it.

The empire and the Colombian bourgeoisie are forcing us to. An aggression against Venezuela would provoke an armed response by other countries. A great anti-imperialist movement would rise on these lands. God save us from this!”, adding “fighting the drugs (problem) is an excuse of that country (the US) to invade other nations. The empire must take off its hands from Honduras. The empire must take off its fangs from Latin America”. As he flies off with his fat checkbook to Moscow and Minsk, Bariloche does not appear to have had much of a sobering effect on the continental leader of the Bolivarian Revolution. Or is he doing it in recognition of his defeat?

President Uribe, on the contrary, should be quite satisfied, also as the Bariloche meeting seems to have furthered his reconciliation with Ecuador´s Correa. Brazil and its president also have good reason to be more than pleased with the outcome of the meeting. UNASUR, Brazil’s creation, has not only “survived”, as some analysts say, but has been strengthened by clear new mandates in the areas of defense, security and drug trafficking, and by the consequent development of its subsidiary machinery. The Bariloche meeting confirms Brazil´s undisputed leadership in the region and enhances its role as a power able to ensure peace and stability in its neighborhood.

Chávez is now generally recognized as a military dictator, and increasingly also as an unpredictable, unreliable and very dangerous buffoon. For the first time, having very publicly shown in the last six months his true colors, both international and domestic opinion are seriously turning against him. Both trends are irreversible and it must be assumed that he knows it, but in his desperation he acts in a manner that only accelerates his downward spiral. On 22 August, practically in the middle of Venezuela´s summer vacations, the regime was stunned by the very large march that was put together on very short notice to protest against the new Organic Education Law, a text barely discussed in the National Assembly and immediately promulgated by President Chávez and published in the Official Gazette.
Numbering about a 100.000, the march was brutally repressed with tear gas and pellets by the National Guard, pursuing protesters into a metro station were they had taken refuge in order to continue to tear-gas them. Another march has been called for this Saturday, as the political parties of the opposition have declared that they will keep up the pressure peacefully but relentlessly in order to contain the advance of Chávez´ totalitarian project. The regime accuses them, and all those opposing it, of intending to create a situation of anarchy (ingobernabilidad), but things might be much simpler.

Just as Chávez has come to the conclusion that it is now or never if he wants to secure power indefinitely by imposing a communist dictatorship, his opponents, now probably a majority, have come to the conclusion that this is the last chance to save democracy and remain free citizens. As in the past, the regimes´ strategy of instilling fear by blatantly violating fundamental freedoms; jailing opposition leaders, shutting radio and TV stations and approving communist legislation on fundamental questions has proven counterproductive, stoking outrage instead. Venezuelans are waking up from their consumption induced torpor and the regime could be in for a big surprise once the country returns to work in September. It is also high time for the international community to abandon its comfortably irresponsible position of ignoring the brewing storm.

Maru Angarita
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