Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Hugo Chavez, Bearbaiter

Via the increasingly tiresome Peak Energy (a blog that couldn't recognize adolescent taunting if it tried, and it has), a New York Times article about the deteriorating relations between the U.S. and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. Unsurprisingly, high oil prices combined with his neighbor states' unwillingness to ruffle Caracan feathers have made Chavez impermiable to U.S. attempts to isolate the Latin leader. Minus the typical levers available to Washington -- i.e., loans -- Chavez continues to annoy the Bush Administration, which is rapidly running out of ideas on how to deal with him. Affairs descend toward open confrontation:
A multiagency task force in Washington has been working on shaping a new approach, one that high-ranking American policy makers say would most likely veer toward a harder line. United States support for groups that Chávez supporters say oppose the government has been a source of tension in the past. Under the plans being considered, American officials said, that support may increase.

"The conclusion that is increasingly being drawn in Washington is that a realistic, pragmatic relationship, in which we can agree to disagree on some issues but make progress on others, does not seem to be in the cards," said an American official who helps guide policy in Latin America.

The official added, "We offered them a more pragmatic relationship, but obviously if they do not want it, we can move to a more confrontational approach."

Not too surprising, considering the enmity between the two sides. The Bush administration's part in a 2002 coup attempt, immediately recognizing the Carmona government, has left a lasting and unpleasant taste in Chavez' mouth. Unfortunately, the results have led to more, not less, acrimony, with Venezuela actively bearbaiting the U.S.; at one point, Chavez called Bush a pendejo (prick). According to the Times article,
The American ambassador, William Brownfield, who took over in Caracas in September, spent fruitless months before getting a meeting with Mr. Rodríguez. Requests for meetings with other ministers and even midlevel officials are routinely ignored, and Venezuela has canceled dozens of routine exchange programs with the United States.

The one option that administration officials increasingly believe they have is to respond much more assertively and publicly to Venezuelan policies the United States does not like, ideally with the help of other countries and respected institutions like the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

"We shouldn't be afraid to say when he's taking away liberties, not at all," Robert B. Zoellick, now the deputy secretary of state, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in February.

Of course, this doesn't make the Bush administration so good, either; how many are held incommunicado in Guantanamo and in Iraq? But, as with the war in Iraq, they can say what they want before Congress and get their war for Venezuela's crude; later on they can bemoan "intelligence failures" as the root cause for their all-too-transparent canards. The obvious alternatives -- actual action to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign energy suppliers -- doesn't seem to occur to anyone within the Bush administration.