By: Anthony Cruz
Under the leadership of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela has seen itself become a more prominent (and often controversial) participant in the international community. In this capacity, Venezuela has also become more of a nuisance to American foreign policy, forging relations with many states that have records of acting as adversaries toward Washington. Furthermore, Chavez has branded himself a revolutionary, opposing what he believes to be U.S. imperialism.
Following Chavez’s anti-American path are nations like Ecuador and Cuba. After the infamous 2006 United Nations incident, where Chavez called then-President George Bush the devil, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said, “Calling Bush the devil offends the devil. Bush is a tremendously dimwitted President who has done great damage to the world.” Continuing on this anti-American path, Correa has also recalled his ambassadors to the United States a few times, as recently as 2011. In addition, Correa, a University of Illinois graduate, even refused to renew a 10-year lease on a U.S. air base that had been used to conduct anti-drug surveillance in the Andes, and Correa and Chavez have collaborated on bi-national projects and companies related to oil and gas. Adding to this, Chavez expelled the U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela in 2008, citing that the U.S. was, “fomenting a coup attempt against his socialist revolution.” Correa followed suit and expelled the U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador in 2009 and 2011, for alleged involvement with Ecuadorian police, following the disclosure of U.S. diplomatic cables by Wikileaks, which said that his government was turning a blind eye on corruption. Until this day, both continue their anti-U.S. rants and perpetually remain suspicious of the United States.
Hugo Chavez and Fidel and Raul Castro have become the best of friends. While in Havana in 1999, Chavez stated:
“Here we are, as alert as ever, Fidel and Hugo, fighting with dignity and courage to defend the interests of our people, and to bring alive the idea of Bolívar and Martí. In the name of Cuba and Venezuela, I appeal for the unity of our two peoples, and of the revolutions that we both lead. Bolívar and Martí, one country united!”
Both have made statements against U.S. imperialism and neoliberalism. In addition, the two despotic governments have close military and economic ties. The Cuban military, which has extensive Russian equipment, has been advising Caracas and attempting to rid it of American influence. The two nations have an interesting doctors-for-oil agreement: Cuba has sent 30,000-50,000 personnel to Venezuela to help foster programs such as health care, education, science, and technology. In return, Venezuela sends 53,000 barrel per day of oil to Cuba at friendly rates. Venezuelan assistance has also seen the revitalization of an oil refinery in Cuba’s city of Cienfuegos. It is another example of Venezuela cozying up to an American adversary, especially one that is 90 miles away from the coast of Florida.
Going overseas, Chavez has aligned himself with arguably America’s biggest enemy: Iran. Since 2001, the despotic Chavez has visited Iran on several occasions. He stated that he will “stay by Iran at any time and under any condition.” He added, “We are with you and with Iran forever. As long as we remain united we will be able to defeat (U.S.) imperialism, but if we are divided they will push us aside.” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also once presented Chavez with Iran’s highest honor for “supporting Tehran in its nuclear standoff with the international community.” Increased trade and air service between the two nations, combined with their inflammatory rhetoric, has concerned the House Foreign Affairs Committee. In fact, the Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act of 2012 is currently before the House for consideration. The Act is intended to “provide for a comprehensive strategy to counter Iran’s growing hostile presence and activity in the Western Hemisphere, and for other purposes.”
Chavez has also been a supporter of Palestine and Hezbollah, both vehement critics of Israel. Chavez broke off relations with Israel due to the 2008-2009 Gaza War, which led Israel to follow suit in breaking off relations with Venezuela. While Syrian President Omar al Bashir was visiting Venezuela in 2010, Chavez accused Israel of being “the assassin arm of the United States.” Indeed, Israel is one of the closest allies of the United States and is one of the only nations to have voted at the UN in favor of the Cuban embargo proposed by the United States. Chavez has also been “in bed” with the late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The two leaders had presented each other with the highest honors of their respective nations. After Gadhafi’s death at the hands of Libyan rebels, Chavez stated, “Regrettably, Gadhafi’s death has been confirmed. He was murdered. Well, this is another attempt against life. What else can I say? … I will remember him all of my life as a great fighter, a revolutionary and a martyr.” Chavez also condemned the U.S. airstrikes during the Libyan Civil War as “madness,” and Hezbollah, the infamous Lebanese terrorist group, has thanked Chavez for his continued support of the Palestinian cause. Chavez iss, in fact, so closely allied with the Palestinians that in 2009 he stated, “We .. are on the side of the Palestinian people’s memorable struggle … against the genocidal state of Israel that knocks down, kills and aims to terminate the Palestinian people.” With Caracas welcoming Palestinians and Hezbollah with open arms, it is frightening to think that can find a safe haven within such close range.
Although the thought of Venezuela as a nuisance to American national security may seem inconsequential, there is good reason for such qualms. With inflammatory rhetoric and close ties with some of the world’s most corrupt and dangerous leaders, Hugo Chavez’s position as the head of a nation in the western hemisphere is utterly concerning. Chavez may consider himself opposed to neoliberalism and American imperialism, but his foreign policy is ultimately meant to vex and contradict that of our great nation.
Photo credit: Pan-African News Wire File Photos
This article was originally published in the winter edition of PPR on March 11, 2013.