Monday, December 03, 2007

Chavez's Venezuela

As some of you may be aware of, President Chavez of Venezuela proposed in August a series of constitutional amendments designed to essentially keep him in power for life. He filled the referendum with all sorts of friendly fringe benefits in order to get people to vote for dictatorship. Well, yesterday, he lost the vote by mere percentage points (50.7 to 49.3). You can read a thorough analysis here. (Summary: It doesn't mean his popularity is declining or threaten his leadership. It was more indicative of the population making a nuanced vote, led by student/university activism.)

My favorite part of that article:

"Chavez had predicted that he would win the Dec. 2 vote by up to 20 percentage points and promised to step down if he lost. He also threatened to cut off oil to the U.S. if Washington interfered in the vote. He didn't comment on either pledge during the press conference on Dec. 3."

His pledge to cut off oil to the US was the height of idle threats for two reasons. First, the US buys something like 80% of Venezuelan oil meaning that, at least in the short term, such a move would have devestated the Venezuelan economy and likely ended Chavez's tenure as president.

But second, and something that requires further verification, is that Venezuelan oil is said to have a high sulfer content and the country (and region) does not have the refinery capabilities required to process it. That means that they have no choice but to send it to the US if they wish to capitalize on the resource. Like I said, that's something I read and could very easily be crackpot analysis, but it is an interesting point, if proven true.

The bigger point is that Chavez is essentially wedded to the US appetite for petroleum and that represents his greatest point of vulnerability. Were he to say, start a war against Colombia (fat chance, but people here worry about the strangest things), the US could quickly cripple the effort with an effective sanction regime. This is, undoubtedly, why the Bush administration has purposefully turned a deaf ear to Chavez's rhetoric over the last 5 years. Why worry when you've got your would-be rival by the...ahem...juevos?

At any rate, it remains to be seen how this will affect Chavez. He has vowed that he will continue to fight for the powers he wants (and this is the man that failed to overthrow the government in 92, vowed to persevere, and then won election). But at least internationally, one thing is clear. Chavez has endured a string of failures stretching back to last year that only George Bush could be proud of. At every turn he has been unable to impose his will, he has alienated those who he sought to influence, and by all accounts, has eroded Venezuelan relations with virtually every state he has personally been involved with.

Or, in other words, he has the anti-Midas touch. Everything he touches turns to crap. He and Bush are going to buddies in a very warm place in the afterlife, methinks.

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Blogger Lina said...

"At every turn he has been unable to impose his will, he has alienated those who he sought to influence, and by all accounts, has eroded Venezuelan relations with virtually every state he has personally been involved with."

This comment sounds like you're coming from a neo-con/imperialist perspective. Chavez has (one could argue purposefully) eroded relations with conservative and/or imperialist nations (think US, spain, colombia, etc). Yet has built relationships with Latin American left-leaning governments, not to mention non-US-aligned OPEC nations (or nations willing to not bang the us-drum too strongly). Do these nations not count, in your summary of Chavez's activity?

Venezuela's oil is mostly heavy crude, and up until recently, Venezuela was limited to selling to the US due to the refinery needs. A quick google search will show that Chavez has made many agreements with Latin American and Asian nations (namely China) to invest in refineries for VZ's oil, thus (wisely) diversifying the market, and at the same time threatening one of the US's top sources of oil. That is: releasing the tight grip the US had on VZ's huevos.

Nob, if you're relying on Colombian media for info on Chavez, you're getting worse spin than what we get in the States. Ojo. I'm no Chavista, but doesn't mean I have to listen to or believe the US/Colombian media.

9:25 PM  
Blogger Lina said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:54 PM  
Blogger Lina said...

Comment part 2. Happened upon this article today, highlighting both of my previous points: chavez is able to have good relations when he wants to, and he uses oil to enable that, ie diversifying his market. In this instance, with Belarus.

The article also discusses military exchanges, which I definitely don't agree with. As i said, I'm no chavista.

1:57 PM  

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