Chávez, the Peacenik
On Thursday, May 26, less than one week after he had truculently demanded the extradition of Cuban-born, ex-CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles from the U.S. for trial, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez publicly softened his militant stance toward Washington. The week began with his aggressive challenge to the White House to extradite Posada to Venezuela or face a review of diplomatic ties with his country, but he later appeared to veer from this hard-line course. On Monday, May 23rd, Chávez had a meeting with a group of U.S. lawmakers (including conservative Congressman Dan Burton (R – IN)), and the following Wednesday in Caracas, he celebrated the sixth anniversary of his presidency and the “Bolivarian revolution.”
Chávez’ next statement on Thursday, following these festive events, did not mention Posada at all but rather emphasized the need for a broad continuation of “normal, respectful” relations and open discussion with the U.S. In the same breath, he couldn’t resist a jab at the U.S., when he claimed that comparisons of his vision for Venezuela with Cuban socialism are “either ill-intentioned, ignorant or crazy.” He then qualified Wednesday’s celebratory remarks with a promise to use national debate, not force, to establish his purportedly unique version of Venezuelan socialism. Chávez, well known for his yen for inflammatory remarks but not necessarily for his bite, will be hard pressed to maintain a balanced stance in dealing with Washington and Havana at the same time. As Cuba remains forcibly enmeshed with the U.S. in a 45-year-old relic known as the Cold War, with an all-embracing embargo as its centerpiece, Venezuela relies on the U.S. as the main client for its oil while it simultaneously provides Cuba with a substantial amount of subsidized petroleum. Additionally, in exchange for 16,000 Cuban medical doctors and other health personnel, Chávez supplies still more oil, and as a riposte against the U.S.-backed FTAA, he offers his own rather interesting trade arrangement, the Alternativa Boliviana para las Américas (ALBA).
U.S. leadership has almost flippantly risked discarding its credibility for heading a genuinely global “war on terror” by providing for Posada, who was able to outflank the best that Homeland Security could throw at him, with his honorary title of the world’s master terrorist, once he somehow managed to cross the Mexican border with the U.S. There, a veritable velvet glove reception awaited him as Washington tried to come forth with a formula which will not alienate the White House’s all-important financial and political links to Miami’s Cuban exile community. The aging septuagenarian holds nothing but unremitting odium toward Castro, as does President Bush. Chávez, for his part, still bears the heavy domestic responsibility of having to deal with decreasing the staggering gap in wealth to be found in Venezuela, while working to justify the present backing of the hundreds of thousands of supporters who recently marched in Caracas protesting the U.S. refusal to detain Posada pending an extradition request.
Brazil and Japan Drop Bid for Permanent UNSC Membership
On May 27, Brazil and Japan jointly withdrew their names from a proposal that would increase the number of permanent United Nations Security Council (UNSC) members from five to nine. The two nations have been campaigning for the seats, which would give them veto power, but more importantly, significantly enhance their status in the international community.
Due to opposition within their respective regions, Brazil and Japan made the decision to drop their efforts to gain a permanent place on the UNSC before the proposal was scheduled for consideration by the UN General Assembly in June. Allegations of Brasilia’s “imperialistic” intentions by a South American neighbor played a major role in Brazil’s decision to abandon its pursuit of a permanent seat as well. The reach of Brazilian economic initiatives has begun to be felt throughout South America: the largest operating business in Bolivia is Brazil’s Petrobras oil company, Brazilian farmers own one-third of Bolivia’s entire soy crop, and many Argentine entrepreneurs relocated in Brazil after a financial crisis hit their country. Brazil’s subsequent search for additional markets has led to its increasing domination of the flow of products among Mercosur nations, flooding their markets with much cheaper Brazilian-made commodities. Despite these criticisms, Brazil continues to offer an important counter-balance to U.S. economic influence in the continent by providing new investment in neighboring nations, fueling growth and helping to provide stability in the hemisphere. Brazil also has one of the world’s largest export-driven economies, attaining a GDP of $673 billion in 2004. From 2001-2003, Brazil loaned $17 billion to other South American countries, allowed by its impressive annual GDP growth and large trade surpluses from international commercial transactions. Argentina, in particular, has made an effort to neutralize Brazil’s rising economic influence and political power in the region by calling for South America to continue to support a rotating UNSC seat for the region. According to Washington Times reporter Kenneth Rapoza, a senior Argentine diplomat residing in the United States stated that Buenos Aires opposes Brasilia’s move because it wants to see reform of the UNSC, especially “the end to the one-nation veto” by the current five permanent members. Moreover, he went so far to say that Brazil’s original initiative deserved to be considered “arrogant” and “anti-democratic.” It would appear that Argentina’s pitch in favor of reform and its harsh rhetoric in challenging Brazil’s move played no small role in its decision to withdraw its proposal.
While Brazil’s efforts to attain a permanent seat on the UNSC strained Argentine-Brazilian diplomacy, the value to Latin America of such an arrangement would have been immense. It would have provided an unprecedented opportunity for Brazil to share with its regional neighbors the enormous power exercised by the five permanent member-nations of the UNSC’s “nuclear club,” resulting in clear benefits in the arena of international power-politics not only for Brasilia, but for the entire continent.
Haiti Violence Has Spillover Effect
Haiti’s escalating violence threatens to undermine the delicate political stability in the Dominican Republic (DR). Last month, as reports of kidnappings and murders in Port-Au-Prince increased, the Dominican government sparked international outrage by deporting thousands of Haitians. The government claimed to be responding to a spate of anti-Haitian attacks that had been provoked by the murder of a Dominican shopkeeper by a group of Haitians. However, these attacks reveal a deeper resentment by some Dominicans toward Haitian immigrants. Many Dominicans believe Haitians are responsible for a recent rise in violent crime and that the increasing numbers Haitian refugees and illegal immigrants have exacerbated unemployment, as Haitians take jobs that would otherwise employ natives.
Such racially charged violence will only increase as the flow of refugees across the border grows due to Haiti’s deteriorating security. Those in the international community who advocate a pullout of UN peacekeeping troops from Haiti clearly misunderstand the disastrous effects such an action would have. With the troops withdrawn, Haiti would be left in the hands of an uncontrolled police force and pro-Aristide gangs, which have both created an extremely dangerous situation even with the presence of peacekeeping troops. Any withdrawal of troops would further intensify bloodshed and multiply the Haitian refugee community in the DR – exacerbating the tense relationship between Haitians and Dominicans there. The UN must increase troops – not pull them out – to ensure a stable environment for Haiti’s presidential elections in November and stem the rising tide of refugees that threatens both to destabilize the DR’s security and jeopardize its nascent economic recovery.