Against whom? Oh, the usual suspect down in Venezuela.
A top U.S. State Department official criticized Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Thursday, decrying a "politics of fear and division" that impedes progress.
U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, on a one-day visit to Brazil, told reporters that most countries in the region agree that "the way forward is not through the politics of fear and division but democracy, social justice, poverty alleviation, trade, integration in the Americas and good relations with the United States."
"This is not in Chavez’s agenda," said Burns, who later addressed the closing session of a U.S.-Brazil innovation conference.
But Burns also downplayed Chavez’s influence in the region.
"Leaders tend to gravitate to other leaders who have a positive and constructive role," Burns said, naming Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Chile’s Michelle Bachelet. "I could name 10 other leaders, but Chavez is not one of them."
Naturally, he said all this without actually going to Venezuela, without talking to anyone from there (the wealthy “exiles” in Miami and Washington don’t count, as they are now gringos and have always aligned themselves economically with the gringos rather than their own country anyway), and without a shred of credible proof to back himself up.
This is all the more laughable when you consider the following:
Venezuelan unemployment dropped to 8.3 percent in June from 9.7 percent in the same month last year, the National Statistics Institute said on Friday.
The country’s unemployment rate was 8.0 percent in May.
President Hugo Chavez’s massive social spending in the OPEC nation has given the economy a boost and helped gradually lower unemployment, though 12-month inflation in June was the highest on the continent at 19.4 percent.
People, that is the best economic performance in Latin America. I defy any of Mr. Burns’s pet presidentes to do better. Until they reach Chavecito’s level of popularity, though, they probably won’t get anywhere near his success rate, either. They need more seats in their respective parliaments before they can even start to make a dent in their nations’ problems.
And one US-trained economist, now president of Ecuador, knows to appreciate as much:
Leftist Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has scored major victories over his rivals with a combative style similar to Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, but he is much less of a radical when it comes to implementing policies.
Correa’s tough anti-U.S. rhetoric and his battle against Ecuador’s old-guard politicians have stirred concern in Washington that he is in Chavez’s pocket and will join him in trying to push socialism to other South American countries.
Unlike Chavez, however, Correa does not have huge oil revenues to finance ambitious social programs and he needs to tread carefully in an unstable country where street protests have toppled three presidents in the last decade.
Uh, what the Reuters article isn’t telling us is that Ecuador is unstable precisely because it has for so long been in the pocket of US economic interests in the region. And that at least one of those three previous presidents drummed out of office was stupid enough to do what the reporter is trying to intimate Correa must also do: campaign from the left, but reign from the right. Presumably, since Ecuador’s oil reserves are nowhere near as big as those in the Orinoco region, he has no other choice.
Only it’s not quite like that. Correa, remember, is an economist by training and profession. He has no intention of repeating the mistakes of his predecessor, Lucio Gutierrez–originally hailed (or reviled, depending who you ask) as “another Hugo Chavez”. Gutierrez talked a good game on the hustings but flip-flopped under economic pressure once in office. That must never happen again.
For another thing, Ecuador’s oil reserves are in fact vast. Some have even described them as rivaling those of the Middle East. (Venezuela’s already outstrip the Middle East by far, if the Orinoco extra-heavy crude is factored in, as I feel it should be.)
If anyone has seen the reasons for the discrepancy between Ecuador’s potential and its reality, it would be Rafael Correa. He has accurately diagnosed the IMF and World Bank as primary causes of the malaise, and is sending both packing. He is also taking cues from Chavecito, who is making sure more oil revenues stay within the country, and get put to work there. That’s a radical departure from the past, and regardless of the dollar difference in oil revenues between Ecuador and Venezuela, it is every bit as significant for the former as for the latter. The hope that oil “investment” by the multinationals would bring economic development and prosperity to Ecuador has turned out to be one helluva pipe dream (pun intended). And if you need to know the reason why, I suggest you read John Perkins, who was essentially sent by the State Dept. to make sure exactly such a debacle occurred. And when the then president of Ecuador wouldn’t go along, the CIA jackals were not far behind.
Meanwhile, Rafael Correa, no dummy, is watching the neighbors very closely. He knows that if he wants to succeed at his own post and make Ecuador’s oil serve Ecuador, he must copy Chavecito’s successes at making Venezuelan oil serve Venezuela (which are also, little by little, Evo’s successes in making Bolivia’s resources serve Bolivia). And that means overcoming a corrupt bureaucracy, an equally corrupt judicial system, and above all, the blandishments of the State Dept., which undoubtedly has economic hitmen in Ecuador right this moment.
The constitutional reforms taking place in Bolivia and Ecuador are first steps toward sovereignty and self-determination, just as the Constituent Assembly in Venezuela was the first step for Chavecito. Once a nation’s constitution is rewritten by the people, for the people, it will finally become a constitution OF the people. Not by, of and for the foreign money. That is a key distinction here, folks.
And it is one that the State Dept., for all its talk of democracy, wilfully keeps missing. One wonders why.
PS: According to Aporrea, Rafael Correa is currently sitting at a very comfortable 63.5% popularity rating, six months into his term. The reason? His decision to start constitutional reforms, including public elections for a Constitutent Assembly to write the new document. Clearly, his taking leaves from Chavecito isn’t hurting him one bit, and he looks very unlikely to follow Lucio Gutierrez into the political boneyard anytime soon.
Meanwhile, Chavecito’s own popularity is at a staggering 70%, according to a survey cited by Aporrea. Talk about a guy who must be doing SOMETHING right.