Friday, February 20, 2009

Why Obama Should Talk to Chavez

A rare piece in the mainstream media that looks at Latin America and Venezuela with sober eyes. This really could be such an easy "victory"
for Obama- restoring the US image in Latin America. But the right-wingers wouldn't let it happen. Creating boogeymen is too useful at the polls and even good liberals have too deep a resentment against socialism.

By Tim Padgett
Time Magazine, February 18, 2009

Washington started off on the wrong foot with Venezuelan president
President Hugo Chávez shortly after he took office in 1999: Embarking
on his first international tour as head of state, Chávez took a call
from a high-ranking Clinton Administration official, who told the
Venezuelan leader that it would be better for his country's relations
with the U.S. if he avoided visiting Fidel Castro in Cuba. Chávez, a
left-wing nationalist, had yet to develop his gushing friendship with
Castro, but like leaders all over Latin America - even those who
dislike the Cuban leader and his politics - he took umbrage at
Washington's assumption that it could veto his itinerary.
Chávez isn't going anywhere, just as Castro didn't despite almost five
decades of U.S. efforts to isolate him. That fact alone should prompt
President Barack Obama to break with the failed policies of his
predecessors and meet with Chávez ahead of April's Summit of the
Americas in Trinidad.
For one thing, it's a good idea for the U.S. to have a better rapport
with one of its major oil suppliers. Chávez, who said last weekend
he's willing to meet with Obama, likewise seems to realize that his
favorite yanqui enemy, President George W. Bush, is gone, and that a
new relationship might be possible with his major oil customer. And,
as the Castro example demonstrates, it's hard to isolate a Latin
American head of state when the rest of Latin America doesn't sign on
- and most nations in the region are not willing to freeze out Chávez.
He may irritate them, but he also emboldens them, because his
oil-fueled socialist revolution has changed the political conversation
in the Americas. The fact that Venezuela's majority poor have been
enfranchised for the first time has prodded the rest of Latin America
to finally confront its corrosive social inequality. Even officials of
moderate Latin governments say privately they're gratified that
Washington's regional hegemony has been challenged and often blunted
since Chávez took power.
Latin America also sees a certain hypocrisy in the U.S. position. Yes,
Chávez has been a pain in the rear to U.S. oil companies, and he has
cozied up to Iran and staged military maneuvers with Russia in the
Caribbean. But Chávez, unlike U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, at least still
lets U.S. oil firms have stakes in Venezuelan petro projects.
Many poor Venezuelans see his "Bolivarian" revolution, despite its
polarizing effects on the country, as a safeguard against the looming
economic pain of falling oil prices. Analysts such as John Walsh, a
senior associate at the independent Washington Office on Latin
America, may worry that indefinite re-election would allow Chávez
accumulate excessive power, but he credits Chávez with actually
"restoring a modicum of confidence in Venezuela's election system."
He'll find that thawing
relations with Chávez before he goes to Trinidad will do a lot to
break the ice with the rest of the hemisphere once he gets there.

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