Chávez's anti-US campaign
By Howard LaFranchi, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor Fri
Sep 29, 4:00 AM ET
WASHINGTON - Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez may be best known these
days for vividly undiplomatic language about
President Bush. Yet throughout his consolidation of power at home, the
blunt-tongued Latin leader has been driven by a quest to build a bloc of
like-minded countries united in opposition to the American superpower.
At first focused on South America, his vision has grown to embrace the
world - in particular other energy-rich countries such as
Iran and Sudan.
When Mr. Chávez called Mr. Bush "the devil himself" before the UN
General Assembly last week, his remarks generated giggles, even
applause. But can he form an alliance against American power?
The next test of his ambition will come next month, when the General
Assembly is to decide if Venezuela will be among the next five countries
to hold two-year seats on the
United Nations Security Council.
"Chávez wants to be a global player taking a part in the big issues of
the day - like Iran's right to a nuclear program - and he realizes the
[Council] is the perfect platform for him to play that role," says
Michael Shifter, vice president at the Inter-American Dialogue in
Although UN diplomats and analysts say that other criteria, including
regional ties and economic relations, figure in how countries vote for
the coveted Security Council seats, they also acknowledge that the
Chávez factor will play a role.
One country that supports Venezuela's campaign is China, which is
perhaps not enthralled with the Chávez rhetoric but is lured by the idea
of more countries holding its worldview on the Council. China has not
been shy about its preference to see greater respect in Security Council
deliberations for nation-states' rights, and less attention to
individuals' universal rights - ideas implicit in Chávez's discourse.
China also wouldn't mind beefing up the bloc of Security Council
countries willing to stand up to the United States, analysts say. Others
point out that Venezuela's competition for the open Latin American seat
is Guatemala, which has opened diplomatic relations with Taiwan - a move
China is keen to discourage.
Some "fence-sitting countries" might be "sympathetic to the notion that
some counterweight to American power could be a good thing," says one UN
diplomat who asked to remain unnamed because his position in dealing
with UN members demands neutrality. "But imagine the pressure that could
follow a vote for someone who just called the US president the devil."
Of course the Chávez campaign, joined most publicly by Iranian President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is not the first time countries have joined to
check American power, as some foreign-policy practitioners note.
"It's been this way at the UN for quite some time," said John Danforth,
former US ambassador to the UN, commenting at a Monitor breakfast this week.
Iconic figures of the cold-war era, from Nikita Khrushchev to
Fidel Castro, also rose to the UN dais to challenge the US. One
difference with the Chávez effort is that it is backed by Venezuela's
oil wealth and Chávez's willingness to use his petrodollars to further
Even countries in the developing world with good relations with the US
are not deaf to Chávez's siren song, some experts say. "Across the
developing world, there's no doubt that in their view, the US has
hijacked the actions of the Security Council," says Jeffrey Laurenti, a
UN expert at the Century Foundation in New York. "To their eyes, special
allies are protected - that means
Israel - and others who get in [the United States'] way are labeled as
That view has been exacerbated by a "perfect storm" of actions in
Washington, he says - including disregard for some international
treaties - that leads some countries to nod in approval "at the notion
of the US as a superpower rogue."
Despite that, Mr. Laurenti says that Chávez "may have a price to pay"
for his attacks when it comes time for the vote on Council seats, set
for Oct. 16. "Before the speech, I would say Venezuela had a substantial
lead," he says. "But there's also a sense that you don't want to have
two years of constant invective in the Security Council."
Venezuela's bid for a seat is dividing Latin America, as countries
consider what profile Chávez would give the region against that of
Guatemala - which has US support. Regions often submit consensus
candidates for the rotating Security Council seats, but last year Latin
America was also the focus of the only contested election - which ended
with Peru prevailing over Nicaragua.
The divisions fed by Chávez's rise is one reason for Latin America's
lack of consensus, Mr. Shifter says, but so is the proximity and
historic influence of the US. "The asymmetry of power between the US and
Latin America continues to be a unique and defining factor of politics
in this hemisphere," he says. "Chávez knows that and is trying to
Still, Laurenti says that history suggests Venezuela's presence would
not disrupt the Security Council, which remains dominated by its five
permanent members. Noting that Cuba was on the Council in 1990-91 when
the UN sanctioned the
Gulf War, he says, "We could expect some bearbaiting in public, but
behind closed doors Venezuela would be just as businesslike" as Cuba was.