VIO News Blog

September 15, 2008

Venezuela’s Chavez Lowers Tone of Andean Skirmish

President Chavez has sought to “lower the tone” of a dispute between the US and Venezuela that began when that country joined Bolivia in expelling its US ambassador due to secret meetings between the Bush envoy and violent opposition groups. Reuters reports that President Chavez called the decision “a strong diplomatic gesture taken with a brother country.” He also explained that trade ties between the US and Venezuela would not be affected. “Only the United States can change our energy and commercial relationship,” Chavez said.

Leaders in Honduras and Nicaragua have followed suit with similar moves, refusing to meet with Bush reps. Others in the region, including Brazil, have rallied behind Bolivia’s President Morales, saying they would not tolerate an overthrow of his constitutional government. Morales has initiated talks with the opposition sects responsible for causing 28 deaths. An emergency summit of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) is taking place in Chile today, and will likely result in a condemnation of the violence in Bolivia.

The US, though, is stepping up its threats against Venezuela for its support for Bolivian democracy. The outgoing US Ambassador to Venezuela said publicly that Venezuela will face “serious consequences,” according to AFP. The Associated Press reports that the US “stopped trying to be polite” with Venezuela by slapping sanctions on two government officials that it accuses of funding rebels in Colombia. The US Treasury froze the assets of the two men on Friday, a move that does not require any ruling on whether the individuals are in fact guilty. The New York Times reports that an anonymous Bush administration official warned, “Our expelling their ambassador is not the end of things.”

A Los Angeles Times editorial also takes aim at Venezuela and Bolivia. It makes the claim — attributed to “experts” — that Presidents Chavez and Morales are underhandedly trying to help Republicans win the US elections in order to ensure future disputes with the North. This is unlikely, however, as both leaders have openly called for dialogue with the US and expressed their desire to improve ties under a new US administration. The Times suggests that the US should focus on “relieving poverty through trade and assistance” in Latin America. Meanwhile, the groundbreaking anti-poverty programs and regional cooperation initiatives spurred by South America’s leftist governments are often dismissed in the media as “populist” and “anti-US.”

Finally, Reuters reports that communal councils designed to give citizens a voice in local politics are delivering real benefits to poor communities in Venezuela. Projects in housing and infrastructure that are administered through the councils are “seen by many as a godsend.” According to Reuters, “the new community councils allow local residents to quickly execute the projects they most need, rather than what officials want.”

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