- The Washington Times - Monday, May 9, 2005

SAO PAULO, Brazil — The Bush administration is seeking a South American country to sponsor an OAS resolution condemning the Venezuelan government of President Hugo Chavez, but has come up empty-handed after two high-profile visits to the region.

The pressure has been heaviest on Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a sometimes Chavez ally who has been sharply critical of the Venezuelan leader over his outspoken feud with the United States.

But Mr. Lula da Silva, who says Brazil-Venezuela relations have never been closer, appears to have rebuffed such entreaties during visits to the country by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Another U.S. ally, Chile, also has shown little interest in a hard-line approach toward the Venezuelan leader, who has become a major backer of Fidel Castro’s Cuba and regularly heaps scorn on the United States.

“I believe that with Brazil and with other countries as well, we are pursuing an appropriate, adequate policy vis-a-vis Venezuela so as not to exacerbate the spirit,” Chilean President Ricardo Lagos told Miss Rice on April 28. “And sometimes it’s good to cool down the level of rhetoric about Venezuela.”

A Bush administration official, speaking on background two weeks ahead of Mr. Rumsfeld’s March 23 visit, told Brazilian reporters about the administration’s goal to see Mr. Chavez admonished at the Organization of American States.

Three of five reporters who attended the briefing said the Americans wanted to see Venezuela criticized for “failing in its commitment to democracy,” the core mission for all 34 OAS member states.

During his March visit, Mr. Rumsfeld sharply criticized Mr. Chavez for purchasing arms from Russia, but did not call publicly for a reprimand. And Miss Rice, in her late April visit, was even more measured in her public statements while hinting at OAS action.

“We want to have good relations with Venezuela,” Miss Rice said in Brasilia on April 25. “We’ve had concerns about the behavior of the Venezuelan regime in terms of its own domestic development and adherence to the OAS democratic charter.”

From the American viewpoint, Brazil is a logical choice for the job of taking Mr. Chavez to task.

Mr. Lula da Silva has publicly disagreed with Mr. Chavez’s recent decision to cancel a 30-year military agreement with the United States and said that Mr. Chavez was “testing his limits” with Washington.

There are other differences: Mr. Lula da Silva is in favor of a hemispherewide free trade agreement, within reason, while Mr. Chavez is dead set against it.

However, one of Mr. Lula da Silva’s main initiatives since taking office in January 2003 has been the economic integration of South America, an ambition Mr. Chavez shares.

Brazil signed 20 accords with Caracas in February related to energy, mining, transportation, aerospace and defense.

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