Mischief and provocation are the hallmarks of any No-Goodnik. Latin America’s No-Goodnik-in-Chief, Venezuela‘s Hugo Chavez, led off a fall campaign declaring U.S. Ambassador Patrick Duddy persona non grata after pal Bolivia’s Evo Morales declared Ambassador Philip Goldberg PNG.
Yet, Mr. Chavez’s best efforts to provoke Washington failed and he barely succeeded in distracting Venezuelans from nagging domestic woes - 35 percent inflation (Latin America’s highest) and a soaring crime wave.
Venezuelan municipal elections are slated for Nov. 23. The growing and organized opposition to chavismo policies that have gutted the economy despite the massive inflow of petrodollars threaten Mr. Chavez’s socialism for the 21st century. Rank-and-file Venezuelans ask why the petrodollar bonanza is funding Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua and others in addition to buying Russian and Chinese weapons. In an effort to change the focus from domestic to foreign policy, Mr. Chavez is trying to resurrect Cold War ghosts and weave tales of imperialist adventures.
To wit, last month, two Tu-160 Russian long-range strategic bombers arrived in Venezuela for a training mission - the first mission to the Western Hemisphere since the Cold War. Then, following the Goldberg canard, Mr. Chavez expelled Duddy.
The official statement from the Ministry of People’s Power for Foreign Relations proclaimed, “[Duddy] will … leave the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, as of Sept. 11, 2008 at 7:15 p.m., precisely the 35th anniversary of the assassination of martyred President Salvador Allende [Chile], victim of a coup d’etat planned and carried out by President Richard Nixon.” Could there be any doubt that the Duddy announcement was premeditated to occur on Sept. 11 given the “historical” significance and to rally No-Goodnik supporters by “honoring” one of their own from the ash heaps of history? Mr. Chavez owes President Morales a muchas gracias for supplying the predicate.
Within the last two weeks, Mr. Chavez’s billion-dollar spending spree in Moscow for weapons and his hosting of a flotilla of Russian warships steaming to Venezuelan waters for two months of exercises only adds to the melodrama. Yet, the United States has resisted all provocations.
Even The Washington Post in an editorial on Oct. 6 praised the Bush administration’s discipline of steadfastly adhering to a successful no-reaction policy, saying, “For the most part it [the Bush administration] has chosen to sidestep Mr. Chavez’s provocations, calculating that his regime will eventually self-destruct - a bet that looks better with each drop in the price of oil.” Of note, Sen. John McCain backs the successful U.S. Venezuela policy as demonstrated by his statement asserting commitment to strengthening ties to U.S. allies and partners in the region while expressing his disappointment with Venezuela’s government. By contrast, Sen. Barack Obama advocates entering into unconditional dialogues with the likes of Hugo Chavez and Cuba’s Castro government - a position even The Washington Post seems not to endorse.
Meanwhile for insurance, Mr. Chavez purges opposition candidates from the ballot. While trumpeting democratic elections, he uses administrative legal maneuvers that take precious time to resolve to eliminate the opposition. A case in point: former Chavez loyalist and onetime Defense Minister Raul Baduel, who resigned to defend the constitution in last December’s referendum in which Mr. Chavez tried to consolidate powers to abridge the checks and balances enshrined in the constitution, was recently seized. Mr. Baduel is accused of corruption and the state slapped a gag order on him.
Whether Mr. Chavez is making gross domestic political miscalculations remains to be seen. Savvy Venezuelans saw through his previous December 2007 attempted power grab. Indications are they are on to his latest manipulations and distractions, too.
A recent poll showed Venezuelans are overwhelmingly opposed by margins of more than 80 percent to foreign countries having any kind of military presence in Venezuela - and this includes Russia. Despite Mr. Chavez’s delusions of reigniting the Cold War, Venezuelan voters hopefully will put country over chavismo by throwing cold water on his belligerent fantasies.
The Venezuelan constitution is on their side stating: “The geographical space of Venezuela is an area of peace. No foreign military bases or facilities having purposes that are in any way military shall be established within such space by any power or coalition of powers.”
The future of Mr. Chavez’s No-Goodnik behavior is squarely in Venezuelans hands on Nov. 23, but it’s partly in U.S. voters’ hands, considering Mr. McCain supports the successful U.S. policy of Chavez self-destruction in contrast to Mr. Obama’s dangerous dialogue policy that leads to appeasement.
J. Paul Johnson, a director at the White House Writers Group, is an adviser and consultant to the Centro de Estudios Americanos in Buenos Aires and lecturer at Universidad Lincoln in the Argentine capital.