Folha de São Paulo (Brazil), January 18, 2012
It has become common for political commentary in the U.S. to describe the Republican primary election as the “silly season,” as the candidates pander to the party’s far-right base with proposals and rhetoric that will be dropped in the general election. But unfortunately the “silly season” is not only a climate problem on the Republican side.
As I noted in this space two weeks ago, the Obama Administration has moved us closer to military confrontation with Iran, partly as a result of Republican pressure— although the administration has apparently been getting nervous about being dragged into a war by an Israeli military strike.
But there are other areas where cranking up hostilities for electoral purposes is without political risk. Venezuela is one. Florida is a swing state in U.S. presidential elections, so it was not surprising last week to see the administration expel Venezuela’s consul in Miami.
The expulsion was based on an alleged conversation by the Venezuelan Consul, Livia Acosta Noguera, as reported by the right-wing TV station Univision, in what looks like a failed attempt by undercover agents to entrap her in a fake “cyber-warfare” plot. It’s not clear that the conversation is real or accurate as reported, but even if it was, there’s no evidence that she fell for the trap.
The Obama Administration’s policy toward the left governments of Latin America has been “containment and roll-back,” scarcely distinguishable from that of George W. Bush. The U.S. government has been without an ambassador in Bolivia for more than three years, partly because of its refusal to disclose what the U.S. State Department is doing with the tens of millions of dollars they are spending annually inside that country. Washington is also supporting the opposition in Venezuela: for example, the Orwellian-named National Endowment for Democracy (NED) shows $1.6 million spent there in 2010, almost certainly the tip of a big iceberg. The bulk of NED funding is going to the International Republican Institute – the hard core affiliated with the Republican party – who publicly applauded the 2002 coup in Venezuela and played a major role in the coup that overthrew Haiti’s democratically elected government in 2004.
Washington is also not winning any friends with its decision last September to vote against loans from multilateral institutions (including the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank) to Argentina.
But Venezuela is the main target, not because of anything in particular that President Chávez has done, but because it is sitting on an estimated 500 billion barrels of oil, the largest reserves in the world. Since not only Obama but Chávez is up for re-election this year, we can safely predict more publicity stunts in the months ahead. That has been the pattern in the past, as Washington attempts to influence the election in Venezuela through the international media.