31 de Agosto de 2006
With friends like these
Multipolar, or just anti-American?
HE HAS often said he wants a "multipolar world", and to diversify his country's trade. Yet recently the foreign policy of Hugo Chávez, Venezuela's leftist president, has seemed monothematic: to draw close to adversaries or rivals of the United States wherever they might be. Although a presidential election is only three months away, Mr Chávez has found time for two lengthy foreign trips, taking in Russia, China, Iran, Belarus, Vietnam and Syria among others. A planned visit to North Korea has so far not materialised, perhaps because Venezuela's support for Kim Jong Il's recent tests of nuclear-capable missiles makes even some of its friends blanch.
APChávez seeks anti-American satellites
The immediate aim of this relentless travel is to drum up votes for Venezuela's bid to obtain in October one of the two rotating seats on the United Nations Security Council that are normally held by Latin American countries. In seeking this seat Mr Chávez disregarded a tacit Latin American understanding that it should go to Guatemala. Now the United States is lobbying hard for Guatemala, placing some South American countries in a quandary. Many are wary of Mr Chávez but are unwilling to be seen as American pawns. The Mercosur countries have said they will vote for Venezuela; so might Chile.
The longer-term aim seems to be to solidify a transcontinental anti-American alliance. Officials present this as defensive. Mr Chávez claims that the United States plans to invade Venezuela. Certainly, George Bush's administration shortsightedly failed to condemn a short-lived coup against Mr Chávez, an elected leader, in 2002; it has helped Venezuela's opposition. But there is no evidence that it organised the coup, or that it plans an invasion.
Mr Chávez rails against the United States as "interventionist, aggressive, genocidal and savage". His new foreign minister, Nicolás Maduro, echoes such talk. Not for him the conciliatory spin that his predecessor, Alí Rodríguez, applied to the president's inflammatory language.
The United States has learned the wisdom of staying silent in the face of Mr Chávez's provocations. It has even played down an incident last month in which diplomatic baggage and supplies were seized by Venezuela's national guard. But the Bush administration is clearly concerned at Mr Chávez's new friendships. It has imposed an arms embargo on Venezuela. Last month it created a new post of intelligence co-ordinator for Venezuela and Cuba—a recognition that Mr Chávez's close alliance with the ailing Fidel Castro is an obstacle to American hopes of a democratic transition in Cuba.
Venezuela has turned elsewhere for arms. In July Mr Chávez ordered kit worth some $3 billion from Russia, including 24 Sukhoi 30 jet fighters to replace his ageing American F-16s. The neighbours are more concerned about the 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles that have begun to arrive, and 55 Russian helicopters, including about a dozen MI-35 helicopter gunships. Venezuela argues, plausibly, that it needs to replace obsolete weaponry and, less plausibly, that it faces a military threat.
Mr Chávez has sought out American foes in the Middle East. "We will back Iran any time, in any situation," he said in Tehran. He compared Israel's war in Lebanon to the Holocaust, withdrew his ambassador to Tel Aviv, and threatened to sever diplomatic relations.
In Beijing last week Mr Chávez signed agreements to more than triple oil exports to China in three years and to step up investment by Chinese state-owned companies in Venezuela's heavy-oil belt. Diversifying trade is one thing. But Mr Chávez's ostentatious friendships with nuclear miscreants such as Iran and North Korea may cause almost as much alarm in South America—whose countries have abjured nuclear weapons by treaty—as they undoubtedly do in Washington, DC