Containing Chávez

Por Venezuela Real - 20 de Agosto, 2008, 18:42, Categoría: Imagen gobierno / Chávez

Financial Times
August 20, 2008

Steel, oil joint ventures, telecommunications, electricity, the third-biggest bank and, on Monday, cement: the growing number of industries falling into the hands of the Venezuelan government is making President Hugo Chávez's so-called 21st-century socialism look more and more like the plain old 20th-century version. With a number of weaker economies hard-hit by rising energy and food prices, the regional influence of this oil-rich socialist state is advancing. Fashioning policies that can counter its influence will be a priority for whoever wins the US election in November. Venezuela's leftward economic lurch has been accompanied by growing concentration of political power. While Mr Chávez was elected to office, last month he simply seized by decree some of the powers voters denied him in a plebiscite last December. Venezuela's oil wealth has given Cuban communism a new lease of life. The two countries are now engaged in long-term co-operation plans designed to revive Cuba's industrial base and pave the way for economic integration. Venezuela, moreover, is an attractive ally for several traditionally pro-US countries of the Caribbean basin. With import bills surging, few leaders can reject Mr Chávez's largesse, offered mainly in the form of cheap oil. Honduras, for example, traditionally as pro-American as it gets, is this month set to join Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Dominica in the Venezuelan-led Alba trade and investment pact. But this should not be cause for panic in Washington; there is much that a new administration can do to restore influence. Within the region Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru and Mexico represent a powerful pro-US counter-weight to this statist trend. The US should reinforce commitments to that grouping, by reviving its agenda of open trade. Increasing the scale of some well-meaning but too timid existing policies, such as emergency healthcare or support for low-income mortgages, for example, is a practical way to help weaker governments. Above all, ending or at least easing the economic sanctions imposed on Cuba nearly five decades ago would help build credibility among allies and undermine the logic of the Cuban link with Caracas. In any case, messy financial management and growing dependence on oil make Venezuela vulnerable to a further decline in the oil price. In the long run the new socialist states of Latin America are likely to prove as inefficient and under-productive as their European and Russian predecessors.


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