Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Hugo Chávez, the man who ate Dubya's lunch

David Seaton's News Links
A friend of mine, who is a top executive in Spain's giant oil firm, Repsol and who has been traveling all over Latin America and especially in Venezuela for over 20 years, tells me that the loss of US influence in South America since 9-11 is unbelievable for a veteran observer like he is. Spanish bank executives, who dominate the financial sector in Latin America, tell me the same story.

Hugo Chávez is living proof that all the talk about America's unique, hegemonic superpower status is so much horse manure. The world is already multi-polar and soon will be more so. The war in Iraq has undressed the United States. The cold war will be seen as a garden party compared to what is coming. DS

The Holocaust denier, the radical socialist, and their axis of unity - Guardian
Abstract: A billboard of Hugo Chávez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad looms over a motorway in Venezuela, marking the entrance to a factory designed to produce three things: tractors, influence and angst.(...) The influence, less visible but real enough, is for Mr Chávez and Mr Ahmadinejad, two presidents who hope this and other ventures will project their prestige and power. The angst, if all goes to plan, is for Washington. Veniran might be tucked away in the backwater provincial capital of Ciudad Bolívar but it is part of a wider attempt by Mr Chávez to forge a common front against the United States. The socialist radical is using Venezuela's vast oil wealth to strike commercial and political deals with countries that challenge the US such as Iran, Belarus, Russia and China, as well as much of Latin America and the Caribbean, to rebuff what he refers to as the "empire". "Chávez is a global player because right now he has a lot of money that he is prepared to spend to advance his huge ambitions," said Michael Shifter, an analyst with the Inter-American Dialogue thinktank. "He has worked tirelessly to upset US priorities in Latin America."(...) Supporters say he has worked tirelessly to support the poor and marginalised, for example through a $250,000 (£121,000) loan to help farmers in Bolivia's lowlands build a coca industrialization plant, part of an effort to turn the leaf into cakes, biscuits and other legal products instead of cocaine. "For years we have wanted to do this but no one would support us," said Leonardo Choque, leader of the Chimoré federation of coca growers. "Then the Venezuelans come and offer us a loan with very low interest rates. And no conditions." Venezuela is also funding a new university nearby. In contrast the US is accused of bullying Andean nations into destroying coca crops without promoting equally lucrative alternative livelihoods - a big stick and a small carrot.(...) Iran is to help build platforms in a $4bn development of Orinoco delta oil deposits in exchange for reciprocal Venezuelan investments. The 4,000 tractors produced annually in Ciudad Bolívar are small beer in comparison but they have a symbolic value as agents of revolutionary change. Most are given or leased at discount in Venezuela to socialist cooperatives that have seized land, with government blessing, from big ranches and sugar plantations. Dozens have also been sent to Bolivia to support President Evo Morales, a leftwing radical and close Chávez ally, and last week dozens more began to be shipped north to Nicaragua, whose president, Daniel Ortega, is another Chávez ally and longtime bugbear for Washington. The first batch was timed to coincide with the 28th anniversary of the Sandinista revolution.(...) A colleague who asked not to be named said the Iranians had been warmly welcomed. "I love it here. It's hot and sunny and they eat rice, just like back home. Except here I go out salsa dancing." Mr Chávez inaugurated the factory in 2005 with the then Iranian president, Mohammad Khatami. He has struck up a friendship with his successor, Mr Ahmadinejad, and hailed their "axis of unity". "The relationship is fundamentally geopolitical rather than economic," said Mr Shifter. "It tells the world that Iran, an international pariah, is welcome in Latin America, which is traditionally regarded as the strategic preserve or 'back yard' of the United States." READ IT ALL

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