CIA new mission bolsters hardliners in venezuela
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U.S. Policy Bolsters Hardliners In Venezuela
Oxford Analytica 08.24.06, 6:00 AM ET
President Hugo Chavez on Aug. 22 began a visit to China. As Chavez seals energy cooperation agreements with China and other non-traditional partners, the U.S. government has announced the creation of a new CIA mission to oversee Venezuela. This will exacerbate Venezuelan suspicion of Washington and accelerate the government's drive to diversify economic and diplomatic ties away from the United States.
It was expected that Chavez would focus on domestic issues after embarking on an extensive international tour earlier this month. However, although the presidential election is just four months away, he is continuing to prioritize international affairs over domestic politics. This week, Chavez and a team of officials will visit China, Angola and Malaysia. The primary objective of the tour is to sign new energy-based trade and cooperation accords. Those agreed with China will be the most significant. By contrast, the earlier tour sought to boost support for Venezuela's bid for a non-permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, build relations with non-traditional partners and consolidate diplomatic and trading relations with Russia and Iran. These place Venezuela starkly at odds with the direction and demands of U.S. security, energy and foreign policy.
Caracas maintains that it is committed to supplying the United States with crude oil, and that the country is cooperating in the "wars" on drugs and terrorism. However, Venezuela's pursuit of a multipolar world order and commitment to diversifying away from traditionally strong ties with the United States has deepened over the past year. This is a result of:
-- the strong rise in the oil price;
-- the strengthening of "hardline" factions within the Venezuelan government; and
-- the continued failure of Washington to engage coherently with Venezuela.
Other issues that have aggravated bilateral ties include the illness of Cuban President Fidel Castro and the conflict between Israel and Lebanon:
1. Cuba: There are concerns in the United States that Chavez will impede an anticipated opportunity for democratic transition in the event of Castro's death. However, Venezuela's immediate leverage is somewhat limited:
-- The deepening of ties between the countries has been premised on the close relationship between Chavez and Castro, a sentiment not shared between Chavez and Castro's brother and (temporary) successor, Raul.
-- Moreover, even though Cuba is often seen as the prime beneficiary of close links with Venezuela, the relationship is more balanced than it appears.
Developments in Cuba have also shown the limited "entry points" for either Venezuela or the United States. In this respect, the capacity of either country to move decisively to alter the course of any transition is limited. However, by stressing the right of Cuba to determine its future direction, Chavez has again shown his ability to mobilize anti-U.S. sentiment.
2. Israel/Lebanon: In relation to the Middle Eastern crisis, Chavez has emerged as the most vitriolic critic of Israel's actions in Lebanon. As in Latin America, where Chavez's criticism of the United States and neo-liberalism generated broad grassroots support, this has made Chavez a popular hero among some sectors of Muslim and Arab opinion and furthered Venezuela's multipolar ambitions.
Washington staked out a new direction in relation to Venezuela in recent days, when John Negroponte, the director of National Intelligence, announced the creation of a new CIA mission to coordinate and enhance intelligence-related activities in Venezuela and Cuba.
There are a number of risks in this latest direction in U.S. policy:
-- Intelligence-gathering operations will fuel Venezuelan concerns of U.S. spying, efforts to undermine the December election and attempts to provoke political violence.
-- The move will enhance Chavez's capacity to mobilize anti-U.S. sentiment and cite Washington as responsible for any domestic political or economic problems.
-- The emphasis on intelligence sustains the U.S. view that Venezuela is an "enemy" threat. It shifts the balance of policy influence to U.S. officials oriented toward militarized rather than negotiated responses to the current impasse in relations.
-- It will further enhance the position of hardliners in the Venezuelan government.
The war on terror has severely limited the capacity of the Bush administration to respond to diplomatic tensions in a pragmatic and flexible manner. "Soft" diplomacy could compensate for some of these shortcomings. The alternative is that current directions in foreign policy will be consolidated in a third Chavez term.