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U.S. Has Few Options Against Venezuela's Chavez
Wed Mar 17, 2004 02:33 PM ET
By Pablo Bachelet
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration has few, if any, options against Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, who is using increasingly strident anti-U.S. rhetoric and openly working to scuttle a referendum on his rule which Washington backs, analysts said.
"I just don't see that there's much that countries of this hemisphere or the United States (are) going to do aside for some verbal bombast perhaps," said Peter Hakim, who heads the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think-tank.
In the latest insult to U.S. policy, Chavez Tuesday said he would not recognize the new government in Haiti, set up with U.S. involvement, and invited ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to Venezuela. The White House partly blames Aristide for Haiti's crisis and facilitated his departure last month.
Chavez, who survived a brief coup in 2002, has called President Bush "stupid" and accused the United States of plotting to overthrow him. He actively courts U.S. foes like Cuba and Iran.
Venezuela is the fourth largest supplier of crude oil to the United States and Washington has a big interest in having a stable and friendly government in the Latin American state.
For his actions to undermine democratic moves to oust him, Chavez could potentially face expulsion from the Organization of American States, under the regional body's Democratic Charter. But that is unlikely to happen, experts say.
EROSION OF DEMOCRACY
One problem is that Chavez has resorted to a "continued erosion, a decay" of the Venezuelan democratic order, rather than an outright rupture contemplated by the Charter, said Hakim, adding that the press is still free in Venezuela and Chavez is not imprisoning political foes.
"It's just very hard to develop a conceptual basis for national collective action against governments like Venezuela," he said.
One option open to Washington would be to squeeze Chavez with economic sanctions and condemnations, but even that "would not be very fruitful," said Felix Martinez, of Florida International University. He noted that such a policy had failed to remove Fidel Castro from power.
"The policy should be to engage Venezuela more directly, to exert international public opinion pressure on Venezuela," he said, adding the U.S. should lead a multilateral effort with Latin American states to exert pressure on Venezuela.
Miguel Diaz, with the Washington-based Center for Strategic International Studies, doubts that Chavez is susceptible to outside pressure.
Short of an outright U.S. invasion, which is "not even in the realm of consideration," Diaz suggests holding top Venezuelan officials and Chavez himself accountable to any human rights violations, much the same way the U.S. arrests corrupt Latin American officials who seek refuge in Miami.
U.S. officials say Chavez has been working with Castro to dislodge elected governments in Latin America and that he is at best a reluctant collaborator in the fight to keep Colombia's armed groups out of the border regions with Venezuela.
He appears to be gaining the upper hand in his fight, using legal challenges and technicalities, to stop a bid by the opposition to force a mid-term referendum on his rule, despite opposition claims that they have more than the 2.4 million signatures needed to force a vote.
Chavez says many of those signatures were fraudulent.
Chavez is a "democratically elected president ... who seems to be systematically dismantling democracy and turning Venezuela into an authoritarian government," said Eric Farnsworth of the Council of the Americas.