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GUEST COMMENTARY: Venezuela, the U.S.: Oddly Coupled

Posted by kinchendavid on October 29, 2006

By Sir Ronald Sanders

US President George W Bush and UN Secretary: The contest between Venezuela and the United States of America, as the champion of Guatemala, over a seat on the UN Security Council was much bluster. The oil relationship paints a different picture.

In a spectacle that lasted for days and several ballots in the UN General Assembly, Venezuela hotly fought Guatemala and the diplomatic network of the US for a non-permanent Security Council seat.

Usually, the regional countries –in this case Latin America and the Caribbean — would decide amongst themselves on a candidate and spare the General Assembly the unpleasant task of having to decide for them.

But, neither Guatemala nor Venezuela would withdraw in the Latin American and Caribbean Group (LACG). They continued this pattern in the General Assembly after successive votes failed to deliver the necessary two-thirds majority to either of them.

Guatemala should have withdrawn from the running when it did not secure the endorsement of the LACG.

The Central American country could not have wanted a clearer message from member countries of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) who are the majority in the LACG.

They said an emphatic no to Guatemala on two grounds: Guatemala had been vociferous at the World Trade Organisation in derailing the preferential access to the European Union market which Caribbean countries had enjoyed for their bananas; and Guatemala continues to prosecute a claim to all of the territory of Belize (a CARICOM member state) despite many international efforts to end it.

Had Guatemala withdrawn, the LACG would have chosen a country the majority could support — possible Chile or Uruguay — and the matter would have ended there. The selected country, endorsed by Latin American and Caribbean, would have taken the UN Security Council seat automatically. Then, Venezuela entered the arena.

Over the last few years, diplomatic relations between the governments of Venezuela and the US have deteriorated as Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez struck a leftist pose, openly fostered close personal relations with Cuba’s Fidel Castro, and promoted left wing political parties in a number of Latin American countries.

He has vehemently opposed the Free Trade Area of the Americas pushed by Washington and has attacked both the foreign policies of US President George W Bush, and Mr Bush personally.

During a UN General Assembly speech, Mr Chavez called Mr Bush the Devil. Thereafter, the UN Security Council seat became the cause of an unseemly diplomatic war between Venezuela and the US as the campaigner for Guatemala. The US set out to ensure that Venezuela would not win the seat. Chips were called in, and pressure applied. And, in every count, except one which tied, Guatemala beat Venezuela but could not attain the necessary two-thirds majority to take the seat.

President Chavez claimed his own defeat as a victory.

He is reported by the Associated Press as saying that Venezuela had achieved its objective by preventing Washington’s preferred candidate from winning the seat. He have taught the Empire a lesson, he said.

This is a sad statement, for it suggests that in offering Venezuela as the Latin American and Caribbean representative on the UN Security Council, President Chavez was less concerned about the interests of the group and more concerned with giving the US a black eye.

It has to be assumed that he regarded the Security Council seat as a forum from which to continue attacks on US foreign policy, particularly over Iran and North Korea.

And, if that was the objective, it would have changed little since, as a non-permanent member of the Security Council, Venezuela would have had no veto powers, and in any event, on matters which challenge international peace and security, members of the Council would have been intolerant of rhetoric and grandstanding. Venezuela, in such a role, would have found itself isolated.

So, then, why was the US so determined that Venezuela should not get the Security Council seat? It has to be assumed that the powers in Washington simply decided to deny Mr Chavez another stage on which to strut his anti-Bush stuff. For, Venezuela on the Security Council poses no threat to the US or to the world order.

It is clear that just as Mr Chavez was eager to give the US a black eye, Mr Bush’s foreign policy advisers were equally keen to bloody the Venezuelan President’s nose.

But, while in the first four months of 2006, Venezuela is reported to have sent 11.9 million barrels less of crude and petroleum products to the US than it did for the same period in 2005 when it shipped 190.1 million barrels, it still exports 68% of its oil production to the US whose refineries are geared to processing Venezuela’s heavy crude oil into usable form.

In this connection, not only does the Venezuelan economy need the US, but Mr Chavez himself needs the US market in order to pay for his domestic political programme and his regional and international efforts to secure influence through loans for oil.

Now, it is true that Mr Chavez has been busy opening markets in China and India for Venezuelan oil. Sales to china stood at 14,000 barrels a day in 2004; last year it rose to 80,000 barrels a day. But, the higher shipping costs to Asia are expensive and reduce the country’s income by $3 a barrel.

Not even the $10 billion that China announced it will pour into Venezuelan energy and infrastructure sectors to feed its own escalating demand for energy will break Venezuelan reliance in the medium term on the US market. The US also depends on Venezuela which is one of its top four suppliers of oil, some months surpassing Saudi Arabia.

So, all that happened at the UN – using the candidacy of Latin America and the Caribbean for a seat on the Security Council as a backdrop – is much bluster. The substance is in the oil relationship between the US and Venezuela and there they remain coupled, however oddly.

* * *

Sir Ronald Sanders is a business executive and former Caribbean Ambassador to the World Trade Organisation who publishes widely on Small States in the global community. Responses to: ronaldsanders29@hotmail.com

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