As I have mentioned before I like visiting and commenting in a most interesting and, I must add, very popular blog called “Venezuela News & Views”.
While I do read many interesting blogs every day, VN&V is kind of exceptional when it comes to attracting a very challenging and intellectually rich crowd that for the most part is concerned with the pervasive influence of Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, in the Latin American region as well as the social and political destruction he is causing inside Venezuela.
One of the regular visitors of VN&V is a gentleman called Kepler. He is a bright Venezuelan professional that lives overseas for whom I have the utmost respect. He is a true liberal with a strong European influence and I still have to find a topic of discussion that he is not well versed on.
Kepler is not a man who will run away from a good intellectual skirmish and I have to say that I treasure dearly all of our online encounters. Recently I found myself discussing with him over a comment I made to a posting on VN&V about the nomination and election of Sarah Palin to the Republican Party ticket.
I have written here a number of posts, perhaps too many, about Mr. Chavez and Venezuela but not a single word on the US presidential election. The reason for this is that even though I have been following closely and even avidly the US presidential election I still have not decided who I will vote for coming November.
I am one of those voters that have traditionally supported Democratic candidates but whose vote is not a “gimme”. Call me old fashion, slow or whatever you want but the fact is that I am a voter whose vote can not be taken for granted. I expect the candidates to make the putt; meaning, I expect them to earn my vote.
This has not happen yet and therefore I could not write about the election because I had nothing to write about. That is, nothing to write about until Kepler challenged me into answering his comments on VN&V.
Kepler has triggered in me a need to start putting my ideas and concerns in perspective and to come up with a short list of particular issues that may not be important for most voters but that are pretty important to me. Issues and concerns over and above the ones I share with most voters and that both candidates, hopefully, will start addressing now that they have been officially nominated by their parties.
I am therefore herein including the comments written both by Kepler and myself on the VN&V blog which gives an insight as to what is one of those issues and concerns. Issue, that I am hoping and waiting both candidates will address before I decide who I will vote for.
On behalf of Kepler and myself please excuse any involuntary orthographic and/or linguistic mistakes. I am quoting from the comment thread of the VN&V blog and as most of you know, these kind of comments are written in a hurry and in the moment, not subject to proof reading and hence, prone to many typos.
Original comment by Mousqueton:
What can I say Daniel (Editor of VN&V); the option of a McCain/Palin formula for President/Vice President and the Democrats for both the House of Representatives and Congress is starting to get more and more attractive by the minute.
If at all, it will mean that in 2012 we will have Palin and Hillary running for President.
I have to say that from a Venezuelan point of view, I certainly trust McCain far more than Obama to deal with Chavez and his pervasive influence throughout the region.
May we all live in interesting times. (Confucius)
Follow up comment by Mousqueton:
By the way, though I am basically a liberal I have to agree with you Daniel; the lady looked very poised inside the ropes and proved to be a good politician. While I am not cozy about her ideology, she does come across as pragmatic.
Further, I am willing to go out on a limb and say that, given his track record and the fact that he has never been a favorite son of the Republican Party - heck, without Palin he would be struggling to get the Republican Party behind his candidacy - the only thing McCain needs to be a great President is a Democratic Congress and House of Representatives.
This guy has proven he can work in and with both sides of the aisle. Something Obama claims, but in fact, based on his track record, is just wishful thinking.
Reply by Kepler:
How do you think McCain can be more pervasive in dealing with Thugo?
I think this is about gaining the hearts of people in Latin America...no, not the hearts of those who live in upper class areas of Caracas and have always had a visa for going to the States...but the average citizen of Latin America. Can McCain do it better than Obama? I do not know but I doubt it.
Chavez has to be dealt with by Venezuelans. What US citizens can do is something like disclosing illegal things Chavistas do and stuff like that. The US won't achieve anything by having a president hit his chest with his fists like a gorilla.
Reply by Mousqueton:
Daniel, this is going to be a long one and will put your editorial policy to the test. Sorry before hand.
Before I start I have to say that I was missing our intellectual skirmishes and I have the feeling that what I am about to say will bring upon one.
1) Chavez is not a Venezuelan problem anymore.-
Chavez domestic brand of lunacy stop being a Venezuelan problem the moment he started to export his pervasive believes and policy to other countries in the region, the moment he started to finance the “Coordinadora Continental Bolivariana” and to use it as an instrument to disrupt democracy and create upheaval in other Latin American countries, the moment he align himself with the FARC and the ideology of using violence, crime, drugs and kidnappings as a valid mean to export and impose his dementia to other countries, the moment he started financing the FARC, the moment he align himself with those who, rightfully or not, we regard as our enemies, the moment when his relationship with our enemies has the potential to escalate into sharing and/or trafficking with lethal technologies that put our well being in danger, etc.
I am willing to concede that the United States foreign policy track record in the region has been dismal at best. I am even willing to concede that perhaps the best time in our foreign policy with Latin America has been during the Bush administration because we were so caught up in Afghanistan and Iraq that we virtually had no foreign policy in Latin America and we left the region alone.
You are a very acute and pragmatic observer of the Latin American reality and geopolitical implications of the Chavez government and I am sure you will concede that there is no such thing as the “good guy” in international relations. Everyone, including us, may portray themselves as good guys but at the end of the day it all boils down to selfish national interests.
I am also sure you will concede that only “naïve” observers and fanatic “ideologists” would expect the United States, being the powerful country it is, not to act accordingly when its interests are in jeopardy or at stake. Further, it is Chavez who has picked up this fight and him alone who has been steering it. No one should be surprised if the United States decides to indulge.
This has nothing to do with good will or looking good in the eyes of Latin America.
Even at the expense of risking an outcry from Latin America we have the duty to take care of this problem. It should be clear that we will not allow another Cuba and/or Cuban brand of ideological adventure in Latin America. I am not saying that this is fair. I am just saying it as it is.
I believe we should approach the region and drop the problem in their laps with the clear message that if they do not stop the political posturing and take care of the problem we will. Hugo Chavez has to go; there is no in between. It is up to him to decide how he goes but there is no possibility of compromise. He has to go and he has to go now.
Either Latin America comes off age and exercises the leadership it is expected of them, which means that some times they will have to take dreadful decisions for the good of the region, or, given what would certainly be an obvious lack of commitment to stability, democracy and peaceful coexistence in the continent, we will have to do it ourselves and, if we do, it is not going to be pretty.
Loud and clear Kep; maybe not fair, but certainly real.
Do not read me wrong though; I do dream with an international order that is fair, based on humanistic principles, respect and the ever enduring pursuit of consensus, but, I am also aware that we can not avoid the here and now (reality) and that like it or not we have to deal with it. I also believe that we will not wake up to a better world overnight; that we will have to struggle through conflicts, political skirmishes and even confrontations in order to evolve into a better order; that the ideas brought up by liberal thinkers to challenge the current reality will be a key factor to that evolution and that the promotion of free thinking and basic stability in the region are absolutely vital in order for this to happen.
As for the region; I am also an advocate of a major overhaul in the US foreign policy with regard to Latin America. Further, if I did not know better I would say that the Obama camp based his Latin American speech on what I had written in my blog here and here many months before.
2) The probabilities of Venezuelans getting rid of Chavez are very slim.
In a perfect world, your statement to the contrary would be correct. But, we do not live in a perfect world.
Even you, who have well known democratic credentials, will concede that, given the current conditions, the above statement is pretty much accurate. Off course there is always the outside chance that Chavez will leave through democratic means but that is a very low probability scenario.
Based on the Chavez track record we can say with absolute certainty that he is not a Democrat. He may use democracy to further his ludicrous ideas and interests but he certainly is not a Democrat.
Based on his track record as well, and let me remind you that he has been 10 years in power, we can also say with absolute certainty that he will do whatever he needs to do to remain in power. Even if that means coming out of the closet and showing himself as the power thirsty and totalitarian autocrat he is. If at all, he will cling to power because he is well aware that without the presidency he and his cronies as well as the loot they have amassed will be the subject of an unprecedented international hunt. Sooner or later, everyone will be brought to justice and most of the money will get back.
Chavez may dream of finding refuge in Cuba but he will soon learn that Cuba does not give refuge for free and faced with the possibility of Venezuela shutting down the oil flow, believe me, Cuba will negotiate putting their national interest first.
As for conditions inside Venezuela deteriorating to the point that people become weary of Chavez and hence he starts loosing support, let me just say that throughout history overwhelming repression has been the course of action (Dictatorship 101) of every totalitarian government faced with that kind of situation.
So, bottom line we are left with basically four alternatives to end the nefarious Chavez era:
a) A “coup de etat” by the armed forces. Possible but not likely because indeed most of the high officials are Chavez accomplices and the people will want to bring them to justice as well.
b) A civil armed insurgence. A very long shot since at this point any insurgent movement would, at best, only aspire to maintain a confrontational status quo with no chance of success. Not to mention the limited availability of resources and the well financed and trained Chavez militias they would have to face. Further, this would certainly be the worst alternative since it would be a very bloody endeavor and would deepen even more the polarization of the country.
c) A Latin American diplomatic negotiation to pressure him out of power. Possible and certainly a most welcomed alternative that would set an example to other regions in the world. It will take determination, tremendous lobbying, hard core negotiations on the side of the US and on top, the US will have to pay a significant price for it to happen. All and all though, it would be the least traumatic and most cost effective alternative.
d) A unilateral determination by the United States that Chavez and the Venezuelan government are sponsors of terrorism, drug traffickers, money launderers and financiers of international terrorist and violent activities.
A total commitment by the US to the relentless pursuit of Hugo Chavez, every Venezuelan government official as well as every person with known ties to the Venezuelan government in order to bring them to justice in the US. An equally relentless pursuit of all assets and money under the name of those involved. This includes the interception and capture of any presumed felon in international air space and waters as well as the execution of targeted commando operations inside Venezuela to take custody of anyone under arrest warrant, including Hugo Chavez. This is a slow coming but most likely scenario.
Kep; I understand your reluctance to any US intervention in Venezuela and I have to say that I certainly did not expect anything less from you. Further, I believe that it is the duty of every Latin American to avoid and certainly oppose this kind of precedent.
Having said this, I also believe that the US has the right to protect its own interests by any mean it deems necessary and that Hugo Chavez has become a clear and present danger to those interests.
While trying to build consensus with other Latin American countries to solve this problem seems as the first and best course of action I believe the US has the right to move unilaterally should these efforts fail and/or take too long. People like Insulza, Secretary General of the OAS, and other leaders in the region need to get the clear message that we have reached crunching time and that there is no more leeway for posturing and to play politics.
3) Why McCain could show more resolve in dealing with Chavez?
It really has very little to do with principle and/or ideology but interest.
a) McCain is running on a platform that promises to solve the energy problem. Should he be elected he will need to show some short term leadership. He knows that the energy problem requires long term solutions and therefore there is not much he can do in the short term.
He can show that he is pro-active in solving the problem though if he takes some short term actions.
- Off shore drilling.- I do not mean drilling off the shores of Palm Beach and Ft. Lauderdale but in the Florida straits where Cuba prospections show promising potential. Both countries would be pumping the same oil reserves except they would do it on their own side of the fence. The US does have the upper hand though since it has the ability to dedicate massive resources and technology to drilling in the area and beat Cuba at it.
- Increase production in Mexico and Venezuela.- This is a relatively short term solution and it provides the added benefit that you could pass on the transportation cost savings to the consumers. It will take though some fine negotiations with Mexico and perhaps even some immigration concessions but it is attainable. As for Venezuela, the strategy is obvious; get the US oil companies back in. Last but not least, shifting the US oil dependency from the Middle East to the Americas would shield the US from the unpredictable consequences of a conflict with Iran and its repercussions on the free flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz.
Given that Obama has absolutely no track record on Latin America, his speech can be construed either as brilliant or as a speech to lure the Hispanic vote in the US.
While I share most if not all the political concepts and ideas of Obama, perhaps I am too old or maybe it is just that I have been exposed for too long to the Latin American political rhetoric but the fact is that I am weary of any politician, black, white, brown or yellow, that promises too much. At this point in my life I value far more the politician that promises to change one or two things than the one who promises to change everything.
I may be wrong and that is why I have not decided who I will vote for coming next November. I can say for sure that I will vote for the Democratic candidates to the House of Representatives and Congress but I still do not know who I will vote for President.
Off course I am a sophisticated voter concerned about issues that most voters in the US do not care much about; Foreign Policy in Latin America, facing the Chavez threat, legalizing immigrants, bringing prosperity to the Americas, etc.
As for Palin, I see in her a good politician with conservative roots. As a Governor she must have already learned that to govern you need to reach consensus or you end up like Bush. I am a little uneasy with her religious advocacy but I understand that this is what McCain needs to win.
As for her position on abortion it really does no bother me. I am pro-life anyway even though for strictly secular reasons that have nothing to do with religion.
Last but not least; the girl is hot and she can certainly bat a ball out of the park.
And that is all I have to say about that!