Saturday, June 03, 2006

Chavez Overplays His Hand, Maybe

The Washington Post reports in an editorial that Latin American politicians are backing away from Chavez because the Venezuelan dictator's hegemonic aspirations are scaring their electorates. It is tempting to be optimistic with this development, but a troubling fact remains: Chavez will never face a real election again, and from a position of security can regroup and reassess his strategy for regional dominance.

The Bush administration, which has haplessly allowed Mr. Chavez to exploit the U.S. president as a political foil for years, has hit on just the right response as it has watched Peruvians and Mexicans turn the tables on the Venezuelan: It has kept quiet.

While I'm pleased to see a tyrant's strength waver, I'm not certain that we should be happy to reward the Bush administration's silence with praise.

George Bush's silence on weighty matters has always troubled me, as it has other conservatives. He tends to let his adversaries control the course of debate until it is absolutely necessary he speak. This often works well, in that when his adversaries speak or act from a position that is fundamentally flawed, they tend to hang themselves without much help from Bush or his surrogates. But that Bush tends toward restraint is less than comforting to those of us who would like the President to rally the public behind him more regularly, or who would like to see the President actively express on the world stage his desire to see other nations liberated from tyranny.

Chavez, in the grand scheme of things, has thus far has little more than a tick to Bush and the U.S. He has made bold declarations meant to embarrass the U.S., but he has actually accomplished little to quantifiably harm U.S. interests, and has only recently begun to threaten those interests in any practical way. Thus, the Bush administration's silence: they were content to wait until Chavez gave them a reason to respond meaningfully, allowing for the possibility that the fiery tyrant might self-immolate before any response were necessary. I'm not confident this silence regarding Chavez and Venezuela was all the result of conscious strategy; I suspect it was also an expression of one of the Bush administration's least admirable traits.

UPDATE: From Fausta's Blog, citing the Financial Times, April 28, 2006:
Venezuela, the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, has struck a $2bn deal to buy about 100,000 barrels a day of crude oil from Russia until the end of the year.

Venezuela has been forced to turn to an outside source to avoid defaulting on contracts with "clients" and "third parties" as it faces a shortfall in production, according to a person familiar with the deal. Venezuela could incur penalties if it fails to meet its supply contracts.

There's more here on Venezuela's oil industry:
The main reasons [for oil production shortfalls] have been the replacement of capable engineers and workers who disagreed with Chavez's revolutionary views, with inexperienced, and in many cases incapable replacements, and the lack of attention to infrastructure maintenance and improvement.

The result of the bad management and neglect, has been the steady erosion and near incapacitation of a major oil-producing region of Venezuela, the Western portion of the country, where as many as 10,000 wells have been estimated to have been rendered mostly useless. Venezuela is nominally the world's fifth largest oil producer.

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