Washington's Chavez dilemma


By: Michael Buchnan
The BBC News, April 16, 2002


Hugo Chavez's return to power is both an embarrassment and an annoyance for the United States.

The maverick populist has frequently angered Washington and his fall from power on Friday was welcomed by the White House.

President Bush's official spokesman, Ari Fleischer, said on Friday that Mr Chavez had been the author of his own downfall.

"We know that the action encouraged by the Chavez government provoked this crisis," said Mr Fleischer.

"Government supporters, on orders from the Chavez government, suppressed peaceful demonstrations."

Those comments put the Bush administration at odds with most other countries on the continent, and left many Latin American nations wondering if Washington had a different approach to democracy depending on whether or not they liked the leader.

And while Washington most certainly does not like Hugo Chavez, the CIA - which in the past has had its fingerprints on other coups in the Americas, most notably in Guatemala in 1954 and Chile in 1973 - does not, at this stage at least, appear to have had any role in the Venezuelan upheaval.

Iraq link

Hugo Chavez has angered the United States many times.

His close relationship with Cuban leader Fidel Castro, long the bane of successive American administrations, is in Mr Chavez's case arguably the least of his sins.

He has paid highly controversial visits to Libya and Iraq, becoming the first foreign leader since the Gulf War in 1991 to travel to Baghdad.

And his neutral stance on the FARC insurgency in Colombia has also annoyed Washington.

So his dramatic return to power has put the Bush administration onto the back foot.

The national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, urged Mr Chavez to use his new opportunity to reconsider his policies.

"I hope he takes advantage of this opportunity to right his own ship which has been moving in the wrong direction frankly for quite a long time," said Ms Rice.

The problem for Washington is that it has no choice but to develop some sort of relationship with Mr Chavez.

Venezuela is the third largest supplier of oil to the United States, responsible for about 13% of all US imports, and the situation in the Middle East - with its potential to disrupt even more crucial American oil supplies - puts Mr Chavez in a strong position.

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