Barack Obama caught a fair amount of flak for his "homeboy" handshake with Venezuela's controversial leader, Hugo Chavez. The American right pelted him with wild, school-yard worthy accusations, their fear of "Obama the socialist" seemingly justified. But on the ground in Latin America, things are not looking quite so chummy.More...
Colombia is the single largest recipient of US military aid in the Western hemisphere. Only Egypt and Israel receive more. Ostensibly, this is part of the US "war on drugs" but of course, but that is not the whole story: aid on this scale does not go to just anybody who needs it. The aid also helps the Colombian regime in their decades-long struggle with the leftist guerrilas known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (or FARC).
Venezuela and Ecuador on the other hand, are both governed by leftist regimes critical of American foreign policy. They view the US-Colombia relationship with open suspicion. Colombia has some justification for its claims that its neighbors are in some way aiding or abbetting the FARC rebels. I think the situation developing in Latin America deserves some attention.
- In early 2008, the Colombian military crossed the Ecuadorian border to raid a FARC base, during which they killed two senior FARC commanders. This prompted Venezuela and Ecuador to temporarily mobilize troops along the Colombian border.
- This summer, the situation got even more complicated: when he learned of the plan to allow the US access to several military bases in Colombia, Chavez warned that "the winds of war" were again blowing across the continent.
- The very extensive trade between the two nations has since slowed noticeably.
- In September, Russia agreed to a 2.2 billion dollar arms deal with Venezuela, over US objections.
- Just days ago, almost immediately after Colombia announced that the US base deal was immanent, Venezuelan officials announced that they had arrested several suspected Colombian spies, evidence soon to be released.
- Today, the US-Colombia pact was signed.
This is especially so because for years now the American press has repeatedly made absurd assertions about Chavez and his regime, as this segment of the (excellent) TV program, Listening Post points out. Many US media outlets, following Washington's lead, openly endorsed a failed 2002 coup attempt against him (possibly engineered by the US?). I'm not suggesting that Venezuela is a socialist utopia (after all I like Family Guy, violent video games, and toy guns, and I'm sure many unfortunate Venezuelans do, too), but Chavez has been democratically elected three times; he has been graciously defeated by referendums and in the legislature; and yet he is still routinely refered to as a "dictator" by the mainstream press.
The persistently biased portrayal of Chavez by the media has helped make him a political pariah: meeting with actual dictators (like the King of Saudi Arabia) arouses a comparatively insignificant outcry in the States. The furor over a simple handshake suggests that any move by Obama to improve ties with Caracas would surely prove politically hazardous, at best. The unforgivable failure of the mainstream media to accurately report the facts from Venezuela has thus, it seems to me, rendered this growing regional dispute much more likely to prove intractable.