Bush snubs Venezuela's President
If President Bush is such a pariah in the eyes of the world, as liberals insist, why does someone like President Hugo Chavez crave his respect?
Chavez is the leftist, populist, Castro—worshipping Venezuelan president, who survived an Aug. 15 recall referendum with unexpectedly high numbers amid cries of electoral fraud. But he not only won, he did it on an explicitly anti—Bush platform. It's part of a long string of such events. Publicly, Chavez has called President Bush a 'pendejo' (slang for 'wimp' or worse), casting blame on the Yanks to deflect the people's blame on his own failures. There's no love between President Bush and President Chavez.
But hard as it is to believe, fresh from his referendum victory, Bush's affirmation is exactly the prize Chavez is after, perhaps to shore up his support at home, or more likely, to demoralize his democratic opponents. In any case, it's a move to strengthen his position. But there are signs President Bush isn't playing the little game — and may be a tougher opponent than his apparently indifferent demeanor about it appears.
Not that everyone is that astute. Former President Jimmy Carter was happy to give his imprimatur to the Chavez farce. But as evidence of fraud mounts, Carter looks increasingly discredited. Although Chavez is looks for potential endorsers everywhere — he did schedule a meeting with Jacques Chirac this week — it's a cheap victory, not quite what he wants. The U.S. State Department gave a tepid acknowledgement of his victory, several days late.
And that's not what Chavez wants either. What Chavez is really after is affirmation of his legitimacy from President Bush. And President Bush hasn't given it.
How can we tell? As events go by, it's getting clearer: Monday, Chavez very suddenly cancelled his trip to the U.S. He had a string of events planned at places like the Council of the Americas, the Mount Olive Baptist Church in Harlem, Riverside Church in Morningside Heights and of course, with Danny Glover, Susan Sarandon and Harry Belafonte. He was scheduled to address the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday, meet with President Luis Inigo Lula da Silva of Brazil for a poverty forum, and schmooze with supportive Wall Street bankers in his first New York appearance after his referendum victory.
He cancelled all that, and all of a sudden, supposedly because of airplane trouble. Never mind that extensive preparations had been made, and correspondents had been flown out. Chavez was so hasty about it his people didn't even bother to even tell the Council of the Americas that he wasn't coming — the Secret Service ended up doing it for him. Chavez's flacks said the presidential airplane could not be repaired in time. But that's a little ridiculous — Venezuela has plenty of aircraft — and the Venezuelan foreign minister managed to catch some sort of flight to the U.S. for the United Nations sessions this week.
The talk around Caracas is that he wasn't invited to a key dinner with President Bush. Apparently, that was sufficient to call the whole thing off. Chavez had sought an invitation to meet with President Bush, but it wasn't forthcoming. One possible event Chavez might have anticipated meeting Bush at might have been the upcoming Secretary General's reception for U.N. heads of delegation, which was to be hosted by the U.S. this year. The National Security Council couldn't confirm whether or not Chavez was invited. But since his recall referendum victory, Chavez has publicly sought "better relations with the U.S." and an invitation to the White House. He hasn't gotten it. And still he hasn't backed down in wanting it nor resorted to his usual angry "pendejo" rhetoric.
There was some speculation among the media that Chavez had urgent business regarding a violent weekend military confrontation at the western border with Colombian paramilitaries, which left six Venezuelan soldiers and one civilian dead. But the information minister, Andres Izcarra, insists this is not the case and the opponents in Caracas don't think so either.
The more likely reason is that Chavez sought to avoid the humiliation of a snub from Washington just as he is politically at his most illegitimate.
In fact the signs point to more than just snubbing — there was the Voice of America article about oil prices Sept. 9 — the U.S.—government—controlled media organ quoted experts in Texas who blamed Chavez for high oil prices. A day later, the White House got even more aggressive, slapping sanctions on Venezuela against its record on women trafficking. Now, there is this missing invitation.
None of these pinpricks are easy for Chavez to refute, by the way. He's on the record as wanting high oil prices, so how can he complain if the U.S. points it out? Meanwhile, since there aren't any laws enforced in Venezuela (except those against political opponents), it's easy to put the women—trafficking rap on him — the same was done for Castro earlier — and despite his complaints, the charges are true. Now, worst of all Chavez has been denied a heaping helping of legitimacy he craves from President Bush after stealing an election in August. For a president who's so touchy and easy to take offense, so quick to charge the U.S. with imperialism, he's awfully silent about these rebukes from the U.S., the nation he professes to dislike most of all. Perhaps President Bush isn't quite the dangerous evil demagogue his enemies say he is, but a benchmark of righteousness — as his enemies so bitterly mock him.
And more to the point, it's probably going to continue.
This won't be the last Chavez hears from the wily Bush who understands the difference between right and wrong. Chavez may be a clever, media—savvy man but Bush specializes in surprising his enemies, who habitually underestimate him. Chavez may very well know what is going on — that Bush strikes enemies at their weakest points. And he can be quite formidable. Yet Chavez has taken it silently, still seeking the respect of President Bush that he and all his coevals profess to despise. What's up here? It's more than likely that Bush is reading Chavez correctly, and Chavez has more than met his match.