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Lost amid Chávez's rants on Libya, a quieter Latin American foreign policy

Hugo Chávez's offer to mediate between his embattled Libyan friend and rebel factions was quickly dismissed. Meanwhile, other Latin American nations are taking a unified approach to foreign affairs.

By Jasmina KelemenContributor / March 11, 2011



Caracas, Venezuela

Venezuela's offer to mediate a peace deal in Libya was pushed off the negotiating table just as quickly as President Hugo Chávez placed it down. Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi's son dismissed the idea, and Libya's opposition rebels dually responded to the offer this week by defacing Hugo Chávez Football Stadium in Benghazi (the base of Libya's rebels).

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Why is a stadium in Libya named after Mr. Chávez? For the same reason that Colonel Qaddafi owns a replica of independence hero Simon Bolivar’s sword. The two men are tight.

But lost amid all the bombast of Chávez's ¡Viva Libya! antics, cooler Latin American heads are pursuing a similar foreign policy to more credible effect. And that may provide a telling example to developing economies, and also to Chávez himself – if he stopped tweeting long enough to listen.

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Indeed, less entertaining than Chávez but more interesting is how many of Latin America’s former dictatorships have transformed themselves into booming social democracies, still clinging to the goals of social inclusion and international sovereignty espoused during the radical 60s but now adopting orthodox economic and diplomatic tools to achieve their aims.

Two recent examples of Latin American forays into Arab politics provide illustrative contrasts. Chávez's offer to convene a Peace Commission to mediate between his embattled Libyan friend and rebel factions was an embarrassing failure, albeit consistent with his oft-stated goal of “south-south” solutions to developing world problems.

In practice, Chávez's version of "south-south" diplomacy seems to mostly consist of giving away Venezuelan oil at deeply discounted rates to countries like Dominica and Nicaragua. Perhaps because he’s so chummily embraced international pariahs, such as Holocaust-denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Sudanese indicted war criminal Omar al-Bashir (whom he invited to Venezuela), his “south-south” agenda invites ridicule.

Other than Venezuela’s reliable Latin block – including fellow Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas members Nicaragua, Cuba, and Bolivia – no one else seemed to take the proposal seriously.

Jasmina Kelemen is a guest blogger at Backchannels.

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