Hugo Chávez embraces Iran and Syria, wins Russian support for nuclear program
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is in the midst of one of his world tours, making friends with US enemies and getting support for his country's nascent nuclear program.
| Mexico City
Yesterday he was in Syria. Wednesday he was in Iran. That was after visiting Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. Now he is off to Libya and Portugal.
And all within 10 days.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's world tours, often to countries with constrained or outright hostile ties to the United States, are nothing new. He says plainly that their intention is, in part, to counter American “imperialism.”
Yet if this latest global foray does not surprise analysts or rattle geopolitics, some say it could actually damage Mr. Chávez at home. It comes after legislative elections in Venezuela that saw his political party lose seats to the opposition. While Chávez still commands impressive popularity at home, problems such as inflation and crime have loosened a presidential grip that once seemed iron-tight.
“Chávez is an extremely well-traveled Latin America president,” says Larry Birns, the director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington, but he adds that it might not work in his favor even though many say such trips help distract from problems at home. “When you have a deeply fractured society ... you spend as much time as possible at home.... He should be working to administer effectively his revolution.”
'The new world order'
In Damascus on Thursday, Chávez signed several economic agreements, including a deal to supply Syria with up to 1 million tons of diesel fuel annually. He said that he and Syrian President Bashar Assad are building ties "to accelerate the fall of [American] imperialist hegemony and the birth of the new world of equilibrium and peace."
The previous day in Tehran, Chávez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said they also were committed to forming a “new world order.” The two were also reported to have signed a series of deals to promote industrial cooperation. In Russia, Chávez secured a deal that will help the South American nation build its first nuclear power plant.
The US has largely dismissed this trip – even though the nuclear plant deal has raised some eyebrows in Washington.
Standing with Iran
"I should use the opportunity to condemn those military threats that are being made against Iran," Chávez said at a joint news conference with Mr. Ahmadinejad in Tehran on Wednesday, before flying to Damascus. "We know that they will never be able to restrict the Islamic revolution in whatever way.... We will always stand together, we will not only resist, we will also stand victorious beside one another."
Ahmadinejad, for his part, said Iran and Venezuela were part of a revolutionary front "stretching all the way to East Asia" from Latin America. "If one day, my brother Mr. Chávez and I and a few other people were once alone in the world, today we have a long line of revolutionary officials and people standing alongside each other," Ahmadinejad said, according to Reuters.
Such statements are largely seen as an attempt by Iran to show that it is not isolated, despite a push by Washington for tougher sanctions against Iran's nuclear activities. The US fears Iran is seeking to develop a nuclear bomb, though Iran insists it merely wants a peaceful nuclear energy program.
Can US allow a nuclear Venezuela?
Chávez is saying the same, after firming up plans with Russia to build a nuclear power plant. He would not be alone in the region. Many countries, including Brazil, have been using nuclear power for decades.
The US did not take issue with the news, but some observers say it should. Ray Walser, a Latin America analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, says that there is a fissure between security hawks, like himself, and those who say the US need not panic.
“The White House says, we will just tell Mr. Chávez to act responsibly,” says Mr. Walser. “But responsible does not seem to be part of the words in the character description of Mr. Chávez.”