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Chavez Death Could Mean End Of His Bolivarian Dream

posted 5 Mar 2013, 14:43 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 5 Mar 2013, 14:44 ]

After fourteen years of championing a foreign policy driven by opposition to the United States and Latin American integration, Hugo Chavez's Bolivarian dream may be threatened with his death.

HAVANACUBA  (CUBAN GVMT TV) -  When Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro embraced for the first time on December 13, 1994 on the tarmac of Havana's international airport, few could have predicted the meeting would set the course for a transformative foreign policy that would catapultVenezuela onto the world stage.

Back then, Chavez was just the leader of a failed 1992 coup and Castro was Cuba's hale 67-year-old president, going head-to-head with the United States on a regular basis. Still four years off from donning the presidential sash, Chavez's Bolivarian revolution was just gaining steam and his first tour of Latin American countries ended inHavana.

That first meeting between the two like-minded leftists led to an enduring personal and political relationship that positioned Chavez as an antagonistic figure in regards to the U.S.

Just four years later, a clear polarization between Venezuela and the U.S. began to emerge after Chavez won the presidency and he began cementing his alliance withCuba, thanks to Venezuela's abundant oil money.

But it was his 2000 meeting with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in Iraq, blatantly defying U.S. objections, that put the growing split into the international spotlight.

Despite U.S. concerns, Chavez became the first elected head of state to meet with Hussein since the 1991 Gulf War as he toured OPEC countries, inviting them to a summit in Venezuela.

By 2002, Chavez saw the U.S. as his clear adversary and accused it of backing the April coup against him.

Once securely back in power, the Venezuelan leader embraced a foreign policy driven largely by his animosity toward the U.S., alliance-building with countries who shared similar tensions and a desire to integrate many of Latin America's left- leaning countries into an autonomous bloc, independent of northern influence.

"Today we are here, following the mandate of the fathers and mothers of the homeland, with our consciousness more awake than ever before to know that only united - as we are today, one more time after 200 years of battle - only united will we have the great homeland," he said, explaining his vision in 2010.

That policy placed him as a counterpoint to the U.S., setting him at odds with the country he often referred to as "the Empire".

What followed in the ensuing years was a series of visits - abroad and in Venezuela - with leaders reviled by the U.S. such as Libya's Muammar Gaddafi and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Chavez signed multiple agreements with his new allies, including accords to cooperate on nuclear power with Iran and agreements to increase agricultural and industrial investments with Libya.

Politically, Chavez also came out in strong support of Ahmadinejad and Gaddafi, calling them "friends" and "brothers" as they faced off with the U.S. over the years.

"Iran and Venezuela are completely different countries, but their governments are very similar. Chavez and Ahmadinejad are similar - both maintain this anti-North American attitude, anti-United States, and in that, there is clear agreement. In what way? In that the principle interest of this relationship between Chavez and Ahmadinejad is the permanent confrontation with the United States," said Adolfo Taylhardat, a former Venezuelan politician and diplomat.

But Chavez didn't stop there. He also worked with Russia's Vladimir Putin to buy over $2 billion in weapons and signed agreements with China for increased oil exports and joint development projects that would keep the two countries working together at least until 2030.

As Chavez increasingly found himself in world headlines, he made the most of it, taking advantage of every opportunity to needle the U.S. In 2006, he drew international attention when he addressed the UN General Assembly, calling then-U.S. President George W. Bush "the devil".

"The devil came here yesterday. And it smells of sulphur still today," he said.

Meanwhile, he was also working on social and economic integration within Latin America, an idea inspired by Venezuelan independence hero Simon Bolivar, who championed patria grande, a unified Latin America that would function together politically and economically. Chavez relied on staunch allies such as Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega,Ecuador's Rafael Correa and Bolivia's Evo Morales. But he also appealed to region's left-leaning countries such as Argentina and Brazil.

In 2004, Chavez and Fidel Castro created the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of OurAmericas (ALBA), which was intended as an alternative to U.S.-sponsored Free Trade Area of the Americas. ALBA began with only Venezuela and Cuba, but has since expanded to include Antigua & Barbuda, BoliviaDominicaEcuador, Saint Vincent & Grenades and Nicaragua.

As Chavez solidified his ties among left-leaning allies, he increasingly found himself clashing with his next-door neighbour in Colombia, right wing president Alvaro Uribe. The tensions came to a head in March of 2008 when Colombia's armed forces bombed a Colombian rebel camp in Ecuadorean territory. The attack killed Raul Reyes, the head of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, and led Ecuador's President Rafael Correa to cut ties with Colombia and send troops to the border.

Chavez jumped in to help his ally Correa, sending fighter jets and soldiers to the Venezuelan / Colombian border. The three countries teetered on the brink of war as the region held its breath.

"We do not want war, but we are not going to permit the North American empire and its puppy President Uribe and the Colombian oligarchy to divide us, to come here and make us weak - we are not going to permit it," warned Chavez.

The crisis eventually dissolved, but Chavez's determination to integrate the region stayed as strong as ever.

International relations analyst, Felix Arellano, said Chavez wielded a heavy weight.

"We have a foreign policy that works as sub-imperialist after having attacked imperialism. The role of Venezuela in ALBA, the role of Venezuela in Latin America with the oil chequebook is a crude game and dramatically imperialist. It is questioning imperialism as much as it is using its practises," said Arellano, who is the head ofVenezuela's Central University's School of International Studies.

In 2010, Chavez led the drive for the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), a 33-member nation regional bloc created at the Rio Group Summit. It excludes the U.S. and Canada and is seen as an alternative to the Organisation of American States, a body supported by the U.S.

However, Chavez's aggressive push toward integration does not appear to have translated into his large-scale vision for a populist Latin America. A 2007 survey by thePew Research Center found little confidence in Chavez as a global leader among Latin American countries. And recent elections have seen moderate and conservative leaders ushered into office, such as Chile's Sebastian Pinera, Brazil's Dilma Rousseff andColombia's Juan Manuel Santos.

Meanwhile, Chavez's steadfast allies - Nicaragua's Daniel OrtegaEcuador's Rafael Correa and Bolivia's Evo Morales - endure. His old friend and mentor Fidel Castro fell victim to age and illness and turned power over to his brother Raul, who has begun to make tentative reforms. And with the voice and charisma of Chavez now gone, his dream for a Bolivarian Latin America may be gone too.