Tag: Venezuela

Flying Blind in Crisis Time: The US Strategic and Human Foreign Policy Deficit

This week has seen a number of key events and crises in global politics that have made crystal clear once again the careening mess that is US foreign policy under the current administration. The Trump administration has no real overarching strategy—the argument that allies in Europe and elsewhere should bear more of the costs of their defense was not articulated as part of any coherent broader vision—and gutting of the diplomatic corps has left the US devoid of expertise and key actors to confront crises when they arise.

First, there were two big stories around nuclear powers this week. The biggest being India and Pakistan’s clashes, which came on the heels of a suicide bombing attack on Indian troops in Kashmir by a local man that was claimed by Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed. In a scenario that Toby Dalton and George Perkovich worried about and predicted, an air raid by India into Pakistan resulted in bombs dropped on an open field, with two Indian planes apparently shot down, and one airman captured. Pakistan responded with a raid of its own across the Line of Control in Kashmir, sparking fears of escalation between the two nuclear-armed states. The Indian raid marked the first known aerial attack by one nuclear power on the territory of another.

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What next for Venezuela?

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My colleague, Javier Corrales, has an excellent summary of the internal political dynamics in Venezuela on the news yesterday of President Hugo Chavez’s deteriorating health condition. Corrales reports that the “Venezuelan government is busy preparing for the re-inauguration of the country’s beloved president, Hugo Chávez, and also for his funeral.”

The timing of all of this makes for significant confusion:

Venezuela’s constitution offers some guidance on what to do. If the president dies, the vice president (in this case, Nicolás Maduro, an avowed communist) will take office. He will call a new election within 30 days. If Chávez survives but cannot attend the inauguration, most jurists agree that the president of the National Assembly (Diosdado Cabello, who will presumably be reelected to that post in a vote on January 5) will take power. If the government then rules that the president-elect is only “temporarily absent,” Cabello will govern for 90 days, which will be renewable for 90 more. If it instead declares the president-elect to be “permanently absent,” Cabello would be constitutionally obligated to call an early election…

…The political confusion, meanwhile, is no small matter. The government’s unwillingness to accept that Chávez most likely cannot be inaugurated has produced unnecessary uncertainty. The indecision is probably the result of a power struggle within Chávez’s party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. The PSUV knows well that the timing of the announcement of the president’s absence (whether it occurs before or on the inauguration date) and the type of absence (permanent or temporary) determines who gets to control the succession, Maduro or Cabello. And each man leads a different faction.

Chávez stated his preference for Maduro to succeed him in December, during a weekend visit to Caracas between cancer treatments. But the rest of the party does not seem to be fully on board. Maduro’s opponents believe that he is too close to Cuba and too distant from Venezuela. As foreign minister since 2006, Maduro has spent much of his time away from home in recent years. Cabello, too, has detractors. Thanks to his history as a member of the armed forces, a state governor, and a minister of public works, he is seen as being allied with the least glorious element of Venezuela’s revolution: corrupt businessmen and military officials who have profited from their dealings with the state.

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Neo-Bolivarianism in Lain America


One of my classes is currently doing a unit on “Prospects for US Primacy.” It follows my usual design for such sequences: some balance-of-power theory applied to unipolar orders, followed by hegemonic-order theory, and then a smattering of the “US Empire” debate.

Today we worked through some different conceptions of power and balancing, before winding up on a discussion of soft balancing. Next week we’re going to mostly eschew lecturing–I did too much of that today–and discuss a series of questions and issues related to the themes of the unit, as well as a few “policy and punditry” pieces I had them read at the outset.

One of the issues I want them to talk about involves “new wave socialism” in Latin America and, in particular, what to make of the Venezuela-Nicaragua-Ecuador-Bolivia bloc.

Such matters strike me as particularly apropos given that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez declares the financial crisis in the US and Europe the “Failure of Capitalism”, Venezuela expands ties with Russia, Bolivia does the same, and Ecuador votes in Venezuela-like reforms to its constitution.

Now, all of this clearly signals diminished US influence in Latin America, but I wonder whether, how, and to what degree any of this truly matters to US interests and global standing.

We’re not facing a new Cold War (at least, not yet) in which these regimes might become, even with a few Russian bombers, consequential outposts for a hostile great power. And while members of the Chavez bloc have certainly made trouble for Colombia, they haven’t been able to do much to prevent the diminishment of the threat posted by the FARC to that staunch US ally.

In some respects, how we judge these developments depends upon (1) whether or not we foresee an inevitable clash between liberal democracies and an alliance of rival political orders or (2) whether or not we are inclined towards a genuinely “offensive realist” viewpoint in which every inch of influence is worth fighting for. But there may be other possible frames I haven’t considered.

Regardless, I’m curious if our readers have any thoughts.

Image source: Reuters

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Chavez’s Challenge (or the fatal flaw in his grand plan)

Hugo Chavez is talking a tough game, challenging the USA, and the Bush Administration in particular, all over the globe. He’s rallying leaders in Latin America, meeting with ‘rogues’ world-wide, and even calling Bush the “devil” at the UN.

But he’s got a problem. In a fascinating story, The Washington Post reported that:

[A] new study of trade and oil consumption data shows that Venezuela appears ever more dependent on selling its oil to the country Chávez calls “the cruelest, most terrible, most cynical, most murderous empire that has existed.” And U.S. government energy trade data show the United States is slightly less dependent on Venezuela, which at one time challenged Canada, Mexico and Saudi Arabia as the No. 1 provider of foreign oil but now tussles with up-and-coming Nigeria for the fourth spot.


Chavez is able to run such a strong Anti-US campaign because he is flush with cash from the high price of Venezuela’s exported Oil. But, more and more, the source of that cash is the very enemy he’s railing against. Despite his anti-US policies, he’s become more dependent on the voracious US appetite for Oil.

Yet the country’s once-vaunted oil industry has seen its production and capacity to produce decline over the last decade, according to oil analysts and statistics from the U.S. Energy Department and the International Energy Agency in Paris.

The world’s fourth-largest oil exporter a decade ago, Venezuela is now seventh, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy. The 1.1 million barrels of crude that Venezuela exports to the United States every day amount to less than 11 percent of American imports, down from 17.3 percent in 1996. By contrast, the No. 1 supplier to the American market, Canada, is now sending more than 1.8 million barrels a day and topped 2 million barrels daily in November.

During most of Chávez’s eight years in office, more than 60 percent of the country’s total crude exports have gone to the United States, up from 50 percent throughout much of the 1990s, according to Ramón Espinasa, a former chief economist at PDVSA who is now a consultant in Washington. The trend is due to growing U.S. demand, Venezuela’s rising consumption and what oil analysts say is the state’s inability to diversify its base of clients to include big consumers.

As Chavez spends money helping his global political pals, he’s investing less in his national Oil company. The nasty secret about Venezuela’s Oil is that, though bountiful, is really thick, like sludge. Unlike Saudi light sweet crude which is easy to refine anywhere in the world, Venezuelan heavy crude is so heavy that only select refineries dedicated to processing such a heavy grade of Oil, can handle it.

So a country less capable of producing oil, analysts say, is more tied to the United States, where refineries wholly or partly owned by PDVSA refine Venezuela’s molasses-like oil. The installations exist nowhere else, which makes some analysts skeptical that Venezuela is exporting as much to China as it claims.

“It’s three months by tanker to China, five days to the East Coast of the United States, so the American client is too important for Venezuela.”

So, at any point, the US could end Chavez’s antics with a simple Oil embargo. He’s got no where else to send his product. Would it hurt? Maybe a little (though with gas already over $3.00/gallon, I guess we can tolerate more than most people ever thought we could…), but it would hurt him a heck of a lot worse than it would hurt us.

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