September 16, 2006
By Stephen Johnson
There was plenty of sulfur in the air at
the United Nations on Wednesday, but it wasn't coming from George
W. Bush. It was in the fire and brimstone of Venezuelan President
Heads of state, including U.S.
presidents, have sometimes used the U.N. General Assembly to
lambaste other governments. But Chávez's diatribe was over
the edge. It painted him as what he claims his U.S. counterpart is
- dangerous, imperialist, and a threat to the world.
Lacking independent courts, a congress, or a healthy opposition to
restrain him at home, Chávez is free to say whatever he
likes. And he often does, using public platforms such the November
2005 Summit of the Americas to send U.S. free-trade proposals "to
hell" and call Mexican President Vicente Fox Washington's "lapdog."
He once reportedly described Pope John Paul II as a "potato" using
a crude play on words after the pontiff met with him.
This time he said "the devil is in the house. He came here
yesterday ... this place smells like sulfur," in reference to
President Bush's participation in the General Assembly.
Chávez alleged that "U.S. hegemonic pretensions put the
survival of humanity at risk." He also called for changes in the
world body to admit new member states from the developing world -
such as Venezuela - as permanent members of the Security Council
with veto power.
Chávez suggested that his government would become "the
voice of the Third World" if his country were chosen to occupy a
rotating seat on the Council. Member states will vote next month by
secret ballot, with a choice between Guatemala and Venezuela.
Venezuela has already served on the Council several times, while
Guatemala, a U.N.-founding member, has yet to be selected.
Only a few weeks ago, Chávez was circling the globe lining
up votes in developing nations like Belarus, Iran, Malaysia, and
Syria. At the same time, he signed contracts in Russia worth $3
billion for two dozen Su-30 advanced fighter-bombers and more than
50 helicopters, and he agreed to buy some 100,000 Kalashnikov
assault rifles and to have the Russians build him a munitions
factory. In China and Malaysia he pledged to shift Venezuela's
petroleum exports to South Asia.
Following the September meeting in Havana of the nations of the
Non-Aligned Movement, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited
Venezuela to advance a growing petroleum partnership between Tehran
and Caracas. In return for helping tap Venezuela's oil reserves,
Ahmadinejad may expect collaboration in strengthening his own
efforts against the United States, using the alliance of Venezuela,
Cuba, and a burgeoning satellite state in Bolivia as platforms for
intelligence gathering and arms trafficking in the Americas.
To close neighbors in the Western Hemisphere,
Chávez's agenda is regional. Interviewed by Michael Shifter
in the Washington Post last June, Peruvian
President-elect Alan García said, "Chávez is using
his millions of dollars to try and extend influence in the Andean
countries, first Bolivia, now cloning a comandante in Peru [rival
presidential candidate Ollanta Humala], then Ecuador, to surround
Colombia, where he sees U.S. imperialism as strongest in Latin
But when he spoke at the U.N. General Assembly this week,
President Chávez made it clear that his objective is to lead
a global coalition to confront the United States. To do that, he
must build an empire of his own. With improvised oil alliances, he
seeks to turn a commodity into a strategic political tool. Through
arms purchases, he hopes to shore up his own strength and supply
neighboring guerrilla movements. In multilateral forums, he
proposes to remake institutions to suit his purposes.
Over the long term, it's possible that the United States and other
industrial democracies will reduce their reliance on foreign
petroleum, and that then authoritarian rulers with oil won't have
money to buy rebellion. For the time being, Venezuela's threat is
limited - U.N. members will likely think twice before voting for
Venezuela to occupy the rotating seat on the U.N. Security Council.
Some may dislike America's prosperity and denounce its palpable
influence in world affairs, but that doesn't mean they want to be
identified with a capricious leader who seems to have become all he
is senior policy analyst for Latin America in the Davis Institute
for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
Now that Mexico's electoral tribunal has reviewed ballots from
contested voting stations and found no widespread fraud in the July
2 elections, losing presidential contender Andres Manuel Lopez
Obrador should concede defeat and call off disruptive
demonstrations that have paralyzed Mexico City.
That's not to say he should totally give up what he does so well
-- mobilizing masses with acid speeches and blocking traffic.
Instead, he could direct his efforts toward causes that would serve
a more worthy purpose.
In today's Mexico, fair elections are not a problem. Reforms in
the 1990s turned the Mexican electoral system into a model of
transparency. Since 1997, honest votes have been the basis of
Mexico's remarkable political transformation, ending seven decades
of single-party rule.
Mr. Lopez Obrador, or AMLO as he is called, promised to abide by
the rules and results during the recent presidential campaign. But
on Election Night he broke his pledge, hastily declaring himself
the winner before an official tally was completed. Later, he cried
fraud when the count showed that he lost by a small percentage.
Campaign advisers such as Manuel Camacho Solis, a top
Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) operative when it allegedly
rigged 1988 elections, helped flood Mexico's Federal Electoral
Institute with specious fraud claims, some refuted by his own
Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) poll workers.
When those were disproved, Mr. Lopez Obrador called for a
complete recount -- not contemplated under Mexican (and most other)
electoral laws, which allow for retabulations only in disputed
precincts. After that ploy failed, he asked for the vote to be
annulled. Mexico's electoral court refused.
Separately, Mr. Lopez Obrador and supporters spent big money
mobilizing crowds in Mexico's central square to influence public
opinion. Demonstrators even blocked main thoroughfares and occupied
toll booths. Mexico City businesses lost millions.
The first of September, Mr. Lopez Obrador's PRD congressional
delegation kept outgoing President Vicente Fox from delivering his
state of the union speech in the legislative palace. Mr. Lopez
Obrador now says he will declare himself president Sept. 16,
Mexican Independence Day -- setting up a parallel government to
disrupt the incoming administration of Felipe Calderon.
Sparser crowds go to Mr. Lopez Obrador's rallies, while polls
suggest Mexicans increasingly view him as a scofflaw and a crank.
Were he a serious democrat, he would redirect his persistence and
creativity toward real problems, instead of abusing Mexico's
democracy to commandeer an office he didn't win.
At home, he could mobilize public opinion against some root
causes of Mexico's poverty like corrupt monopolies that block job
growth in the energy and telecommunications sectors. He might wage
war against the dysfunctional, centralized education system,
plagued by strikes and derelict facilities.
On visits abroad, he could take on dictators. Cuba hasn't
celebrated competitive elections in decades. Ordinary Cubans don't
enjoy rights or personal liberties. Their government tells them
where to live, what to do and where they cannot go.
A humanitarian Mr. Lopez Obrador could call for demonstrations
against such policies at the summit of the nonaligned nations this
week in Havana. An activist Mr. Lopez Obrador could even help
Cubans set up a shadow government to second-guess every decision
the Castro brothers make and propose rational alternatives, thereby
hastening their departure.
In Venezuela, a more democratic Mr. Lopez Obrador could decry
President Hugo Chavez's manipulation of voter rolls, publication of
government enemy lists, escalating crime, and rampant corruption
within Mr. Chavez's inner circle of ministers and advisors.
But none of that seems to be in the cards. Mr. Lopez Obrador's
most powerful backers come from Mexico's old-guard elite --
industrial monopolists and aging PRI party members yearning for the
good old days of single-party rule. Instead of real reform, they
want to reinstate the handouts-for-loyalty system that kept the
rabble dependent on corrupt leaders.
Sadly, Mr. Lopez Obrador tossed aside his democratic credentials
on election night and adopted the same inflammatory rhetoric as
Fidel Castro and Mr. Chavez. Fittingly, his next job will be that
of a presidential impersonator.
First Appeared in the Washington Times
Now that Mexico's electoral tribunal has reviewed ballots from contested voting stations and found no widespread fraud in the July 2 elections, losing presidential contender Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador should concede defeat and call off disruptive demonstrations that have paralyzed Mexico City.
Senior Policy Analyst
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