Crossing Borders: Venezuela’s Chavez Scores a PR Coup but What Does it Mean for the US?



In the first of weekly analysis of what is happening on our side of the world, in an effort to keep readers informed, Latina Lista, along with special contributors from North, Central and South America, will strive to highlight those situations/people that are impacting the lives and politics of our closest neighbors — because it all eventually crosses the border.

“He rose to power winning the hearts of his countrymen. He conquered global opinion with his good deeds. He overtook the world when no one was looking.”

This epitaph is the modest version of what I envision will be on the gravestone of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez. Since modesty and Chavez are oxymorons, time will tell the wordlength, but one thing is certain — Chavez has now solidified his image as the “Savior of the Americas,” no matter how much the US vilifies him.

Brokering the deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC that resulted in yesterday’s release of Consuelo Gonzalez, a politician held in the Colombian jungles for 6 ½ years and Clara Rojas, a vice presidential candidate, held for 6 years and who mothered a child while in captivity, Chavez regained some respect among his South American peers.
After a period where he experienced several personal embarrassments like being told to “shut up” from Spain’s King Juan Carlos, his defeat in getting passed his referendum that would have allowed him to run for re-election indefinitely and his first attempt negotiating with the FARC failing, Chavez seemed to be on a downward spiral.
But with the new year, he has brought life back to his administration and his growing threat to democracy in Latin America.
The BBC reports that Chavez, in his first telecast of the new year of his tv program “Alo Presidente,” told Venezuelans that “This is the start of a new public battle.”
In addition to reshuffling/firing/appointing members to his cabinet, he is turning an eye to strengthening his base at home by doing some things he has neglected in his pursuit of trying to be Latin America’s savior and defender against the United States.
He’s reaching out to the Middle Class of Venezuela, he’s taking a hard look at issues that concern his constituents like food shortages, rise in crime, etc. — issues that probably bore the hell out of him but knows that to win the majority, he has to start delivering.
Since yesterday’s successful delivery of the two captives, Chavez is riding a wave of gratitude and admiration from South American peers.

Pres. Hugo Chavez stands with liberated FARC hostages, for whom he is credited with winning their release.
President Uribe of Colombia, who treated Chavez with disdain after the first failed attempt and broke off relations, was forced to recognize his role in brokering the release and has said that he wants to reestablish relations again with Venezuela.
And now that he has redeemed himself, Chavez is back to his old self.
Today, he called for the international community to remove FARC and Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) off the lists of terrorist groups and recognize them as armies.

“They are insurgent forces that have a political agenda,” he told lawmakers. “A Bolivariano agenda that is respected here in Venezuela.”

And he’s resurrected his rhetoric against the United States by saying he was sure it was US influence that destroyed and smashed the confidence that had been created between the two countries (Colombia and Venezuela) because there are those who want war and don’t care about lives or the people.
Chavez’ renewed popularity in South America and his now public endorsement/recognition of groups like FARC is a troubling sign.
Given the US-Colombian agreement to rid Colombia of its drug problem and knowing, according to the Council on Foreign Relations , that FARC takes in $200 million to $400 million annually—at least half of its income—from this illegal drug trade, the United States needs to be more vigilant in how Chavez’ public declaration impacts US-Colombian relations, not to mention his attempts to charm the rest of his South American peers to see things his way.
It’s ironic that the Bush Administration sent Karen Hughes all over the Mideast to bolster the image of the US in Muslim countries but has done little to do the same in a region that still likes the US but is slowly being influenced to think otherwise.
To gain some insight on Chavez, Colombian freelance journalist, and Linking Latinas contributor, Ana María Hanssen, who lives in Argentina, offers her unique perspective of how Chavez is impacting Colombia and the rest of South America in her post It Took Someone Like Chavez to Finally Put Colombia on the Map.