Monday, July 13, 2009

The Chávez Shuffle

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is undoubtedly one of Latin America’s most recognizable political figures for his provincial code of behavior—from incendiary statements against George W. Bush to a failed attempt to hug Queen Elizabeth II—and for his “Bolivarian Revolution,” a political agenda that, he claims, resembles the ideals of Simón Bolivar, one of the iconic leaders who contributed to the independence of several South American nations from the Spanish monarchy in the early 1800s.

But his policies are antithetical to the Liberator’s ideals, chief among them an integrated Latin America comprised of separate countries linked politically and economically but without any outside meddling in each country’s affairs. Last year, for example, Chávez explicitly voiced his support for Colombia’s two largest guerrilla groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and the National Liberation Army, or ELN. He claimed at the time that both Marxist-inspired guerrilla groups are legitimate armies with political goals, and as such “they must be recognized…as insurgent forces that have a political project…which here [in Caracas] is respected.”

Chávez’s comments sparked understandable criticism in Colombia. Colombia’s Foreign Minister at the time, Fernando Araújo, said that Chávez confused support with interference in Colombia’s affairs, especially when he intended to play a mediation role in the liberation of several FARC abductees, among them former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.

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