The current joint holders of the title “world’s most verbose, bombastic, voluble, loquacious, argumentative leader” are meeting in Caracas, Venezuela, this week, raising the question, how does either of them get a word in edgewise?
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez spent their time trying to out-praise each other, when not mocking the United States and joking about having nuclear bombs. Their countries have verbal ties to each other, but no concrete alliances, having signed only vague cooperation accords.
Chávez explained the ties between the two, saying “One of the targets that Yankee imperialism has in its sights is Iran, which is why we are showing our solidarity. When we meet, the devils go crazy.” He might be referring to Republican fringe candidate Hugh Cort who claims that “Iran is planning a nuclear attack on the U. S. in the very near future….using the Iran-Venezuela-Mexico pipeline.”
But for all his verbal support, Chávez has given no indication that he would in any way defy the international sanctions on Iran.
The two leaders, in their joint press conference, avoided talking about the Iranian threat to close the Strait of Hormuz. Both are members of OPEC and it is the leading countries in OPEC who would be most harmed by closing the Strait, through which 40% of the world’s oil is transported.
Welcoming Ahmadinejad, Chávez said “The imperialist madness has been unleashed in a way that has not been seen for a long time.” And Amadinejad responded, “President Chávez is the champion in the war on imperialism.” Like most statements out of these two men, making sense wasn’t part of the speechifying. Just to be Chávez, the Venezuelan President joked that there was a missile silo under a grassy area in front of the Miraflores palace steps and “That hill will open up and a big atomic bomb will come out.” Yuck, yuck, yuck.
What the two men have most in common is their use of their countries’ treasuries to buy support for their regimes among the poor. Chávez has been so successful at it that he has moved on to seizing businesses and personal property, communist-style. Ahmadinejad has been less successful, having to answer to a parliament, which has threatened him with impeachment, and the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who periodically yanks his chain.
Chávez took office on February 2, 1999, and though he said he was a socialist, his programs edged on communist dictatorship. Relations with America were quiet for his first two years in office. Then, early in the Bush administration, it became known that Vice-President Dick Cheney had made some “inquiries” about having Chávez assassinated, 1950s style, only to be informed that assassinating foreign leaders is against American law now. Chávez went ballistic and the rest of South America was furious, even though most of them don’t particularly like Chávez. For eight years, Bill Clinton had practiced a Latin policy of friendship and support with no interference in any Latin county’s internal affairs, a far cry from the century of American interference, justified with the Monroe Doctrine. It took most of Clinton’s first term for South America to realize there would be no more proxy wars between America and the Soviet Union, no more propping up dictators whose only acceptable behavior was “alliance” with America. Even the idea that some America official had considered returning to the days when America thought it had the right to take out an elected leader by assassination was enough to seriously chill our relations with Latin America. And when Secretary of State Colin Powell tried to enlist support for the invasion of Iraq by telling the Chilean leadership that they would be appalled by the way Saddam Hussein treated his people, not understanding that he was in the presence of men and women who had been imprisoned and tortured by America ally Augusto Pinochet, Latin America knew they were dealing with idiots in Washington.
President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have been trying to mend those relationships for the past three years (adding to the Republican chant that Obama “apologizes” for America – well, hell, we ought to apologize for a lot of what we did there). Chávez takes his “imperialist” line from the actions of the Bush administration and he’s not going to give it up just because we have a 180° shift in foreign policy.
So, for a few days, Ahmadinejad and Chávez will play kissy-face and hold hands (literally) and slap each other on the back, and in the end Chávez will do absolutely nothing that will jeopardize his relationship with the rest of OPEC. He is not stupid enough to risk any sanctions on his oil, the only thing that keeps his country going.
Ahmadinejad is scheduled to visit Nicaragua, Cuba and Ecuador, countries with whom America still does not have good relations. Washington has characterized it as a “desperation” tour trying to dredge up friends. Ecuador’s leaders have suggested that they might defy the sanctions, but no specifics have been mentioned.