Tempering Chavismo: Obama’s Challenge in Latin America
With the Obama administration in place, there are hopes that the US president can temper Chavismo and limit anti-American rhetoric in Venezuela and other parts of Latin America.
Along with the rest of the world, Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, has made strong public comments regarding the recent coup d’état’s removal of the President Zelaya in Honduras. Of course, strong remarks made on behalf of Chavez are not something new for the fiery Venezuelan who strongly supports anti-imperialism, a pillar of his political ideology known to many as “Chavismo.” However, this cornerstone becomes more convoluted in the context of Chavismo—sort of a mixed drink of traditional Bolivarianism with a twist of anti-Americanism. With the Obama administration in place, there are hopes that the US president can temper Chavismo and limit anti-American rhetoric in Venezuela and other parts of Latin America.
Hugo Chavez serves as an interesting figure of study for political analysts as well voracious media outlets in Venezuela and the rest of Latin America. Adding fuel to the media fire, Chavez has even hosted his own talk show, “Aló Presidente,” which publicly addressed his policies forged by the political theories of Chavismo. A deeper look into the enigmatic president’s mind reveals that Chavismo is an amalgam of various political schools of thought, including Bolivarianism, socialism, as well as the works and doctrines of Noam Chomsky, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and the Bible, to name a few. A bulk of Chavismo draws heavily from Bolivarianism, an ideology created by its godfather, Simon Bolivar, who is highly regarded for his military exploits and credited with achieving independence from Spanish rule for countries like Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, and other current Latin American countries—thus, he is aptly referred to as “The Liberator.” By citing the iconic Bolivar and his political ideals as a source of inspiration, Chavismo focuses on an adherence to anti-imperialism.
Definitively, anti-imperialism is centered on repulsed views of a country seeking to expand and force-feed its political ideologies to surrounding countries, creating an extension of itself; opposition to anti-imperialism denigrates the use of military force to seize countries to achieve such expansion. In 2006, while addressing the United Nations General Assembly, Chavez infamously referred to George W. Bush as “the devil”, a “spokesman of imperialism,” trying to “preserve the current pattern of domination, exploitation, and pillage of peoples of the world.” According to French author, Bernard Henri Levy and his book, Left In Dark Times, these remarks evoke more anti-Americanism versus anti-imperialism. In the book, Levy reveals that harboring these sentiments provides a mask for national leaders like Chavez to appease their exorbitant need for power—an appetite exhibited in 2007 when Venezuela’s National Assembly gave the president the right to enact laws by formal decree.
Chavez’s views show that negative responses that trigger anti-Americanism are not relegated to incidents in just Latin America, but to other U.S. actions that take place around the world. This could be a reason why President Obama isn’t quick to react heavily to Iran protests given the favorable relationship of Chavez with Iran’s current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Such is the case with Evo Morales in Bolivia, who echoes Chavez’s sentiment of anti-imperialism, but is more ardent or at least, more vocal with the anti-Americanism—“Long Live Coca! Death to the Yanquis!” has been a slogan of his political party in response to U.S. efforts to limit coca production. Morales reacted strongly against U.S. military expansion of its base in Manta, Ecuador. To strain U.S. relations further, Bolivia expelled the U.S. ambassador, Philip Goldberg, believing that he was conspiring against the Bolivian government. Furthermore, Morales offered his praise to 20,000 protesters who stormed the U.S. embassy in La Paz, which took a violent turn as clashes with anti-police squads ensued. The worst thing that the U.S. can do is to temper this anti-Americanism with its own use of violence through military action. Alan McPherson, a professor at the University of Oklahoma, stated in an article that, “This is in no way a call for the United States to counter what are still relatively minor incidents of violence with its own brand, which is usually far more destructive. The days of U.S.-sponsored coups in Latin America are over. Rather, Washington can help diffuse tensions by pointing to the divisive nature and bloody consequences of anti-U.S. rhetoric.”
In April 2009, President Obama embarked on a three-day journey meeting leaders of the Western Hemisphere, including Hugo Chavez. Obama’s primary goal was to prove that political intervention through humanitarian efforts and reaching out to other countries could supplant military action. During the meeting, Chavez handed Obama a book entitled Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano. The book provides a historical outline of imperialist actions by the US and Europe within Latin America. In a statement televised on the Venezuelan state network, Chavez said, “We have a different focus, obviously. But we are willing. We have the political will to work together.” In an effort to minimize Anti-American sentiments, the Obama administration looks to further its communicative efforts with Latin American leaders and build off this initial contact.