Since taking office in 1999, Venezuelan ruler Hugo Chávez has embraced just about every anti-American dictator and strongman on the planet. So it was no surprise last weekend when Syrian boss Bashar Assad made his first trip to Latin America and met with Chávez in Caracas. Chávez said that Assad’s visit was aimed at building a “Caracas-Damascus axis” of strategic cooperation. He also unleashed a vicious attack on Israel. “Someday the genocidal state of Israel will be put in its place, in the proper place, and hopefully a real democratic state will be born,” Chávez bellowed. “But it has become the murderous arm of the Yankee empire -- who can doubt it? -- which threatens all of us.” Assad chimed in, saying that Israel was “based on crime, slaughter.” He also praised Chávez as an “Arab leader.”
Venezuela’s outreach to Syria is an extension of its growing alliance with Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. There is a dangerous leadership vacuum in Latin America, which Tehran and Damascus are exploiting. After 18 months in office, the Obama administration still has not articulated a comprehensive policy for the region. Its dithering has emboldened Chávez to establish closer links with rogue and authoritarian governments.
Meanwhile, Chávez has continued his assault on private enterprise. Earlier this week, the Venezuelan government announced that it would seize eleven oil rigs owned by Helmerich & Payne, a U.S.-based multinational company. That same day, the beleaguered Venezuelan state oil company, PDVSA, said that it had borrowed another $1.5 billion from foreign banks to alleviate its liquidity problems. Its total debt jumped by 42 percent in 2009.
These are the real results of Chávez’s “Bolivarian” revolution: Venezuela now has warm relationships with terror-sponsoring Mideast dictatorships, and a rapidly deteriorating petroleum industry. I wonder if Oliver Stone is paying attention.
Jaime Daremblum, who served as Costa Rica’s ambassador to the United States from 1998 to 2004, is director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the Hudson Institute.