Published on Tuesday, April 23, 2002 in the Long Island, NY Newsday
In His Foreign Policy, Bush Engages in Oily Politics
by Marie Cocco
FOLLOW the oil.
Exhausted from trying to navigate the confused pathways of George W. Bush's foreign policy? Can't quite figure how the United States went from gaining world admiration for taking on the Taliban to drawing opprobrium for sleight-of-hand in the toppling of a democratically elected government in Venezuela?
Follow the oil.
There is no proof the United States gave concrete help to Venezuela's gang that couldn't coup straight. Things are never so straightforward in Latin American intrigues. There is merely the usual accumulation of suggestive circumstance.
Months before the fall and restoration of Hugo Chavez as Venezuela's president, emissaries of the business elite that thirsted for his ouster met with high-level Bush administration officials. They nursed their mutual grievances and chewed over their distress at Chavez. He is a leftist populist, friendly to both Saddam Hussein and Fidel Castro.
Chavez was removed, then rapidly restored to office. The administration has offered conflicting accounts of what it knew and when it knew it. Some approximation of truth may eventually emerge, but not from the White House press office. The American bill of particulars against Chavez includes his use of deadly force against protesters and his stifling of the media. These are rightly condemned. But they are not routinely used to justify acquiescence in a coup against a leader who was twice elected, most recently with 60 percent of the vote.
The world is overpopulated with despots who gain and maintain power through repression. We happen to be pleased, indeed, with the government of Uzbekistan - a human-rights violator on a horrific scale - because it aids in the Afghan war. Our new best friend, Pervez Musharraf, seized power in a coup against an elected Pakistani government. He now has engineered a referendum, not an open election, to extend his rule.
Chavez's repression was low on the global scale of shame. Surely it was less nettlesome for the administration than his hawkish approach to the price of oil. Not the supply - your SUVs are safe with Chavez. But he wants his price.
Chavez assured the United States of a continuing supply of oil. According to Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, the Venezuelan president even made a friendly visit to Texas. He's vowed to increase refining capacity needed to make rough Venezuelan crude into good old American gas.
Still, Chavez teamed with the Saudis and the Iranians to coordinate production of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and prop world prices up. Knocking out Chavez would knock out a crucial leg of this stool.
"It would have been a significant change in oil politics and Middle Eastern politics if Chavez had been removed," said Fareed Mohamedi, chief economist of Petroleum Finance Co., which advises governments and multi-national oil companies.
Venezuelan oil in friendlier hands might then flood the U.S. market. Saudi Arabia, so petulant in its refusal to go along with the planned new war against Iraq, would be hindered in using its own oil for leverage.
Now, this is a grand conspiracy theory and I do not believe in conspiracies. The Latin Americans do, but then, they have first-hand experience.
They heard the White House fail to condemn this coup until it had, effectively, unraveled. They heard blame for the coup against Chavez placed on Chavez himself. They see the administration seek broader military aid for Colombia, where U.S. assistance is now limited to the anti-drug effort. The purpose of wider American involvement, openly stated, is to protect an oil pipeline owned by Occidental Petroleum. Co. of Los Angeles. It is the conduit from Colombia's second-biggest oil field.
Conspiracies are out of style. Constructive cooperation is supposed to be in. The United States used to have puppet states. Now we have trading partners. We don't go around the globe anymore, acting as if we are entitled to everybody else's natural resources, and on our own terms.
No question, we have left this all behind. I don't believe in conspiracies, but I wonder: What would have happened if Venezuela's chief export was the potato?
Copyright © 2002, Newsday, Inc.