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The Collective
Sunday, January 18, 2009
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via Reuters: Venezuela’s Chavez says Obama has stench of Bush

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Saturday Barack Obama had the “stench” of his predecessor as U.S. president and was at risk of being killed if he tries to change the American “empire.”


“I hope I am wrong, but I believe Obama brings the same stench, to not say another word,” Chavez said at a political rally on a historic Venezuelan battlefield.

“If Obama as president of the United States does not obey the orders of the empire, they will kill him, like they killed Kennedy, like they killed Martin Luther King, or Lincoln, who freed the blacks and paid with his life.”

One of the pillars of Chávez’s politics is opposition to the Empire1 which ends up meaning, in practical terms, the US. Anyone who thought, especially in the midst of economic troubles in Venezuela2 and in advance of his attempt to gain unfettered reelection, that he would make nice with Obama was misguided at best. Chávez’s brand of politics needs an enemy, and the US fits that role (even if it is ok to keep selling oil to said enemy). And, really, the odds are that an Obama administration will treat with Venezuela in ways not unlike that of the Bush administration (although I would expect the rhetoric to be toned down a bit).

Of course, Chávez is giving Obama a personal out (and also providing himself (and Fidel Castro) with an out for the positive things he has said about Obama), by saying Obama is under the control of the Empire.

Sphere: Related Content

  1. I wonder if he has actually read Hardt and Negri? []
  2. see: the price of oil []
Filed under: Latin America, US Politics | |
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14 Responses to “Shocker: Chávez Disses Obama”

  1. JohnRJ08 Says:

    My electrician is from Venezuela and his mother is still living in that country. When I asked him what he thought of Hugo Chavez, he said, “Oh, he has to go. People are starving and there is no freedom at all.” He is saving his money so that he can bring his mother here. Chavez is, for intents and purposes, just as crazy a the Bob’s Big Boy statue who is currently running North Korea.

  2. Doctor Biobrain Says:

    Would you care to explain why Obama would continue with Bush’s stupid policy? I can’t think of any reason to support such an assumption. Because the smartest course of action would be to attempt honest diplomacy with all of our “enemies” and then wait to be rejected by them. This then denies them much of their strength by putting the onus of the rift on them, and thus denying them their ability to demagogue against us. This, in turn, would allow Obama to take the high ground and put America on a better moral footing than we’ve ever been on. And this would make Obama look better and improve his standings both domestically and internationally.

    On the other hand, following in Bush’s (and his predecessors’) failed footsteps would entirely undermine Obama by allowing people to say that he’s just like Bush, while denying Obama the ability to retain his image as an agent of change. That’s not to say that Chavez, Iran, North Korea, or Castro are going to give-in and deal with us fairly (though it’s certainly more likely), but merely that it would give us the upperhand and make things much more difficult for them.

    Now, would you care to explain why Obama would make the egregious mistake you assume he’ll make? He’s been pretty damn savvy about this stuff so far, and many of the moves that his doubters on the left attacked him for have proven to be correct. So far, he’s manipulated things politically with far better skills than anyone could have predicted and I can’t imagine why he’d make the mistake you think he’ll make. No offense, but I’ve found this constant assertion by many on the left that Obama is just a continuation of the status quo to be quite annoying. Sure, it’s possible. But there’s zero evidence to support such a conclusion and much evidence to suggest that he’s smarter than any of these people give him credit for being.

  3. Dr. Steven Taylor Says:

    The place to start is: what is it that you think is our policy at the moment vis-a-vis Venezuela? There really isn’t much of one.

    Second, my macro-level assumption is that Obama will, like the Bush admin, largely ignore Latin America. This is not a radical assumption if one looks at the norm of US-Latin American relations pretty much since LatAm independence. The likelihood is that there may be a few tweaks in the policy, but on balance the attention of the Obama admin will be on the Middle East, Central Asia and the financial crisis with LatAm being an afterthought.

  4. Dr. Steven Taylor Says:

    I think that there is, btw, a chance in a shift on Cuba. I hope that this is the case, but I shan’t hold my breath.

  5. Russ H Says:

    Chavez must be a druggy himself. Why would we want to invade a 3d country? He is bring the good people from his country down and they do not deserve it. He is acting from his behind, because he does not have any brain.

  6. Russ H Says:

    Excuse my typing. I should have reviewed it first. Chavez makes me so mad. Are we still buying gas from that idiot? I would say embargo the country but that hurts the decent people there. Chavez, get a life and let your people live. Why don”t you join are speaker Pelosi and are so called Republican whip guy and go out and get your life and leave the government to individuals that can run it.

  7. Ratoe Says:

    Empire1 which ends up meaning, in practical terms, the US.
    I wonder if he has actually read Hardt and Negri? [↩]

    Of course, Hardt and Negri weren’t the first to talk about Empire! But, yeah, H&N seem to have a bit more complex notion of the term than Hugo. It wouldn’t surprise me, however, to see Negri show up on one of Chavez’ radio programmes!

  8. Ratoe Says:

    I’ll be damned-I don’t know if this is true or not, but a google search of “negri chavez” resulted in a hit to this article in the marxist, Monthly Review:

    Footnote 7 says: “See also Understanding the Venezuelan Revolution, trans. C. Boudin (New York: Monthly Review, 2005), 41, where Chávez recalls reading Negri while in prison following the failed 1992 coup.”

    By the time Empire came out, he might not have had the time.

    Here is the link to Chavez’s google books search on “Negri”:

  9. Dr. Steven Taylor Says:

    I really couldn’t say exactly why, but some time back it struck me that the way that Hugo uses the term “Empire” sounded like a simplified version of H&N.

  10. Doctor Biobrain Says:

    Dr. Taylor - If you say that we don’t have much of a policy with Venezuela, then what’s the problem? Surely your complaint couldn’t be that Obama will continue to ignore Latin America, is it? Besides, the Bush Admin has been demonizing Chavez in much the same way he’s done with us; and even encouraged a coup against him a few years back. And this is the game conservatives have been playing with American foreign policy since WWII; using foreign “enemies” for domestic politics purposes; which helps them politically but hurts America internationally. Particularly as our “enemies” continue to use that to their own advantage; and thus, strengthening themselves to our detriment.

    And you write that Obama will tone down the rhetoric, but again, if it’s enough that we’re not demonizing him, then this represents a definite shift in policy. Same with Cuba, North Korea, and Iran. Our idiotic policy towards our “enemies” only strengthens them, so the smart thing to do would be to do the opposite. Again, it’s only domestic politics that say we should do otherwise and those politics only help Republicans. The only smart course of action for Obama is to engage with these countries and stop playing the silly games. That’s the whole reason why Republicans continually bash Dems for suggesting any other course of action, as this would thoroughly undermine their entire foreign policy game and make them lose even more elections. If Obama doesn’t do this, he’s a bigger fool than he’s shown himself to be. This isn’t about “empire” as Chavez and many of the folks at Washington Monthly were saying. This is about elections and giving the Republicans a scary enemy to rally their base against. And even the ones really interested in empire are mental midgets who somehow imagine that the world is a giant Risk board. The idea that these dopes will assassinate anyone is laughable. No, America would be much more powerful by engaging diplomatically with our “enemies” than by demonizing them.

    I should add that I misread what you wrote at Washington Monthly, which is why I came here. Somehow I thought you said that Obama would need to demonize Chavez, when you were actually writing about what Chavez was going to do. I’m not sure how I goofed that up, so perhaps much of my original comment was off-base and you’re not one of those “Obama is the same as Bush” people. But I’d still like to know why you think Obama will copy Bush’s policy and what you think that is.

  11. Dr. Steven Taylor Says:

    Doctor Biobrain,

    Really all I am commenting on here is Chavez, not so much Obama.

    In re: policy towards Ven, I think it would be helpful to do less demonizing of Chavez by DC-although I do not foresee a great deal of constructive engagement with him. I do expect that LatAm in general will be a backburner issue for Obama.


  12. JohnRJ08 Says:

    I think that Hugo Chavez has made it fairly clear over the last several years that he’s about as stable and trustworthy as that Bob’s Big Boy look alike who’s running North Korea. I’ve met Venezuelan ex-patriots who are convinced that Chavez is either mentally deficient or heavily into drugs, or both. How does a U.S. president engage a South American dictator who is no more predictable than a rattlesnake? I don’t think all of the information we have on Chavez is purely demonization. He reveals himself all the time in his rambling public orations, and his belligerence toward the United States has never been a state secret in Venezuela. Surely, this is a guy who requires no demonizing at all. He’s done a fine job of that himself. If Hitler were alive today, he would certainly be living in luxury in that country. That said, I don’t think demonizing is Obama’s style. The guy is probably a great poker player. Bush, on the other hand, couldn’t maintain a poker-face if his life depended on it, and Chavez played him like a fiddle.

  13. Doctor Biobrain Says:

    Oh come on, Doctor. You’re stalling. You said “an Obama administration will treat with Venezuela in ways not unlike that of the Bush administration,” yet you refuse to state what that means. Is it that the Empire Mongers have gotten to you and made you remain silent? Type three asterisks in response if that’s the case. Just kidding. Like I said, I originally just misread your comments and see that you weren’t saying what I thought you were saying.

    But all the same, I do think even your more mild line is incorrect. For as much as the Bush Admin didn’t have much of a policy towards Chavez, that’s just because they became so distracted putting out all their other fires that they had to retreat from their strong anti-Chavez stance; which included their dangerous pro-coup policy a few years back. But they never retracted it and all Obama will need to do is to make friendly overtures towards Chavez and this will be a definite improvement for us. That’s what he’s done by reaching out to Republicans and I fail to see why this won’t work for him internationally. Sure, Chavez is just as unlikely to respond positively to this as the Republicans have been, but it will help put a damper on the effectiveness of their rhetoric; which is a big reason why he’s doing it. It’s not about getting his enemies to like him, but instead to pull their platform out from under them. I don’t see why Obama wouldn’t do this with Chavez too.

    In regards to Latin America being on the backburner, I don’t see why that’d be necessary. Obama seems like a multi-tasking kind of guy and as long as he can hire competent people to do the main part of the work, there really is no need for any backburners at all. Particularly as Latin America doesn’t really need as much work as some other places, and the main thing needed is just an open channel of dialogue and an end to the idiotic “Chavez is evil crap” that only empowers him. That’s one of the odd things about Republicans that, for as much as they LOVE engaging in endless games of reverse psychology and political ju-jitsu against their domestic opponents, their foreign policy is always of the straight-forward “I’ll punch you in the nose” variety that are sure to backfire. But like I said, these policies are only meant for domestic victories; not international ones. And the fact that the Bushies thought they could use these policies to lead to international victories that would ensure domestic victories just shows what complete dopes they were. That’s just not how this was supposed to work.

    And for Obama’s Latin American policy, the first thing that is needed is an overall improvement in our standing among the people there. And for as much as Chavez is realizing he needs to demonize Obama, I don’t think it’ll work. So much of America’s strength is just by us being good guys that other countries can believe in. So even if Latin American policy is put on the back-burners, the improvement in America’s reputation worldwide will do much good. One of the sad ironies of the hardliners is that their insistence on a strong foreign policy only weakens us, as their model of foreign relations has been dead for a long time. Obama seems to know this as well as anyone.

  14. Dr. Steven Taylor Says:

    I think that the Obama administration will largely ignore, and not directly engage, Chavez. I think that the US will continue to buy oil from Venezuela. I think that the Obama administration will continue to be publicly concerned about possible Venezuelan aid to the FARC and to what it perceives as insufficient seriousness about the drug trade. The Obama admin will be concerned about Venezuelan overtures to the Russians and Iranians. In short, not that much different than the Bush admin, but will less intense rhetoric. Most of this will not amount to much of anything, by the way. The change in rhetoric is not unimportant, btw, as you note.

    Put another way: while I expect the rhetoric to cool, the bottom line is that that is very little for the US to gain by actively engaging Venezuela at the moment, especially given all the other things on Obama’s plate. As such, very little will really change.

    Yes, the Obama admin means a restart, of sorts, to US-Latin American relations. However, this is not a new story, and usually ends up the same: with not a lot really being done in the region.

    I would recommend Peter Smith’s Talons of the Eagle or Henry Raymont’s Troubled Neighbors: The Story of US-Latin American Relations from FDR to the Present to perhaps see where I am coming from. The short version: new presidents come to power, and there is hope that the new pres will be better for LA/more engaged with LA. In the end, they aren’t. And, in the end, the power of the US and its long-term history in LA overshadows personality/intentions of the US pre.

    And Chavez will be able to demonize Obama, although granted not as easily as Bush, because at the end of the day, the US is still the hegemon in the hemisphere and the leader of the hegemon is easy to demonize.

    (My guess is that Greg Weeks’ new book would work as well, but I haven’t read it as yet.)

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