25 November, 2008
Russian Embassy in Caracas sits in a picturesque little street Las Lomas de las Mercedes, steeply rising uphill. The shining plaque reading ‘Quinta ‘Soyuz’ on the stone wall has been here since the time of the Soviet Union. Quite often the embassy personnel stay long hours, but at present this is even more noticeable. Russia’s president Dmitry Medvedev will pay an official visit to Venezuela on November 26.
Throughout the history of bilateral diplomatic relations Russian, and before them – Soviet – leaders of the same level never visited the exotic faraway Venezuela, ‘the land of eternal spring’ for geopolitical, pragmatic and ideological reasons. First, they were wary of exasperating the United States by becoming more active right in the underpinning of the distrustful and jealous superpower. Second, it hardly made sense to fly a government liner across the Atlantic for the only reason of demonstrating to Venezuelans the hammer and sickle on the red background of the Soviet flag or the Russian tricolour most recently. Americans had grabbed hold of everything in Venezuela. They never put up with and never allowed competition in trade and in any other fields. Third, president Chavez used to make pompous statements about his goals of building in Venezuela a just Socialist society that were in sharp contrast with the Kremlin’s declared project of reviving Russia along the lines of capitalism.
On top of that Chavez’ efforts to consolidate his hold of the position of the leader went along with serious domestic conflicts, so Moscow was understandably wary of what troubles the ways of this pugnacious and unpredictable ‘commando Lieutenant Colonel’ could spell, thinking that his stint at power could be brief.
Chavez succeeded in making hay of the sombre forecasts of instability of his regime winning the presidential elections in December of 2006 a second time this ensuring himself staying in power till 2013. The president thinks that no one else can successfully see through the programme of reforms in Venezuela scheduled for up to 2020 or 2025. So Chavez intends to fight for the extension of his presidential stint disregarding the setback he suffered at the nation-wide referendum on this proposal in December 2007. He stands a real chance to win getting inspiration from examples of other countries. So he is in Venezuela for long!
Chavez has many times over proved his preparedness to develop all-round cooperation with Russia. At present, Venezuelan Russian political, trade and economy, military and technical and other ties including energy have reached an unprecedented scale. Had someone told me in the 1980s when I worked at the APN (Novosti Press Agency) bureau in Caracas that Russian companies would one day develop natural resources in the ‘Orinoko belt’ fields and extract natural gas in the Amakuro delta, build a aluminium plant, and dig gold in Venezuelan Amazonia, I would have taken such a prophet for a madman. And a forecast that Venezuelan army would be armed with Kalashnikkov-103 assault guns, Dragunov sniper rifles; that the Venezuelan military would master flying different makes of MIL helicopters and formidable Sukhoi-30 fighter aircraft, would have sounded even more unbelievable.
And this is only the beginning and just first examples of advantageous joint work aimed to implementing previously struck contracts and agreements. Presidents Medvedev and Chavez are willing to give a new impetus to the bilateral cooperation. It is hoped that it would inspire other Latin American countries that still keep taking a cautious look at the increasing activities of the Russian business on their continent still retaining the tenacious scary image of ‘the ruthless Russian mafia’ that since the 1990s had been hammered into the collective mind of Latin Americans by Hollywood and professional ‘cold war’ warriors that refused to retire.
For this reason the reinstallation of Russia’s positive image in Latin America is a principal goal in both the short-term and long-term perspectives. Efforts to solve this task should be supported by the extension of Russian information presence on this continent, technical modernisation of news agencies and offices, to say nothing about the level of quality historical and political education of their staff. Previously, correspondents accredited in that country, had to have it for too liberal concoctions of ‘the journalist entourage’ of some of politicians that occasionally dropped in to Caracas. For some time Chavez gave up inviting them to his news conferences. When it comes to discussing Russian capitalism shaken by the permanent crisis, he and his supporters show consideration, so does it make sense ridiculing the not less insignificant troubles of the Bolivarian revolution? Especially given that there are more than enough of those willing to meddle in the Russian-Venezuelan relations.
While president Medvedev is busy doing his job in Moscow, a thoroughly orchestrated campaign of discrediting the goals of the visit has been launched in the Latin American information space. Propaganda attacks on Chavez have become more numerous, manifestly aiming to show Russians that Chavez is not the kind of partner to do business with. Here are two telling examples. Venezuelan Gustavo Coronel’s article ‘Chavez Has Handed Venezuela to Russians’ recently appeared on the portal Petroleum World News. Coronel writes that Russia owes its successes in Venezuela to George W. Bush. It turns out that Chavez cherishes the almost maniacal desire to meet with Bush on an equal footing, president to president, but the US president has adamantly ignored all the attempts of the dangerous Venezuelan to bridge the gap between their countries. So to attract attention Chavez had nothing else to do but make ‘provocative’ steps. By these Coronel understands billion dollars worth purchases of Russian arms; the recognitions of independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia; announcing plans of erecting a nuclear studies centre to make Americans lose their cool and to begin suspect him of intention to make a nuclear bomb. Even the statement by Chavez of his intention to use the Russian rouble for mutual payment settlements is just one of those ‘provocations.’
According to Coronel, virtually all the agreements between Russia and Venezuela have no future. Company Rusal’s plans to build an aluminuim plant are futile, as there will be not enough electricity to run the smelter. The Russian arms are ‘unreliable’. The 2 or 3 Varshavianka-class submarines Chavez wants to purchase has proved to be impotent, as 20 seamen died at one of them recently (while in reality this tragedy took place on a nuclear submarine during test floating). And then again Chavez is allegedly facing more frequent problems with financing his large-scale projects. The conclusion is Bush is a man of acumen, so it would do Russia good to turn its back on Chavez, while its leaders make one mistake after another: ‘Recently 2 heavy Russian bombers demonstratively made a number of challenging flights over Venezuela, and a fleet of Russian navy is expected to arrive to Venezuela in late November, including cruiser ‘Pyotr Veliki’. The show has been put up by Putin and Chavez to challenge the United States in its own ‘backyard.’ Chavez has turned Venezuela into an obedient pawn to use it in a game similar to the one Cuba was involved during the 1960 missile crisis.’
By turn his theme this way Coronel wonders whether Russians are preparing a new Caribbean crisis?
Coronel has also placed on his portal an account of a series of analytical reports of ‘Political Security Center’ delivered to the members of the US Congress who are in charge of Venezuelan issues. The themes the reports focus on include Chavez connections with Columbian guerrillas (FARC); involvement of Chavez’s supporters in drug trafficking, sales of weapons and money-laundering; Iranian-Venezuelan cooperation, including ‘the descent’ of Iranians to Mexico and the USA; and the establishment of extremist organisations loyal to Venezuela on the continent.
The Center’s analysts had no new information to offer as all of theirs was already used in ‘active action’ of US special services against the Bolivarian government. A mention was again made of the data stored in the note-book that had allegedly been found in a FARC guerrilla camp destroyed by US and Columbian commandoes near the Ecuador border. During WWII dead bodies with ‘secret maps and plans of attacks’ were foisted in battlefields with an eye to cheating the enemy; at present this done with notebooks. Chavez has again been accused of protecting Arab terrorist organisations ‘acting scot-free’ in Isle Margarita. The list of terrorist organisations established with Chavez money even included Argentinean movement ‘Mothers from May Square.’ The primitivism and emptiness of the Center’s accusations is astonishing. It may be because of this that he concluding his account Coronel with an emphatic:’ I agree with many statements at the hearings, but not with all of them.’
The final conclusion of the hearings are as follows: ‘Chavez heads a terrorist regime that connives at the illegal trade in drugs. The regime is dangerous for the US national interests.’ As a repression measure the organisers of the hearings suggest ceasing imports of Venezuelan oil, because ‘at present this step will not push gasoline prices up and US strategic petroleum reserves could be temporarily used in emergencies.’
A brief dossier of Gustavo Coronel: a Venezuelan, a former PDVSA state oil company officer, a member of its Board in 1975 to 1979. He left Venezuela in the wake-up of the aborted coup d’etat in 2002, allegedly motivated by his ‘discomfort’–provoked fatigue. He is currently based in the United States, authoring a spate of articles aimed at exposing Chavez’s ‘crimes’ and his ‘undermining interference in internal affairs of Latin American countries.’ He makes regular trips to Latin American countries that ‘cause problems’ to the USA, making presentations at symposiums, forums and workshops organised by pro-American NGOs. Coronel has more than once refuted accusations of his being connected to the CIA.
As the time of Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Venezuela is getting closer information attacks aiming to undermine Russian-Venezuelan relations, to smear Hugo Chavez and his Russian partners have become much more intense. ‘A la ‘chaude’ guerre comme a la guerre’. There are addicts of this in Latin America, where the Anglo-Saxon accent is definitely distinctive. Anyway, the first result of the coming visit is already achieved: Latin America commentators have already mastered correct pronunciation of Russian president’ surname: Medvedev.
Source: Strategic Culture Foundation