Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Slowly, Chavez Isolates Himself from World ; Venezuela's Leader Has Blasted the US and Threatened a Break with Colombia

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Slowly, Chavez Isolates Himself from World ; Venezuela's Leader Has Blasted the US and Threatened a Break with Colombia

Article excerpt

When bombs blasted the Spanish Embassy and the Colombian Consulate in Caracas last week, Venezuelan officials denounced the attacks. They issued a flurry of statements insisting that affairs between Venezuela and the two nations hadn't been damaged.

But that wasn't saying much. Venezuela's foreign relations weren't very good to begin with. The powerful explosive devices dramatically punctuated the discord that exists between Venezuela and other countries, both in South America and overseas.

Because of his autocratic leanings, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez fell out of favor with the international community long ago. More recently, the international community appears to have fallen out of favor with Mr. Chavez.

"Chavez is willing to sever ties to the international community," says Miguel Diaz, a senior analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

In recent weeks, diplomatic noises coming from foreign capitals rose a notch with the detention of Carlos Fernandez, head of Venezuela's largest business-owners organization and a key leader of the 2-1/2-month general strike aimed at ousting Chavez that fizzled in early February. Cesar Gaviria, secretary-general of the Organization of American States (OAS); Spain's Foreign Minister Ana Palacios; and US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher all protested the arrest.

Chavez, in turn, blasted the governments of Spain and the US for "meddling" in Venezuela's affairs. He was so incensed that he threatened to break off diplomatic ties with Colombia, whose foreign minister the week before accused Chavez of meeting with Colombian rebels.

Two days later, both Colombia and Spain saw their diplomatic compounds in Caracas shattered by bombs; five people were injured. The US Embassy, citing a credible threat of an attack, closed down for a day. Leaflets found at the crime scenes warned American Ambassador Charles Shapiro, the OAS, the CIA, and anyone else who would listen that "the revolution doesn't need your selfish intervention." The Venezuelan government denies that its sympathizers were behind the blasts, but the fliers echoed Chavez's position: other countries involved are not to interfere in Venezuela's internal affairs.

"The only pressure he really feels and responds to is that coming from Venezuelans themselves to remove him from power," says Mr. Diaz. "Once that disappeared, there was really little that could move him."

From the beginning of his administration in 1998, Chavez raised eyebrows in foreign capitals by paying official visits to Muammar Qaddafi in Libya and Saddam Hussein in Iraq. While Venezuela's president has remained formally within the law, his opponents see his rewriting of the Constitution, his reshuffling of the supreme court, his crackdown on the media and, most recently, his jailing of political enemies as antidemocratic measures. …

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