Venezuela: With Exception of Brazil, Mediating Countries Favor Opposition to President Hugo Chavez
By Justin Delacour
With the left-populist government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez emboldened by the near defeat of his opposition's two-month campaign of economic disruption, the president has suggested that he will not allow other countries to impose a political settlement that is unfavorable to his government. A six-nation "Group of Friends"--made up of representatives of the governments of the US, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Spain, and Portugal--seeks to mediate Venezuela's domestic political conflict.
Chavez welcomes these mediation efforts, but he has implied that the makeup of the group is tilted in favor of the opposition. After unsuccessfully attempting to add other countries such as France, Cuba, and China to the group, Chavez recently said that his country's sovereignty cannot be "debated, much less negotiated."
When the administration of Brazil's new leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva first proposed an international diplomatic effort to help resolve Venezuela's crisis, Chavez expressed enthusiastic support.
Both The Washington Post and The Miami Herald reported that Lula and Chavez envisioned a group of mediators that would include countries in Latin America, Europe, and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Bush administration officials reportedly balked at the proposal, calling it a "group of friends of Chavez" designed to stack the deck against the opposition and undercut the mediation of the Organization of American States (OAS).
Chavez supporters believe that Cesar Gaviria, head of the OAS and current negotiator between the Chavez government and the opposition, is biased in favor of the opposition and is generally subservient to US interests.
Lula foresaw that the Group of Friends--as initially proposed--could have led to a prematurely damaging rift between his administration and the US. Lula backed off the initial proposal, agreeing to include the US in a revised Group of Friends, while at the same time negotiating the exclusion of Canada from the group to limit the weight of the anti-Chavez camp. Lula then rebuffed Chavez's suggestion that he continue to lobby for the addition of other countries considered more sympathetic to Chavez.
Lula's compromise on Group of Friends misinterpreted
Some correspondents in Venezuela, as well as some members of Venezuela's opposition, have portrayed Lula's compromises and friendly criticisms of Chavez's political inexperience as a sign that Venezuela's government is becoming increasingly isolated internationally. Similarly, some Chavez supporters have portrayed Lula's diplomatic efforts as a betrayal.
More recent statements from Brazilian officials suggest, however, that these interpretations are flawed. The Washington Post's Marcela Sanchez wrote that Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim recently signaled that his government believes a solution to Venezuela's problems must come from Venezuelans. Amorim's position suggests that Brazil supports Chavez's claim to sovereignty in the face of any forced imposition of a settlement from outside.
A report in the Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo says that Lula has privately expressed a concern that, if the opposition and their foreign backers manage to topple Chavez, Lula's government would be next. This may partially explain why Lula convinced his predecessor, Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003), to send an oil tanker to Venezuela to help Chavez cope with strike-generated fuel shortages in late December. …