Hugo Chávez's change of mind about foreign oil companies has everyone abuzz. I think it's an interesting development, but the surprise puzzles me. His political program has always been characterized by pragmatism, even on backtracking (the recent Citgo heating oil decision is another example). Chávez has been in power about a decade, and if he were truly socialist, then Venezuela would be socialist by now. If he were a war monger, there would've been war by now. Daniel Drezner writes the following:
Chávez's actions pleasantly surprise me, because retrenchment and realpolitik were not the only option. One could have envisioned Chávez reacting by ratcheting up tensions with neighbors as a short-term solution. Although I suspect most Americans would prefer to see the back of Hugo, this kind of behavior suggests that Venezuela is never going to rise to the problem level of, say, Iran.
There was very little chance Chávez would go after Colombia (the only neighbor he would likely target) because after the last tiff (i.e. when Colombia bombed Ecuador) both countries suffered economically. Pragmatism quickly won out. And I think it is fair to say that no Latin Americanist worth his or her salt has believed Venezuela would rise to the problem level of Iran.
I think the essential issue here is that another aspect of Hugo Chávez is that he talks. All. The. Time. The rhetoric very often does not match future action. Fortunately, the State Department has had this firmly in mind for the past two or so years.