Friday, February 23, 2007

Another Chávez analysis

The Washington Post has an article about Hugo Chávez’s efforts to expand his influence in Latin America. By and large, it is a balanced look, despite the headline, “Chávez Builds His Sphere of Influence.”

I got the impression that the editors told the reporters to get a juicy story along the “Chávez throws money around and then everyone does his bidding” lines we keep hearing. Ultimately, though, the reporters discovered that such an argument doesn’t hold very well. Instead, they write:

  • Chávez’s campaign has had mixed results, with many Latin American presidents paying attention to social issues while also remaining friendly with investors
  • according to a Latinobarómetro poll, a majority of Latin Americans lump Chávez, Castro and Bush together as “bad leaders”
  • Chávez has pledged $47 billion in assistance, even though Venezuela’s entire budget is only $50 billion, so he won’t be carrying out many of his promises anyway
  • a drop in private investment and high inflation raises questions about Chávez’s ability to keep up current levels of spending abroad

This article, like many others, could just as easily be “U.S. Fails to Offer Any Alternative to Chávez.” To counter the idea that U.S. influence is waning, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon replied that two-thirds of economic output in the Americas was covered by free trade agreements. If your definition of influence boils down to whether you persuaded a country to join up with an FTA, then you need to do some more thinking.


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