Chávez Continues Latin America Tour, Attempts to Reinstate Status as Support Dwindles

| Jun. 8, 2011 |

Published by Minyanville

While Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez will be pleased that Ollanta Humala’s win in Peru on Sunday will take the continent further to the left, there are concerns among the Venezuelan supporters that the region’s left is looking toward popular former Brazilian leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva rather than Chávez. Lula de Silva offered a much more moderate—and US-friendly—form of left-wing government. When Humala first stood for the post in 2006, he had touted his friendship with Chávez—with fiery rhetoric and even clad in the red of the Venezuelan’s socialist revolution. He lost.

He has since learned his lesson: In 2011, he wears a shirt and tie and has publicly distanced himself from Chávez, preferring to associate himself with Brazil’s Lula da Silva. “By now it is clear that Chávez's brand of leftism doesn't work,” Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, DC, told Time. “It is hardly surprising that any Latin American political figure who comes from the left makes a conscious effort to get distance from him.”

Shifter went on to add:

“Chávez relies increasingly on arbitrary rule, which is a recipe for failure in this day and age. Chávez is less and less popular in the region. His tirades have less resonance than they once had. Polls show his stock has dropped considerably, as have the resources available to sustain his relationships with other governments. Chávez is facing severe constraints, and after more than a dozen years in office the soft spots in his regime are unmistakable. With lots of charisma and money he certainly had a chance to fashion an appealing model for the rest of Latin America, but his unrelentingly confrontational style made that impossible.

“Chávez's political standing was lifted a lot more by Fidel and Lula than by Raul and Dilma. Recent political changes in Brazil and Cuba are not good news for Chávez, who relishes being the center of attention and embraced by other charismatic leaders.”

Humala has promised Peruvians that he will not copy Chávez’s economic policies, which have left Venezuela with the region’s highest inflation at 22.8% for the 12 months to May, slightly lower than the 12 months to April which stood at 22.9%. The CPI in Caracas, however, jumped 2.9% in May against April, according to the country’s central bank.

Pollster Datanálisis reported this week that domestic support for Chávez is waning. More than 60% of Venezuelans, it claims, are keen on the idea of his presidency ending next year. After a small surge in popularity thanks to his response to heavy rains in December and January, 49% of Venezuelans have a positive view of Chávez with 46% reporting a negative view; 61% believe that a new leader should take the helm in 2012.

After pulling out of a recent tour thanks to an injured knee, Chávez is back on track and visiting Brazil, Ecuador and Cuba this week. In Brazil, with counterpart Dilma Rousseff, Chávez discussed their previously planned joint-financed oil refinery in Pernambuco, Brazil, as well as the purchase of passenger aircraft.

“Venezuela wants to strengthen its infrastructure and bring value to its natural resources," said Rousseff after the meeting. "Brazil should participate in this effort.” Despite Rousseff’s popularity, it is interesting to note that Chávez’s visit to Brazil is the first by a South American president since she took office in January.

The Venezualan’s visit to Ecuador coincided with the collapse of an OPEC meeting discussing a rise in production, called for by the group’s most powerful member Saudi Arabia. The disastrous meeting caused oil prices to jump more than $2 per barrel.

During a press conference shared with Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa, Chávez insisted that production need not be increased. "We must continue to consolidate balance in the market and we have to defend fair prices,” he said. “Production will have to be increased when demand grows.” Both he and Correa agreed that $100 per barrel was reasonable, perhaps more reasonable given Chávez’s 95% tax on oil companies in Venezuela when oil is above $100 per barrel.

Chávez landed in Havana this morning to meet with president Raul Castro, brother of Fidel who Chávez has often been criticized of supporting. Chávez is thought to be meeting both leaders.