Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Feb 15/05 - On the confirmation of Ambassador Zoellick as #2 at State

PMBComments: towards the end of his confirmation hearing Robert Zoellick, in response to a question from Senator Dodd, made one of the most eloquent statements I have heard about the state of Latin America today and went on to outline US policy with regards to those that rule it recklessly, and those that have been left out of the game entirely. In a nutshell it reads: expose the first without fear, and try to be more effective reaching down to the latter.

While I would take issue, and suggest caution, with blanket revisionist statements such as “governments elected by Venezuelans before Chavez became president in 1999 did not serve the people”, it is beyond debate that a country that in 1998 elected someone as unhinged as Hugo Chavez must not have been sea worthy itself. But rest assured that while Hugo Chavez might be the proof of the problem, he is hardly its solution. And this was also Zoellick’s point when he referred to the rise of the “pied pipers of populism”. Whether they come from the right like Fujimori, or from the left as Mr. Chavez “we know how this ends” he said.

Ambassador Zoellick’s informed and principled command of the subject bodes well for a region on the verge of a populist meltdown. Hopefully in the very near future the soon to be confirmed #2 will be able to help Dr. Rice select a better qualified team to help lead US policy in the region. PMB

Bush Nominee Aims at Latin America Rulers

Associated Press Writer

11:37 AM PST, February 15, 2005

WASHINGTON — Latin American nations must join together to protect democracy against a "creeping authoritarianism" that has been taking root in the region, a senior Bush administration official said Tuesday.

Robert Zoellick, designated by President Bush for the State Department's No. 2 position, cited in particular the actions of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Zoellick, who has served as Bush's chief trade official since 2001, said Chavez has been carrying out anti-democratic activities in the same way that former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori did during the 1990s.

"I think it's a very dangerous course for these countries," Zoellick said, testifying before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing.

Chavez has closely aligned his country with Cuba and has embraced President Fidel Castro's rhetoric.

"The imperialist forces are starting to strike against the people of Latin America and the world," Chavez said in a speech two weeks ago to a gathering in Brazil.

Chavez has accused the United States of meddling in a recall referendum last year and of supporting a military coup that almost drove him from power in 2002. The Bush administration has denied both allegations.

Zoellick said a new breed of authoritarians follows similar patterns. "You win the election, but you do away with your opponents, you do away with the press, you do away with the rule of law, you pack the courts," he said.

He said pro-democratic changes adopted by the Organization of American States in 1991 were designed to protect elected governments against military coups and should be altered to deal with a trend toward authoritarianism.

His comments offered a view of the challenges the United States faces in Latin America that was not heard earlier. His testimony could herald a significant departure in hemispheric policy.

Chavez, he said, wants to portray his relationship with the United States as comparable to "David and Goliath." He added that the United States "shouldn't be afraid to say, 'Well, he's taking away liberties.'"

Zoellick said the governments elected by Venezuelans before Chavez became president in 1999 did not serve the people and thus made possible the election of Chavez.

What is happening in Venezuela and elsewhere in Latin America, Zoellick said, reflects the upward mobility of people who are asserting their rights in the democratic era in Latin America that began replacing military rule a generation ago.

"What we're seeing now is that people who are on the margins of the traditional society are using some of the democratic openings and they are saying, 'Look, I want my share. I want my piece of this.'"

He said the United States should identify itself with these people. But, he said, "we can't do it for them."

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., expressed concern that China could become the chief importer of Venezuelan oil, replacing the United States, which now relies on Venezuela for 13-15 percent of its petroleum imports.

This could leave the United States scrambling for oil, Nelson said.

Zoellick dismissed that suggestion, saying the United States could buy oil from producers that now supply China.