Venezuela: Oil and the Axis of Evil
Is Venezuela a better candidate than North Korea for the Axis of Evil?
How is North Korea different from Iran and Iraq, the other two members of President Bush’s group of pariah states? Of course, North Korea isn’t located in the Middle East — but more importantly it has no oil reserves.
Oil explains why the United States is willing to threaten Iraq directly — and is hoping for popular sentiment to induce a change in government in Iran.
Meanwhile, the Bush Administration left the Far Eastern member of the Axis of Evil pretty much alone. That relaxed attitude stands in stark contrast to questions about the extent to which U.S. diplomats apparently encouraged the overthrow of another government that is not (yet?) part of the Axis of Evil.
This dubious U.S. encouragement came in Venezuela. And what makes Venezuela look like Iran and Iraq is simple: It is an oil producer.
In fact, Venezuela is the only OPEC member in the Western Hemisphere.
And it is the third-largest gasoline supplier to the United States — accounting for 13% of U.S. petroleum imports in 2001.
The democratically-elected Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez — a strong enforcer of OPEC oil production quotas — was temporarily ousted on April 12.
That day, the price for a barrel of crude on the New York Mercantile Exchange plunged from $24.99 to $23.47 — a drop of $1.52. A few days later, when Mr. Chavez returned to power, the price shot up by $1.10 — landing back at $24.57 a barrel.
Although Mr. Chavez has no reported ties to al Qaeda, or any other terrorist organization, there is circumstantial evidence to link Venezuela’s President to the two oil-producing members of the axis.
In August 2000, Mr. Chavez became the first elected head of state to visit Iraq since 1990. He even referred to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein as his “brother.”
Mr. Chavez also visited Iran on his tour of fellow oil-producing countries. If President Bush were so inclined, the Venezuelan President’s apparent aim of promoting OPEC unity could be recast by White House spin doctors as an Iranian-Iraqi-Venezuelan plot to damage the U.S. economy — via high energy costs. (After all, Saddam Hussein called for an actual blockade!)
In fact, the three countries could constitute a genuine threat. Iraq has the world’s second largest oil reserves. Iran is the world’s second largest producer. And Venezuela — with its close proximity and convenience — supplies the United States with more oil than either Iran or Iraq.
In recasting the Axis of Evil, the Bush White House is surely aware of the Cuban dimension. President Chavez is good friends with Fidel Castro. If President Bush could pressure Mr. Chavez to resign, he would do more than just ease oil prices.
Getting rid of one of Mr. Castro’s only remaining friends would earn President Bush — not to mention his brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who is currently running for re-election — some extra points with that state’s Cuban-American voters.
It has been hard enough for the Cuban economy to function after the Soviet Union vanished — along with the $5 billion in annual subsidies it provided to Cuba. The prize question is this: What happens to Cuba if Hugo Chavez is not there to support it?
Under preferential terms, Venezuela currently sells 53,000 barrels of oil a day to Cuba. That amounts to over half of Cuba’s oil imports. If Mr. Chavez were gone — and this supply line were cut — Castro’s marathon run in Cuba might finally reach its 26th mile.
So perhaps we need to pay more attention to the Bush Administration’s actions — and less to what they say. They may speak out against terrorism and regimes that sponsor research into weapons of mass destruction.
But it seems that they have reverted to their true nature. As Texans, their real definition of terrorism is based on who controls oil markets — and is not from the Lone Star State. That puts Mr. Chavez in their crosshairs — regardless of whether he is actually sponsoring violence or not.
Come to think of it, wasn’t Mr. Bush’s foreign policy — prior to September 11 — focused on Latin America? With the war on terror in limbo, President Bush may seize the opportunity to invoke the Monroe Doctrine — and do some spring cleaning in Caribbean.