Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Chavez The Freezer (Sweden-Venezuela-FARC III)

Our dear president, Comandante Hugo Chávez, has just thrown a tantrum again and declared he is freezing Venezuela-Colombia ties one more time (read about it in English, Spanish or Swedish). He recalled the Venezuelan ambassador to Bogota again (who by now must be enjoying the frequent-flyer program) and he threatened that "if Colombia attacks Venezuela again, he would break all ties and expropriate the many Colombian businesses in Venezuela".

It was predictable. What was that Colombian attack? Well, Colombia simply was looking for explanations. They found Swedish rocket-launchers in a FARC camp and Sweden had sold those weapons to the Venezuelan army in the eighties, as the serial numbers showed. The Swedish government confirmed that and it is now also asking the Venezuelan government to explain how those weapons ended up in the hands of the Colombian guerrilla. The FARC is a terrorist organisation for the European Union, among others, and Sweden is part of the European Union, so the Swedes are not amused about how others are using their very lethal weapons*.

Now, in my previous post I presented all possibilities, just for fairness:

  1. Some of the many corrupt Venezuelan military men sold those weapons to the FARC before Chavez came to power
  2. Chavez military gave those weapons to the FARC when their bloody coups in 1992 failed
  3. Some of the many corrupt Venezuelan military sold those weapons to the FARC NOW
  4. The Chavez army gave those weapons to the FARC, with or without knowledge from the Great Leader himself
For the record: I think it is 4. Chávez recently rejected he ever supported FARC., even if he asked for a minute of silence on TV when a FARC leader was killed by a Colombian attack, even if his former minister Chacín wished the FARC success (pro-Chavez Telesur broadcast), even if the FARC laptops (laptops Chavistas claimed were fixed by the Colombian government) tell another story, even if...I digress.

As fellow blogger Daniel Duquenal wrote, any more or less normal government that finds itself in the situation Chavismo is right now would at the very least declare that it will carry out an enquiry on the issue. Chavismo is different: the Chávez ministers firstly said it was just a fib and media show without any counter-explanation and Chávez now threatens Colombia, as he knows Colombia is interested in keeping the current trade.

Colombian exporters are greatly benefiting from the mess in which Chavez has placed Venezuela. I plotted the statistics on trade between Colombia and Venezuela for the first half of 2008 and 2009 here:

Venezuela exported to Colombia just 584 million dollars in the first half of 2008 and Venezuelan exports there fell to just 280 million on the first half of this year. Venezuelan exports consists mostly of iron and aluminum and some chemicals. Venezuela is becoming less competitive by the day. Colombia is exporting to Venezuela from underwear to flour, meat, toilet paper and assembled cars.

Venezuela's currency control and very overvalued Bolivar together with the bad climate for productive business due to expropriations and political shenanigans have lead producers to become importers or simply keep their production at spare flame (this is irrespective of the global crisis).

What is this about and what next?

I wonder, though, why Colombia waited until now to reveal the issue about the weapons they found last year. One reason could be "they were just waiting for Sweden's confirmation". It is most likely something else: they wanted to use it to show they need the US bases in their territory. They are in their right to do so, considering the civil war they have there. As Daniel Duquenal said, they may be starting to think Chávez is looking, after all, for a confrontation. That is what the Argentinian military did decades ago and they went for the Malvinas. Or it could be Colombia wants to get more US aid as it knows Venezuela's economy is collapsing and having US bases there increases those chances. If you have any other idea, let me know.

In any case, businesses from both sides (actually, Colombian exporters and Venezuelan importers mostly) are calling for restrain.

This could get worse. Colombians are probably going to react in a more cautious manner, due to their business interests. Venezuela has few options for importing many products at the same price it does from Colombia. Still: Venezuela's president is not
Gro Harlem Brundtland but Hugo Chávez, a.k.a. El Comandante.

What a difference between Venezuela-Colombia and the European Union! Colombians and Venezuelans have the same language, a lot of common traditions, almost anything. The main differences I see are two:

  1. Education: Venezuelans have on average a much worse level of basic education. Colombia's government, in spite of all the problems, is trying to improve its education standards and to bring about some transparency, whereas Venezuela's so-called revolutionaries abhor accountability, proclaim a lot and deliver little (here for an interview in Spanish with Venezuela's minister of education some months ago).
  2. Economic production: even if Colombia exports mainly raw materials, its production is much more diversified than Venezuela's petroculture. Colombia can feed and clothe itself. Venezuela can't. The Colombian government has no control over the main exports, Venezuela's government provides 90% of Venezuela's dollars, which turns Venezuelan citizens into beggars
OK, there is another difference: Venezuela's cuisine is better than Colombia's, but don't tell my neighbours, they are producing the ingredients.

* the real weapons that went from Sweden to the Venezuelan army to the terrorist organization FARC are not like the chef's (thanks to Dutch blogger Alpha for the video):


  1. Hola Kepler,

    Good article!!

    For me, you took the best choice for picking number 4.
    And I will go for a long time with you that there where deals between the FARC and the military of Venezuela.
    Carvajal one of the special Generals of the secret military from Venezuela can make these deals with anyone he likes. He does not need have an approve from H. Chavez.
    But... this will not say that H. Chavez goes out free by saying that he was not the one who gives/sold the weapon to the FARC.
    As a commander from the Venezuelan army and as president from Venezuela he is responsible. He also knows to know what is going on in his country.
    Chavez is the one who like to wear several heads.
    And obviously this is all is too much for him.


  2. Thanks, Alpha. I want to be cautious but Chavez is really hanging himself. Let's see how this goes on.

  3. The fact that Venezuela has a lot to lose by a sudden cutoff of Colombian goods is what will make sense prevail in this.

    I am inclined to also agree with your choice of point 4.

  4. Pote de humo, bro.
    Venezuela can't cut economic ties with Colombia for all the reasons you just gave, just as the US can't cut ties with China. This is just another dog-bark-but-no-bite case by a dude who likes to talk the talk but barely backs it up (he didn't even go to Honduras, for crying out loud). This'll probably just go away once the I-hate-you, I-love-you, Uribe-Hugo cycle comes back around. They'll just shake hands, kiss and makeup before the next diplomatic incident.

  5. Vicente,

    Yes, for the moment it is the same sick relationship between Chavez and Uribe. This is what I learn from all this:

    1) the US are more likely to be established now
    2) FARC is getting into more trouble
    3) the Venezuelan economy is going down the drain further as we import more and more from Colombia and export less
    4) The EU will pay more attention to Venezuela as a troublesome place
    5) Chavez will try to sell his soul faster than now to anyone else he thinks can support him, like the Russians he is buying weapons from

  6. What strikes me as bizarre is that you'd think that with 10 years in power and so many diplomatic impasses, Chavez would've learned how to handle global affairs more efficiently. But no, like you say in (1), it actually seems Chavez is working for the americanos and their advance of Plan Colombia and the establishment of military bases in the region. I mean, common: the US couldn't wish for more help from C in justifications for their military agenda. But instead of learning and using the advantages of political diplomatic double speech, shrug it off, use perfunctory speech, lead under the table negotiations, homeboy throws a fit and shoots himself in the foot, showing all his cards all at once.
    On the other hand, Colombia's threats to export to Central America have yet to follow through but it's true we'd be royally f*cked if they switch markets. The fact that people like Tosh and others fail to aknowledge the disaster in venezuelan production is uterlly exasperating, if we could just get together on that one we might look for solutions before it's too late, but the "let's wait till 2021 see where we're at" and then pick it up from there is completely irresponsible. What a year this'll be... P.d.: Read Petkoff's Ed in noticias 24. When you destroy checks and balances, its clear no one is left to call homeboys mistakes and bluffs. That's what institutions are for in the first place but hey, we kissed those g'bye a while ago.

  7. Vincente,

    I don't think it is that easy for Colombia either. It is not easy to find buyers these days, specially if the potential clients are countries that are even much poorer than Venezuela.

    Colombia should by all means try to diversify from Venezuela now, but it won't be easy. Of course, Venezuela will also have to pay more for a lot of products and Chavez is anyway ruining it all for everybody.

    I'll read Petkoff's article.

  8. Sorry, that should have been "Vinz"

  9. With all the battering that Venezuelan Manufacturers are undergoing, I fail to see how we will be able to replace even a third of what would be lost if this policy continues.

    I don't see this as more than some grandstanding gesture, which is all too common for Thugo.


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