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Friendly nations? Friendly to whom?

PDVSA’s strikers probably never set out to internationalize the Venezuelan conflict, but it looks like that’s exactly what they’ve done. The Washington Post reports today that the U.S. is about to launch a major diplomatic initiative to try to break the political deadlock here. The subtext is none-too-subtle here: there’s a war scheduled for next month, and the US can’t have major disruptions to its oil supply during a middle east conflict. So results, quick results, are of the essence.

As reported in the Post, the proposal is sneaky as hell, taking a Chávez proposal and transforming it subtly but decisively into the polar opposite of what he’d envisioned. Ten days ago, at Lula’s inauguration in Brazil, Chávez called for the creation of a “group of friendly nations” to help Venezuela overcome the crisis. Given Chávez’s psychopathological inability to differentiate between “Venezuela” and “me”, the proposal amounted to a plea issued at other left-wing or anti-U.S. governments to help Chávez break the oil strike. The “friendly nations” he had in mind were Cuba, Brazil, and soon-to-be-ruled-by-a-lefty Ecuador, along with Iran and Algeria – countries with some ideological affinities and some of the know-how needed to help get the oil industry crackin’ again.

At the same time, the proposal was meant to undermine the negotiations now being brokered by César Gaviria, who heads the Organization of American States. The Gaviria talks, centered as they are in seeking an “electoral solution” that Chávez looks highly unlikely to survive, have become a huge albatross around the president’s neck. His negotiators have been stalling and blocking negotiations for months now, while every government in the region throws its weight behind the initiative. Part of the idea, then, was to shift the focus of debate from the OAS to a group of “friendly (to Chávez) nations.”

Governments around the region were immediately suspicious of the plan – even Lula seemed cautious about it. Earlier this week Mexico’s foreign minister, Jorge Castañeda – who moonlights as one of my favorite writers – made a first statement about it, urging caution about taking steps that might be interpreted as hostile by the Venezuelan opposition. Very few hemispheric leaders wanted to be seen as taking sides with a leader as tone-deaf on democracy as Chávez

But then Washington seems to have devised an altogether better plan – rather than poo-pooing the Friendly Nations proposal, why not co-opt it? After all, where does it say that Hugo Chávez gets to decide which countries are friendly to Venezuela, and how those countries should behave? Riding this wave of inspiration, the U.S. will couch its diplomatic initiative in the language of Friendly Nations, except those nations will now include the U.S., Mexico, Chile and Spain, instead of Cuba and Iran. What’s more, rather than an alternative to the OAS talks, US diplomats are talking about it as “trying to put a little more ooomph behind what Gaviria is doing.”

Sneaky bastards these gringos…

Now, whether this is all going to fly is still very much open to debate. Washington’s main goal is to get the oil flowing again in the shortest time possible, and there’s no reasonably quick way of doing that other than allowing the striking oil managers to take control of the company again. This would be a catastrophic humiliation to a president who’s been slamming those guys as coup-loving terrorist coup-plotting sabouteur traitor coupsters for weeks now. And it’s not particularly clear why Chávez would back any of the solutions on offer at the OAS talks – solutions he’s been openly disdainful of for months.

Still, the initiative puts the crisis here on an international footing, and the higher priority the crisis has the more the world will scrutinize the government, and the harder it’ll be for the government to get away with any of the tin-pot autocratic delirium that passes for governing here. The more scrutiny we get here, the better.

The opposition must be thrilled about this, who can doubt it? The absence of any sort of movement in the last couple of weeks of the crisis has been driving them crazy – they need some sort of sense that they’re moving forward, that something is happening, that there is some light at the end of the tunnel. And they – no, not they, the country – is desperately in need of some sort of face-saving way to lift this strike, which risks unleashing a fiscal, financial and economic crisis of Argentine proportions.

So yes, God yes, let us have a bit of neo-imperialist gringo meddling here. We desperately need it.

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Known to friend and foe alike as Quico, Francisco Toro is Executive Editor at Caracas Chronicles.

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