Today there is a long interview [in Spanish] in Chile’s El Mercurio with Barack Obama on his views for Latin America. What struck me first was Obama’s claim that he “would start conversations with our enemies in Cuba and Venezuela.” Now, I’m not opposed to his willingness to sit down and talk with unfriendly regimes—I think that’s appropriate in certain circumstances—but what caught my attention was the use of the word “enemy” when referring to Venezuela. I think that constitutes clumsy diplomacy.
The Bush administration has been rather prudent in its approach to Hugo Chávez, despite all the hot air coming from Caracas and the allegations that his government has supported terrorist organizations in the hemisphere. Bush doesn’t even mention Chávez’s name in his speeches, and that drives him crazy. Chávez needs confrontation. His recent—and thwarted—push for a new intelligence law that would have turn Venezuela into a police state was primarily based on his paranoia of a U.S. invasion.
Now that Bush is about to exit the stage, Chávez needs to pick a fight with the next president of the U.S. He recently boasted that his name was being used in the presidential campaign. By calling him the “enemy,” Obama is setting the stage for a confrontation with Chávez in the event that he wins in November. This is exactly what the strongman from Caracas wants.