World Bank loans blocked? Wonder why...
See what one sometimes learns from the corporate news?
By Saul Hudson Sun May 1, 1:02 PM ET
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has discarded her failing tactic of confronting Venezuela publicly in favor of working behind the scenes in Latin America against a country she says threatens the region's stability.
The shift, evident in a Latin American trip last week, came after Rice's tough talk earlier this year against the "negative force" of President Hugo Chavez backfired by burnishing the populist's anti-American credentials and irking governments in a region wary of U.S. interference.
On her four-country Latin American tour, Rice strove to keep controversy over Venezuela at bay, studiously avoiding mentioning the major U.S. oil supplier in speeches and statements.
Although journalists asked her about Venezuelan-U.S. tensions, she responded with restrained language and simply repeated well-known U.S. concerns over the country's democracy and arms deals.
Many in Latin America and the United States fret over the two nation's relations because a crisis could slow the flow of oil from one of the world's largest exporters and raise already record prices.
But Rice said, "This is not a trip about Venezuela."
Still, in meetings behind closed doors, the top U.S. diplomat made anti-Chavez moves.
In Colombia, she worked out a proposal for monitoring Venezuela's purchase of 100,000 Russian rifles that she worries could be transferred to Marxist guerrillas.
In the race to choose a new head for the Organization of American States, Rice saw that South American nations rallied around a Chilean and opposed a Mexican, who was U.S.-backed.
Rice accepted the defeat but won a commitment from the victor to hold governments that failed to govern democratically accountable at the OAS -- a reference Rice's aides said was to Venezuela.
That commitment was part of a deal Rice hammered out when her counterparts from several countries huddled in her hotel suite in Chile.
Rice's restraint could be more effective in thwarting Chavez, who has galvanized opposition to U.S. policies of free trade, privatization and fiscal restraint.
Latin American leaders can now quietly work to moderate the firebrand leftist without being drawn into a public spat in which their electorate want them to side with their neighbor.
"After meeting with secretary Condoleezza I was convinced that things will go much better from now on (between Venezuela and the United States)," Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva told journalists.
CONDOLENCE FOR CONDI
Deprived of a chance to counter-attack during Rice's trip, Chavez had little excuse to resort to his rhetoric that has included personal insults against Rice, accusations Washington wants to kill him and threats to cut off oil supplies to the energy-hungry superpower.
Chavez, who prefers to call Rice "Condolence," managed to insert himself only briefly into her tour.
When a memo from Colombia's defense minister complaining of a Venezuelan military buildup was leaked a day before her arrival in Bogota, Chavez pounced, called the official a U.S. pawn and complained Rice was the "Imperial Lady."
But Peter Hakim, head of the Washington-based think tank the Inter-American Dialogue, said Rice was right to stop going after Chavez openly. "The governments in the region were never going to go along with a public critique of him," he said.
Mark Weisbrot of the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research think tank predicted the new reluctance to challenge Chavez publicly meant Washington would only seek to intensify international pressure on Venezuela in other ways.
Noting Washington has already imposed sanctions on Venezuela by blocking World Bank loans, he said, "They lost when they attacked head-on but now they'll focus on using multilateral forums against Chavez."