Tuesday, October 20, 2009

are Costa Rica and Panama next on Chavez's 'to do' list?

Tegucigalpa, Honduras. After gaining influence in the Central American countries of Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala, and while waging an intense battle to get Honduras under his control, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is now looking to extend his influence in two Central American republics to the south that have been elusive so far: Costa Rica and Panama.

With the victory of center-left Alvaro Colom in Guatemala and the latest "pearl" that was the win of the [leftist] FMLN in El Salvador, Chavez strengthens his hold on the isthmus, in sharp contrast to South America, where only the poor nations of Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay serve his needs, while the vibrant economies of Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Peru have kept their distance.

In Honduras, Chavez was in control through deposed Manuel Zelaya, but after his ouster from office on 28 June, the situation has become complicated. Chavez has not given up on Honduras and fights tenaciously to achieve Zelaya's restitution.

In Panama, Chavez expansionism is disguised as "Bolivarian solidarity" which offers purported assistance to impoverished indigenous communities. In this regard, Venezuelan diplomatic personnel in Panama initiated activities in the regions of various indigenous peoples without informing the Panamanian Foreign Ministry, sparking the anger of the government of Ricardo Martinelli.

While in Costa Rica the interventionist strategy of Chavez has officially caused "concern" from the government for the installation of so-called "peace bases" by the Venezuelan Embassy in San Jose. Presidency Minister Rodrigo Arias, issued a note expressing concern over the issue and ordered an official inquiry into the matter.

With access to Guatemala, El Salvador (through the FMLN) and Nicaragua, Chavez now seeks to have direct influence in Costa Rica and Panama which will control the Central American isthmus and thus  the Central American Integration System (SICA) and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (BCIE), the key organizations of politics and economy in the region.

The Dominican Republic is also a member of both bodies, and it is controlled by another Chavez ally, Leonel Fernandez. The D.R. is a member of Petrocaribe and already owes Chavez more than $700 million [for oil].

Chávez therefore controls most votes in SICA and the BCIE, which makes Caracas the dominant voice in Central America, leaving America without close partners. This is evidenced by the case of Honduras, where the Chavista majority in the SICA and the BCIE maintain measures against Honduras, despite Honduras being a founding member of both international bodies.

The adherence to Chavez of Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, along with the political cooperation of Spain, Argentina and others, has made the BCIE more responsive to Caracas than to its traditional responsibility of funding the Central American integration.

In fact, in financial circles in Central America and the BCIE is called the "Chavista Bank of Economic Integration" instead of his original name.

Translated from Proceso Digital

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