Venezuela’s President Chávez suffered a major blow to his international influence following last week’s dramatic rescue of FARC hostages in Colombia. The setback comes at a time when his domestic popularity is also in decline in the face of food shortages, soaring inflation and slow economic growth, despite record oil revenues.
Foreign investors are staying away following the recent nationalization of telephone, electricity, oil and steel companies. Chávez was also forced to rescind a proposed intelligence-gathering law that legal and human rights groups considered ominously authoritarian. His unpopularity has prompted the regime to cut down the number of propaganda billboards with his image, in order to deflate his cult of celebrity a little.
The decline of Colombia’s FARC guerrilla insurgency, while far from extinguished, means that Chávez’s dream of a cross-border Bolivarian revolution has failed. ”The strategy was to create an international mediation group fashioned after the Contadora group that mediated in the Central American conflict in the 1980s, but aimed at consolidating Chávez’s leadership in the region, and at using Chávez’s clout to achieve international diplomatic recognition for the FARC,” according to a senior Colombian official.
But it is premature to discount Chávez just yet. “With oil prices at $145 a barrel, he will be able to continue buying allegiances in the region with his petro-dollars,” notes one observer.