Monday, April 20, 2009

The Venezuela Reality Check

Today, former Vice President Dick Cheney, as well as Newt Gingrich and other Republican figures all chimed in with more critical thoughts about the nearly meaningless handshakes between President Obama and Venezuela's erratic leader, Hugo Chavez. Once again, some on the right are running with the photos of President Obama and Chavez shaking hands to cast further doubts about the president, his patriotism, and his resolve to stand up to radical leaders abroad.

But fact of the matter is that a handshake between the leaders of two states is a fairly meaningless gesture for two nations that are major trading partners. According to the U.S. Department Of State's own website, a full 57.5% of Venezuela's estimated 2008 $315.6 billion yearly economy is built on trade with the United States. The Netherlands is a distant second with just 5.2% trade with Venezuela. Mexico is third with just 4.5% trade. That figure for trade with the U.S. over 57% is indeed a very high trade figure. Despite the outrageous antics and speeches of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela still remains as by far the largest trade partner and export market for Venezuela. This is the all-important fact that Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich and others simply ignore from their discussion of the handshakes with Hugo Chavez. For the leaders of two nations with trade that runs into the billions of dollars, simply exchanging handshakes is pretty insignificant.

Dick Cheney and Newt Gingrich also are not very upfront that the 14,000 Citgo gas station retailers in the U.S. are affiliated with a Venezuelan company which is closely linked to the Venezuelan government and Hugo Chavez. Yet, neither Cheney or Gingrich seem to question the patriotism of American dealers or customers who choose to go with Citgo.

Further, wealthy businessmen from Venezuela have billions more in other U.S. investments of all types including even horse racing and other sports. Yet the misleading nonsense coming from Cheney or Gingrich don't tell you that fact either.

Like all half-truths, the nonsense coming from Cheney and Gingrich over the simple two handshakes with Hugo Chavez don't really mean at all that much. Hugo Chavez used the opportunity to give President Obama a book that supposedly details an exploitative relationship with South America by the United States. However, this case is a little hard to make for Chavez when far more than half of his nation's trade and a large part of their $315 billion economy comes from trade with the U.S.

The fact of the matter is that President Obama knows full well that Hugo Chavez is an erratic kook who only continue to make crazy statements and be a thorn to the U.S., all the time seeking to sell billions of dollars of oil and agriculture here to the United States. Long ago, other major trade partners with the U.S. such as China realized that being pragmatic and only offering guarded critical statements about their differences with the U.S. is the best path. So far, Hugo Chavez hasn't grown that much as a world leader.


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