It seems that Venezuela is possibly on the brink of another coup, if not a full blown revolution. I wish I had more time to research this because I’m not sure what to think, though I’m leaning slightly against Chavez for a number of reasons.
This story is not getting much attention in the US media so far as I’ve seen, even though it has huge implications for the balance of power in OPEC and potential reverberations throughout the world.
Friday night a gunmen fired on a crowd of opposition protesters in Caracas, killing three and wounding 29. The government has accused the opposition of staging the shooting, however a video from a few nights before the shooting seems to show the confessed gunman alongside a Venezuelan government official who happens to be a Chavez supporter. There also appears to be a discrepancy between the number of bullets fired the number of people wounded.
Oil plays heavily into the picture. In the ill-fated coup back in April, the US supported the interim government, and was diplomatically embarrassed when that government lasted two days. Yesterday, the entire board of Venezuela’s largest (only?) oil company, PDVSA were apparently forced out by Chavez. This chart shows that, as of 1998 Venezuela had the third largest share of OPEC production. The previous third largest produce was Iraq.
I believe one long term goal of US strategy is to destabilize OPEC. Afghanistan’s proximity to the Caspian Sea oil fields was a side benefit and Iraq is a major OPEC producer, even with sanctions. A US friendly Venezuela could very well leave OPEC, allowing Venezuelan oil companies to increase production and sell more. Economically Venezuela is a mess, so more money has the potential to benefit Venezuela’s citizens. Currently Venezuela supplies 15% of the United States oil. (Note that figure is unclear as to whether that is 15% of all oil or 15% of foreign oil.)
Besides being bored with Bush bashing, I’ve come to realize that the US oil lobby probably had a much clearer picture of the direction the world was heading than many of the rest of us. If you want an expert on a foreign country, a good place to look would be in businesses which operate there. Assuming American oil companies knew of the state of unrest in Venezuela, the terror-funding and increasing ruling class isolation in Saudi Arabia, any number of things about Iraq, social unrest in Iran, terrorist threats in Yemen and any number of other places, it would make a lot of sense to push for domestic sources of oil in the near term. Drilling in Alaska still seems like a gamble and a mistake, but I understand the motivation.
I would love to see the US move away from dependence on oil, foreign or otherwise. However these things take time and the computers and machines which have the potential to make that happen still need oil to run. I also recognize that our first priority right now has to be doing everything possible to prevent anyone in the US or other countries from being blown up by terrorists. It’s like triage on a geo-political scale. Fix the immediate threat first, improve the status quo second.
Thank you to Miguel Octavio in Venezuela for writing about what’s going on outside his door. His brother Alfredo works at the Venezuelan e-commerce site Patilla which today has a page up saying simply, “Cerramos hoy para abrir mañana…en LIBERTAD!” That translates to something like “We’re closed today to open tomorrow… in freedom!” I really wish I had a more informed opinion of what to hope for.