Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Losses puncture Chavez's ambition

A Russian warship arrives in La Guaira port, Venezuela, on Tuesday in a show of strength.  Moscow is upset over Washington’s decision to send warships into the Black Sea.

Associated Press

A Russian warship arrives in La Guaira port, Venezuela, on Tuesday in a show of strength. Moscow is upset over Washington’s decision to send warships into the Black Sea.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez certainly likes to put on a show.

Only days after his ruling socialist party suffered major losses in regional elections Sunday, he is hosting Russian President Dimitry Medvedev today on a state visit. Just to add to the occasion, part of Russia's Northern Fleet dropped anchor off the Venezuelan coast Tuesday, led by its flagship, Peter the Great.

But the show of Russian naval power can't obscure the impact of Sunday's election results on Chavez's long-term political ambitions. While Chavez's party was able to hang on to 17 of the 22 governorships, opposition candidates won five states, including the three most populous in the country. The opposition also pulled off a major surprise, defeating a top Chavez loyalist to win the metropolitan district of Caracas. The capital's biggest slum, Petare, even went to the opposition.

The lesson is clear.

While Chavez remains popular — his party won 55 percent of the vote nationwide — discontent over crime, inflation and poor public services has eaten away at his urban support. That could spell doom for Chavez's bigger political goal: presidential re-election in 2012.

Chavez, 54, has held power since 1999, but term limits bar him from running again. Last year he narrowly lost a referendum to reform the constitution and abolish term limits altogether. He desperately wants another try and has spoken of staying in power until 2021.

"Why if a president is good does he have to leave office?" Chavez said Monday, in a rambling news conference analyzing the election results.

The falling oil prices also threaten to weaken Chavez's regional influence, which relies on financial largesse bestowed on Cuba, Bolivia and Ecuador.

To be sure, Chavez will use the brief visit of Medvedev and his warships to puff his chest. But Chavez can't hide the real reason Russia's Northern Fleet has ventured to these warm, southerly waters for the first time since the Cold war.

Rather than a show of solidarity with Chavez, the appearance of four Russian vessels is more about hurt feelings in Moscow than anything else. Moscow is upset over Washington's decision to send warships into the Black Sea in response to Russia's violent clash with Georgia over the breakaway province of South Ossetia.

Medvedev has lately softened his tone, saying he hopes to improve ties with Washington. Indeed, Kremlin officials now say the Venezuela visit has no political significance except expanding trade with Latin America.

There is some legitimate basis for that. Medvedev is on a tour of Latin America, with stops in Brazil, Cuba and Peru for a meeting earlier this week of Pacific Rim nations, the APEC summit, attended by President Bush.

Analysts say the Kremlin has little time for Chavez's socialist rants. But Russia does see some financial reward in closer ties with a fellow oil producer. The two countries are discussing joint oil and gas ventures. Russia is also a major arms supplier to Venezuela, with contracts worth $4.4-billion.

Moscow is eyeing offshore oil exploration in Cuba too, as well as joint ventures in Brazil.

"A point has been made, the timing and the tool used for the exercise was probably unnecessary — and maybe even counterproductive," says Pedro Burelli, a former director of Venezuela's state-owned oil company, PdVSA. "But Russia now has to focus on keeping its economy alive in very rough market conditions. Saber rattling requires access to global markets as it was global markets that gave Russia its saber back."

Time will tell whether Chavez's electoral setback forces him to tone down some of the virulently anti-U.S. rhetoric for which he has become so famous.

But for now at least, Chavez's saber seems to have lost some of its menace.

Contact David Adams at

Losses puncture Chavez's ambition 11/26/08 [Last modified: Sunday, November 30, 2008 6:43pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Jordan Spieth wins British Open (w/ video)


    SOUTHPORT, England — Someday, perhaps soon, there will be a plaque at Royal Birkdale for Jordan Spieth, much like the one off the 16th hole that celebrates Arnold Palmer and the 6-iron he slashed out of the rough in 1961 to win the British Open and usher in a new era of golf.

    Matt Kuchar plays out of the bunker on the 18th hole and finishes with bogey for 1-under 69. He had a one-shot lead after 13 holes.
  2. Fennelly: Brutal weekend could be start of something worse for Rays

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Well, that was lovely.

    Brad Boxberger suffers his second loss in the three-game series, this time by allowing back-to-back homers in the eighth inning when called on to protect a 5-3 lead. “Just bad pitches,” he says.
  3. Wesley Chapel hockey camp impresses youth players, parents

    Lightning Strikes

    WESLEY CHAPEL — As a 17-year-old Triple-A hockey player, MacCallum Brown regularly plays against elite talent. As a Palm Harbor resident, he often has to travel to face that talent.

  4. Rays claim not to be panicking after third straight brutal loss to Rangers (w/ video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — There was no "here we go again" moment in the dugout as Rougned Odor's two-run homer in the eighth inning arced across Tropicana Field and toward the rightfield seats, even though when it landed, the score was tied and another late-inning Rays lead was blown.

    Rays third baseman Evan Longoria heads back to the dugout after fouling out in the ninth inning with the potential tying run on first.
  5. White House signals acceptance of Russia sanctions bill


    WASHINGTON — The White House indicated Sunday that President Donald Trump would accept new legislation imposing sanctions on Russia and curtailing his authority to lift them on his own, a striking turnaround after a broad revolt in Congress by lawmakers of both parties who distrusted his friendly approach to …

    President Donald Trump’s ability to lift sanctions against Russia would be blocked.