While many people were gnashing their teeth over the Congressional decision to fund the escalation of the war in Iraq without any meaningful restriction, the Senate, led by Senators Dodd, Clinton, and Obama, did something very bizarre. It passed a resolution introduced by Dodd and Lugar denouncing Venezuela for not renewing the license of a TV station that actively supported the 2002 military coup against the democratically elected government.
This continues a pattern for these Senators. I guess they feel that every time they do something to convince Democratic primary voters that they really oppose Bush’s foreign policy, they feel they have to do something else to convince the Washington foreign policy establishment that they really support the Empire. Maybe they figure it’s a freebie. Maybe they think that, unlike many places where the U.S. government sticks its nose, Venezuela is a truly independent country, so they can say nonsense things about Venezuela without causing much harm in the world. But such a resolution is not totally harmless. It hurts the cause of human rights, by giving grist to those in the world who ask, when some American politician talks about human rights somewhere, "How much oil does that country produce?"
Some of the bigfoot human rights groups also played a nefarious role in this affair. Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, and the Committee to Protect Journalists also trashed the Venezuelan government’s decision not to renew the license.
My colleague Patrick McElwee contacted these groups and asked them a simple question: if this had happened in the U.S., would the station have had its license renewed? None would give a direct answer, as Patrick documents here:
Why these groups carry water for the Bush Administration on Venezuela would make a good topic for an academic study. There are several competing theories.
One theory is that advocacy on human rights constantly pushes these groups into confrontation with the U.S. government, so like the Democratic Senators, they are looking for a freebie – a case where they can support the Bush Administration, to argue that they are not in fundamentally in conflict with the U.S.
A second theory regarding some of the bigfoot human rights groups in Washington is that when it comes to Latin America, the people running policy at the groups and the people running policy in the U.S. government are the same group of people, moving back and forth. So denouncing the official enemy is a good career move – some of these folks may hope to get a job at the State Department, and this will look good on their resume.
This second theory seeks to explain why one sees a divergence in some of these groups between their reporting on Latin America and their reporting on the Middle East. In the case of the Middle East, these groups seem much more willing to do reporting that directly challenges the U.S. government. According to this theory, the reason is that people working on these issues in the Middle East could never hope to get a job at the State Department, so people who hope to work in the State Department would never work at these groups on Middle East issues.
No doubt this fails to exhaust the possible explanations, which is why it would be a good subject for academic study.
But in the meantime, picking unnecessary fights with Venezuela seems like a pretty dumb foreign policy. If you look at the world’s oil producers today, you see a lot of trouble: Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Nigeria. Whatever the policy disagreements between Venezuela and the Bush Administration, the oil keeps flowing. No 9/11 hijackers were Venezuelan. Oil pipelines in Venezuela are not being blown up. Foreign oil workers are not being kidnapped or killed in Venezuela. By comparative standards, things are rosy. Why mess it up?