how the world sees america

The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela

Caracas-View.jpg
Caracas skyline and Sketchers sign.

CARACAS, Venezuela - My twitter says it all: "Clear Night. Sharp city lights. The city opens up through the hills at dawn like its floating in space with stars.”

On my first day here, from its architecture to its people, Caracas strikes me as cinematic. And I wonder: to what extent are views of America here based on personal experience? And to what extent are they based on storytelling?

To get from the airport to the city center, I drive down a concrete overpass through hills that part like stage curtains. Barrios (slums) tumble down their slopes on one side, and on the other scores of concrete highrises block out the ocean view.

The buildings are angular and rather unimaginative. As I move closer, they grow more interesting as I see their peeling facades, their quirkily retro color yellowing and graying. At ground level, small stores sell wares without much order. They advertise baby clothes and Tupperware and ladders all under one roof.

I arrive at 5am, settle down to write, and watch the city wake up from the East where lots of little pieces of glass and trash litter the road, refracting morning light. Journalist Ibsen Martinez comes to meet me, and repeats a common quip: “How can [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chavez fight America if he can’t pick up the trash?”

Yet in this part of town, Chavez cultivates his support. There are large portraits of him painted onto building walls, fist in air. There are also murals of the iconic Che Guevara, and a sprawling history of the effort to reclaim Venezuela’s national, natural treasure – oil – for the people. It looks like a Diego Rivera. Hanging off buildings are numerous photos of President Chavez in a red shirt inaugurating new bureaucracies to aid the poor.

Despite much official signage and (un)official murals, I see no overt anti-American images.

Even Elena Perrer, an English teacher at a Chavez-founded school set in a reclaimed oil administration office, says Chavez’s ad campaign has gone too far. “Spend the publicity money on the poor!” she says. She’s an avid supporter of the President nevertheless, and a deep skeptic of the United States' role in the world. Like many other Chavistas here, she refuses to call the U.S. “America.” She says that Chavez has helped Venezuelans reclaim what is theirs.

We eat dinner together beside a big mall in a touristy, wealthy part of town. McDonalds abound. There are some Pizza Huts. But Starbucks is nowhere in sight, she speculates, because Venezuelans would hate to see another resource of theirs – coffee – co-opted by the Americans. Oil throughout the 20th century was enough. After dinner we enter her car and she tells me she pays about US$3 per month for fuel while I pay about US$150.

She drops me off at a hotel. It was hard finding a hotel room here. There seems to be a chronic shortage – partly because several thousand Cuban doctors working here have been moved from homesteads in the barrios to these hotels to keep safe amidst rising violence, and to ensure they don’t defect. The fancy hotels are filled with Russians, Eastern Europeans, Iranians, and a few Chinese all mostly here on business – most likely to help Venezuela convert its copious crude oil into further refined products. Ibsen Martinez, whose father grew up in the Maracaibo oil fields, which I shall visit later, and who researches the workings of this petrostate, says Chavez is reluctant to turn to America to help provide technology to refine oil, so they look East.

As night falls, I sit on the street corner watching the diversity of Venezuelan life – immigrants from Western Europe, the old Ottoman Empire and the Caribbean islands all mix here, which is perhaps why, like Lebanon, the people are so beautiful. A woman wearing red spandex walks past me, returning my gaze. She is pale with dark hair and blue eyes. Then a group of young men, just at twenty, with dark skin dressed in black saunter by smoking. I try to strike up conversation.

They ask me where I am from. “Estados Unidos [United States]” I respond.

Their eyes light up, “Bueno!” they say, "Welcome."

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Comments (30)

Diego R.- (ULA law student):

Hey!!! you alright???

well gladly you liked most of what you visited i see that basically you r seeing our country in its worse time! because, the administration its rubbish!, generally , and also caused the hatred that you know its happening, im part of the mixing of the culture here but i am being victim also of a bit of discrimination , well my grand parents from my mothers part are Italian, and native Venezuelan, and from my dads part Jewish-Rumanian and venezuelan , i am half jewish, as part of a really small community of around 12.000 ppl and being related with the relations of Israel with USA and since the invasion of lebabon etc, we have been victims of insults etc, down here, i dont live in the capital i live south west in Merida, well its even worse, cos like 70% of the jewish community it is in caracas, and like 25% in maracaibo (oil city) , well here we r about a couple of hundres! and we are being labelled since all this started and we r feeling uncomfortable wearing our kippots , at the street , because, the oficialist area see us like freaks! i dont know or some iranian supporters or we have a huge lebanese and Syrian community around and well we used to live like no were else in peace and respecting each other not judging by color, politcal ideologies, religion, etc, now Chavez took this to a deeper level, we have new terms like african venezuelan, now u label the muslims, the jews, pro americans, etc!!! its being total chaos i hope that our situation improves because he changed our beautiful country for an unknown, hate-nation!,

Cal:

I would love to visit Venezuela and see it for myself, but I am a 60 year old man from Texas with minimal Spanish, and I know no one in the country. Would it be safe for me to visit if I travel during the day and stay in my hotel at night?

Tantor:

One might note that all the former Spanish possessions fare poorly while all the former English possessions thrive. Why?

English colonies were set up by joint stock companies, ie corporations, to pursue profit. They kept the regulations light, power decentralized, and tailored the laws to create private businesses.

Spanish colonies were set up for the benefit of the Spanish king. Power was centralized, the laws written to benefit the elite, and the formation of small business was given little concern.

Consequently, it is a trivial matter to register a business in the Anglophone countries but a substantial, probably impossible, project in a Spanish-speaking country. That's just the tip of the iceberg.

However, it's so much easier to blame America for all its troubles than to reorganize Venezuela for success.

Mojojojo:

Hey Jojo. I understand you. I understand who you call the elite pigs. It's all resentment. Since you weren't born into this group, you hate it. That is Chavez. If Chavez had been born white, he wouldn't be who he is. I have to tell you something: All Venezuelans want to be rich (even if to donate the money.) Chavez asks them to hate the rich. Some (the Chavez followers)innocently hate what they would like to be while justifying that Chavez and his elite group are rich.

Jojo, you're right about many latinos washing bathrooms, but in the case of Venezuelans in the US, it's not so. Most Venezuelans in the US are educated and many extremely educated. There is a brain drain going on. I, personally, know over 20 families that have moved to Miami taking with them AT LEAST $1,000,000 in investment money. Florida loves Chavez, becase he's creating an exodus of the best Venezuelans, from the investors to the lower middle class youth that aspires a life of entreprenurial freedom. The latter, instead of flourishing here, does so there. You would be even more jealous if you saw the lives of Venezuelans in the US. Venezuelans are not the bathroom cleaners over there. Just go to Ernst & Young or Smith & Barney in New York and you'll be surprised to see how many Venezuelan professionals are there. If I continue, you'll get angry, because you would like to see your Venezuelan brothers washing bathrooms in the Empire, not having dinner in a nice Tribeca restaurant. Sorry!

Westerner:

"Hugo Chavez is the best leader Latin America has ever known"

Jojo must be Hugo Chavez in disguise.

Andreina:

I am one of the many opponents to Chavez's governement. Yet is is true what Andreina says: Amar should try his best to go and see what this small communitary tv station is doing. Fresh, imaginative and, best of all, non-governmental tv station run by nice people.
Ibsen Martínez

Andreina:

I am one of the many opponents to Chavez's governement. Yet is is true what Andreina says: Amar should try his best to go and see what this small communitary tv station is doing. Fresh, imaginative and, best of all, non-governmental tv station run by nice people.
Ibsen Martínez

David Vohs:

The report that Juan Carlos recommends is well worth the time. It helps to have an overview of the modern history of Venezuela when you are being bombarded with opinions. I also agree that spending time in the Barrios is essential to understanding whats happening there. My preconcieved ideas were blown away by my time in the barrios, the people I met were the salt of the earth and more informed and aware of the world than 90% of people I know here at home. The quality of the homes was another surprise, I hope you can see for yourself.
Good travels,

Evita:

Hello Amar. I am also a foreigner here in Venezuela - been working here a couple of years now, and learned to like it! Saw you asked for tips for what to see. And I was thinkin' it would be a shame if you didnt get to see the slums, the barrios, and meet the people that live there - which is to say 'most people'! The barrios are such an important part of all venezuelan cities and key to understanding venezuelan society and politics whith all its contrasts and contradicitons. Everybody knows the lower income neighbourhoods provide important support for the Chavez government, but few few foreigners who come to Venezuela ever get to experience these first hand -and thus miss out on an all-important part of Venezuelan reality (which is indeed a quite different reality from that of the city center, and often quiet unknown to venezuealns with more priveligied backgrounds). Look - I have a venezuelan friend who grew up in the slums. Now she is a doctor. She has chosen to live in the slums and serves her neighbourhood as a doctor in the government-initated Barrio Adentro-program. Im sure you would aprecciate hers and her patients perspectives on the bolivarian reality! Id be glad to set up a visit to her clinic for you if youd like to see a little part of the 'other' Caracas!
My email:
evita.evitae@gmail.com

Andreina:

Hi there Amar.
Welcome to Venezuela!
I agree with David Vohs: one of the most interesting tings to see is the grass root Venezuela. And starting your tour in Caracas you should absolutely see Catia TV in Caño Amarillo (just next to the metro station of this name). Its a communitary TV where youth from the poor neighbourhood can learn how to film and edit and join the team. "Dont watch TV, make it" is their logo.
Have a nice stay.

Juan Carlos:

Buenas tardes Amar and welcome to Venezuela.
Im sure you will get to hear many and contradicting views on the changes and events that have taken place in Venezuela over the last decade and what the role and position of the Chavez government has been.
For an unusually sober and relatively brief account of recent events in the political economic history of Venezuela I would like to recommend to you a recent publication from the transnational institute in Holland written by the Venezuelan academic Edgardo Lander (UCV): "The economic policy of the Latin American left in government: Venezuela".
Lander, who recently opposed the proposed reform to the constitution, has an (as for Venezuela) unusual ability to see both the positives and the negatives of the political process in our country. You might even want to contact him for an interview (he is employed at the UCV). If you are interested, you will find the full report here:
http://www.tni.org/reports/newpol/venezuelaeconomicpolicy.pdf?

Juan Herrera:

Hello Ammar,

Thank you for coming down here to Venezuela and see the facts as they are. Welcome and be careful, since you are in a very dangerous country.It is good that you can interview people here and get real "gras roots" opinion on how we see America and President Bush.
Many of us are US educated and we returned here because there were jobs abound before Chavez came into power. Now we are "fleeing" to Europe or the USA to live and work decently since this comunist regime segregates many people from working on government posts, either for being a democratically inclined person or too much "European appearance". That is a fact. I hope that you can come to Valencia, so that we may talk extensively.

Take care,

Juan

PS My cell phone is for your information only


Cell phone 0416 9082074

Juan Herrera:

Hello Ammar,

Thank you for coming down here to Venezuela and see the facts as they are. Welcome and be careful, since you are in a very dangerous country.It is good that you can interview people here and get real "gras roots" opinion on how we see America and President Bush.
Many of us are US educated and we returned here because there were jobs abound before Chavez came into power. Now we are "fleeing" to Europe or the USA to live and work decently since this comunist regime segregates many people from working on government posts, either for being a democratically inclined person or too much "European appearance". That is a fact. I hope that you can come to Valencia, so that we may talk extensively.

Take care,

Juan

PS My cell phone is for your information only


Cell phone 0416 9082074

redr:

>>we're very americanized even though we keep a >>strong cultural identity, and most people like >>it that way.

"Americanized?" Surely you meant to say "Unitedstatesianized."

Ana:

Hi,
I am looking forward to see what you write about my country and my city. As a "caraqueña" i can tell you, that we are more influenced by the US than we would admit... even though Chávez government strongly criticizes US policies and politics, we as a people share a lot with the people in the US. Maybe, because of different reasons but...
If you visit the malls you will see that most of the people in caracas go frequently, to see a movie or just hang around. It is a little bit different from the US because it is not about buying most of the time and one good thing about malls is the "security" you have there that allows you to walk around at night.
The roll of students have changed drastically in the last year... depends a lot on which university they attend, but i think it will be really interesting for you to get in touch with different students. How they see things, what do they expect, their role now... it has changed so much!
Consejos Comunales. It was an initiative of this government to impulse this "leadership". Some are really organized and have a good knowledge of their needs and what they can do. There are both Consejos that support the government as others that don't.
About the "anti-american" images... i don't think images is what you will find. However, i believe it is a matter of finding an enemy somehow... the US hasn't filed any response to statements from our government in a lot of time, which makes it harder to picture them as an enemy.
Anyhow, i haven't seen many images anti-something in this past years... some appear but don't gain much popularity. Messages and phrases from Bolívar and so, that, you will see...
There are many "venezuelas" in the country.... the difference between how wealthy people live and those who don't have much is amazing... But even if someone doesn't have much, you will see most will offer you everything and make you feel like home.

A land of contrasts and mixtures.

Juan Pablo:

Sorry about the messy text formatting by the way, my browser goes crazy sometimes and messes up anything I write in a text box.

Juan Pablo:

Hi Amar. I'm glad you've seen one of the great things about my country, it's people, their warmth and cultural diversity.
I should warn you, you might find in your trip one of those who simply eat up the president's words without even
understanding them, then repeat it anytime they can regardless if they're coherent or not. I've been called "gringo"
just for being white, despite the fact my family has been in Venezuela for countless generations. Those people will
probably have something to say about your being from the US, but it's not a majority (by the way, as the poster above said, most of us, Chavistas or not,
are accustomed to calling the USA "Estados Unidos" or US instead of America). Even then, understand that it's not really hate; that
"hate" chavistas feel towards the US is skin deep, take away their MacDonalds, DirecTV, etc (I invite you to notice how a lot of ranchos have DirecTV satellite dishes)
and they probably won't accept that, we're very americanized even though we keep a strong cultural identity, and most people like it that way.

Other than those few extremists, most people will welcome you with open arms, since the truth is we are very
open and warm people, as someone before me said, we all get along fine regarless of skin color or cultural background. It is only since Chavez came to power
that he started to create a visible fracture in our society. Extreme poverty has existed in Venezuela for a long time, but it's only recently they were fooled
into hating anyone NOT in poverty; he's turned it black and white: if you're not poor, then you're an Oligarchist controlled by the US, who stole Oil money
in the last 40 years before Chavez. Period. His anti-US speech (you just need to hear him talking for a few minutes and invariably he will name "the Empire" as a cause of X evil, it's
one of his "speech formulas") seems to be less efective, so foreigners have almost nothing to worry about.

I love my country and living in it, but the truth is everyday the outlook of all this seems more and more grim. I refuse to move out of the contry, but it worries me to see
how this government mantra seems to be "the Oligarchists before us stole our money and we were poor, now it OUR chance to steal the money so we can be rich". Corruption, which has always been an issue
in Venezuela, is now worst than ever. Meanwhile, the poor are still poor and many are disapointed at Chavez. Almost every other industry besides Oil is crumbling or finding a way to get out of here.
Even farmers in the south- southwest of the country have started to cross the borders into Colombia or even Brazil to sell theyr cattle or products, since at least on the borders they get paid
in dollars. Many other traditional industries which added to our exports, like coffee, are finding it hard to survive due to the lack of materials and the difficulty importing them presents. Yet,
we continue to give away oil and money and our foreign politics seem to be based on who the president likes and dislikes; all while depending on Oil and neglecting all other incomes.
What happens if in X years time some other energy source arises and oil starts to become unnecesary? What will happen to Venezuela? Im sure the people grabbing as much money as they can in government won't
care, they'll just take a plane and leave the country.

I truly hope you enjoy your stay, it is really a beautiful country filled with great hardworking people, despite all our current problems.

Antonio Mitchell:

Buenas tardes, Amar:

I wasn't going to write again, but I feel compelled to reply to some of Javier Cordero's comments.
First, it is true that nobody in Latin America will call the U.S. ''America''. For us it is Estados Unidos, Norteamerica, or more often Yanquis, as in ''Yankees go home''.
Second, the U.S. influence in Venezuela is greater than in most of our countries with the possible exception of Mexico. One proof of this is that the national sport is Baseball, something that would be unthinkable in Colombia, Argentina, Brazil or Chile. If you want to see widespread anti-U.S. sentiments you should come to Argentina.
Third, the comment that Chavez is not anti-U.S. would be a joke if it weren't tragic. Of course, he may not refer to the U.S. as ''U.S.''. He has called them Evil Empire, the Enemy, and many other unprintable names thousands of times. I will make a prediction: if let's say Obama or Hillary become the next President, there will be flowers until they make the first disparaging comment about Chavez, which they will; then they will be immediately transformed into Darth Vader.
Sleep well

Javier Cordero:

Good morning to all,

Amar, how are you? I have an onservation to make regarding that chavistas refuse to call the US "America". That statement is not true, in Spanish (and for that matter in Latin America's education system), the term America refers to the whole continent and not only the USA. That truism goes for anybody in the "Americas," despite their political position at a time being. No one in Latin America calls the US "America" in Spanish, we call it "Estados Unidos". That is one observation and here is another one Amar; what were you expecting to find in Caracas if I may ask? Government-sponsored anti-US murals all over town? What is with the obsession that President Chavez is "anti-US?" I dare you find one single quote where President Chavez has stated that he is anti-US. The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is, above all, anti-imperialist and pro-Latin American integration. Finally Amar, I believe you should go to the western neighborhhods of Catia, 23 de enero, La Vega, among others and talk to the people whether they are anti-US, I guarantee you you will be surprised.

Sincerely,

Javier Cordero

Alfredo:

Amar, Venezuelans are mostly mix spaniard, Italian,Portuguese, Basque, German, French, some are mixed with black and indian native Venezuelans, of course Eastern europe and Iranian too.
We had a huge exodus of europeand during the 40's 50's and now many with European background are leaving the country for the many problems, crime, extreme poverty, corruption and government failure and restriction of liberties.

The real melting pot. Venezuela never had racial tension, ever, Until Chavez teamed with Jessey Jackson to create the sticker "African Venezuelans". Divide and conquer.

andrés:

Amar,
I think you'll have a succesful trip if you can find out why for almost ten years Venezuelans still vote for Chávez. Sure he can buy support by being populist, but I guess that's not the only reason. Perhaps Chávez is not as strong as the "stains" that oil has left in the Venezuelans mind-set.

David Vohs:

Hi Amar, I hope you enjoy your time there. I have been there twice in the last year,the last time was with a delegation observing the election, which was truly inspirational to an American accustomed to our unique system of auction/election. My suggestion is that you seek out people who are doing positive things there rather than dwell on the pro or anti Chavez angle. There are people all over the country involved in grass roots movements, agricultural co-ops in Lara State, community TV and radio stations, everywhere I went I found ordinary people actively involved in improving their situation.
If you are just doing the usual western media story of good guys/bad guys you will be missing what for me is the most interesting aspect of what is going on in South America; people taking charge of their own destinies despite the obstacles and interference from vested interests.

Antonio Mitchell:

Buenos Dias, Amar:

I can tell that you are trying hard to like Venezuela. I am an Argentine who has been travelling there for twenty years and love the country and its people since then. Unfortunately, the country I love is beeing destroyed by an egotist and his cohorts.
Remember that this is not a dirt poor third world country, but an oil rich ex-democracy who should be faring much better than it is. Blame it on decades of corrupt governments, but the truth is that those didn't have 100 dollar oil, and the present government has very little to show for this windfall.
Take food shortages in a country that has an enormous agricultural potential. This is the result of an incredible mismanagement of the natural resources; ill made land reform laws full of threats and expropiations; inefficient and corrupt state owned companies whose published reports on their production of agricultural inputs such as fertilizers would be laughable if it weren't tragic, etc,etc.
Yes, you have thousands of Cuban doctors, probably more expensive than Harvard graduates because Cuba gets paid in oil for them. You have also free educational programs with nobody attending. Don't let me go on...
And now, the icing in the cake, poor Venezuela must prepare itself for a war against the Evil Empire and its Colombian lackey.
Anyway, you will have a good time. The food is great and the people greater.
Buena suerte.

Amar C. Bakshi:

Hi Maria, thank you for the welcome. If you have suggestions on places to go or people to meet, please let me know.

Tom, I just spent the day yesterday talking to students at the Bolivarian University of Venezuela, founded by Chavez, and there you got a pretty interesting breakdown on views of the Prez from those who support him intensely. There are many complaints - from incompetence to corruption, but they center almost entirely around the higher echelons of his staff, and try desperately to distinguish between their failures, and his potential.

Vic, as usual you've brought up some thought-provoking points! I will ask about America's role from different POVs. You often get the "Empire Go Back" point of view, but I think there is much more to probe to see if there are people who want increased attention, involvement, collaboration.

Today I am meeting General Baduel, as the twitter says, former commander of the Venezuelan army under Chavez, who left.
http://proutaftercapitalism.blogspot.com/2006/01/general-raul-baduel-commander-of.html
Currently I'm writing about yesterday's experience and posting video, so that'll be up soon.

María Eugenia Díaz:

Hi Amar,

I am a venezuelan journalist and I truly welcome you to my country. I appreciate you came to see and write about our situation, after almost 10 years with the worst government we have ever had. I am looking forward to read your blog and comment.

Again... welcome,

María Eugenia

RIcardo:

Well my friend, you will find Caracas to be a diverse city, not so insurgent as you expected. We have so much influence from the United States, that our national pasion game is baseball, not soccer, like the rest of the south american contries. We re CARIBEAN, and probably the resaon why many people do not share the United States View is the same reason why many others love it, it is the roman empire in roman times, some try to deny it, others just embrace it, but we are a product of the cultural influence of the USA, but not of its prosperity and endevourness, that is why we have the worst of the roman empire at home, the lack of values, the violence, the isolation, but we do not benefit from the profits of an organized and civilzed society, so that is why there are some that hate the US.
I have my diferences with Bush, your Chavez, but I admire and respect the North american people, and yes north american because an american is the one that lives from alaska to the patagonia.
You should pay more attention to your continent heighbors, help them, aid them, and become really abig brother instead of a police officer.
I belive in the US, I belive in venezuela, Lets work together and build a better AMERICA.

Ricardo Ramos

Reality...:

Vic, Vic, I don't agree with some of your comments & JOJO, please look deeper in to the WHY Chavez donated the heating oil...
I am here performing consultant work and have been here off-and-on for quite some time now. I really do appreciate you, Amar, for taking the time to come out here and see what is really is going on. You will see that Venezuelans are more worried about providing for their families and their future than joining the political wagon of Chavez’s incoherent rhetoric portraying our US Government as an Evil Empire… Not once, have I been mistreated for being an “American” by anyone here; not even the custom agents give me a hard time for arriving with a Blue Passport (I hope this continues)…
Chavez and Bush get along better than anyone thinks… Example: CITGO Petroleum Corporation or CITGO is a United States-incorporated, Venezuela-owned refiner and marketer of gasoline, lubricants, petrochemicals and other petroleum products. (Wikipedia)
There is more going on behind all the “Hate” Chavez claims than we are being allowed to see…
I could go on and on and tell you about all the corruption plaguing this country from the highest to lowest levels of government – makes Bush and our Representative look like a Boy Scouts…
Chavez forgives Honduras’ debt to the like of over $30 million dollars and citizens cannot even buy a liter of milk nationwide… hmmmm. Just one example among thousands…

Best of luck Amar! I will surely be looking forward to your story. Be careful and do not wonder to close to the Colombian border - being American and all, the FARC would love to have you over for a long time...

Jojo:

The only reason Bush hates Chavez is because he helps the poor and doesn't pander to Israel. Last winter, when poor Americans were suffering from bitter cold, Chavez gave them free heating oil to sustain themselves. Bush didn't give them a drop of heating oil, but instead gave Israel $30 billion to buy tanks and fighter jets. By giving free heating oil, Hugo Chavez showed that he cares for poor people, whether in Venezuela or America. Bush is a rich spoiled frat boy who panders to the rich. Even his latest economic stimulus package had zero dollars for the poor millions of taxcuts for the very rich, and billions in aid for Israel.

Vic van Meter:

I found it rather heartening you were welcomed to town as an American, but not particularly shocked. Luckily for you, the Venezuelan and American people don't seem to really resent each other all that much. The few Venezuelans I know who made it all the way up here to Ohio have struck me as quite friendly people (though knowing the small sample I have here, it's certainly not difinitive). Most of the tension between the two countries has nothing to do with our people. It has to do with our governments.

It seems rather odd that Chavez and Bush don't get along better, to be honest. They run very similar governments. They both handily attempt to expand their personal executive power, they both use public relations campaigns intended to rhetorically demonize their enemies, and they both recognize the balance of world power at the moment rests on oil. The only reason they seem to dislike each other appears to be traditional. Latin region leftists and American arch-conservatives both hate each other traditionally since Cuba's tension with America in the Cold War (at the very least, and you could argue most effectively that the ire began before, though this is not an area I know much about).

So despite the similarity of our methods and the enormous potential benefits from each other, political considerations keep Venezuela from realizing the potential of its proximity to American industry and America from obtaining oil much closer to home, farther away from Islamic extremists. Quite a political hiccup, that.

One of the things I would like you to ask about, Amar, and perhaps one of the things I suppose I would like to bring up in these discussions, is what America's role should be in our region of the world. Surely, American intervention is a double-edged sword, but I could also see the criticism that America is not engaged ENOUGH with our neighbors. After all, our top foreign aid awards and our media attentions are fixated on countries a hemisphere away. America gives more money to Middle Eastern countries than to the countries literally living on its doorstep. And there is considering that the Middle East tends to be much more hostile to American interests than our Carribbean neighborhood.

Truth be told, America cannot bungle our political dispersal with Latin America as we did in other regions and we have to accept some very basic regional difficulties based on both our past involvements and past negligence of our quiet neighbors. But with Brazil developing almost too fast for its own good, our growing relationship with the Mexicans next door, and the vast resources and potential allies with other South American neighbors, the United States simply cannot afford to fixate obsessively on the Middle East while our proximal region is looking for our technology.

In short, that Venezuelans need to import technological expertise from Iran, China, und so weider is rather a sign of the failure of both the United States and Venezuela's government to negotiate to the best interests of both countries and instead engage in a rhetorical battle about the relative merits of freedom, fascism, and globalism.

I am simply one of those Americans who finds himself amazed that our involvement with industrializing governments so close by is virtually forgotten against our involvement with regions half a world away.

Tom Wallach:

Hey Amar,

I hope you are having fun in Caracas. I haven't been to Venezuela for years, but I have a lot of Venezuelan family, and I am curious what you find there. In perhaps my most reactionary stance, I am extremely anti-Chavez (initially for family reasons, and more and more for his destructive (to Venezuela) policies). I look forward to reading what you find about the way Venezuelans are responding to him, especially in the wake of the failure of his new constitution.

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