Hoping for a Historical Turning Point

CARACAS/BERLIN | | venezuela

CARACAS/BERLIN (Own report) - In the prelude to the German Chancellor's visit to Latin America at the end of next week, government advisors in Berlin are predicting that the continent is facing a "historical turning point." According to a new analysis by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), it can be expected that the "resignation" of the seriously ill Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez will provoke serious upheavals - not only in Venezuela. Cuba also could be seriously affected, due to its dependence upon Caracas. Without Chávez, Alba, the international alliance that is resisting US-American and European hegemony on the continent, would be lacking a leadership, capable of achieving its objectives, says the SWP. The think tank sees herein a window of opportunity for Berlin. It can be expected that in the coming reshuffle, Brazil will be able to reinforce its standing in South America. In Berlin, this is seen as advantageous, because Brazil is one of Germany's most important Latin American allies. In addition, writes the SWP, this opens up new opportunities for Berlin in the "promotion of democracy" and political "counseling" in Latin America.

Chávez "Withdraws"

In a recently published analysis, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) prophesied a "historical turning point" in Latin America. According to the paper, published a few days ago, this will be caused by "the Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez' withdrawal from politics." Chávez is seriously ill; his state of health is the subject of speculation by interested parties. As SWP writes, for the time being, it is not clear what consequences Chávez' withdrawal will have for Venezuela itself.[1]

The Old Elites

In Germany, as in other European countries and in the USA, Chávez' presidency is primarily associated with a tangible loss of their influence. According to Hamburg's German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA), this is not only due to the Venezuelan government's political decisions to the detriment of western interests, but particularly to the profound social transformation, which has led to the disempowerment of the old elites in the country, who had been in close cooperation with the USA and Europe. Chávez, writes GIGA, had systematically expanded state control of the economy, particularly the oil industry. This was combined with a "redistribution of the intake from oil production" that is now used to fight poverty - with success. The poverty-stricken proportion of the population sank from 48.6 percent in 2002 to 27.8 percent in 2010. Today, the traditional elites are not only excluded from the "decision-making process on how the intake will be used." They have been even further weakened by the rise in taxes on large property owners and "the rigorous prosecution of expulsions and land confiscations," explains GIGA.[2] Their loss of power signifies simultaneously the shrinkage of the influence of their allies in Europe and the USA.

Chavismo without Chávez

The SWP writes that in Venezuela, the perspective of a "Chavismo without Chávez" is "difficult to predict." The opposition can hardly expect to win elections. The "overwhelming (...) success" of the "Chávez-loyal forces" during the regional elections in December is an indication of "the government's widespread roots in the population."[3] According to the SWP, although "one cannot expect" a "rapid collapse" of the government, once Chávez "withdraws," still "internal power struggles among the leadership" are not out of the question. The think tank in Berlin considers that "conflicts resembling a civil war" are improbable, albeit not impossible. The SWP suggests that Berlin seek to intervene in the expected struggles for influence, in which the old elites can hardly remain aloof, with "programs of democracy promotion, revival of institutions and political counseling in regulatory questions." This would correspond to the activities of party-affiliated foundations, such as the CDU-affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation, which is still supporting sectors of the old elite. In the long run, the SWP considers that a reversal of the balance of power is certainly possible. "In the intermediate term, both in Cuba and in Venezuela, democracy and the transformation of the economic order are on the agenda."

Probable Weakening

The upcoming transformations in Venezuela could have a major impact on Cuba, also because of the comprehensive support it receives from Caracas, writes the SWP. Ten percent of Cuba's exports go to Venezuela and 36 percent of its imports come from Venezuela. Assistance, for example oil supplies at a reduced prices, amounted to an estimated 15 percent of the Cuban gross domestic product. One "should not assume" that "possible Chávez successors would make a drastic about-face in their solidarity with Cuba," according to the SWP, but a future government could probably not "legitimize" the costly assistance as "freely" as Chávez did.[4] The SWP therefore anticipates at least a weakening of Cuba.

Brazil as Profiteer

Above all, the SWP predicts that ALBA ("Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América"), the international alliance led by Venezuela and Cuba, could suffer a serious "loss of substance and influence." ALBA was founded in 2004 and today, has eight Latin American member countries.[5] The Alliance aims at formulating policy independently of European and US American influence. SWP reports, for example, that Bolivia and Ecuador - both, ALBA members for years - have succeeded in pursuing "their own paths of development" in the "wake" of Venezuela and its "Socialism for the 21 Century." This has also been possible due to the fact that the aid they received from Venezuela enabled them and other ALBA member countries to enhance their "foreign policy margin of maneuver" in relationship to Latin America's major power, the huge and economically strong Brazil.[6] According to SWP, Caracas will have to significantly reduce its aid to the ALBA member countries in the "post-Chávez era." If this, in turn, would reduce "Venezuela's regional weight," Brazil would "benefit most." The predictable weakening of Venezuela's influence will also give "the USA greater leeway" - "at least in the Caribbean."[7]

Challengers of the USA

Particularly Germany would benefit from the reinforcement of Brazil's position. Already quite some time ago, the GIGA had explained that the elites of Brazil, which is by far the economically strongest country in Latin America, see themselves as "regional challengers of the USA."[8] Berlin is not only seeking to gain influence in Latin America, in general, but is also in competition with the USA - in its own "backyard." Germany has declared Brazil to be its sole "strategic partner" in Latin America and has, for years, systematically been trying to strengthen the cooperation. The German government supports "Brazil's efforts to expand its leadership role in South America,"[9] wrote the author of a comprehensive study of German relations with that South American country, a few years ago. These efforts are aimed at reinforcing Germany's own position in the United States' "backyard," using a close cooperation with a regional power. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[10]) The possible weakening of Venezuela in the post-Chávez era would be helpful.

[1] Günther Maihold: Zeitenwende in Lateinamerika. Venezuela und Kuba nach Hugo Chávez, SWP-Aktuell 2, Januar 2013
[2] Leslie Wehner, Richard Georgi: Hugo Chávez vor der Wiederwahl? GIGA Focus Lateinamerika Nr. 9/2012
[3], [4] Günther Maihold: Zeitenwende in Lateinamerika. Venezuela und Kuba nach Hugo Chávez, SWP-Aktuell 2, Januar 2013
[5] ALBA gehören Antigua und Barbuda, Bolivien, Dominica, Ecuador, Kuba, Nicaragua, St. Vincent und die Grenadinen sowie Venezuela an.
[6] Daniel Flemes, Leslie Wehner: Strategien südamerikanischer Sekundärmächte, GIGA Focus Lateinamerika Nr. 4/2012
[7] Günther Maihold: Zeitenwende in Lateinamerika. Venezuela und Kuba nach Hugo Chávez, SWP-Aktuell 2, Januar 2013
[8] Detlef Nolte, Christina Stolte: Selbstbewusst in die Zukunft: Lateinamerikas neue Unabhängigkeit; GIGA Focus Lateinamerika 12/2010
[9] Claudia Zilla: Brasilien: Eine Regionalmacht mit globalen Ansprüchen, in: Jörg Husar, Günther Maihold, Stefan Mair (Hg.): Neue Führungsmächte: Partner deutscher Außenpolitik? Internationale Politik und Sicherheit Band 62, herausgegeben von der Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, Baden-Baden 2009 (Nomos Verlag)
[10] see also Herausforderer der USA and Partners in Leadership