Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

WEEKLY SELECTION-VENEZUELA: Human Rights Keystone of Foreign Policy

Estrella Gutierrez

CARACAS, Mar 13 1999 (IPS) - Venezuela will play a lead role in consolidating a world culture of respect for human rights through the international forums it belongs to, Foreign Minister Jose Vicente Rangel said.

This objective is one of the fundamental elements of the new foreign policy of the Hugo Chavez government, which took power on February 2 with the promise of leading a “democratic and peaceful revolution.”

In interview with IPS, Rangel, a 69 year-old with 56 years experience as a political activist “in the depths of the opposition” – a left-wing figure supporting investigative journalism – outlined the new diplomatic plans of Venezuela.

A new model which defends human rights at home and abroad will mean “profound changes in the relationship with non governmental organisations and institutions, like Amnesty International and others.”

“We want the best possible relations with these entities and as co-workers in the effort to defend human rights in Venezuela and the world,” he stated, explaining that the era of outright rejection of unproved denunciations is now over.

“On the contrary, they will be accepted, examined and a response will be given,” explained the minister, also nominated by Chavez as the “political voice” of his government, along with Luis Miquilena, another veteran leader of the left and new interior minister.

“Another pivot point will be the environmental policy, because a fundamental issue for Venezuela is to protect our ecological wealth and surroundings, whereby we will actively join the great environmental movement in the world today,” he explained.

This would be the best way to resolve the equation of a country with a great diversity of ecosystems, some more fragile than others, and mining and oil resources, the latter of which form the basis of the nation’s economy.

“We will seek allies and technical assistance in order to promote a technological respose to our problems based on sustainable development (which includes the environmental variable),” he said.

These two new pillars of Venezuela’s foreign policy form part of Chavez’s plan seeking to “harmonise globalisation with national characteristics and elements.”

Rangel stated “globalisation and the national profile are elements which must not be exclusive. The linking of these bring the country the development we seek and the exercising of a sovereign and independent foreign policy.”

Chavez – a retired lieutenant colonel who assumed the presidency with a left-wing alliance and former coup officials following a failed attempt to take power by force in 1992 – has signed his government on the so-called “third way,” equally far from “savage neoliberalism” and the orthodox left.

Rangel – who in the last 15 years abandonned active politics to become a leading former of public opinion, producing articles and television programmes – stated the globalised world has a series of challenges to face.

“For a country like Venezuela, one of the major challenges is to sovereignly define its economic and social policies, without entering into conflict with the globalisation process,” he confirmed.

Within this definition, and given its situation, Venezuela’s foreign policy “must first deal with its condition as an oil- producing country.”

“The strong mark of the oil sector in our diplomacy signifies prioritising relations with other oil producers and at the same time the oil consumers,” he argued, stressing that “the foreign ministry will fully assume this oil-producing element.”

A second essential point “is the multilateral and bilateral, projected onto the economic and commercial,” for the experience of the positive explosion of trade with Colombia, to be projected onto the other three partners of the Andean Community (Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru) and other neighbours, like Brazil and Guyana.

“Integration must be the aim of foreign policy in a country like ours, not only via the blocs, but going beyond the blocs we belong to,” explained Rangel.

The foreign minister argued this was the reasoning behind him insisting on projecting himself beyond the Andean Community during this first month in power, stating that “the Mercosur (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) are all in Venezuela’s sights.”

The minister stated this objective “is not aimed at weakening or disintegrating the Andean Community, seeking a more ambitious target,” hand in hand hand with the Andean group. “The further we can advance together, the better,” he stated.

“The Andean Community is not and end in itself, but a stage on the way to Latin American integration,” explained Rangel, pointing out that this strategy was well received by the other Andean partners, once he had explained it during a meeting in Bogota in late February.

As part of this intense diplomatic drive, pushed along by globalisation and national interests, Rangel also cited the quest for ever closer links with the English speaking Caribbean Community, the European Union, Canada and Mexico.

Not forgetting the United States, “now on excellent terms,” after initial “apprehension and suspicion.” As a former military insurgent, Chavez was refused a visa until January, when he travelled to Washington as president elect to meet US President Bill Clinton.

According to Rangel, Washington has understood “the Venezuelan case is far from typical and instead of making an enemy of it, as perhaps would have happened in the past, it will rather try to set rules of the game, and this is positive for both parties.”

Another objective of the new foreign policy will be the battle against drug trafficking, which up until now, in the foreign minister’s opinion, has been handled without the international stress it requires, keeping it an internal police matter.

“The war on drug trafficking must be assumed as a foreign policy priority because it has become a world issue which can only be resolved by equally global action,” he said.

“Furthermore, there are many problems with the image Venezuela is projecting abroad, as a consequence of becoming one of the important narcotrafficking channels,” admitted the foreign minister.

He said the war on drugs, in Venezuela’s opinion, should be a two-way street, tackling, on the one hand, production, processing and transport, and, on the other, consumption and money laundering.

Rangel said the government will promote multilateral treatment of the problem in the world forums, and has started to make contracts with the United States, Canada, Britain, France and Spain, for technical and other support to reinforce action against drug trafficking.

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