Brazil Makes the Top Ten Nations [in oil]... Musings on what this means for Chavez [Is he un metido?]

Yesterday Petrobras (Brazil's national oil company) announced that the Tupi oil field (the deep sea field named after the indigenous language group from South America) had between 5 and 8 billion barrels of recoverable oil. This effectively increases Brazil's oil reserves by 40% (it had about 14 billion proven barrels previously) and raised Petrobras stock by 24%. It also, according to the Brazilians, thrusts them into the top ten oil possessing/producing countries (in the neighborhood of Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, or Venezuela). Because Brazil's oil is offshore and deep sea, that country has invested in its deep sea drilling expertise. This is all well and good, but the question it raises for me is: What's going to happen with Venezuela?

That the US government doesn't like the current leadership in that country is no secret. We quickly recognized the legitimacy of a coup in the 90s when it overthrew Chavez for a few days. Pat Robertson said that since we had "the ability to take him out" the time had come "exercise that ability" in 2005. (Incidentally, Robertson's endorsement of Giuliani this week probably ruffled a few feathers within the camp of GOP candidates hoping for the approval of the Christian Right... a group that continues to be unsatisfactorily analyzed by the media.) And when Chavez said in the UN that the podium from which President Bush had spoken still smelled of sulfur ("Ayer el diablo vino aquĂ­. En este lugar huele a azufre"), US Democrats, who usually trip over each other in their eagerness to outdo one another in finding ways to insult him, told Venezuela's president to back off... This is one of those things when it's okay to say whatever you wish about your brother, but when an outsider says the slightest criticism, it's right out.

Nevertheless, the US dislike of a ruler of a Latin American country does not mean that his days are necessarily numbered (read: Castro, whose presidential days have numbered nearly 6 decades). One of the problems Chavez may encounter is from his neighbors. Yes, his vision of distributing the resources of Latin America to the people of Latin America (as opposed to its elites) has great popularity. Yes, his vision of a pan-Latin American unity such as that dreamt of by Bolivar articulates to a historical ideal on the continent. Yes, his criticisms of the disastrous results of relying on relations with the US to bring development are broadly accepted, nearly incontrovertible truths for most in Latin America.

But he's also a little bit metido and I wonder what will happen if he pisses off too many of his neighbors. His meeting with FARC surely annoys Colombia. And though Lula is part of the pink tide sweeping Latin America, Brazil is not happy to have Chavez telling them how they should run their country. Chavez' personalistic rule is his strength and his potential downfall. Will Latin American nationalism be his undoing? His demonstrated ability to impact local economies with Venezuela's oil wealth (buying up Argentina government bonds) makes him popular but does it build resentment? As other oil wealth is found within the region and Venezuelan primacy erodes, will other sentiments towards him arise? Will fear of irrelevance force Chavez' hand? Given nearly two centuries of independence and nationalist sentiment, would South America sit still while a populist leader with continental ambitions and the ability to influence neighboring national economies asserts his relevance?

Perhaps this line of questioning comes from looking at Paraguay's past where its personalistic leader, acting internationally (in Uruguay's independence movement/civil war), brought upon Paraguay the wrath of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, united in a pledge to stop at nothing until Lopez was dead and in the process literally decimated Paraguay's male population.

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