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Populism and Foreign Politics: The case of the Bolivarienne Republic of Venezuela (1998-2006)

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On 13 August 2006, Venezuelan President Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias was at the bedside of Maximo Lider to celebrate the eightieth anniversary of the latter, hospitalized since late July. While most Western governments are already preparing for the "post Castro" period, the leader of the "Bolivarian Revolution" continues to openly support his friend and hero. This friendly meeting follows a visit to Russia at the end of which Hugo Chavez has found support from Vladimir Putin to support his request for a non-permanent seat on the Security Council of the United Nations ( UN).

While the Venezuelan president begins a fourth official visit to China in late August of that year in order to conclude an oil deal, the media announced that he will visit North Korea, a country of the "Axis of Evil " as dubbed by the Americans before touring Angola and Malaysia. Chavez's speech condemning U.S. imperialism and openly criticizing George W. Bush seems to follow a provocative diplomacy towards the United States.

However, Venezuela continues to maintain diplomatic relations with the superpower which is, moreover, its first customer as regards oil.Previously quiet on the international stage, Venezuela seems, under the leadership of a new head of state, to be increasingly visible. These changes raise the question of the Venezuelan strategy in external behavior and the relationship of cause and effect with the arrival at the head of the State of the Bolivarian leader. If one relies on the realist theory of International Relations, Venezuela should act in order to achieve its "national interest defined in terms of power" that would commit to a policy of balance of power.

At present, the dominant power is clearly the United States: leading economic, financial and military power in the world; a superpower that Venezuela cannot hope to substantially vie against on the material plane. Still looking for new partners, both economically and politically, Venezuela's recent advances towards China, Russia and Iran seem to disturb the American strategists. The liberal paradigm assumes, however, that the "invisible political hand " transforms the divergent interests of citizens in the national interest to help the common good and promotes a peaceful and cooperative behavior internationally.

However, opposition to the Chavez government is now increasing in Venezuelan society, which is highly polarized despite the success of the current government. Strengthening the role of the military in civil society, opening the way for a new "phase in the Revolution" is also no stranger to these difficulties. Moreover, the threat of retaliation on the part of Venezuela against any possible attack from the United States questions the relevance of the liberal paradigm in this case.

Apparently misunderstood and generally perceived as contradictory, Venezuela's foreign policy today seems so resistant to theorizing. This applies also to the style of the Bolivarian leader himself, often described as enigmatic, sometimes seen as a "boss" personality by the media, sometimes imposing, sometimes supported, or feared, sometimes as an irresponsible or a speaker with no talent and a "populist" demagogue without much ability to make effective the words he utters.

Tags: Venezuelan politics, International Relations theories, Latin American politics, Hugo Chavez

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