Venezuela and Africa: Another failed approach.
Caracas, Venezuela, 31 August 2008. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will shortly depart to South Africa to enhance bilateral relations during a two day official visit. This is not his first visit to an African country. Chavez has attempted to direct his country attention towards African issues since 2004. However, the Venezuelan foreign policy towards Africa remains plagued by bureaucratic misunderstanding and romantic views. Thus, it is as distant as before. In the meanwhile, Venezuelan oil expertise and investments are kept aside by rivalling Chinese, American and Brazilian interests in Africa. Furthermore and after penning 120 commercial during the Chavez administration, commercial exchange with Africa remains rather meagre. As a whole Venezuelan trade with Africa is less than one million dollars. Caracas is certainly not plowing for a sustainable foreign policy or presence in Africa.
President Chavez appointed Reinaldo Bolívar as a political diplomat to conduct the newly created vice ministry for African Affairs three years ago. Bolivar, a Spanish-speaking-only university professor, had managed to chair the local International Relations School at Venezuelan Central University (UCV). After taking office, vice minister Bolivar funded the new foreign policy- African Agenda- on the literary concept of negritude as it Africa only had one colour of the skin. Such short sighted view excluded many in Africa. In addition, Venezuelan Sephardi Jews who migrated from Morocco could certainly not be served by such lacking approach. Then, maverick Bolivar managed to get some of his professor allies into the foreign service. One such appointments had a fatal ending at an OPEC ally of Venezuela. Professor David Rafael Paravisini, who is a founding member of Fatherland for All (Patria Para Todos , PPT), was declared persona non grata in Libya after serving for just few months. His personal and drinking behaviour made his diplomatic career rather short. Only on Thursday and after more than two years without a Venezuelan Ambassador, Libya accepted the current Charge d´Affairs, Afif Tajeldine, as head of mission.
Vice minister Bolivar also attempted to establish bilateral diplomatic relations with all African countries. Fuelled by revenues coming from higher oil prices, ten new Venezuelan Embassies were created to serve such end. This oppening has increased the total number of diplomatic missions to 18. But, they are mostly staffed by members of the opposition at the foreign service as European offices are reserved to pro government diplomats. This enhanced diplomatic coverage on Africa has placed Venezuela third in latin American formal presence in Africa. It is third only after Brazil and Cuba. But with such diplomatic appointments and obvious lack of enthusiasm from opposition diplomats, this official presence has not allowed Venezuela to make any meaningful stand on pressing issues or regional problems in Africa. Democracy, Zimbabwe, Nigerial rebels, Darfur, EU immigration, drug trafficking, Ethiopia, UN sexual abuses or HIV/AIDS are left unattended in the name of a romantic negritude approach. Thus, vice Minister Bolivar mostly comments on international issues not pertaining Africa at all. In an Oxfam post colonial approach, Venezuela promotes a school sponsoring scheme with very little success. Sadly, just two Gambian kids with heart problems have been helped by the local social programmes. And, few Mali citizens have come to Venezuela to study medicine. Unlike Cuba, Venezuela has no been able to lure medics into going to Africa in a humanitarian mission. Nor has it been able to entice local business into African investments. Nevertheless, Venezuela has provided financial assistance to Mali through FAO. It also intends to help Cuba with an anti malaria and litteracy programmes.
Venezuela is going to host an international conference on Africa and Latin America on November 2008. Very little should be expected from the Caracas involvement in the African continent. Much more would certainly be proposed from a Cuban and Brazilian perspectives.