Mr. Chávez's Friends

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

THE LATEST Global Attitudes survey by the Pew Foundation contains a lot of bad news for the United States, but there was one relative bright spot in Latin America: Venezuela. According to Pew, 56 percent of Venezuelans say they have a favorable view of the United States, a higher number than in Britain or Canada. Seventy-one percent say they like U.S. television and movies and a stratospheric 84 percent feel positively about Americans. Though only 23 percent say they have confidence in George W. Bush, the U.S. president's rating is almost 50 percent higher in Venezuela than that of Russian President Vladimir Putin or Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Those numbers cast an interesting light on the foreign policy of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who describes the United States as an evil empire and Mr. Bush as "the devil," and who just completed a tour of three countries he sees as close allies in a global anti-American alliance: Russia, Iran and Belarus. He addressed each of their leaders as "brother" and called for ever-closer economic and military bonds between their governments and his. This raises an obvious question: For whom was Mr. Chávez speaking?

His hosts clearly had something to gain. Belarus, known as Europe's last dictatorship, is such a pariah that its ruler, Alexander Lukashenko, is now shunned even by his longtime patron, Mr. Putin; he was delighted to be visited by any head of state. Belarus and Venezuela share "absolutely identical" views, Mr. Lukashenko giddily proclaimed.

In Moscow, where Mr. Chávez next stopped, the interest is mostly pecuniary. Mr. Putin has sold Mr. Chávez $3.5 billion in weapons in the past several years and is eager to peddle more. While in Russia, Mr. Chávez talked of buying submarines and toured an aircraft factory, inspecting Moscow's latest attack helicopter and petulantly asking why he hadn't been shown it before he bought 53 less-advanced Russian helicopters last year. Then he gave a lengthy speech in which he rued the demise of the Soviet Union.

Mr. Ahmadinejad also had good reason to welcome Mr. Chávez at a time when his government faces a new round of sanctions by the U.N. Security Council. His Venezuelan visitor obliged, defending Iran's nuclear program and promising to "unite the Persian Gulf and the Caribbean." "I thank God that Iran and Venezuela are standing together forever," Mr. Chávez said.

According to Pew, 81 percent of Venezuelans oppose Iran's acquiring a nuclear weapon, but Mr. Chávez is looking beyond his country, hoping to become the leader of global opposition to the United States. As the Pew survey shows, there's plenty of it out there, but Mr. Chávez is not the beneficiary. In only three of the 47 countries surveyed by Pew does he inspire confidence in 50 percent or more of those questioned: Venezuela, Mali and Ivory Coast. In Russia his rating is 21 percent. In Peru, Chile and Mexico, Mr. Chávez's numbers are far below those of the despised Mr. Bush. The answer to the question of whom Venezuela's president represents emerges from the data: No one, other than himself.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company