Saturday, January 31, 2009

He May Have a Point!

You have to hand it to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. For all his bluster, socially-challenged manners, and (lest we forget) interminable oratory, every now and then he recognizes an opportunity to score diplomatic points; and it is usually the United States that provides the opportunity. Consider the following report from Reuters this morning:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez urged U.S. President Barack Obama to extradite an anti-Castro Cuban exile wanted in Venezuela who the administration of George W. Bush had refused to hand over.

Extradition of former CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles, accused of plotting the 1976 bombing of a Cuban jet that killed 73 people, could improve bilateral ties that have for years been frayed by a war of words between the Bush administration and Venezuela.

"Send us the terrorist Posada Carriles," Chavez said in a televised speech late on Friday. "We've been waiting four years for the extradition of the biggest terrorist in human history."

The Bush administration had refused to hand over Posada after he was arrested in the United States for entering the country illegally, sparking harsh criticism of a double standard in Washington's war on terror.

Like it or not, there is something to be said for that accusation of double standards, which is basically grounded in Bush's simplistic division of the world into good and evil, with the corollary that "agents of evil" (Hamas being the most recent example) are not included in diplomatic discussions. On the surface this appears to be an attempt by the Venezuelan government to put Gore Vidal's perspective on terrorism into practice by prosecuting a bombing incident as a terrorist act. Presumably the Bush Administration failed to cooperate since it regarded Chavez as one of those agents in evil and deduced that it would be impossible for Carriles to get a fair trial in Venezuela, regardless of whether there was any evidence to support that conclusion.

Basically, then, Chavez is appealing to Obama's sense of fairness in the arena of countries respecting each other's criminal justice systems. I am not suggesting that this will be an easy call for Obama. However, if he refuses Chavez' request, then, for the sake of his standing in the global community, he had better present Chavez with an air-tight argument for that refusal. Chavez has deliberately put Obama on a spot that the whole world may decide to watch (and we can count on Chavez persuading the rest of the world to look at that spot); and my guess is that the world will be expecting to see Obama's reputation for cool-headed reason satisfied, rather than abandoned for any cheap rhetorical tricks.

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