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Death Of Hugo Chavez: The Legacy And Void Left In Latin America

Chavez' absence will not be easy to hide
Chavez' absence will not be easy to hide
Ricardo Kirschbaum

BUENOS AIRES - Whatever your view is regarding the Hugo Chávez’ era in Venezuela, it is impossible to ignore two central facts:

1) Chávez was a product of the deep failure of the Venezuelan political system;

2) The deceased president had a strong influence on Latin America, during a historic moment when many countries in the region – Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina – were just beginning to emerge from near-fatal economic crises, with high foreign debt caused by economic policies that affected their internal markets. Chávez’ leadership, then, appeared as a natural expression of this process.

Chávez wound up using oil power to consolidate his profile as national and regional leader, with bold and indepedent policies that had a deep appeal to the working class that tended to forgive his autocratic tendencies as so often happens in such bonapartist movements.

Chávez declared war against the media that did not align with his politics, a strategy that was later replicated in Argentina, Ecuador and Bolivia -- and he didn’t stop until he took control over information in his country.

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Chavez between Argentina's Cristina Kirchner and Bolivia's Evo Morales - Photo: Presidencia de la Nación Argentina

He also provoked, in somewhat of a mirror effect, a direct rejection of the middle class and other sectors of Venezuelan society.

The Venezuelan leader turned into Cuba’s primary ally, supplying the Castrista government with subsidized oil, sealing the relationship with strong presence of Cuban missions – medical and military – in Venezuela.

Argentina and Brazil

Argentina's then President Néstor Kirchner quickly understood the benefits of opening a special channel in the Caracas-Buenos Aires relationship. A former Argentinian ambassador denounced the existence of a “parallel embassy” that administered (and perhaps still does) the economic links with Chávez.

Ex-president Kirchner presented himself as a “moderator” of Chavista politics, and thus, his spokespeople categorized Argentinian politics at the time as moderate. This mediation also affected the Venezuelan Jewish community, which had a negative relationship with Chávez, and of course with Washington.

With Kirchner gone, this “moderation” disappeared little by little until his widow Cristina Kirchner increasingly identified herself with Chávez. The agreement between Argentina and Iran was produced in tune with the excellent relationship that Chávez had with the Tehran regime.

On the contrary, Brazil, had an important influence on Chávez, playing their positions in such a way that Brasilia could reap the benefits without having to pay the extra costs of an open alliance.

Across Latin America, Chávez" absence will not be easy to hide. The political vacancy, beyond the emotional impact, will test the strength of the Chavista regime and the unity of leaders throughout the region.

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Economy

Russian Diamonds Are Belgium's Best Friend — But For How Much Longer?

Belgium has lobbied hard for the past year to keep Russian diamonds off the list of sanctioned goods. Indeed, there would be a huge impact on the economy of the port city of Antwerp, if Europe finally joins with the U.S. and others in banning sale of so-called "blood diamonds" from Russia. But a 10th package of EU sanctions arriving this month may finally be the end of the road.

Photo of a technician examining the condition of a diamond in Antwerp, Belgium

A technician examining the condition of a diamond in Antwerp, Belgium

Wang Xiaojun / Xinhua via ZUMA Wire

Since Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine, the European Union has agreed to nine different packages of sanctions against Russia. With the aim to punish Moscow's leadership and to cripple the war economy, European bans and limits have been placed on imports of a range of Russian products from coal, gas and steal to caviar and vodka — were successively banned over the past 11 months.

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Still, one notable Russian export is a shining exception to the rule, still imported into Europe as if nothing has changed: diamonds.

Russian state conglomerate Alrosa, which accounts for virtually all of the country's diamond production (95%) and deals with more than one-fourth of total global diamond imports, has been chugging along, business as usual.

But that may be about to change, ahead of an expected 10th package of sanctions slated to be finalized in the coming weeks. During recent negotiations, with 26 of the 27 EU members agreeing on the statement that ALSROA’s diamonds should no longer be imported, the one holdout was not surprisingly Belgium.

The Belgian opposition to the ban is explained by the port city of Antwerp, where 85% of the rough diamonds in the world pass through to get cut, polished, and marketed. There are estimates that 30,000 Belgians work for Alrosa.

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