By Alan Caruba
The first thing that came to mind when I read that Hugo Chavez threatened to stop exporting oil to the United States was that, right after Iraq, the next nation in need of liberating just became Venezuela.
Yes, I know we’re stretched a little thin these days when it comes to invading oil-producing nations and my response is hardly nuanced, but the plain fact is that by “nationalizing” Exxon Mobil’s considerable investment and holdings there, Chavez and his merry band of Commies is engaged in theft.
Most of the world’s oil sits under nations that have gone the same route, enriching a thin sliver of those in charge while rarely improving life for everyone else. Exxon Mobil, like other major oil companies, spends billions every year on exploration, extraction, and refining.
I suspect the reason they went to the courts to challenge the Chavez government’s right to nationalize one of its four heavy oil projects in the Orinoco River basin is to recover their investment and to make it clear that such behavior is a threat, not just to Exxon Mobil, but to the entire publicly traded oil industry.
These are the people who are frequently called “Big Oil” and widely criticized for risking billions to make sure the oil keeps flowing. The truth is they don’t control the price of oil. It is a global commodity whose price is set by mercantile exchanges on a daily basis.
As noted, Hugo Chavez has publicly threatened to cut off oil exports to the United States. Since Venezuela is the fourth largest supplier of oil to the U.S., that threat goes way beyond a dispute with Exxon Mobil.
Do you remember the public relations campaign Chavez staged by offering heating oil to low income Americans? He even had one of the Kennedy kids shilling for him in television ads. There have also been a number of Hollywood actors that found time to be photographed with Chavez. He thinks we’re stupid.
Chavez may also think the U.S. is too involved in Iraq and Afghanistan to spare a carrier group to park offshore or that we are too distracted by our national elections. Thugs tend to calculate such matters.
Saddam Hussein overplayed his hand and my guess is that Chavez may well do the same. It’s not like the place is on the other side of the planet. Check the map. It’s a lot closer than that.
What Venezuela needs is a whole new government, one that is not fashioned after Cuba’s. Chavez is making life very unpleasant for Venezuelans who value freedom and the United States, sooner better than later, needs to demonstrate our support for them.