December 11th, 2011
10:00 PM ET

Zakaria: The Hugo Chavez show

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

Last week saw the debut of a big new regional alliance. Thirty three countries came together to promote relations in the Americas. But, guess what - America itself (that is, the United States of America) was missing. And that was the point.

What in the World is going on?

To explain, let me tell you a bit more about the summit. It's called "CELAC" - a Spanish acronym for "the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States." It was held in Caracas, Venezuela, and the organizer was none other than that perennial America basher - President Hugo Chavez.

With great fanfare, Chavez proclaimed the summit to be the region's most important political event in more than a century - there would now be
complete "independence" from American interference.

Chavez made a point of hosting Cuba - a country he subsidizes, and one with which Washington has no formal relations. He also read out a letter of congratulations for creating the new regional bloc - the letter was from Hu Jintao, China's president.

Venezuela's attempts to irk Washington are not surprising. But don't expect too many countries to follow his lead. What the CELAC summit has really highlighted is how divided Latin America is. Haiti and Honduras have very little in common with Argentina and Brazil. Venezuela and Cuba have a completely different set of foreign policy goals from that of Mexico and Colombia.

There is little sense of a shared political or economic agenda. And, in any case, there already exists a number of regional groups. Brazil heads up the Union of South American Nations, or UNASUR. Then there's the OAS, or the Organization of American states. But that's led by Washington, and it excludes Cuba.

What struck me as odd though, is why the leaders of strong emerging markets like Brazil and Mexico are giving Mr. Chavez a platform to peddle his failed ideas - ideas that none of them are following. Remember, this is a man who has somehow managed to lead his oil-rich country to 30% inflation, a contracting economy and mass poverty - quite a feat.

Meanwhile, his neighbors have turned South America into a rising economic force. The continent grew by 6% last year, and is on course to grow by 5% this year. Its countries have low ratios of public debt and its growth is increasingly driven by the consumption of the millions of new South Americans entering the middle class.

These are the factors that give its leaders the confidence and swagger that you now see at regional summits. But there are worrying signs of speed bumps ahead. By some estimates, regional growth will slow to 3.2% in 2012. There are real challenges that have to be met - the region has high inflation, low labor productivity and still too many subsidies to various inefficient sectors of the economy.

The slowdown is best evidenced by the performance of its biggest star, Brazil. Last week it reported its economy actually contracted in the last quarter. One more such quarter and it enters a technical recession.

The good news is that Brazil has the means to come out of it. But to do that it needs to enact a new set of reforms, opening up its economy to boost productivity - in other words, to do the opposite of what Hugo Chavez's model represents. Perhaps that's why the presidents of Brazil and Argentina didn't stick around for a second day of the Chavez show. They took an early flight out.

For more of my thoughts throughout the week, I invite you to follow me on Facebook and Twitter and to visit the Global Public Square every day. Also, for more What in the World? pieces, click here.


soundoff (94 Responses)
  1. Prof. Zubairi

    Farid is wandering. Instead of explaining how Chavez succeeded in holding this summit, he is trying to convince Brazil not to cooperate with Chavez. Farid that ship has already sailed.

    December 14, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Reply
  2. Jason

    No problem. We'll be back when Ron Paul is elected and the revolution and reinvention of the US takes place.

    December 14, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Reply
  3. Carolina

    As a Venezuelan citizen living in Caracas, one of the most dangerous cities in the world, I have to say that the summit was just another attempt from the president to play the role of the "unifier hero of latin america", but once you hear his speech is just more of the same anti-imperialism (anti-USA). The whole point of not including USA and Canada is to be independant from them and promote the economy between the 33 countries, however, the economic situation in Venezuela is far from good, the government's polcies have shown no results, instead we keep sinking more and more everyday, how are we suppose to help each other if we can't even solve our own internal problems? I believe the summit was a total waste of money and time and as Zakaria said, a Hugo Chavez Show.

    December 15, 2011 at 9:48 am | Reply
  4. Clarissa

    I agree with everything, but I didn't like the phrase: " guess what – America itself (that is, the United States of America) was missing."... I hate when people refer to the United States as a America... America is much more than the United States...

    December 17, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Reply
  5. dwighhtuth

    People think that Hugo Chavez was standing the Manger scene as a form of self idealism. He wasn't. Hugo Chavez was making a point that he is the childrens protector in Venezuala. He is saying that drug dealers and slave traders who come looking to take away Venezuala's children are going to have to get through him first. Hugo is putting himself personally between the evil of Venezuala and the Children of Venezuala as their protector.

    December 17, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Reply
  6. Manny

    Dictators, wackos, caudillos and some other examples of our fauna come and go. Chavez is another example of a leader mentally deranged problems dreaming about deceased politics that he calls "Socialism of the XXI Century". Just go to Venezuela but I will advise you not to walk in Caracas at night. Venezuela has one the highest criminal indexes in Latin America albeit the already mentioned 30% inflation rate. Those who want to know more about Chavez just check in You Tube "Chavez y la diarrea", is all in Spanish, but at least you will laugh at his ramblings and stupid comments.

    December 17, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Reply
    • José Henrique

      Manny, United States sponsored the Condor Operation, a military effort to introduce all the Latin American dictatorships. In Brazil, the presidents Cardoso, Lula and Dilma were victims of the concentration camps created by this operation. You created the motto: "America for Americans", and the "Big Stick"... Your history represents to Latin America a symbol of tyranny. That´s why we don´t believe in your speechs of "democracy".

      December 18, 2011 at 8:33 am | Reply
      • Jaqier

        Its unfortunate that there are so many ignorant people here in the US who have a capacity to influence the world for good but just have not woken up and heard about the lies they are being fed. Thank you for explaining to Manny about Operation Condor.

        April 8, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
  7. Chris

    How is it that the majority of the Americas get prescribed as "Latin America" and USA (which is only a fraction of the Americas) get to be purely America? This notion that "Latin America" is somehow a secondary portion of the Americas is demonstrated by many, even "Latin" Americans, and in this article. The US wasn't present, but America WAS present; the fact that you don't consider the rest of America as American is another issue (and a deeper one, frankly). Viva America!

    December 18, 2011 at 7:20 pm | Reply
    • DoNotWorry

      Nonsense that gets repeated too often does not become the truth. United States of America is too long to say. United States of Americans routinely shorten EVERYTHING... and commonly say U.S. or America. It means nothing about the rest of the continent of North America or the continent of South America.

      December 19, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Reply
  8. FedupwithLA

    Chavez es la boca grande. What did the Spanish king tell him to do a while back at the last Latin American conference? He didn't listen then, and he won't listen now. Kim Jong Il is dead, so who's next, Señor Chavez? It can happen to you!

    December 19, 2011 at 4:41 am | Reply
    • DoNotWorry

      Death happens to everyone.

      December 19, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Reply
  9. Izabella

    Dearest Fareed,
    I wish you would change the thumbnail for your "The Hugo Chaves Show" piece. Myself being a Brazilian, it hurts to see my beautiful flag right behind him. Educated people will know Mr. Chaves has little to do with Brazil, but we can't tell what subconscious effect that visual association would produce.
    Your Number One Brazilian Fan

    December 19, 2011 at 8:00 am | Reply
    • José Henrique

      CNN is always doing this kind of thing. And they go beyond it.
      They offend Brazilians with pictures of BANANAS and WASTE DEPOSITS, everytime they speak about our country. That´s a huge demonstration of bias.

      December 21, 2011 at 6:58 am | Reply
      • José Henrique

        In short: CNN means VANDALISM.

        December 21, 2011 at 7:01 am |
  10. FareedNoShow

    The fact that 33 nations showed up demonstrates that they are sticking it up to the USA. And of course a nervous Fareed Zakaria tries his very best to put a dampener on this party by salaciously bad-mouthing it by any means. Speaks volumes of the kind of journalism that CNN has these days.

    December 19, 2011 at 9:50 am | Reply
  11. Jaqier

    Its about time the Americas start coming to a consensus that benefits them and not the US. So much subversion and theft has happened in that region in the last one hundred years by US. I already see the eye of sauron instigating the petroleum rich countries in the America's; they better start thinking of building deterrents before we invade in the name of Democracy.

    April 8, 2012 at 7:28 pm | Reply
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