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Pepe Escobar on the Middle East

Chavez and Lula have become heroes on the streets of the Middle East for what’s seen as standing up to the US empire. Has South America become "a beacon of hope" in the Middle East?

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South America’s new direction

PEPE ESCOBAR, TRNN ANALYST: The picture that I see on the ground, especially Middle East, central Asia, which is usually absent from mainstream news, and South America, which is usually absent from mainstream news as well, it’s totally different from what you see on—okay, let’s give the names—BBC, CNN, or even al-Jazeera in English. You know. The point is not to talk to academics or think-tank people. Usually you don’t see reportage of people actually going on the ground and talking to the local population. So usually when you see a feature on Iraq, the Iraqis are background. It’s like they were in a Hollywood movie where you never talk to the locals. The locals are just hired as extras. And this is what happens, basically, when mainstream TV from the north covers everything that happens in the third, the fourth, or the fifth world. It’s amazing. When you contrast this picture of these apocalyptic scenarios of war and despair and profound grief in the Middle East, and then you compare to especially South America, it’s one of the most interesting developments nowadays, and I’m privileged enough to be following both at the same time. A lot of people in the Middle East, they start talking about Chavez, especially Chavez and Lula, which are very popular in the south, in the developing world, not as new messiahs but as examples to be followed. So, you know, Hezbollah thinks, for example, that Chavez is a hero, a nationalist hero. The people in Hamas–the same thing. The Egyptians in the Cairo street; they view South America as a beacon of hope. All over the developing world, in Asia as well, they start looking at South America, which theoretically is so far away, as not only an excellent place for business, for trading opportunities, but politically, you know, they could teach a lot of people in the developing world how to proceed, and especially how to fight from the inside the most obviously disastrous effects of neoliberalism. You cannot take Chavez at face value sometimes. His relationship with Iran in fact has two objectives. One, the most important, inside OPEC they want a high price of oil. So Venezuela and Iran have to maneuver inside OPEC very closely against Saudi Arabia, which can be heavily manipulated by the US. So when Iran and Venezuela want a barrel of oil worth at least $60, preferably $70 or $80, and Saudi Arabia says, no, it can drop to $50 no problem, this is against the interests of both Iran and Venezuela. Another thing is for Chavez, in his reading of the Iranian revolution is relatively similar to how he reads other revolutions in the world—it was a liberating revolution. It’s not necessarily the case, but he equates Iranian resistance to American imperialism to, now, Venezuela’s resistance against American imperialism. So it’s very rhetoric, it’s very vocal, but it’s not extremely substantial. What Chavez is really interested in is basking in his glory of being Chavez of Arabia for the people in the streets of Cairo, in the streets of Amman, in the streets of Beirut, in Dubai, in Qatar, in Bahrain. He doesn’t care too much about the Iranian public opinion. When he goes to Iran, he meets officials, and they talk about OPEC matters, basically. So, obviously, if Iranians also see Chavez of Arabia or Chavez of Persia as the great liberator, even better, but he’s not particularly interested in this matter. He knows he is more popular in the Arab world than almost any leader you can imagine perhaps except Sheik Nasrallah of Hezbollah.

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