The humiliating truth that Hugo Chavez was forced to face on September 26 pushed him into going out to look for a nice international massage for his ego. So, on October 13, he set off on a tour of Europe and Asia, while his fellow countrymen were left wondering which countries he would actually be visiting.
The need for a boost to the president's ego is easily understandable given that the loss of the plebiscite must have been hard to take for someone who dreams of hegemonic power. What is so frightening about the whole situation, however, is how much this massage is going to end up costing, plus the total lack of transparency, and absence of any specific goals to be achieved by the tour and the agreements Chavez is signing.
It is extremely difficult to figure out the cost, the significance and the consequences when the government doesn't report on the deals made, not even those that, pursuant to the Constitution, must be submitted to the approval of the National Assembly and the country.
Through the media the Venezuelan people found out that Chavez is selling Venezuela's 50% interest in the Ruhr Oil refinery to Russia for $1.6 billion. The deal was made behind the country's back and nothing at all has been said about how this price was arrived at. According to Humberto Calderon Berti, former Minister of Energy and Petroleum and former president of PDVSA, Ruhr Oil is worth two or three times that amount. Nor, much less, has the country been told what the money will be used for.
The press also reported that Chavez has bought 35 Russian tanks that, according to experts in the field, are obsolete and of no strategic use to the country.
Caught up in his own euphoria, Chavez also announced the construction of a nuclear plant with Russia, to be added to the first nuclear reactor built by IVIC some 50 years ago. The little detail in this case is that not a word has been said concerning the cost of the plant, the technology, or what this nuclear project will be used for. One thing we do know, however, is that Latin America is littered with unfinished nuclear projects that cost their countries millions of dollars.
As though this great frenzy in Russia were not enough, while in Belarus, Chavez told that nation's dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, that he would supply the country with Venezuelan oil for the next two hundred years. Who has authorized Chavez to make pledges the country will have to honor for centuries to come?
Plus, it's anyone's guess what other commitments he will make during the final leg of the tour: Iran, Syria and Portugal.
When President Chavez returns next week, his ego will have been pumped up even more, if that is possible. Unfortunately the country will not really know the size of the mortgage that this massage is leaving for future generations of Venezuelans.