If you are looking for a silver lining in the dark clouds of Bush’s foreign policy, I think I may have found one. In the past we would now be at war with Venezuela.

President Hugo Chavez ordered by decree on Monday the takeover of oil projects run by foreign oil companies in Venezuela’s Orinoco River region.

Chavez had previously announced the government’s intention to take a majority stake by May 1 in four heavy oil-upgrading projects run by British Petroleum PLC, Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips Co., Total SA and Statoil ASA.

He said Monday that has decreed a law to proceed with the nationalizations that will see state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA, or PDVSA, taking at least a 60 percent stake in the projects.

“The privatization of oil in Venezuela has come to an end,” he said on his weekday radio show, “Hello, President.” “This marks the true nationalization of oil in Venezuela.”

Of course, this is all going on in a wider context.

Private companies pumping oil elsewhere in Venezuela submitted to state-controlled joint ventures last year, and few resisted because they were reluctant to abandon Venezuela, which has the largest oil deposits outside of the Middle East.

Chavez has been given special powers by congress for 18 months to issue laws by decree in energy and other areas, which he has used to nationalize the country’s biggest telecommunications company and electricity company in recent days.

Chavez has justified the nationalizations as necessary to give the government control of sectors “strategic” to Venezuela’s interests.

There used to be a little thing called the Monroe Doctrine, or the Dulles Bros. Doctrine, or just a kind of gentleman’s agreement, that Latin American countries don’t do stuff like tell Exxon (or ITT or the United Fruit Company) to go get fucked. Used to be, you do stuff like that and we bring the shithammer down. But Bush is so distracted that the most we can muster is a few nasty and factually inaccurate columns in the Washington Post. Of course, gentlemen still think this behavior by Chavez is deplorable and makes him an anti-American, al-qaeda loving dictator.

I don’t really have an opinion on whether Chavez is making good decisions or not. What I do know is that he has been elected repeatedly (in 1999, in 2000, and 2004). The Carter Center certified the 2004 election (.pdf) as free and fair. He survived a coup attempt in 2002 that was welcomed in Washington DC.

He’s the President of Venezuela and he can do what he wants. We have no right to threaten him or try to undermine the stability of his government. And it looks like we might just be weak enough that we will let him get away with nationalizing all the oil fields and telecommunications in his country. If you want to look for a silver lining, being bogged down in Iraq might just mean that we are incapable of giving Venezuela a new Augusto Pinochet to ruin their lives over the next couple of decades.

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