Sunday, April 5, 2009

Danny Chavez Reconsidered

When Danny Williams gets compared to Hugo Chávez, the assumption is that this means that Williams' political apoplexy prevents him from cutting deals with enemies.

The assumption is that this occlusion (rooted in some combination of grandiosity and sociopathy) draws on a genuine ideology that subordinates commerce to politics.

This assumption is wrong. If Danny Williams is, in fact, anything like Chávez, the results may surprise some observers.

For all Chávez's socialist rhetoric, Venezuela continues to enjoy a close economic relationship with the United States. The US is still one of Venezuela's most important trading partners; even during the nadir of the Bush presidency, trade between the two countries actually increased. The US is Venezuela's largest oil customer and a major foreign investor.

James Surowiecki raises some interesting parallels. He writes, "Chávez has been the beneficiary of excellent timing: oil prices have quintupled since he took over, allowing him to hand out billions of dollars to the poor. But he has done little to diversify the nation’s industrial base and lessen the economy’s dependence on oil, while his few tepid ventures into state ownership or coöperatives will have no meaningful economic impact. The result is that the ties between the U.S. and Venezuela have actually tightened."

Surowiecki's short article is worth a full reading, especially the last paragraph. Try substituting anti-Canadianism for anti-Americanism:

As the Hydro spin cycle continues, it's worth keeping in mind that NL faces essentially the same constraints as it did three years ago. For a sense of perspective, see this 2006 piece in Maclean's:

One quotation in particular jumps out: "although the science fiction of a marine route that bypasses Quebec and flows energy from Labrador to, say, Boston, would have a price tag worthy of NASA."

Ottawa may be a planet away from this story right now, but sooner or later the federal government will play an important role in the Hydro drama. Whether it acts as the Deus ex machina is anyone's guess, but the emergence of a modus vivendi between Ottawa and St. John's remains a necessary condition for any major development of Churchill Falls.

It's no accident that the Hydro story remains enmeshed in the rhetoric of Newfoundland nationalism; for DW, the separatist threat remains a useful political tool. But while it's still useful in provincial politics, federal politics is an entirely different matter: 2009 is not 2004.

Here's a flashback to 2004, courtesy of Bond Papers: "Public optimism was shattered as Williams stormed from the meeting, flew back to St. John's and scheduled a media briefing for December 22. He announced there was no Christmas present from Paul Martin. Williams' talked of getting a slap in the face.Then he ordered Canadian flags to be taken from every provincial building. "Why would we fly their flag and pretend everything is rosy?" he told reporters at Confederation Building." [my emphasis]. See

So here's a question: is DW more captive to his populist nationalism than Chávez is to his populist socialism?

For further reading on Chávez, see:

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