For a moment it seemed that the borders of the Kingdom of the Netherlands were in danger. Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez allegedly wanted to annex the islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao, according to the weekend edition of Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf.
As it quickly turned out, Mr Chávez had made an exception for the ‘ABC Islands’ and actually had his eye on the Aves atoll, which is located in the northern part of the Caribbean basin, not far from Dominica.
The commotion caused by inaccurate news coverage shows that the Netherlands might, against its will, become involved in an ongoing conflict between Venezuela and the United States. What’s more, the Dutch press might, before they know it, become an instrument in the US anti-Venezuelan campaign.
What is it all about? Venezuela wants to expand its economic zone to 200 miles from its coast. By doing so, it will own exclusive fishing rights as well as mineral resources. There are lot of fish around Aves and it’s very likely there are huge amounts of gas and oil in the ground as well. Venezuela’s claim is legitimate. The Netherlands has acknowledged Venezuela’s rights to Aves in a bilateral agreement.
However, the fact that Venezuela is now claiming a 200-mile economic zone means that neighbouring countries, such as Dominica, would see their claims reduced, because the zones overlap each other. The claim also demonstrates clearly that Venezuela wishes to play a bigger regional role.
Latin American leader
The expansion of Venezuela’s influence is an element in the dispute between Venezuela and the United States. Hugo Chávez wants to keep US influence on the western hemisphere in check and is using latent anti-US feelings in Latin America to support him in that respect.
Mr Chávez is also provoking the US by getting friendly with countries such as Iran. In doing so, he is showing South Americans that they don’t need to let themselves be spoon fed by the US. This gives him the opportunity to present himself as the new leader of the continent. The United States is looking upon this with concern. An extra thorn in Washington’s side are Mr Chávez’s left-wing policies and his friendship with Cuba’s Fidel Castro.
As in any dispute, the image conveyed by the media is crucial. It is important to manipulate the information in such a way that the general public and the politicians in other countries think that there is a danger that needs to be averted. While Mr Chávez portrays the US as a bogeyman, the US is also managing to on a good show.
Of course, Washington knows full well that the border between the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Venezuela was established in 1978 and that Mr Chávez, in parliament, skirted widely with his marker pen around the Leeward Islands when he indicated how big his country’s economic zone was supposed to be.
Washington also knows about the visit of then Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ben Bot, in July 2006, when the minister reassured Hugo Chávez that the Netherlands wouldn’t allow the US to use the Leewards for an invasion of Venezuela. Mr Chávez, for his part, stated that he had and would make no claim against the islands whatsoever as long as they remain part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
In fact, there is nothing to worry about as far as the Netherlands Antilles are concerned, but that doesn’t fit in with the US’s publicity campaign. The media leave out all this kind of information and simply report that Venezuela wants to expand its borders and, in doing so, is intent on swallowing up the Leeward Islands.
Good relations with Caracas and Washington
This is how the Netherlands has become involved in the dispute between Venezuela and the United States. Venezuela is closely following the inaccurate news coverage, and thinking: ‘Is there a US invasion plan in the making behind the scenes?’
Meanwhile, the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba are scared by the reports from the Netherlands and are asking The Hague to find out and deal with what’s going on in Venezuela. The Hague knows there is no claim to Aruba or the Netherlands Antilles, and that President Chávez has not made such a claim in any speech.
The Hague values good relations with Caracas, not only because of Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles, but also because Dutch businesses have great interests in the country. At the same time the Netherlands also has strong transatlantic ties with the US.
However, the Dutch are afraid of a further escalation of the conflict between Venezuela and the US which would bring about the isolation of Venezuela. In such a position, the Netherlands would be forced to choose between the US and Venezuela, which, in fact, wouldn’t be a real choice
Therefore, the Dutch Foreign Affairs Ministry needs to be very careful about expressing its reactions to the outside world. No one can talk to Minister Verhagen about this subject, because, in an interview, a slip of the tongue is easily made. Soothing statements are the only things heard from the ministry, saying that nothing is wrong and that it attaches great value to cooperation with Venezuela.
The declaration also says that the Netherlands will ask Venezuela for a clarification, and that that is something completely different to asking for an explanation. The primary reason why The Hague has done this is to reassure Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles.
Support for the US
For the time being, the United States is the one sitting pretty, while Venezuela is the one left with the dubious image – for the time being at least. By creating this impression, the US has already managed to win the support of both a political party and a newspaper in the Netherlands. One Dutch conservative parliamentarian has been quick to exclaim:
“Hands off the Antilles and Aruba!”
This week, De Telegraaf was barking up the same tree with the headline “War rhetoric Chávez aimed at Curaçao, Aruba and Bonaire”, even though the true facts have been known for a long time. But facts don’t matter in the dispute between Venezuela and the United States of America.
For more information: www.radionetherlands.nl