Chavez, Blair, and Invoking International Law
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has spun up a tiff with Tony Blair in which the words “international law” are getting flung around a lot. To little effect. According to the BBC:
On Wednesday in the House of Commons, Mr Blair was asked by Colin Burgon, an MP from his Labour party, whether Britain should follow "a really right-wing US republican agenda" in relation to Venezuela.
"It is rather important that the government of Venezuela realise that if they want to be respected members of the international community they should abide by the rules of the international community," Mr Blair replied.
"I also have to say with the greatest respect to the president of Venezuela that when he forms an alliance with Cuba I would prefer to see Cuba a proper functioning democracy."
Mr Chavez, a close ally of Cuba's Fidel Castro, retorted: "You, Mr Blair, do not have the morality to call on anyone to respect the rules of the international community.
"You are precisely the one who has flouted international law the most... siding with Mr Danger [George Bush] to trample the people in Iraq."
The next day, Venezuela’s Vice Foreign Minister Pavel Rondon sent a letter to British Ambassador Donald Lamond which said that Venezuela categorically rejected Blair's comments and noted that international law meant respect for the legality of other countries. CNN reports that the letter said:
"The serious distortion in his words in confusing 'the rules of the international community' with the norms and principles of International Law has not gone unnoticed by our government," the letter said.
"This type of confusion has facilitated, permitted and induced the worst atrocities against the world's peoples."
I plan on writing more on this in the coming days but two quick comments fro the moment:
First, while the rhetoric is hot and the tit-for-tat ousting of diplomatic personnel by the U.S. and Venezuela is a (slight) escalation, for the moment what we still have here is essentially posturing for the domestic audience by Chavez. Oil sales are still proceeding between Venezuela and the U.S. and, until that comes seriously into question, I think what we have here is more an attempt to shore up domestic politics by Chavez as well as a bid for more regional political clout. Whether his rhetoric turns into more active attempts to frustrate American policies remains to be seen. (Actually, I think it probably will…)
Second, despite the ridiculous context of this spat with the British has actually brought up an interesting point: the disparity between what people think international law says versus what it actually says. For a humorous example, think of Roger’s post on the woman invoking the “International Court of Law” in relation to a spelling bee. On a less humorous side, see how Venezuela argues that it is the U.K. misstating International Law (though it is not clear what the actual miss-statement was) and thus Venezuela itself wraps its own actions—legal or otherwise—in the mantle of respectability.
I’ve been wrestling with whole issue of legal rhetoric versus political rhetoric (and how they effect the underlying substance of law and policy) in a couple of articles I am finishing up. I will post some more on this in the coming days and weeks.