News and opinions on the situation in Venezuela

Rear-view mirrors are not required as standard equipment on Air Force One



Monday, November 21, 2005

In a special article for, York University’s Pastor Valle-Garay writes: At a distance, objects become smaller. Rear-view mirrors in US automobiles warn drivers about it to prevent fatal accidents. The further the object moves away from sight, the smaller it appears to the naked eye.

Not always.

The Detroit warning certainly does not apply to US president George W. Bush, Mexican leader Vicente Fox or fellow traveler Michael Jackson. Unfortunately, the longer the distance, the larger their images get as they unfailingly embarrass their respective nations.

Last week Michael Jackson went to the Far East. Too far.

While window-shopping in the United Arab Emirates, the diminutive Jackson loomed very large in the news. He was observed entering the ladies washroom in a posh shopping center. It is immaterial whether Jackson wore his customary veil. It is also inconsequential that Jackson’s unusual behavior abroad may be normal for an individual generally considered borderline weird by most civilized standards. Unisex toilet practices just do not apply in Muslim countries. Once again Jackson’s tiny caricature of himself became a larger-than-life international embarrassment for the United States.

Two weeks before Jackson’s faux pas, President Fox pulled a similar stunt in the Argentine. While attending the IV Summit of the Americas in Mar de Plata, Coca Cola’s former regional manager wasted no time making an absolute ass of himself.

Fox publicly chastised his host, Argentinean President Nestor Kirchner, for “allowing” Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to speak out against Bush’s derailed bandwagon on the Free Trade of America.

Fox’s arrogant, undiplomatic gesture was an attempt to ingratiate himself with his cowboy buddy from Texas … it backfired.

On November 14, Venezuela withdrew its Ambassador to Mexico and in no uncertain terms President Chavez … and everyone else … told Fox to get his messy house in order before traveling abroad to insult the host and kiss Bush’s ***. Perhaps not exactly in those words … but that must have been the gist of it since it provoked quite an upheaval in Fox’s constituency. Mexico’s major political parties, the public in general and the national press took Fox to task and condemned his unwarranted outburst of bad manners as an embarrassing insult to Mexico’s nationalism.

Obviously Fox misjudged his own rear-view political mirror.

From his perspective, Argentina appeared quite far from Mexico … it wasn’t.

In spite of the distance, the ever-obnoxious leader who physically towers over his colleagues, in the Argentine became a larger-than-life object of ridicule. In fact, the Mexican Congress, whose right is to approve every Presidential trip abroad, is now seriously considering withholding the privilege, a sensible move designed to prevent Fox from soiling the Presidential pants, and Mexico’s prestige, in foreign lands.

No such luck in Bush’s case … his trip to China this week is not running as advertised by White House pundits. Battered by mounting criticism at home on mismanaging the Iraq war, Bush’s rear-view mirror places him in a rear-end collision course with powerful China.

On Saturday, during a stopover in Japan, Bush called on China to “ease restrictions on free expression and religion” while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice dutifully spouted that the US would raise the issue of “political dissidents quite vociferously” with Chinese President Hu Jintao … “We believe the dissidents are being unfairly imprisoned,” Bush declared.

Hold on, there Nelly!

Enough of meaningless platitudes!

Figures recently released to the US media show that over 83.000 people have been arrested and held prisoners without charges by the United States on US soil … at the US military base in Guantanamo and in military prisons in foreign countries as a result of Bush’s failed war on terrorism. Just prior to this startling discovery, the media also revealed new, documented instances of the brutal torture of Iraqi combatants at the hands of the US military and its foreign allies.

While two wrongs do not make a right, Bush is hardly in a position to sermon President Jintao on violating human rights.

Although these issues are not laughable matters, Jintao will probably have a good laugh. The Chinese President, holding a favorable trade deficit with the US, also holds the economic cards in the two nations’ bilateral economic relations. This year it will reach US $200 billion dollars in favor of China. In fact, Bush arrives in China hat in hand to request a brake in trade relations from its powerful, superior Asian partner.

Under these circumstances, neither Bush nor Condi have much choice. Walk slowly. Carry a tiny stick. Do not make waves. Balance on a tight rope in Beijing or risk further public ridicule. In China and at home.

Some noises are better than others … for appearances’ sake.

On Sunday, Christian fundamentalist Bush attended Beijing’s Ganwashi Protestant Church to emphasize his demands for “religious freedom and freedom of the press” in China. It must have amused the Chinese government. Bush’s presence in a Chinese Protestant church takes away his argument for religious freedom. The church services followed a press conference given jointly by Bush and Jintao. Upset at the US media for pestering him on the US Congress’ proposal to withdraw US troops from Iraq, Bush refused to answer any of the reporters’ questions at the conference.

So much for freedom of the press.

As opposed to the Mexican Congress, its US colleagues can not legally bar Bush from traveling abroad. It would not be a bad idea. Some US cartoon characters like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck travel nicely and are well liked around the world. Real-life cartoon characters on the other hand — Bush, Fox, Condi and Jackson — do not fare as well. But travel they must, and Bush certainly needs Condi by his side … he would not want to make Jackson’s mistake in the Far East.

At the United Nations’ General Assembly last September, Bush had enough presence of mind to request written permission from Condi to go to the washroom. Most likely went to the boys’ toilet. Good boy!

Without a doubt, Presidential traveling has its perks … Bush and Condi enjoy them in Air Force One. Don’t get much accomplished but, what the hell, presidential airplanes fly high and far from the public’s naive, bothersome scrutiny.

On their return, Condi will report that billions of Chinese pulled out white handkerchiefs and waved them in unconditional surrender to US charms. She’ll declare the trip to China a resounding success.

Bush will smile beatifically.

On Air Force One, rear-view mirrors are not required as standard equipment.

Pastor Valle-Garay

Pastor Valle-Garay is a Senior Scholar at York University in Toronto, Canada. He served as Consul General of Nicaragua to Canada on behalf of the Nicaraguan-Sandinista government. You may email him at

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