Lula's latest dodgy friend

As part of what seems like a quest to get in a good photo-op with every one of the world's most despotic leaders before the end of his presidency, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva stopped in Equatorial Guinea yesterday for a meeting with President Teodor Obiang Nguema Mbasogo:

Both presidents expressed their agreement to safeguard democratic principles, cooperate against organized crime and to combat other challenges facing both nations. President Obiang was pleased with the support of the Government of Brazil concerning the candidacy of Equatorial Guinea as a full member of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP). President Obiang hoped that Equatorial Guinea would become a member of the Community in time for the next CPLP Summit to be held July 2011 in Luanda, Angola.

The two countries issued a Joint Communique, highlighting the good relations that exist between the two and called upon developed countries to "ensure that measures taken to remedy the worldwide economic crisis not affect the economies of developing countries."

As George Ayittey wrote in our most recent print issue, Obiang has been a kind of one-man economic crisis for Equatorial Guinea, having reportedly amassed a personal fortune of over $600 million off his country's massive oil reserves while his country remains one of the poorest in the world. 

Responding to questions about the trip in the Brazilian press, Foreign Minister Celso Amorim replied, "business is business." But al Jazeera's Gabiel Elizondo seems broader aspirations in Lula's recent trips to Africa, which have taken him to an astounding 25 of the continent's 53 countries:

As the clock ticks down on Lula's term as president, it is becoming increasingly clear that he wants to play a large role on the international stage and his frequent trips to Africa as president will probably help shape his post-presidency life

He recently acknowledged this, saying that he will be looking for opportunities to work against poverty and hunger, particularly in Latin America and Africa.....

There has been some talk about Lula being a perfect fit to lead the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), or to take on a special envoy role with Africa. He most certainly will start a foundation, possibly run by Amorim, his foreign minister.

But, whatever the future might hold for Lula after his presidency expires, it is a good bet it will involve work directly with the African continent - after all, he has an authentic knowledge of the continent like few other non-African leaders.

On the other hand, doing business with leaders like Obiang is not necessarily the best place to start combating African poverty.



More Chavez than Chavez?

Welcome to the ultimate Bolivarian oasis: the 23 de Enero slum -- a veritable hotbed of die-hard chavismo and radical socialism in Caracas. What can you expect to find in this little slice of heaven? Stockpiles of Communist Manifesto, murals depicting Jesus Christ brandishing AK-47's,  and an oddly high number of dogs who will respond to the name "Comrade Mao."

The 100,000 inhabitants, who can see the presidential palace from the hills where they reside, have evidently internalized the image of chavista majesty framed by the sunset: they have adopted the dream of a fully socialist Venezuela -- as espoused by President Hugo Chavez himself -- and set it into motion in their own community.

This chavista neighborhood was named for January 23, 1958, when former president Marcos Perez Jimenez and his military dictatorship were overthrown. Following in the legacy of revolution and radicalism, the town's leftist ways now extend beyond the ubiquitous Che Guevara bandanas and "revolutionary car washes"; in fact, the Caracas slum is actually surpassing Chavez in his most precious goals: advancing socialism and eradicating capitalism. For starters, the inhabitants of "Little Vietnam" (as it has tellingly come to be called) have rejected the devalued bolivar -- which Chavez still struggles to revive -- and circulated little pieces of cardboard as communal currency instead. They plan to use their communal banking system to extend micro-credit and foster economic independence in the future. Meanwhile their residents work on a voluntary basis, and their markets purchase goods solely from nationalized distributors.

The town's ardent support for Chavez's cause has, paradoxically, created a chasm between the president and his most devout followers. After militant groups hailing from 23 de enero claimed responsibility for numerous attacks on Chavez's opponents, the Comandante was forced to distance himself from the very community his leadership brought to fruition. And the vexation goes both ways: leaders from 23 de enero have repeatedly expressed disappointment that Chavez has yet to rid his government of "false socialists." Despite these conflicts, Chavez is ideologically bound to the town; not to mention, he relies upon the increasingly extremist electorate's support to keep his political career afloat.

Looks like Hugo's caught in a bit of a Catch-22 here. Unfortunately for him, 23 de enero shows no sign of slowing down its radical rampage anytime soon:

'Here in 23 de Enero we are committed to take this process to the very end,' said cooperative member Martin Campos, a 38-year-old retired soldier sporting a yellow baseball cap with a red star. 'We are chavistas. Red, very red.'