Throughout the 20th Century the US and Venezuela maintained warm relations. Venezuelan oil flowed to the US and the US consistently supported Venezuelan leaders–dictators and democrats alike.
That all changed, of course, during the fourteen years of the Chavez government. The US was ill disposed to a leftist, anti-imperialist government that sought to increase oil prices. And Chavez increasingly used the US as his main symbolic foil for consolidating his Bolivarian revolution. Indeed, in his last years, President Chávez hardly made a public appearance and statement without castigating the US Empire and its alleged efforts to unseat him.
How well does this anti-US rhetoric resonate with the Venezuelan population? The answer is not at all clear. Many observers note that Venezuelan culture borrows heavily from the US with its love of baseball, fast food, Hollywood films, and beauty pageants. In addition, many Venezuelans have relatives that live in the US, or have lived there themselves.
In a new book on US-Venezuelan relations, Javier Corrales and Carlos Romero argued that the Chávez and now Maduro government’s anti-US rhetoric does the government more harm than good with its domestic constituency. They suggest that while anti-US rhetoric serves to unify radicals, it repels most others.
They show that in 2007 56% of the population held a favorable opinion of the US, 71% of the population expressed a fondness for US films, and 76% of the population expressed admiration for US science.
Indeed according to a recent PEW report that looked at Venezuela as part of a study on the global image of the US, these figures have remained high: 53% of Venezuelans voiced a favorable of opinion of the US, 52% of the population voiced a favorable opinion towards US citizens, 63% of respondents reported that they enjoyed US film, music, and television, and 69% expressed admiration for US scientific and technological advances.
While on the surface this data might seem to illustrate that anti-US rhetoric does not resonate with the population, digging deeper reveals complexity.
While the PEW report shows favorable opinions of US citizens and culture, it reveals critical distance from the US government. When asked whether or not they had faith in President Obama “to do the right thing regarding world affairs,” 63% of Venezuelan respondents reported little or no confidence at all. What is more, 29% reported that the reelection of President Obama led to a less favorable opinion of the US, compared with 31% that reported no change of opinion and 22% that reported a more favorable opinion.
In terms of specific policies, 91% of respondents disapproved of drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. In addition, 56% agreed with the statement, “It’s bad that American ideas and customs are spreading here,” while only 32% agreed that this spread is “good.” 48% agreed with the statement “I dislike American ideas about democracy,” compared with 41% of the population that reported liking these ideas.
53% of the population, however, agrees that the US government respects its citizens’ personal freedoms compared with 29% who disagreed with this.
An interesting comparison is with China, where attitudes are similarly complex, but different than views of the United States. The report shows that Venezuelans hold China as a country in high regard. 71% of the Venezuelan population expressed a favorable opinion towards China. But there are cultural reservations: 51% of the population agreed that “it’s bad that Chinese ideas and customs are spreading here” compared with 37% that believe that it’s “good.” In terms of Chinese film, music, and television, 58% of the population expressed dislike for them, compared with 37% that enjoy them.
Finally, in perhaps the most telling set of statistics in the report, while 74% of Venezuelans now consider China a partner compared with 9% who consider it an enemy, 36% consider the US a partner compared with 39% that consider it an enemy.
Overall, what these data illustrate is that while a majority of the Venezuelan population holds a generally positive opinion of US citizens and culture, this does not translate into favorable opinions of the US government, President Obama, and US foreign policy.