Muammar Gaddafi and Hugo Chávez may be old friends and allies, but it is far from clear whether the Venezuelan president has a plan that is likely to resolve the crisis in Libya.
Reports that Chávez has proposed international mediation involving Latin America, Europe and the Middle East are short on detail, except that the initiative has been dubbed the “committee of peace” and is “under consideration” by the Arab League.
“There were no definite ideas,” the league’s assistant secretary general, Hassan Youssef, told the Egyptian paper al-Masry al-Youm. “We need to know the basis for the suggested negotiations and where to start them.”
Chávez has said the time is ripe for such an initiative because, he claims, the US is ready to invade Libya. The US has said only that it would deploy naval forces in the Mediterranean area in response to the crisis. Not only is there is no sign an invasion is being planned, Washington has backed away from imposing a no-fly zone.
Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua have claimed that western powers want to control Libya for its oil wealth. It was, they said, “better to have a political solution instead of sending marines to Libya, and better to send a goodwill mission than for the killing to continue”.
The appeal of the Venezuelan leader’s intervention is that it posits a “south-south” solution in response to the emerging standoff between Gaddafi and eastern rebels. But it raises the key question of whether the anti-Gaddafi forces, based in Benghazi, are ready to negotiate with a regime they say they are determined overthrow. Mustafa Abdel Jalil, Gaddafi’s former justice minister and chairman of the newly formed National Libyan Council, has insisted he rejects any talks.
Nicolás Maduro, Venezula’s foreign minister, criticised the US and the EU for trying to isolate Gaddafi and raising the possibility of providing military support to the opposition, according to the state-run AVN news agency.
The two leaders know each other well from their common membership of Opec and share anti-imperialist and anti-American rhetoric. Chávez was one of the few world leaders to attend the lavish 40th anniversary celebration of the Libyan revolution in September 2009, while western guests stayed away. He has been to Libya six times since becoming president in 1998.
Early on in the crisis there was speculation that Gaddafi might go into exile in Venezuela. But he has laughed off the idea and insists he will die a martyr in his homeland rather than flee abroad.