Lukashenko craves for retaining Belarus’ influence in Latin America
On March 7th – 8th, President Lukashenko went to Venezuela to attend the President Hugo Chavez’s funeral.
Minsk seeks not to lose its influence in Latin America after the Venezuelan President Chavez’s death. At the same time, the farewell ceremony created a setting for an informal meeting between the representatives of the Belarusian and the U.S. delegations.
Chavez’ funeral changed format – first it was planned to bury him on March 8th, but later to embalm his body - permitted President Lukashenko to take part in the ceremony. Previously Belarus was supposed to be represented by President’s Chief Executive and Chairman of the Belarusian-Venezuelan High Commission Mr. Sheiman and First Deputy Prime Minister Mr. Semashko. Farewell ceremony gathered more than thirty heads of states, raising it to the highest international level.
Lukashenko’s political goal during his visit was to ensure the continuity of the previous agreements between Belarus and Venezuela, and other Latin American countries. It is known that Lukashenko held meetings with the Presidents of Bolivia, Ecuador, Haiti, Cuba as well as Venezuela’s Vice President and likely successor of Chavez, Mr. Maduro.
Finally, the U.S. delegation’s composition, announced on March 7th, suggested there could be a meeting with Belarus’ delegates Viktor Sheiman and Vladimir Semashko. In particular, one of the members of the American delegation was former chairman of the Subcommittee on Europe of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the U.S. Congress’ House of Representatives, William Delahunt. In October 2010 he held talks in Minsk with Prime Minister Sidorsky and Presidential Administration Head Makey.
Currently Mr. Delahunt heads a lobbying firm Delahunt Group, which, inter alia, offers consultancy services on international relations and economic development. Belarus could be interested in such consultations, bearing in mind its preparations for the “thaw” in relations with the West. However, there were no public reports about meetings between the Belarusian and American delegations.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.