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.
President Lukashenka has met with the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who visited Minsk and the Minsk Automobile Plant. Minsk has always sought to have independent links with Russian regional elites, partially, to compensate for the Kremlin's diminishing interest in Belarus. In recent years, Belarus’ contacts with the Russian regions have been extremely intense. However, with some leaders of Russian regions, primarily heads of large republics, communication was more difficult to build. As many analysts in Minsk suggested, Minsk could regard contacts between President Lukashenka and the head of Chechnya as an additional communication channel for relieving tension in relations with the Kremlin. However, most likely, a trusting relationship with Kadyrov is a value for Minsk as such, provided Kadyrov’s broad business and political interests, and a high degree of autonomy for the Chechen leader from the Kremlin.