Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Wikileaks, Venezuela, and Public Diplomacy

This blog entry caught my eye since our group is discussing Venezuelan public diplomacy for our group paper/presentation. While the post concerns US public diplomacy efforts in Venezuela, it's an opportunity to keep up with developments there - and honestly, since there's no way that I could make my way through all the cables on Wikileaks, probably wouldn't have found out otherwise. Robin Brown's post notes that the United States's PD campaign in Venezuela seems to be a little too broad-based, in that it targets the entire Venezuelan population instead of a more specific audience. As a lack of focus can be detrimental to any public diplomacy plans...so I'm going to take a closer look at the cable and see just what the US's plan is.

America's aim is to counter the negative image that Hugo Chavez's government has impressed upon its people, noting that positive opinion of the US is at a historic low of 31% among the Venezuelan populace. The Wikileaks cable notes three themes that the US plans to emphasize in its campaign:
  • the US and Venezuela share common interests
  • regional problems (i.e. drug trafficking, organized crime) require the cooperation of all neighbors in the area
  • historical and cultural ties
Just looking at those aims, I think that the plan's too ambitious. It would seem like a better idea to focus on an audience, pick one thread and go with it. For example, historians and artists are more likely to care about the cultural ties between Venezuela and the United States than lawyers and others involved in criminal justice, who may care more about solving the drug trafficking problem.

As far as implementing the public diplomacy campaign - the cable mentions newspaper ads, television spots, billboards, and radio. Given Venezuela's political climate I can't really imagine those plans working out - I find the odds that they'd be allowed time/space in any government media highly unlikely. Not to mention that this sounds suspiciously like any old advertising campaign for jewelry or or kitchen cleaner...or well, any commercial product. While I can't be certain that no research has been done regarding the best method of getting the message across...I'd guess not. And the plans for evaluating the campaign's success? Surveys. The concept of using surveys to determine the success of a PD campaign - and after only 90 to 120 days - seems absurd. The success could be measured in other ways, such as travel, investment, immigration, academic exchange and research, to name a few. And just as public diplomacy plans need to involve longer-term investment (financial and otherwise), the results are not going to appear overnight.

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