Archive for the ‘Venezuela’ Category

Bush and ExxonMobil v. Chavez by Stephen Lendman

February 18, 2008

Bush and ExxonMobil v. Chavez by Stephen Lendman

Dandelion Salad

by Stephen Lendman
Global Research, February 18, 2008

Since the Bush administration took office in January 2001, it has targeted Hugo Chavez relentlessly. From the aborted two-day April 2002 coup attempt to the 2002-03 oil management lockout to the failed 2004 recall referendum to stoking opposition rallies against the constitutional reform referendum to constant pillorying in the media to funding opposition candidates in elections to the present when headlines like the Reuters February 7 one announced: “Courts freeze $12 billion Venezuela assets in Exxon row.” Call it the latest salvo in Bush v. Chavez with ExxonMobil (EM) its lead aggressor and the long arm of the CIA and Pentagon always in the wings.

EM temporarily won a series of court orders in Britain, New York, the Netherlands and Netherlands Antilles to freeze up to $12 billion of state-owned PDVSA assets around the world. Hugo Chavez called it Bush administration “economic war” against his government. Energy Minister and PDVSA president, Rafael Ramirez, said it was “judicial terrorism” and that “PDVSA has paralyzed oil sales to Exxon (and) suspend(ed) commercial relations” in response to actions it “consider(s) an outrage….intimidating and hostile.”

PDVSA’s web site went further. It explained that the company will “fully honor existing contractual commitments relating to investments in common with ExxonMobil on the outside, reserving the right to terminate those contracts” under terms that permit. This likely refers to a Chalmette, Louisiana joint venture between the two companies that refines 185,000 barrels of oil daily into gasoline. It also reflects a commitment to supply 90,000 barrels of oil daily to Exxon that continues unaltered.

EM sought the injunctions ahead of an expected International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) arbitration ruling. It’s over a compensation claim owed Exxon after Venezuela nationalized its last privately-owned oil fields last May in the Orinoco River region. PDVSA now has a majority interest, Big Oil investors have minority stakes, but the government offered fair compensation for the buyouts. Chevron, UK’s BP PLC, France’s Total SA and Norway’s Statoil ASA agreed to terms and will continue operating in the country.

ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips balked, and it led to the current action. In Exxon’s case, it refused a generous settlement offer for its 41.7% stake, but that’s the typical way this bully operates. The company is the world’s largest, had 2007 sales topping $404 billion, it’s more than double Venezuela’s GDP, and it places EM 25th among world nations based on World Bank GDP figures.

It’s too early to predict what’s ahead, but one thing is sure. As long as George Bush is president, he’ll go after Chavez every way possible with one aim in mind – to destabilize the country and remove the Venezuelan leader from office. Once again, battle lines are drawn as the latest confrontation plays out judicially, economically and geopolitically. The stakes are huge – the most successful democracy in the Americas and the “threat” of its good example v. the world’s most powerful nation and biggest bully.

The next judicial hearing is on February 22, but it’s unclear where things now stand with Exxon and the Chavez government having different views. The oil giant claims PDVSA’s assets are frozen, but on February 9 Minister Ramirez denied it saying: “They don’t have any asset frozen. They only have frozen $300 million” in cash through a New York court. On February 13, it heard the case, and to no one’s surprise affirmed the freeze until a final arbitration settlement is reached. PDVSA has no “assets in that jurisdiction (or in Britain) that even come close to those” billions that are about 16 times the value of Exxon’s Venezuelan $750 million investment.

Ramirez also added that EM’s action is a “transitory measure” while PDVSA pressed its case in New York and will do it again in London. The current status has no “affect on our cash flow (or) operational situation at all.” Exxon wants to undermine the government and “create a situation of anxiety in the country, a situation of nervousness.”

Ramirez expressed confidence that his government will prevail. It’s arbitrating fairly, offered just compensation, and that in the end may defeat the latest Bush administration assault against the right of a sovereign state to its own resources. He also explained that Exxon violated ICSID arbitration proceedings by seeking separate court orders, and that PDVSA is considering a response. It may sue the oil giant for damages that caused Venezuela’s dollar-denominated bonds to record their biggest drop in six months on the prospect of a long legal battle.

On February 8, PDVSA declared its position on its web site to put the facts in context, clarify the situation, and dispel how the dominant media portrays it ExxonMobil’s way. Below is a summary.

The company states it’s been “in arduous level agreements and negotiations with” its joint venture partners – “Total, Statoil, (Italy’s) ENI, ConocoPhillips, Petrocanada, (China’s) CNPC, Petrochina, (Venezuela’s) Ineparia, British Petroleum (and) Exxon Mobil.” The US giant is the “only case in which we have a clear situation of conflict” so it was “envisioned that these strategic issues….could be settled in international (arbitration) tribunals.” It appears that agreement has been reached or “in the process of agreeing” with every company (including ConocoPhillips) except ExxonMobil, and the situation with them is this: “this company has not complied with the terms of arbitration….and introduced an arbitration against the Republic (in) the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).”

PDVSA awaits its ruling “which, we are confident, will promote the interests of the Republic.” In addition, Exxon sued PDVSA. As a result, “we see a clear position (of this company) to go against the sovereign interest of an oil-producing country such as Venezuela,” deny its legal right to its own resources, and get overt US backing for it from State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack saying: “We fully support the efforts of ExxonMobil to get a just and fair compensation package for their assets according to the standards of international law” that Washington defiantly trashes.

PDVSA’s statement explained that the national media have “such ignorance of the situation (by reporting that) our company has (assets of) 12 billion dollars (frozen and) that is completely untrue….we do not have any court decision that is final with respect to all of our assets. We have an interim measure in a court in New York, we have the right – and so we are going to….respond. This is a transitional measure while (PDVSA) presents its case; defend(s) ourselves….defend(s) the interests of the Republic and we are confident we will remove this measure.”

Exxon also got injunctions in London and the Netherlands. “I must report we have no assets in those jurisdictions….”The same status is true for the Netherlands Antilles” where another injunction was gotten.

“We are no longer surprised (about) the attitude of ExxonMobil, as it is the typical American transnational company which….historically has tried to attack the oil-producing countries and impose their views on the management of (their) national resources….On behalf of workers and our oil industry, we are not going to (be) frightened, intimidated, or retreat in the sovereign aspirations of our people to manage their natural resources.”

We must “warn our country because they could continue this type of action….the position of our people and our Government is firm in defence of our decisions.” We will defend our interests. We won’t “yield to this (action), we will defeat them (on the) ground(s) that (are) raised….”

In a February 12 interview, Ramirez repeated Hugo Chavez’s message two days earlier on his weekly Sunday television program, Alo, Presidente: “If you end up freezing (our assets) and it harms us, we’re going to harm you. Do you know how? We aren’t going to send oil to the United States. Take note, Mr. Bush, Mr. Danger….I speak to the US empire, because that’s the master: continue and you will see that we won’t send one drop of oil to the empire of the United States….The outlaws of ExxonMobil will never again rob us….If the economic war continues against Venezuela, the price of oil is going to reach $200 (a barrel) and Venezuela will join the economic war….And more than one country is willing to accompany us in the economic war.”

PDVSA spokesperson, Eleazar Diaz Rangel, then said on Latest News on February 12 that “we are ready” to stop supplying oil to the US if their hostile actions continue. He explained that Washington is waging economic war, and Venezuela is seeking to develop new customers like China. He added that the cash flow of the company is sound because it’s based on daily crude oil sales.

On February 12, Venezuela’s deputy oil minister, Bernard Mommer, said on state-owned Venezolana de Television that Exxon knows it will lose in arbitration and its “maneuver represents a way to intimidate” other countries against standing up to its will. It’s trying to “create panic and anxiety with the banking and the oil sector.”

Venezuela is America’s third or fourth largest oil supplier after Canada, Saudi Arabia and at times Mexico. It accounts for between 10 to 12% of US imports and averages around 1.2 million barrels a day, sometimes as much as 1.5 million. PDVSA’s assets total around $109 billion, according to its web site. It calls itself “the most creditworthy company in Latin America” which is likely considering its enormous oil reserves and at their current elevated prices.

Views from the US Media

It’s no surprise how the US media portray Chavez and the Exxon dispute. Bloomberg.com called it his way to use the “Exxon Battle to Stoke Anti-US Sentiment” as though he’s the aggressor and poor USA and giant Exxon his victims.

Then, there’s the Washington Post’s editorial view on February 15. It’s astonished that “Mr. Chavez himself threatened to cut off exports of crude oil to America” over Exxon’s having “moved to freeze” its assets. It lamentes how “regrettable” the US “voracious consumption of oil” is because it “underwrites Venezuela’s Chavez regime….If the Bush administration were really as committed to overthrowing Mr. Chavez as Mr. Chavez claims (it ought to boycott) Venezuelan oil (to) devastate” its economy. “Two cheers for ExxonMobil. In standing up to Mr. Chavez through ‘peaceful, legal means,’ it has once again exposed the hollowness of the anti-imperialism with which he justifies his rule.”

The Chicago Tribune was just as hostile by asking “Where is the king of Spain when we need him?” Chavez “says the ‘bandits’ at Exxon are trying to rob Venezuela. From where we sit, it looks like the other way around.”

Then there’s the Houston Chronicle in Exxon’s home city. It blasted Chavez for “making a fool of himself on the floor of the UN General Assembly last year,” called him a “clown,” and said “his buffoonery is neither amusing nor benign.” Ignoring Exxon’s shenanigans in cahoots with Washington, it stated that Chavez “was in full bluster (and that he) and his henchmen (were launch(ing) a war of words in response (that is) little more than political theater, sound bites for the loyalists back home, and You Tube fodder abroad.”

This type bluster gets supplemented with outrageous comments about how Chavez “seized power,” shuts down his opposition, control’s Venezuela’s media, took over American oil fields, is a “destructive menace” to the region, and even worse a communist and a dictator with a terrible human rights record. Is it any wonder that Americans know almost nothing about Venezuelan democracy and the man who shaped it for the past nine years. Under his leadership, it’s the real thing, is impressive and improving. Compare it to America where “The People” have no say, democracy is nowhere in sight, and under the Bush administration it’s pretense, lawless, and corrupted.

What’s Going On and What’s At Stake

Throughout most of the last century, and especially post-WW II, America’s international relations have been appalling and destructive. It’s the world’s leading bully, it practices state terrorism, disdains democracy, defiles the rule of law, tramples on human and civil rights, demands unquestioned obedience, and rules by what Noam Chomsky calls “the Fifth Freedom” that shreds the other four: to “rob, to exploit and to dominate society, to undertake any course of action to insure that existing privilege is protected and advanced.” Outliers aren’t tolerated, national sovereignty is sinful, independence is a crime, and dare disobey the imperial master guarantees certain punishment.

William Blum documented the history in three editions of his book, “Rogue State.” He wrote: “Between 1945 and 2005 the United States has attempted to overthrow more than 50 foreign governments, and to crush more than 30 populist-nationalist movements struggling against intolerable regimes. In the process, the US has caused….several million (deaths), and condemned many millions more to a life of agony and despair.” Washington won’t tolerate nations that won’t:

– “lie down and happily become an American client,”

– accept free market capitalism and today’s steroid-enhanced neoliberal version that’s even more predatory,

– sacrifice its peoples’ welfare for ours,

– “produce primarily for export,”

– allow dangerous environmental dumping on its soil,

– surrender to IMF, World Bank, WTO and international banking rules; accept exploitive structural adjustments and debt slavery as a way of life;

– relinquish control of its natural resources, especially if they’re large oil and gas deposits,

– surrender all freedoms and call it democracy,

– permit US military bases on its soil, and

– agree unquestionably to all other imperial demands.

Countries unwilling to oblige are called “bad examples (and) reduced to basket cases.” In addition, their leaders are replaced by “friendlier” ones. It’s an ugly story of the rich against the poor, the monied interests against all humanity, and if outliers are tolerated, they’ll be “bad examples” for others to follow.

Chavez became one of them after his 1998 election. Ever since, he’s been a thorn in America’s craw and its greatest threat – a “good example” that’s a model for other nations. He also inspires social movements throughout the Americas, even though none so far are dominant or even even close, and he shows signs of wavering on some of his earlier commitments. More on that below.

Imperialism is safe in the Americas, and James Petras explained it in his new article: “Movements in Flux and Center-Left Governments in Power.” He states: “The singular fact about Latin America is that, despite a number of massive popular upheavals, several regime changes and (some ascendant) mass social movements, the continuity of property relations remains intact.” In fact, they’re more concentrated, “giant agro-mineral export enterprises” are prospering, and “class structure (and) socio-economic inequalities” persist, even though Hugo Chavez stands out, in part, as an exception. Petras calls him “pragmatic.”

He “reversed (some of) the corrupt privatizations of previous rightest neo-liberal regimes,” but still supports business. Nonetheless, Washington sees him as a threat because he embraces participatory democracy, practices redistributive social policies, and envisions a “new socialism of the 21st century….based in solidarity, fraternity, love, justice, liberty and equality.” Those ideas and his expressive language are anathema to America and its hard line neoliberal model.

As a result, he tops George Bush’s target list outside the Middle East, and that status won’t change under a new administration in 2009, especially if a Republican heads it. But even Democrats are hostile. When candidates discuss Latin America, Chavez is Topic One and their comments aren’t friendly.

Earlier (but no longer), John McCain’s web site was outrageous. It featured a petition to “stop the dictators of Latin America” and supported ousting Chavez “in the name of democracy and freedom throughout the hemisphere.” He lashed out at a news conference in Miami’s Little Havana stating that “everyone should understand the connections” between (Bolivia’s) Evo Morales, Castro and Chavez. “They inspire each other. They assist each other. They get ideas from each other. It’s very disturbing.” He also calls Chavez a “wacko” and a “two-bit dictator.”

These comments aren’t surprising from a man who headed the hard right International Republican Institute (IRI). Along with the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and USAID, these organizations front for imperialism, support rightest dictators, and plot the overthrow of independent democrats like Chavez who dare confront America.

Think hard about this man from what his fellow Republicans say about him. Some call him psychologically unhinged and unqualified to be president. Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran said: “The thought of (McCain) being president sends a cold chill down my spine.” Others from the far right, like Alabama’s Dick Shelby, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, and Oklahoma’s Jim Inhofe, mention times McCain screamed four-letter obscenities at them in the Senate cloak room. Another senator said: “He is frighteningly unfit to be Commander-in-Chief.”

Along with these unsettling comments, there are disturbing allegations about McCain’s POW years and reported special treatment he got after his father, Admiral JS McCain, became CINCPAC Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Command over all Vietnam theater forces. An organization called “Vietnam Veterans Against John McCain” is actively addressing his record on things people have a right to know about public officials, if they’re true, and McCain has an obligation to explain them.

Democrats aren’t much better, and consider their views about Chavez. They’re hardly friendly with Hillary Clinton saying “we have witnessed the rollback of democratic development and economic openness in parts of Latin America” with no confusion about who she means. Barack Obama is also suspect despite saying if elected he’ll meet with Iranian, Cuban, Syrian and Venezuelan leaders. It sounds good until he qualifies it and spoils everything. He labels these countries “rogue states,” reveals his real feelings, and signals his hostility and unwillingness to establish good relations with them.

Forget Obama’s friendly smile, comforting demeanor and reassuring rhetoric. Bottom line – he’s no different from the rest. There’s not a dime’s worth of difference among them that matters. Next January, they’ll be a new face in charge with the same agenda: wars without end; subservience to the monied interests; disdain for the common good; and deference to the dominant media view that Chavez is: an authoritarian, a strongman, a dictator and what Wall Street Journal columnist Mary Anastasia O’Grady calls him: anti-democratic, dictatorial, vengeful, bullying, crude, unpopular, and having “an insatiable thirst for power that should give Venezuelans reason to be fearful.”

Forget that under Chavez, Venezuelan business is booming or how gracious he was in defeat last December after voters rejected his constitutional reforms. Petras assessed what followed. Centrist and other influential Chavez advisors jumped on the setback and “pressed their advantage to secure programmatic, tactical-strategic and organizational changes.” They got him to replace over a dozen cabinet ministers and others in government with new faces sharing their views. They also, to a degree, shifted Chavez to the center, influenced him to “slow down….the move to socialisma, (establish) economic ties with the big bourgeoisie, (halt) immediate moves to nationalize strategic economic enterprises, and (move slowly) in reforming land tenure.”

In addition, they got him to ally “with the middle class center-right parties, and (won) them over (by eliminating) price controls to let “basic food prices…. soar, while salaries remain stagnant.” The result: a fundamental contradiction in trying to advance socialism by “liberalizing economic policy.” Petras is worried that Chavez’s base (the urban poor) “will lose interest, abstain or resist the centrists and withdraw their loyalties.” Indignation is surfacing, loyal Chavez support may be jeopardized, and it “raises fundamental questions about the long-term future of state-class movement relations under” his leadership.

In addition, rightest forces see an opening, are pressing their advantage, Exxon’s move is a warning shot, and so are reports about Colombian paramilitaries entering the country in greater numbers. More destabilization will follow, and continued efforts will be made to weaken Chavez, then try to oust him. More than ever, he needs strong support at a time it’s jeopardized, and that’s a worrisome situation to consider. Venezuela’s Bolivarianism is glorious provided it flourishes, grows and achieves its long-term goals. It’s been extraordinary so far, still has miles to go, and it’s unthinkable to waiver now and pull back.

Petras alarmingly notes that when “social movements (adopt common) electoral strategies, (work) within the framework of institutional politics, and (ally) with center-left regimes….few positive reforms and numerous regressive” ones result. Will this be Venezuelans’ fate? The prospect is frightening because if not Chavez, who’ll lead their struggle for social equity and justice – for the nation, the region and beyond. Bolivarianism is glorious and vibrant. But to flourish, grow and prosper, it needs care and nurturing from a resolute leader backed by mass popular support.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.  

Also visit his blog site at www.sjlendman.blogspot.com  and listen to The Global Research News Hour Mondays on www.RepublicBroadcasting.org from 11AM – 1PM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions of world and national issues with distinguished guests.

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Meet John McCain: Mr. Big Stick in Latin America

February 15, 2008

Meet John McCain: Mr. Big Stick in Latin America

By Nikolas Kozloff

Nikolas Kozloff’s ZSpace Page

 

Now that John McCain has presumably wrapped up the Republican nomination, it’s natural to wonder what kind of foreign policy he might pursue towards the rest of the world if he were elected President.  For example, how would the “maverick” McCain deal with Latin America?  In recent years, the region has taken a decidedly leftist turn; new leaders such as Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Evo Morales of Bolivia, and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua have openly challenged U.S. diplomatic and political influence.  McCain’s record suggests that he would pursue a very hawkish and antagonistic policy in the hemisphere.  It’s even possible that the Arizona Republican, who has suggested that the United States might be in Iraq for hundreds of years and might “bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran,” could ratchet up military tensions in Latin America and escalate conflict with countries like Venezuela.
 

 

The International Republican Institute (IRI)

 

McCain has chaired the International Republican Institute (IRI) since 1993.  Ostensibly a non-partisan, democracy-building outfit, in reality the IRI serves as an instrument to advance and promote the most far right Republican foreign policy agenda.  More a cloak-and-dagger operation than a conventional research group, IRI has aligned itself with some of the most antidemocratic factions in the Third World. 

 

On the surface at least, IRI seems to have a rather innocuous agenda including party building, media training, the organization of leadership trainings, dissemination of newsletters, and strengthening of civil society.  In reality, however, the IRI is more concerned with crushing incipient left movements in Latin America. 

 

One of the least known Washington institutions, IRI receives taxpayer money via the National Endowment for Democracy and the U.S. Agency for International Development (U.S. A.I.D.).  The organization is active in around sixty countries and has a budget of $74 million.        On the board of IRI, McCain has been joined by a who’s who of Republican bigwigs such as Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick. 

 


IRI’s Latin American Activities

 

In Haiti, IRI helped to fund, equip, and lobby for Haiti’s two heavily conservative and White House-backed opposition parties, the Democratic Convergence and Group 184.  The latter group, comprised of many of the island’s major business, church and professional figures, was at the vanguard of opposition to Jean Bertrand Aristide prior to the Haitian President’s forced ouster in 2004.  At the same time, IRI funneled taxpayer money to hard-line anti-Castro forces allied to the Republican Party.

 

In Venezuela, IRI generously funded anti-Chávez civil society groups that were militantly opposed to the regime.  Starting in 1998, the year Chávez was elected, IRI worked with Venezuelan organizations to produce anti-Chávez media campaigns, including newspaper, television and radio ads.  Additionally, when politicians, union and civil society leaders went to Washington to meet with U.S. officials just one month before the April 2002 coup, IRI picked up the bill.  The IRI also helped to fund the corrupt Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (which played a major role in the anti-Chávez destabilization campaign leading up to the coup) and Súmate, an organization involved in a signature-gathering campaign to present a petition calling for Chávez’s recall.

 

 

McCain and Cuba

 

McCain has taken a personal interest in IRI’s Cuba work and praises the anti-Castro opposition.  The Arizona Senator has called Cuba “a national security threat,” adding that “as president, I will not passively await the long overdue demise of the Castro dictatorship … The Cuban people have waited long enough.”  McCain wants to increase funding for the U.S. government’s anti-Castro radio and TV stations, seeks the release of all Cuban political prisoners, supports internationally monitored elections on the island, and wants to keep the U.S. trade embargo in place.  What kind of future does McCain envision for Cuba?  No doubt, one in which the Miami anti-Castro exiles rule the island.  McCain’s most influential advisers on Latin American affairs are Cuban Americans from Florida, including Senator Mel Martínez and far right Congress members Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros Lehtinen. 

 

 

For McCain, It’s Never Ending Free Trade and Militarization

 

On Capitol Hill, McCain has championed pro-U.S. Latin American regimes while working to isolate those governments which are rising up to challenge American hegemony.  On Colombia, for example, McCain has been a big booster of official U.S. policy.  Despite Colombia’s status as a human rights nightmare, the Senator supports ongoing funding to the government of Álvaro Uribe so as to combat the “narco-trafficking and terrorist threat.” 

 

McCain has taken a personal interest in the Andean region.  He has traveled to Ecuador and Colombia so as to drum up more support for the counter insurgency and drug war, now amounting to billions of dollars a year.  McCain’s foremost fear is that the Democrats may turn off the money flow to Uribe.  “You don’t build strong alliances by turning your back on friends,” he has said. 

 

McCain seeks to confront countries such as Venezuela and Cuba by encouraging U.S. partnership with sympathetic regimes that support American style free trade.  “We need to build on the passage of the Central America Free Trade Agreement by expanding U.S. trade with the region,’’ he has said. “Let’s start by ratifying the trade agreements with Panama, Peru, and Colombia that are already completed, and pushing forward the Free Trade Area of the Americas.”

 

Chávez has been one of the greatest obstacles to the fulfillment of McCain’s free trade agenda, however.  In recent years, the Venezuelan has pushed his own barter trade scheme, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, which promotes economic solidarity and reciprocity between Latin American nations.  Concerned about growing ties between Cuba and Venezuela, McCain said “He [Chávez] aspires to be this generation’s [Fidel] Castro. I think the people of Venezuela ought to look at the standard of living in Cuba before they would embrace such a thing.” 

 

 

Fighting the Information War in Latin America

 

Speaking in Miami’s Little Havana, McCain said that “everyone should understand the connections” between Evo Morales, Castro, and Chávez. “They inspire each other. They assist each other. They get ideas from each other.  It’s very disturbing.” McCain said Chávez breathed “new oxygen” into Castro’s regime, and that the U.S. government should do more to quell dictatorships throughout Latin America.  Perhaps not surprisingly given his historic involvement in IRI, McCain’s campaign Web site even featured an online petition calling for support in his quest to “stop the dictators of Latin America.”  The petition called for the ouster of Chávez “in the name of democracy and freedom throughout our hemisphere.”

 

Though the petition was later taken down, McCain has staked out hawkish territory on Venezuela and would surely escalate tensions with the South American nation.  Most troubling is the Senator’s strong push for renewed U.S. propaganda in the region. McCain has criticized the Venezuelan government’s decision to not renew Radio Caracas Television’s license, and has called for reestablishing an agency like the United States Information Agency (the USIA oversaw a variety of agencies including the Voice of America radio network before it was merged into the State Department in 1998).

 

“Dismantling an agency dedicated to promoting America and the American message amounted to unilateral disarmament in the struggle of ideas,’’ McCain has said. “We need to re-create an independent agency with the sole purpose of getting America’s message to the world. This…would aid our efforts to communicate accurately with the people of Latin America.” 

 

If McCain was ever able to push through his aggressive media initiatives, he would antagonize many nations in the region which resent the pervasiveness of U.S. dominated media.  Already, Venezuela, Cuba, Argentina, and Uruguay have formed a joint satellite news station called Telesur (in my upcoming book scheduled for release in six weeks, I devote an entire chapter to the issue of media politics in South America).

 

From Bolton to Big Stick

 

To make matters worse, the Chair of IRI has sought to promote neo-conservative figures from the Bush regime such as John Bolton.  During the latter’s confirmation hearings in the Senate, McCain urged his Democratic colleagues to approve the diplomat’s nomination quickly.  Bolton has been a hawk not only on Iran but also Venezuela.  McCain, who refers to Chávez as a “wacko,” said it was important to confirm Bolton.  With Bolton at the United Nations, the U.S. would be able to talk back to “two-bit dictators” like the Venezuelan leader.   

 

Like Bolton, McCain apparently shares his colleague’s disdain for the United Nations and wants to create a so-called League of Democracies.  As envisioned by the Arizona legislator, the new body would take the place of the United Nations on such issues as conflict resolution, disease treatment and prevention, environmental crises, and access to free markets.  Interestingly, McCain’s inspiration for the League is Teddy Roosevelt, who had a vision of “like-minded nations working together for peace and liberty.”

 

Roosevelt, however, was no dove: he wielded a Big Stick and practiced gunboat diplomacy in Latin America.  It’s a policy which John McCain would probably like to revive if he is elected President in November.

 

 

Nikolas Kozloff is the author of Revolution! South America and the Rise of the New Left (Palgrave-Macmillan, April 2008), and Hugo Chávez: Oil, Politics, and the Challenge to the U.S. (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2006)

Ritual Gloating Postmortems

December 13, 2007
ZNet | Venezuela
Ritual Gloating Postmortems
The Corporate Media v. Hugo Chavez
by Stephen Lendman; December 12, 2007

Dateline December 3, 2007 – The corporate media is euphoric after Venezuelans narrowly defeated Hugo Chavez’s constitutional reform referendum the previous day. The outcome defied pre-election independent poll predictions and was a cliffhanger to the end. Near-final results weren’t announced until 1:15AM December 3 with about 100,000 votes separating the two sides and a surprising 44% of eligible voters abstaining. On December 7, Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) released the final outcome based on 94% of ballots counted. A total of 69 amendment reforms were voted on in two blocks:

 

For Block A: No – 50.65%; Si (Yes) – 49.34%;

 

For Block B: No – 51.01%; Si (yes) – 48.99%.

 

Below is a sampling of corporate media gloating. They deserve a bit of slack as they’ve waited nine years for this moment, and they may not get another for some time. Venezuelans lost, they won, but Chavez may be right saying reform lost “por ahora (for now).” In a post-election comment on Venezuelan state TV channel VTV he added: Reform is slowed but alive, and “the Venezuelan people have the power and the right to present a request for constitutional reform before (my) term (in office) finishes, of which there is still five years.”

 

Under Venezuelan law, the National Assembly (NA) can pass new socially beneficial or other legislation any time provided it doesn’t conflict with constitutional law. The Constitution can only be changed by national referenda in one of three ways – if the President, NA or 15% of registered voters (by petition) request it. The  Constitution, however, prevents the President from seeking the same amendments twice in the same term, but they can become law through popular initiatives or a constituent assembly.

 

In addition, Chavez can use his constitutionally allowed Enabling Law authority until next summer when it expires. Under it, he can pass laws by decree in 11 key areas that include the structure of state organs, election of local officials, the economy, finance and taxes, banking, transportation, the military and national defense, public safety, and policies related to energy.

 

Chavez had this authority two previous times and used it in 2001 to pass 49 legal changes to make them conform to the Constitution in areas of land and banking reform and for more equitable revenue-sharing arrangements with foreign oil companies in joint-state ventures. He wanted it this time to accelerate democratic change at the grassroots and be able to transfer power to the people through communal councils. He may also use it to advance his social and economic model based on equitably distributing more of the national wealth through investments in health care, education and social security. If these type reform measures are proposed, he’ll get strong public support for them provided he keeps them simple and explains them properly and often.

 

In his post-election comments, Chavez stressed another reform proposal is coming “next year or in three years. It doesn’t have to be exactly the same. It can be in the same direction, but in a different form, improved and simplified, because I have to accept that the reform that we presented was very complex.”

 

The pre-election debate and propaganda assault made it more complex, and the opposition out-muscled reform supporters. With proper planning and implementation, that problem is correctable, and in the meantime, the NA can enact some reforms legislatively and Chavez can do it on his own by decree. Expect that to happen and for most Venezuelans to support it enthusiastically.

 

Already, members of Venezuela’s National Indigenous Movement (MNIV) want constitutional reform reinitiated, intend to mobilize, and may begin collecting signatures for a petition drive for it. They met to strategize on December 7 after which MNIV coordinator Facundo Guanipa announced that Venezuela’s small indigenous population near-unanimously supports Chavez’s reforms according to referendum data results.

 

For now, however, the gloaters have center stage and aren’t quoting OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza’s comment that “Quite a few myths on the Venezuelan democracy are falling down. It works like all democracies….I hope the US government can acknowledge, as all of us, that it was a fair, clean process.” 

 

Don’t count on it or from the dominant media, and start off with this writer’s favorite press adversary – the Wall Street Journal’s Mary Anastasia O’Grady, this time on a Journal-produced three minute video available online. She warms up fast with comments like the referendum, if passed, would have given Chave z”dictatorial power to rule for life,” and Venezuela has a “rigged electoral system.” Outrageous and false on both counts, of course, but this is typical O’Grady ranting.

 

Further, she claimed near-final tallies were available around 8:15PM, but the National Electoral Council (CNE) waited until 1:15AM to report them. In fact, reporting was delayed because the election was too close to call, and it was agreed in advance not to do it until 90% of the votes were counted. At that point, the result was announced. One other O’Grady gem was Chavez came to power in 1999 by “removing” the “old elite” implying that defeating them decisively and democratically was improper – vintage O’Grady with more from her ahead assured.

 

The Journal wasn’t through. An online op-ed read: “Venezuelans Rain on Hugo (and it’s) more than a setback for Venezuela’s messianic strongman. It is a victory for the ideal of liberty across Latin America….kudos….to the people of Venezuela (by preventing Chavez from) impos(ing) what amounted to a personal coup against that nation’s democracy. He tried to bully Venezuelans into voting for one-man rule and a hard model of socialism. They said no (and CNE waited until 1:15AM) when it became clear that there was no way to fudge the results.”

 

According to the Journal, Chavez’s package “would have eviscerated Venezuela’s civil liberties (and) end guarantees of private property.” A final jab was in the form of a warning that Chavez still controls the country’s political institutions and “remains a threat to (the) region. He’s in a race against time (to advance his) expansionist agenda (that) has the potential to undermine Colombia’s democracy, and has already destabilized Bolivia and Ecuador.” Phew, and Rupert Murdoch hasn’t yet taken over the paper he bought last summer when he finalized a deal for Dow Jones & Company.

 

Enter the New York Times and its man in Caracas, Simon Romero, whose style outclasses Journal writers but not his substance. His byline on December 3 read “Venezuela Hands Narrow Defeat to Chavez Plan” that would have granted him “sweeping new powers. Opposition leaders were ecstatic,” and Zulia State governor and Chavez 2006 presidential opponent, Manuel Rosales, said “Tonight, Venezuela has won.” His next day report trumpeted the setback saying the “vote sets roadblocks (and) has given new energy to (the) long-suffering opposition.” It’s “an expression of….government mismanagement (and) a warning to Mr. Chavez that he had finally overreached (in wanting to end presidential) term limits and greatly (centralize) his power.” It’s a “sharp rebuke (from voters to) let Mr. Chavez know (they’re reluctant) to follow him much farther up the path to a socialist future.”

 

Still more from Romero, along with Times op-ed writers, that “Reflection and Anger (came) After Defeat,” and Chavistas are “being consumed by recrimination and soul-searching” following voter rejection. “Chavez lash(ed) out at his opponents (and) dismissed (their victory) with an (unmentioned) obsenity,” and “Chavismo” needs “to embrace a more pluralistic path.”

 

That was a warm-up for op-ed writer Roger Cohen. He chimed in with a backhanded salute for “the humiliation of a 51 to 49 percent rejection to end term limits and undermine private property rights.” He stopped short of mentioning most West European and other parliamentary systems allow unlimited reelections, and the latter accusation if false. Then Cohen attacks calling Chavez a “strongman….a caudillo….a menace (and) his ‘socialismo’ equals ‘Hugoismo.’ ” He aimed to “accumulat(e) power through threats, slandering opponents as ‘traitors,’ (and) buying support with $150 million a day in oil money.”

 

It gets worse: “his crony bankers (are) pocketing millions by arbitraging the disparity between the official and black-market (bolivar) rates. Crime and drug-trafficking are thriving.” His socialism is “the Russian (equivalent of) ‘Soviets,’ (and) I salute the Venezuelan people” for imposing “The Limits of (a) 21st-Century Revolution.” On December 3, Cohen listed them in eight Venezuelan marketplace and political rules to show by his logic Chavez “can(‘t) turn back the clock far enough to change” them.

 

The Times wasn’t done, and on December 4 it lashed out editorially with “A Tale of Two Strongmen.” The other was Vladimir Putin after his December 2 parliamentary election victory. According to The Times, it was a “referendum on himself (in which he) cynically manipulated a huge victory….” Chavez wasn’t as lucky in his “latest and most outrageous power grab (so there’s) hope (Venezuelan) political competition….will now flourish.” The Times concedes he’s “still very powerful,” so “The international community will….have to keep up the pressure on (him because he) hasn’t suddenly become a democrat.”

 

The Washington Post had it’s post-election say with a similar slanderous agitprop editorial torrent – that “Mr. Chavez had proposed to make himself a de facto president for life….Polls before the vote showed only about a third of Venezuelans favored the amendments (and) Urban slum dwellers who have supported Mr. Chavez in the past had good reason for second thoughts: Thanks to his crackpot economic policies….the outcome will not restore full democracy (because Chavez) still controls the legislature, courts, national television and the state oil company, and he retains the authority to rule by decree.” False on all counts except that most democratically elected legislators and Chavez-appointed judges support Bolivarianism as embedded in the country’s Constitution they’re sworn to uphold.

 

The AP was also hostile calling Chavez “conflict-prone (with a) larger-than-life personality leav(ing) little room for compromise (that) ensur(es) more friction (in a) deeply polarized (country).” But “Sunday’s victory has energized the opposition (that can petition) for a recall referendum once Chavez reaches the midpoint of his six-year term in December, 2009.”

 

In the West as well, the Los Angeles Times was celebratory in calling Sunday’s defeat “a remarkable indictment of (Chavez’s) agenda.” But it headlined: “Chavez isn’t finished.” Even in defeat, he’ll be “able to pass many of his desired reforms legislatively” since he controls the NA and Supreme Court. The Times cited “images of huge (opposition) student marches,” but the “biggest factor (on) Sunday (was) Chavez’s own nonsensical economic policies, which have caused many of his impoverished supporters to wonder if he really knows what he’s doing.” They’re “like Soviet Russia or modern Cuba (and) Chavez’s socialist ideals are leading Venezuela to a precipice, and it’s the poor who will suffer most if it goes over the edge.”

 

Time magazine wondered “How Will Chavez Handle Defeat? (and) Why Venezuelans Turned on Chavez.” It reported “panic set in around 7PM Sunday evening,” but it wasn’t until 1:00AM that “el comandante” conceded defeat. In the view of Time writer, Jens Erik Gould, they worried more about a Chavez power grab and ability to seize private property than the proposed social benefits for the poor and popular grassroots power they’d get. But while “defeat may….slow the President down….he and his allies still have wide-reaching powers (so the) battle is far from over” with no doubt left which side Time  backs.

 

Business Week magazine was vocal about what was “Behind Chavez’s Defeat in Venezuela” in an article full of the usual kinds of errors, misstatements and pro-business slant. It said “rejection….may mean more stability for business and the economy” without ever mentioning business is booming, and the economy is one of the fastest growing ones in the world under Chavez’s “socialist vision.”

 

The article quoted the opposition saying if the referendum passed “We would have woken up in a dictatorship….a possible victory….undermined business confidence….defeat calls into question whether Chavez will be able to deepen his socialist revolution….the majority in Venezuela doesn’t share Chavez’s socialist vision….There is growing discontent with Chavez’s leadership.” Victory would have let Chavez “seize private property….curb private ownership….undermine Venezuela’s democratic and capitalist foundations, and allow Chavez to create a state styled on communist Cuba if passed.”

 

Anti-Chavez post-election rants could fill volumes. A few more follow below:

 

— the San Francisco Chronicle lamented that “Chave z(still) holds all the cards (and) The opposition has yet to find a leader that can match Chavez’s magnetic personality and charisma.”

 

— Bloomberg.com was also dismayed that one defeat won’t “likely….stop (Chavez’s) drive to socialize Venezuela’s economy….he may nationalize industries, seize property and weaken central bank independence.”

 

— the state-run Voice of America (VOA) trumpeted George Bush’s post-election comment that Chavez’s defeat is a “vote for democracy;” it never mentioned his pre-election rant about Venezuela being undemocratic;

 

— CBS News headlined “Chavez’s Democratic Authoritarianism (so) Despite (electoral defeat), Venezuela’s President will continue toward absolute rule;”

 

— the Christian Science Monitor said “Venezuela’s Chavez Defiant, Despite Defeat….few believe the results will cause (him) to alter his course,”

 

— the Financial Times in a “Chronicle of a defeat foretold” sees Chavez’s support among the poor eroding as “Venezuelans are seeing things with greater realism;”

 

— the Economist sees his “aura of invincibility….forever damaged, the battle for succession seems bound to begin soon (and) Survival strategies no longer….involve unquestioning loyalty to the ‘commandante.’ The fighting back is just beginning;”

 

— CNN was also at the forefront of what Chavez at a post-election press conference called its manipulation campaign. He said Defense Minister Rangel Briceno was “very angry by (CNN’s) manipulating campaign….all over the world,” he’s preparing to sue the cable network, and “behind (it) is the evil face of the United States;”

 

— the BBC is notorious as a “guardian of power;” it headlined “White House….welcomes the defeat of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s controversial reform….referendum….(and said) the people spoke their minds….that bodes well for the country’s future and freedom and liberty….(Venezuelans didn’t) want any further erosion in their democracy and their democratic institutions;” pro-Chavez voices or a clear explanation of the issues were nowhere in sight pre or post-election;

 

— the Chicago Tribune headlined “Chavez chastened, hardly capitulating (as) political leaders and analysts said it is too early to say whether the slim defeat….represents just a bump in the road….or the awakening of a durable and vibrant opposition;” and

 

— the London Guardian’s Seumas Milne headlined Chave zwas “Down but not out in Caracas” in writing for a paper with a long history of pro-state support and too little of it for its people. Milne, on the other hand, struck another note saying Bolivarianism suffered a setback (but) “it’s far from finished (and) Sunday wasn’t a crushing defeat.” It also “discredit(ed) the canard that the country is somehow slipping into authoritarian or even dictatorial rule….The referendum was a convincing display of democracy in action….The revolutionary process underway in Venezuela has delivered remarkable social achievements.” Halting or reversing them “would be a loss whose significance would go far beyond Venezuela’s borders (but) Chavez’s comments and commitments (show) there is no mood for turning back.”

 

Chavez is resilient and will rebound from one electoral setback. Don’t ever count him out or underestimate his influence over what co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, Mark Weisbrot, says is “A historic transformation….underway in Latin America (following) more than a quarter century of neoliberal” rule. Long-time Latin American expert, James Petras, puts it this way: “The referendum and its outcome (while important today) is merely an episode in the struggle between authoritarian imperial centered capitalism (Chavez opposes) and democratic workers centered socialism (it’s hoped Bolivarianism will deliver).” The spirit of democracy thrives in Venezuela, and one electoral setback won’t derail it.

 

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

 

Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The Steve Lendman News and Information Hour on TheMicroEffect.com Mondays at noon US central time.

Chavez loses constitution vote

December 3, 2007

Chavez’s changes would have allowed him to
run for re-election indefinitely[AFP]
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The electoral authority announced early on Monday the “No” camp had won 51 per cent of the vote compared to the pro-Chavez “Yes” camp’s 49 per cent.

 

It said the result could not be reversed with the number of uncounted votes remaining and declared Chavez the loser.

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It was the first victory for an emboldened opposition against Chavez after nine years of electoral defeats.

 

Adolfo Taylhardat, an opposition politician, told Al Jazeera the result was “a victory for Venezuelan democracy”.

 

“We have defeated president Chavez’s intention to change the type of state we are living in,” he said.

 

“He wanted to turn Venezuela from a democracy to a socialist state in which he would have almost full power.”

 

Voted down

 

Chavez’s 69 proposed changes would have allowed him to control Venezuela’s foreign currency reserves, appoint loyalists over regional elected officials and censor the media if he declares an emergency.

 

It would also have allowed him to run for re-election indefinitely.

 

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But students, rights groups, business lobbies, opposition parties, the Roman Catholic Church and former political allies all lined up against Chavez, calling the proposed changes authoritarian.

 

Even Chavez’s usually loyal ex-wife voted against his reforms.

 

“This was a photo finish,” Chavez said immediately after the vote, adding that his respect for the results proved that, unlike past Venezuelan governments, he respects the will of the people.

 

He said he would “continue in the battle to build socialism” and told his supporters: “Don’t feel sad”.

 

Chavez publicly congratulated the opposition and urged restraint from both sides.

 

“I ask all of you to go home, know how to handle your victory,” he said. “You won it. I wouldn’t have wanted that Pyrrhic victory.”

 

Tensions high

 

Tensions had surged in recent weeks as university students led protests and occasionally clashed with police and pro-Chavez supporters.

 

George Ciccariello, an expert on Venezuela with the University of California at Berkeley in the US, told Al Jazeera there had been “a great deal of disinformation” about Chavez’s campaign prior to the vote.

 

“There were rumours, there was pamphleteering, there was printing false copies of the reform proposal.

 

“That said though Chavez really took a hit on this in terms of his moderate supporters not turning up to vote.”

 

Still popular

 

Lucia Newman, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in the Venezuelan capital Caracas, said the result was a blow for Chavez but he continued to be popular.

Chavez had predicted the referendum vote
would be another knockout to Bush [AFP]

“He is going to have to, at the very least, move forward on his socialist project much more slowly and with more caution,” she said.

 

“He’s going to have to listen more to his own supporters, because there had been hints for quite some time that they didn’t want to go forward with this.”

 

Newman said it was the “political aspects” of the proposed constitutional changes that had voters concerned.

 

“There were some proposals that people actually liked. Such as the 36-hour work week, the voting age being lowered to 16 years from 18, the fact that self-employed people would be guaranteed a pensions.”

 
 
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Venezuela’s D-Day : Democratic Socialism or Imperial Counter-Revolution by Prof James Petras

November 29, 2007

Venezuela’s D-Day : Democratic Socialism or Imperial Counter-Revolution by Prof James Petras

by Prof James Petras
Global Research, November 28, 2007

The December 2, 2007 Constituent Referendum

On November 26, 2007 the Venezuelan government broadcast and circulated a confidential memo from the US embassy to the CIA which is devastatingly revealing of US clandestine operations and which will influence the referendum this Sunday (December 2, 2007).

The memo sent by an embassy official, Michael Middleton Steere, was addressed to the head of the CIA, Michael Hayden. The memo was entitled ‘Advancing to the Last Phase of Operation Pincer’ and updates the activity by a CIA unit with the acronym ‘HUMINT’ (Human Intelligence) which is engaged in clandestine action to destabilize the forth-coming referendum and coordinate the civil military overthrow of the elected Chavez government. The Embassy-CIA’s polls concede that 57% of the voters approved of the constitutional amendments proposed by Chavez but also predicted a 60% abstention.

The US operatives emphasized their capacity to recruit former Chavez supporters among the social democrats (PODEMOS) and the former Minister of Defense Baduel, claiming to have reduced the ‘yes’ vote by 6% from its original margin. Nevertheless the Embassy operatives concede that they have reached their ceiling, recognizing they cannot defeat the amendments via the electoral route.

The memo then recommends that Operation Pincer (OP) [Operación Tenaza] be operationalized. OP involves a two-pronged strategy of impeding the referendum, rejecting the outcome at the same time as calling for a ‘no’ vote. The run up to the referendum includes running phony polls, attacking electoral officials and running propaganda through the private media accusing the government of fraud and calling for a ‘no’ vote. Contradictions, the report cynically emphasizes, are of no matter.

The CIA-Embassy reports internal division and recriminations among the opponents of the amendments including several defections from their ‘umbrella group’. The key and most dangerous threats to democracy raised by the Embassy memo point to their success in mobilizing the private university students (backed by top administrators) to attack key government buildings including the Presidential Palace, Supreme Court and the National Electoral Council. The Embassy is especially praiseworthy of the ex-Maoist ‘Red Flag’ group for its violent street fighting activity. Ironically, small Trotskyist sects and their trade unionists join the ex-Maoists in opposing the constitutional amendments. The Embassy, while discarding their ‘Marxist rhetoric’, perceives their opposition as fitting in with their overall strategy.

The ultimate objective of ‘Operation Pincer’ is to seize a territorial or institutional base with the ‘massive support’ of the defeated electoral minority within three or four days (before or after the elections – is not clear. JP) backed by an uprising by oppositionist military officers principally in the National Guard. The Embassy operative concede that the military plotters have run into serous problems as key intelligence operatives were detected, stores of arms were decommissioned and several plotters are under tight surveillance.

Apart from the deep involvement of the US, the primary organization of the Venezuelan business elite (FEDECAMARAS), as well as all the major private television, radio and newspaper outlets have been engaged in a vicious fear and intimidation campaign. Food producers, wholesale and retail distributors have created artificial shortages of basic food items and have provoked large scale capital flight to sow chaos in the hopes of reaping a ‘no’ vote.

President Chavez Counter-Attacks

In a speech to pro-Chavez, pro-amendment nationalist business-people (Entrepreneurs for Venezuela – EMPREVEN) Chavez warned the President of FEDECAMARAS that if he continues to threaten the government with a coup, he would nationalize all their business affiliates. With the exception of the Trotskyist and other sects, the vast majority of organized workers, peasants, small farmers, poor neighborhood councils, informal self-employed and public school students have mobilized and demonstrated in favor of the constitutional amendments.

The reason for the popular majority is found in a few of the key amendments: One article expedites land expropriation facilitating re-distribution to the landless and small producers. Chavez has already settled over 150,000 landless workers on 2 million acres of land. Another amendment provides universal social security coverage for the entire informal sector (street sellers, domestic workers, self-employed) amounting to 40% of the labor force. Organized and unorganized workers’ workweek will be reduced from 40 to 36 hours a week (Monday to Friday noon) with no reduction in pay. Open admission and universal free higher education will open greater educational opportunities for lower class students. Amendments will allow the government to by-pass current bureaucratic blockage of the socialization of strategic industries, thus creating greater employment and lower utility costs. Most important, an amendment will increase the power and budget of neighborhood councils to legislate and invest in their communities.

The electorate supporting the constitutional amendments is voting in favor of their socio-economic and class interests; the issue of extended re-election of the President is not high on their priorities: And that is the issue that the Right has focused on in calling Chavez a ‘dictator’ and the referendum a ‘coup’.

The Opposition

With strong financial backing from the US Embassy ($8 million dollars in propaganda alone according to the Embassy memo) and the business elite and ‘free time’ by the right-wing media, the Right has organized a majority of the upper middle class students from the private universities, backed by the Catholic Church hierarchy, large swaths of the affluent middle class neighborhoods, entire sectors of the commercial, real estate and financial middle classes and apparently sectors of the military, especially officials in the National Guard. While the Right has control over the major private media, public television and radio back the constitutional reforms. While the Right has its followers among some generals and the National Guard, Chavez has the backing of the paratroops and legions of middle rank officers and most other generals.

The outcome of the Referendum of December 2 is a decisive historical event first and foremost for Venezuela but also for the rest of the Americas. A positive vote (Vota ‘Sí’) will provide the legal framework for the democratization of the political system, the socialization of strategic economic sectors, empower the poor and provide the basis for a self-managed factory system. A negative vote (or a successful US-backed civil-military uprising) will reverse the most promising living experience of popular self-rule, of advanced social welfare and democratically based socialism. A reversal, especially a military dictated outcome, will lead to a massive blood bath, such as we have not seen since the days of the Indonesian Generals’ Coup of 1966, which killed over a million workers and peasants or the Argentine Coup of 1976 in which over 30,000 Argentines were murdered by the US backed Generals.

A decisive vote for ‘Sí’ will not end US military and political destabilization campaigns but it will certainly undermine and demoralize their collaborators. On December 2, 2007 the Venezuelans have a rendezvous with history.

James Petras is a frequent contributor to Global Research. Global Research Articles by James Petras
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Venezuela’s Bad Example

November 28, 2007
ZNet | Venezuela
Venezuela’s Bad Example
by Alberto Cruz; Ceprid; November 27, 2007

The Venezuelan political process, that people there describe as Bolivarian, is systematically demonized not just by the bourgeois media but also by some supposed progressives. They tend to focus more on the figure of Chavez than on what that deepening social change means for the great mass of people marginalised and oppressed since independence from the Spanish colonial centre so as to exalt the political, economic – and white – elite. The world is full of cases of dubious leadership – not so Chavez, consistently re-elected and supported by a broad swathe of the Venezuelan people – so the great imperial power and its allies are by no means upset when suspicions are thrown up about the Venezuelan President.

So what is going on then? Well, in Venezuela what is happening is nothing less than the hard expression of a class struggle where although, for the moment, the correlation of forces does not clearly favour the people, at least they enjoy a self-evident equilibrium with the oligarchy. And this struggle transcends the country itself, something capitalists all over the world have grasped, especially opinion makers writing out of preconceived prejudices and stereotypes and often from a clear class position stemming from neo-colonialist habits of mind.

Nobody discusses whether or not the Venezuelan process is rocking the world economic system, whether its victory throws doubt on neo-liberal globalization or whether – as leading US analysts like Alexander Cockburn of the Counterpunch alternative website think – it is helping more than anything else to undermine the world leadership of the US. An example of this last point came in recent days during the OPEC meeting in Riyadh (the Saudi Arabian capital). The mere suggestion by Venezuela that the oil cartel might look at whether the dollar should be a reference currency, given its increasing weakness, set off alarms everywhere.

It is since Chavez became President back in 1998 that OPEC has become one of Venezuelan foreign policy’s main concerns, firstly, by revitalizing a declining organization and by standardizing joint production to control the oil price per barrel. For the US and the West in general , US$30 is considered a correct price, without taking into account countries’ different extraction costs : from the cheapest for Saudi Arabia to the most costly for Iran. Venezuela is between the two, but considered that, on balance, a fair price for everyone was above US$50.

In the second place, Venezuela launched an internal campaign within OPEC to democratize the Development and Cooperation Fund (worth US$40bn) and to see that the fund did not depend exclusively on Saudi Arabia, which consistently put the management of that fund in the hands of US and European businesses. Venezuela won that battle, so now not only US and European firms manage the fund, but the OPEC countries themselves and other non-Western bloc companies from outside the oil cartel. One of the star projects of this new management regime now is its focus on social problems affecting OPEC countries, for example how to avoid desertification in the sources of the Niger river. Moves like this have led to Venezuela being accepted as an observer country to the Organization of African Unity.

But there is more. Venezuela is overturning traditional trade exchange by setting up organizations like Petrocaribe and fomenting barter between States. As Latin American analysts have noted, without Petrocaribe, the 16 member countries – impoverished, lacking infrastructure and dependent on international aid – would today, with the exception of Cuba and Venezuela, face a tragic, dead-end outlook with astronomical prices for oil and its derivatives, along with increased world food prices as a result of production geared to bio-fuels. The extent of the savings on these countries’ oil bills is already around US$450 million since they freed themselves from oil market intermediaries and speculators.

With barter (oil for Cuban doctors, for Argentine meat and ships, for Uruguayan milk and cheese etc.), Venezuela has started a direct exchange of goods that breaks World Trade Organization norms and hands weaker countries a bigger role when it comes to selling their produce and raw materials. Under “free market” rules, impoverished countries and raw materials producers always see their exports at the mercy of price fluctuations based not so much on demand as on the political interests of the big political-financial corporations. Only understanding this really explains the recent revolt by Southern countries during the WTO negotiations on agricultural matters, insisting the developed countries make fewer demands and on fair treatment not just with regard to prices but also to the losses they suffer through rich country subsidies to their own agricultural products, as in the case of the US, at the same time as they advocate absolute market freedom for everyone else.

As if all that were not enough, if Venezuela manages to set up the Bank of the South, it will make the International Monetary Fund something for the history books. The reorientation announced by the IMF, as well as its readiness not to impose loans conditioned on structural adjustment, but rather to be more flexible towards countries, would not have been possible without Venezuela as an important alternative source of finance, much less onerous than the IMF or the World Bank. Argentina’s economic success is owed in large part to Venezuelan economic aid, which allowed Kirchner’s government to follow policies outside the recommendations of the IMF.

The more or less radical left turn happening in Latin America following the Venezuelan example is a result of neoliberalism’s macro-economic failure which has enormously increased inequality and poverty for the great majority while the same old minority has become even more wealthy. The fact that certain social initiatives are now being launched, as during the recent Ibero-American Summit – is down to the processes described above. Without Venezuela’s “bad example” neither the Spanish government nor the Latin American ones now praised by the mass media would have moved in that direction.

Now one can hardly wait for these governments fighting Venezuela’s bad example to bring in a 6 hour working day; to recognise social property alongside public and private property; to ensure that public officials become subject to  evaluation by means of public referendum halfway through their period, and dismissed if that is what people want; that they set up community councils and see to it that people in any municipality  can formulate, execute and evaluate public policies adopted by the community with or without support from the municipal authorities. Some of these matters are included in the proposal for constitutional reform to be voted on this December 2nd. If it is approved it will reinforce long term social and political democratization, especially in foreign policy.

And that is what upsets the gurus of globalization, including the Spanish companies so warmly defended over the last few days. When these supposedly democracy-loving businessmen talk about “legal insecurity” in some countries and mention always Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, they do so from a neocolonial premise, criticizing the approval of laws in those countries by means of which those peoples win back control of their energy resources. The proposed changes in Venezuela’s constitutional reform reaffirm the recovery of the country’s wealth, although they receive scanting criticism from parts of the Venezuelan Left, at the same time they open up popular participation in ways unknown to most of the world, including Europe.

There is no attack in Venezuela against capitalism as such, but there is an effort to build an alternative in the sense of creating a society in which the explicit aim is not the growth of capital or of the material means of production but rather the development of human capital. So long as the Bolivarian movement was not building that alternative there were no important desertions from its right wing. Now there are, because the class struggle is deepening and everyone takes their side.

James Petras is quite right when he states, “The opposition coalition of the wealthy and privileged fear the constitutional reforms because these should hand a larger percentage of their benefits to the working class, they will lose their monopoly on market transactions – which will pass to public companies – and the political power they now enjoy will be displaced towards local community councils and towards the executive power. While the right wing and liberal media of Venezuela, Europe and the USA have invented shocking accusations against the “authoritarian” reforms, the truth is that the amendments offer a deeper and wider social democracy”. That is the bad example Venezuela is giving, the bad example of the good left.

Alberto Cruz is a journalist, political analyst and writer specializing in International Relations

albercruz (at) eresmas.com

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War Paint and Lawyers

November 28, 2007

War Paint and Lawyers:
Rainforest Indians versus Big Oil

Published <!– by Greg Palast –> November 26th, 2007 in Articles

Greg Palast investigates for BBC Newsnight
Chevron: “Nobody has proved that crude causes cancer.”

Tuesday, November 27, 10:30pm GMT [5:30pm New York Time] – live on BBC2 TV or on the net at www.BBC.co.uk/Newsnight.
Greg getting in Canoe

BBC Television Newsnight has been able to get close-in film of a new Cofan Indian ritual deep in the heart of the Amazonian rainforest. Known as “The Filing of the Law Suit,” natives of Ecuador’s jungle, decked in feathers and war paint and heavily armed with lawyers, are filmed presenting a new complaint in their litigation seeking $12 billion from Chevron Inc., the international oil goliath.

It would all be a poignant joke – except that the indigenous tribe is suddenly the odds-on favorite to defeat the oil company known for naming its largest tanker, “Condoleezza,” after former Chevron director, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Cofan Leader CriolloRice.

For Newsnight, reporter Greg Palast, steps (somewhat inelegantly) into a dug-out log canoe to seek out the Cofan in their rainforest village to investigate their allegations. Palast discovers stinking pits of old oil drilling residue leaking into drinking water – and meets farmers whose limbs are covered in pustules.

The Cofan’s leader, Emergildo Criollo, tells Palast that when Texaco Oil, now part of Chevron, came to the village in 1972, it obtained permission to drill by offering the Indians candy and cheese. The indigenous folk threw the funny-selling cheese into the jungle.

Criollo says his three-year son died from oil contamination after, “He went swimming, then began vomiting blood.”

Flying out of the rainforest, past the Andes volcanoes, Palast gets the other side of the story in Ecuador’s capitol, Quito. “It’s the largest fraud in history!” asserts Chevron lawyer Jaime Varela reacting to the Cofan law suits against his company. Chevron-Texaco, Varela insists, cleaned up all its contaminated oil pits when it abandoned the country nearly 15 years ago – except those pits it left in the hands of Ecuador’s own state oil company.

What about the Indian kids dying of cancer? Texaco lawyer Rodrigo Perez asks, “And it’s the only case of cancer in the world? How many cases of children with cancer do you have in the States, in Europe, in Quito? If there is somebody with cancer there, [the Cofan parents] must prove [the deaths were] caused by crude or by petroleum industry. And, second, they have to prove that it is OUR crude – which is absolutely impossible.” The Texaco man stated, “Scientifically, nobody has proved that crude causes cancer.”

Even if the Indians can prove their case and win billions to clean up the jungle, collecting the cash is another matter. Chevron has removed all its assets from Ecuador.Sludge in Ecuador

But, this week, the political planet tilts toward the natives as Alberto Acosta takes office as President of Ecuador’s new Constitutional Assembly. Newsnight catches up with Acosta – who gives Chevron a tongue-lashing. “Chevron is responsible for environmental and social destruction in the Amazon. And that’s why they’re on trial.”

“He LOVES Chavez”
Little Ecuador does not seem like much of a match against big Chevron – whose revenue exceeds the entire GDP of the Andean nation. However, behind Little Ecuador is Huge Venezuela – and its larger-than-life leader, Hugo Chavez. “Acosta,” complains one local pundit to the BBC, “loves – LOVES – Chavez.”

And apparently, the feeling is mutual. That is, Chavez sees in Ecuador’s new government, which won election campaigning to the tune of the Twisted Sister hit, We’re Not Gonna Take it Anymore, a new ally in his fight with George Bush over control of Latin hearts and minds – and energy.

Chevron LawyersChevron-Texaco’s largest new oil reserves are in Venezuela; Venezuela stands with Ecuador; and Ecuador now stands with its “affectados,” the Indians and farmers claiming the poisons in their bodies trace right back to the Texaco star.

Suddenly, the David-versus-Goliath story of Little Indians versus Big Oil is becoming part of the larger conflict between Uncle Sam and Uncle Hugo. The outcome is now a cliff-hanger. Indeed, Newsnight has learned that this month, Chevron will face a new legal challenge by Cofan attorneys before US securities regulators to investigate whether the company has fully disclosed to shareholders the massive potential legal liability from the equatorial Rumble in the Jungle.

Watch the story live on BBC2 or, in the US, on the net at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/newsnight/default.stm after broadcast – or via a link from www.GregPalast.com. WARNING: The day’s news events may require Newsnight to delay broadcast to another evening.

Coup D’État Rumblings in Venezuela by Stephen Lendman

November 19, 2007

Coup D’État Rumblings in Venezuela by Stephen Lendman

Dandelion Salad

by Stephen Lendman
Global Research, November 19, 2007

The Bush administration tried and failed three prior times to oust Hugo Chavez since its first aborted two-day coup attempt in April, 2002. Through FOIA requests, lawyer, activist and author Eva Golinger uncovered top secret CIA documents of US involvement that included an intricate financing scheme involving the quasi-governmental agency, National Endowment of Democracy (NED), and US Agency for International Development (USAID). The documents also showed the White House, State Department and National Security Agency had full knowledge of the scheme, had to have approved it, and there’s little doubt of CIA involvement as it’s always part of this kind of dirty business. What’s worrying now is what went on then may be happening again in what looks like a prelude to a fourth made-in-Washington attempt to oust the Venezuelan leader that must be monitored closely as events develop.

Since he took office in February, 1999, and especially after George Bush’s election, Chavez has been a US target, and this time he believes credible sources point to a plot to assassinate him. That information comes from Alimamy Bakarr Sankoh, president of the Hugo Chavez International-Foundation for Peace, Friendship & Solidarity (HCI-FPFS) in a November 11 press release. Sankoh supports Chavez as “a man of peace and flamboyant champion of human dignity (who persists in his efforts in spite of) growing US blackmail, sabotage and political blasphemy.”

HCI-FPFS sources revealed the plot’s code name – “Operation Cleanse Venezuela” that now may be unfolding ahead of the December 2 referendum on constitutional reforms. According to Sankoh, the scheme sounds familiar – CIA and other foreign secret service operatives (including anti-Castro terrorists) aiming to destabilize the Chavez government by using “at least three concrete subversive plans” to destroy the country’s social democracy and kill Chavez.

It involves infiltrating subversive elements into the country, inciting opposition within the military, ordering region-based US forces to shoot down any aircraft used by Chavez, employing trained snipers with shoot to kill orders, and having the dominant US and Venezuelan media act as supportive attack dogs. Chavez is targeted because he represents the greatest of all threats to US hegemony in the region – a good example that’s spreading. Venezuela also has Latin America’s largest proved oil reserves at a time supplies are tight and prices are at all-time highs.

Sankoh calls Washington-directed threats “real” and to “be treated seriously” to avoid extending Bush’s Middle East adventurism to Latin America. He calls for support from the region and world community to denounce the scheme and help stop another Bush administration regime change attempt.

More information on a possible coup plot also came from a November 13 Party for Socialism and Liberation article headlined “New US plots against the Venezuelan Revolution.” It states Tribuna Popular (the Communist Party of Venezuela) and Prensa Latina (the Latin American News Agency) reported: “Between Oct. 7 and Oct 9, high-ranking US officials met in Prague, Czech Republic, with parts of the Venezuelan opposition (where they were) urged to convene social uprisings, sabotage the economy and infrastructure, destroy the food transportation chain and plan a military coup.” It said Paul Wolfowitz and Madeleine Albright attended along with Humberto Celli, “a well-known coup-plotter from the Venezuelan party Accion Democratica.”

The article further reported Tibisay Lucena, The National Electoral Council chairman, said the Venezuelan corporate media was “stoking a mood of violence amongst right-wing students” through a campaign of agitprop, and Hermann Escarra from the “pro-coup” Comando Nacional de la Resistencia openly incited “rebellion” last August and then called for constitutional changes to be stopped “through all means possible.”

The Venezuelan news agency, Diaria VEA, also weighed in saying “anonymous students planned on committing acts of destabilization” as the December 2 vote approaches. Venezuelan Radio Trans Mundial provided proof with a recorded video of a youth dumping gasoline into an armored vehicle, ramming metal barricades into police on top of other vehicles, and knocking them from their roofs and hoods onto the ground.

The Threat of Street Protest Violence

For weeks, protests with sporadic violence have been on Venezuela’s streets as anti-Chavistas use middle and upper class students as imperial tools to destabilize the government and disrupt the constitutional process. The aim is to discredit and oust the Chavez government and return the country to its ugly past with Washington and local oligarchs in charge and the neoliberal model reinstated.

Venezuela’s Foreign Minister, Nicolas Maduro, weighed in on this on November 8. He accused Washington of meddling by staging violent Caracas street protests against proposed constitutional reforms to extend the country’s participatory social democracy. Referring to a November 7 shootout at Caracas’ Central University, he said: “We don’t have any doubt that the government of the United States has their hands in the scheme that led to the ambush yesterday” that Chavez calls a “fascist offensive.” Several students were wounded on the streets from a clash between pro and anti-Chavez elements.

“We know the whole scheme,” Maduro added, and he should as it happened before in 2002, again during the disruptive 2002-03 oil management lockout, and most often as well when elections are held to disrupt the democratic process. These are standard CIA operating tactics used many times before for 50 years in the Agency’s efforts to topple independent leaders and kill them. Chavez understands what’s happening, and he’s well briefed and alerted by his ally, Fidel Castro, who survived over 600 US attempts to kill him since 1959. He’s now 81 and very much alive but going through a difficult recovery from major surgery 15 months ago.

Chavez has widespread popular support throughout the region and from allies like Ecuador’s Raphael Correa and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega who expressed his “solidarity with the revolutionary people of Venezuela and our friend Hugo Chavez, who is being subjected to aggression from a counterrevolution fed by the traitors from inside the country and by the empire (referring to the US).” He compared the situation to his own country where similar efforts are being “financed by the United States Embassy” in Managua to support elements opposed to his Sandinista government even though it’s very accommodative to Washington.

Even Brazil’s Lula chimed in by calling Chavez’s proposed reforms consistent with Venezuela’s democratic norms, and he added: “Please, invent anything to criticize Chavez, except for lack of democracy.”

Constitutional Reform As A Pretext for Protests

Washington’s goal from all this is clear, but why now? Last July, Chavez announced he’d be sending Venezuela’s National Assembly (AN) a proposed list of constitutional reforms to debate, consider and vote on. Under Venezuelan law, the President, National Assembly or 15% of registered voters (by petition) may propose constitutional changes. Under articles 342, 343, 344 and 345, they must then be debated three times in the legislature, amended if needed, and then submitted to a vote that requires a two-thirds majority to pass. Finally within 30 days, the public gets the last word, up or down, in a national referendum. It represents the true spirit of democracy that’s unimaginable in the US where elitists control everything, elections are a sham, and the people have no say.

That was true for Venezuela earlier, but no longer. In its history, there have been 26 Constitutions since its first in 1821, but none like the 1999 Bolivarian one under Chavez that’s worlds apart from the others. It created a model participatory social democracy that gave all citizens the right to vote it up or down by national referendum and then empowered them (or the government) later on to petition for change.

On August 15, Chavez did that by submitting 33 suggested amendment reforms to the Constitution’s 350 articles and explained it this way: The 1999 Constitution needed updating because it’s “ambiguous (and) a product of that moment. The world (today) is very different from (then). (Reforms are) essential for continuing the process of revolutionary transition” to deepen and broaden Venezuelan democracy. That’s his central aim – to create a “new geometry of power” for the people along with more government accountability to them.

Proposed reforms will have little impact on the nation’s fundamental political structure. They will, however, change laws with regard to politics, the economy, property, the military, the national territory as well as the culture and society and will deepen the country’s social democracy.

The National Assembly (AN) completed its work on November 2 adding 25 additional articles to Chavez’s proposal plus another 11 changes for a total of 69 articles that amend one-fifth of the nation’s Constitution. The most important ones include:

– extending existing constitutional law that guarantees human rights and recognizes the country’s social and cultural diversity;

– building a “social economy” to replace the failed neoliberal Washington Consensus model;

– officially prohibiting monopolies and unjust consolidation of economic resources;

– extending presidential terms from six to seven years;

– allowing unlimited presidential reelections so that option is “the sovereign decision of the constituent people of Venezuela” and is a similar to the political process in countries like England, France, Germany and Australia;

– strengthening grassroots communal councils, increasing their funding, and promoting more of them;

– lowering the eligible voting age from 18 to 16;

– guaranteeing free university education to the highest level;

– prohibiting foreign funding of elections and political activity;

– reducing the work week to 36 hours to promote more employment;

– ending the autonomy of Venezuela’s Central Bank to reclaim the country’s financial sovereignty the way it should be everywhere; today nearly all central banks are controlled by private for-profit banking cartels; Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul wants to end that status in the US and correctly explains the Federal Reserve Bank is neither federal nor does it have reserves; it’s owned and run by Wall Street and the major banks;

– adding new forms of collective property under five categories: public for the state, social for citizens, collective for people or social groups, mixed for public and private, and private for individuals or private entities;

– territorial redefinition to distribute resources more equitably to communities instead of being used largely by economic and political elites;

– prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination and enacting gender parity rights for political candidates;

– redefining the military as an “anti-imperialist popular entity;”

– in cases where property is appropriated for the public good, fair and timely compensation to be paid for it;

– protecting the loss of one’s home in cases of bankruptcy; and

– enacting social security protection for the self-employed.

The National Assembly also approved 15 important transitional dispositions. They relate to how constitutional changes will be implemented if approved until laws are passed to regulate them. One provision is for the legislature to pass 15 so-called “organic laws” that include the following ones:

– a law on “popular power” to govern grassroots communal councils (that may number 50,000 by year end) that Chavez called “one of the central ideas….to open, at the constitutional level, the roads to accelerate the transfer of power to the people (in an) Explosion of Communal (or popular) Power;” five percent of state revenues will be set aside to fund it;

– another promoting a socialist economy for the 21st century that Chavez champions even though he remains friendly to business; and

– one relating to the country’s territorial organization; plus others on education, a shorter workweek and more democratic changes.

Under Venezuelan law, and in the true spirit of democracy, these proposed changes will be for citizens to vote up or down on December 2. The process will be in two parts reversing an earlier decision to do it as one package, yea or nay. One part will be Chavez’s 33 reforms plus 13 National Assembly additions, and the other for the remaining 23 articles.

Coup D’Etat Rumblings Must Be Taken Seriously

Now battle lines are drawn, opposition forces are mobilized and events are playing out violently on Venezuela’s streets. The worst so far was on November 7 when CNN falsely reported “80,000″ anti-Chavez students demonstrated “peacefully” in Caracas to denounce “Hugo Chavez’s attempts to expand his power.” The actual best estimates put it between 2000 and 10,000, and long-time Latin American expert James Petras calls the protesters “privileged middle and upper middle class university students,” once again being used as an imperial tool.

In their anti-government zeal, CNN and other dominant media ignore the many pro-Chavez events writer Fred Fuentes calls a “red hurricane” sweeping the country. An impressive one was held on November 4 when the President addressed hundreds of thousands of supporters who participated in an 8.5 kilometer Caracas march while similar pro-reform rallies took place at the same time around the country. They’re the start of a “yes” campaign for a large December 2 turnout that’s vital as polls show strong pro-reform support by a near two to one margin.

In an effort to defuse it, orchestrated opposition turned violent and officials reported eight people were injured in the November 7 incident. No one was killed, but one was wounded by gunfire when at least “four (masked) gunmen (who looked like provocateur plants, not students) fir(ed) handguns at the anti-Chavez crowd.” In an earlier October demonstration, opposition students clashed with police who kept them from reaching the National Assembly building and a direct confrontation with pro-Chavez supporters that might have turned ugly.

It did on November 7 when violence erupted between pro and anti-government students, but it wasn’t as reported. Venezuelan and US corporate media claimed pro-Chavez supporters initiated the attack. In fact, they WERE attacked by elements opposing the President. They seized this time to act ahead of the referendum to disrupt it and destabilize the government as prelude to a possible planned coup.

One pro-Chavez student explained what happened. She and others were erecting posters supporting a “yes” referendum vote when they were attacked with tear gas and crowds yelling they were going to be lynched. Avila TV had the evidence. Its unedited footage showed an opposition student mob surrounding the School of Social Work area where pro-Chavez students hid for safety. They threw Molotov cocktails, rocks, chairs and other objects, smashed windows, and tried to burn down the building as university authorities (responsible for security) stood aside doing nothing to curtail the violence. Another report was that corporate-owned Univision operatives posing as reporters had guns and accompanied the elements attacking the school in an overt act of complicity by the media.

The pattern now unfolding on Caracas streets is similar to what happened ahead of the April, 2002 aborted coup attempt, and Petras calls it “the most serious threat (to the President) since” that time. The corporate media then claimed pro-government supporters instigated street violence and fired on “unarmed” opposition protesters. In fact, that was later proved a lie as anti-Chavez “snipers” did the firing as part of the plot that became the coup. A similar scheme may now be unfolding in Caracas and on other campuses around the country as well.

In his public comments, Foreign Minister Maduro accused the major media and CNN of misrepresenting events and poisoning the political atmosphere. It’s happening in Venezuela and the US as the dominant media attacks Hugo Chavez through a campaign of vilification and black propaganda.

US Corporate Media on the Attack

On November 12, The Venezuela Information Office (VIO) reported that growing numbers of “US print newspapers lodged attacks against Venezuela” using “outdated cold-war generalizations” and without explaining any of the proposed democratic changes. Among others, they came from the Houston Chronicle that claimed:

– constitutional reforms will “eliminate the vestiges of democracy” in Venezuela when, in fact, they’ll strengthen it, and the people will vote them up or down;

– Chavez controls the electoral system when, in fact, Venezuela is a model free, fair and open democracy that shames its US equivalent. The Chronicle falsely said reforms will strip people of their right to due process. In fact, that’s guaranteed under article 337 that won’t be changed.

VIO also reported on a Los Angeles Times editorial comparing Chavez to Bin Laden. It compounded that whopper by claiming reforms will cause a global recession due to higher oil prices that, of course, have nothing to do with changes in law. In another piece, the LA Times inverted the truth by falsely claiming a public majority opposes reforms. Then there’s the Miami Herald predicting an end to freedom of expression if changes pass and the Washington Post commenting on how high oil prices let Chavez buy influence.

The Post then ran an inflamatory November 15 editorial headlined “Mr. Chavez’s Coup” if which it lied by saying November 7 student protesters “were fired on by gunmen (whom) university officials later ‘identified’….as members of government-sponsored ‘paramilitary groups’ when, in fact, there are no such groups. The editorial went on to say Chavez wants to “complete his transformation into an autocrat (to be able to) seize property….dispose of Venezuela’s foreign exchange reserves….impose central government rule on local jurisdictions and declare indefinite states of emergency” as well as suspend due process and freedom of information. Again, misinformation, deliberate distortion and outright lies from a leading quasi-official US house organ.

Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal weighed in as well with its lead anti-Chavez attack dog and all-round character assassin extraordinaire, Mary Anastasia O’Grady. This writer has tangled with her several times before and earlier commented how one day she’ll have a serious back problem because of her rigid position of genuflection to the most extreme hard-right elements she supports. Her latest November 12 column was vintage O’Grady and headlined “More Trouble for Chavez (as) Students and former allies unite against his latest power grab.”

Like most of her others, this one drips with vitriol and outrageous distortions like calling Chavez a “dictator” when, in fact, he’s a model democrat, but that’s the problem for writers like O’Grady. Absent the facts, they use agitprop instead. O’Grady writes: “Mr. Chavez has been working to remove any counterbalances to his power for almost nine years (and) has met strong resistance from property owners, businesses, labor leaders, the Catholic Church and the media.” Now add opposition well-off students. Omitted is that the opposition is a minority, it represents elitist interests, and Chavez has overwhelming public support for his social democracy and proposed reform changes including from most students O’Grady calls “pro-Chavez goons.”

Once again, she’s on a rampage, but that’s her job. She claims the absurd and people believe her – like saying the media will be censored, civil liberties can be suspended, and government will be empowered to seize private property. He’s a “demagogue,” says O’Grady, waging “class warfare,” but opposition to reform “has led to increased speculation (his) days are numbered.” Wishing won’t make it so, and O’Grady uses that line all the time.

The New York Times is also on the attack in its latest anti-Chavez crusade. It’s been a leading Chavez critic for years, and Simon Romero is its man in Caracas. On November 3, he reported “Lawmakers in Venezuela Approve Expanded Power for Chavez (in a) constitutional overhaul (to) enhance (Chavez’s) authority, (allow) him to be reelected indefinitely, and (give) him the power to handpick rulers, to be called vice-presidents, (and) for various new regions to be created in the country….The new amendments would facilitate expropriations of private property (and allow state) security forces to round up citizens (stripped of their) legal protections” if Chavez declares a state of emergency – to make him look like Pakistan’s Musharraf when he’s mirror opposite.

Romero also quoted Jose Manuel Gonzales, president of Venezuela’s Fedecamaras (chamber of commerce), saying “Venezuelan democracy was buried today” and anti-Chavez Roman Catholic church leaders (always allied with elitists) calling the changes “morally unacceptable.” Then on November 8, Romero followed with an article titled “Gunmen Attack Opponents of Chavez’s Bid to Extend Power” and implied they were pro-Chavez supporters. Again false. Still more came on November 10 headlined “Students Emerge as a Leading Force Against Chavez” in an effort to imply most students oppose him when, in fact, these elements are a minority.

His latest so far is on November 17 titled “Chavez’s Vision Shares Wealth and Centers Power” that in fairness shows the President addressing a huge crowd of supporters in Maturin on November 16. But Romero spoiled it by calling his vision “centralized, oil-fueled socialism (with) Chavez (having) significantly enhanced powers.” Then he quotes Chavez biographer Alberto Barrera Tyszka who embarrassed himself and Romero saying the President is seizing and redirecting “power through legitimate means (and this) is not a dictatorship but something more complex,” the ‘tyranny’ of popularity.” In other words, he’s saying democracy is “tyranny.” The rest of the article is just as bad with alternating subtle and hammer blow attacks against a popular President’s aim to deepen his socially democratic agenda and help his people.

Romero’s measured tone outclasses O’Grady’s crudeness that’s pretty standard fare on the Journal’s notorious opinion page. He’s much more dangerous, however, with a byline in the influential “newspaper of record” because of the important audience it commands.

One other notable anti-Chavez piece is in the November 26 issue of the magazine calling itself “the capitalist tool” – Forbes. It shows in its one-sided commentary and intolerance of opposing views. The article in question, headlined “Latin Sinkholes,” is by right wing economist and long-time flack for empire, Steve Hanke. In it, he aims right at Chavez with outrageous comments like calling him a “negative reformer (who) turned back the clock (and) hails Cuba, the largest open-air prison in the Americas, as his model. His revolution’s enemy is the marketplace.” He then cites a World Bank report saying “Venezuela is tied with Zimbabwe as this year’s champion in smothering economic freedom,” and compounds that lie with another whopper.

Point of fact – Venezuela and Argentina have the highest growth rates in the region and are near the top of world rankings in recent years. Following the devastating oil management 2002-03 lockout, Venezuela’s economy took off and grew at double digit rates in 2004, 05 and 06 and will grow a likely 8% this year. Hanke, however, says “Venezuela’s economic performance under Chavez has been anemic (growing) at an average rate of only 2% per year. In the same article, he aims in similar fashion at Ecuador’s Raphael Correa calling him “ruthlessly efficient (for wanting to) pull off a Bolivarian Revolution in Ecuador.” Hanke and most others in the dominant media are of one mind and never let facts contradict their opinions. Outliers won’t be tolerated even when it’s proved their way works best.

There’s lots more criticism like this throughout the dominant media along with commentators calling Chavez “a dictator, another Hitler (and) a threat to democracy.” Ignoring the rules of imperial management has a price. This type media assault is part of it as a prelude for what often follows – attempted regime change.

Further Venezuela Information Office (VIO) Clarification of Facts on the Ground

On November 15, VIO issued an alert update to dispel media inaccuracies “about Venezuela’s constitutional reforms and the student protests” accompanying them. They’re listed below:

– Caracas has a student population of around 200,000; at most 10,000 participated in the largest protest to date, and VIO estimates it was 6000;

– the major media ignore how the government cooperates with students and made various accommodations to them to be fair to the opposition;

– Venezuelan police have protected student protesters, and article 68 of the Constitution requires they do it; it affirms the right of all Venezuelans to assemble peacefully;

– in addition, student protest leaders linked to opposition parties were granted high-level meetings with government officials to present their concerns;

– on November 1, their student representatives met with directors of the National Electoral Council (CNE) and presented a petition to delay the referendum;

– on November 7, they again met with National Tribunal of Justice officials and presented the same petition;

– on November 12, Minister of Interior and Justice Minister, Pedro Carreno, met 20 university presidents to assure them the government respects university autonomy and their students’ right to assemble peacefully;

– VIO reported what really happened at another November 1 protest after students met with CNE officials; some of them then tried to chain themselves to the building while others charged through police lines and injured six officers; in addition, one student had 20 liters of gasoline but never got to use it criminally; after the incident, the CNE president, Tibisay Lucena, issued a public statement expressing his disappointment about this kind of response to the government’s good faith efforts; and

– VIO said students and university presidents from across the nation filed a document with the Supreme Court on November 14 supporting constitutional reform. Chief justice Luisa Estela Morales praised their coming and said the court’s doors are open to anyone wanting to give an opinion. The dominant media reported nothing on this. It also ignored the government’s 9000 public events throughout the country in past weeks to explain and discuss proposed reforms and that a hotline was installed for comments on them, pro or con.

– finally, when protests of any kind happen in the US, police usually attack them with tear gas, beatings and mass arrests to crush their democratic spirit and prevent it from being expressed as our Constitution’s First and most important amendment guarantees. In Venezuela, the spirit of democracy lives. It never existed in the US, and we want to export our way to everyone and by force if necessary.

Here’s a November 15 breaking news example of our way in action. At 8:00AM, 12 FBI and Secret Service agents raided the Liberty Dollar Company’s office in Evansville, IN and for the next six hours removed two tons of legal Ron Paul Dollars along with all the gold, silver and platinum at the location. They also took all location files and computers and froze Liberty Dollar’s bank accounts in an outrageous police state action against a legitimate business. This move also seems intended to impugn the integrity of a presidential candidate gaining popularity because he defies the bellicose mainstream and wants more people empowerment.

Chavez champions another way and answered his critics at a November 14 Miraflores Presidential Palace press conference where he denounced them for lying about his reform package. He explained his aim is to strengthen Venezuela’s independence and transfer power to the people, not increase his own. “For many years in Venezuela,” he said, “they weakened the powers of the state as part of the neoliberal imperial plan….to weaken the economies of countries to insure domination. While we remained weak, imperialism was strengthened,” and he elaborated.

He then continued to stress his most important reform “is the transfer of power to the people” through an explosion of grassroots communal, worker, student and campesino councils, formations of them into regional and national federations, and the formation of “communes (to) constitute the basic nucleus of the socialist state.” Earlier Chavez stated that democratizing the economy “is the only way to defeat poverty, to defeat misery and achieve the largest sum of happiness for the people.” He’s not just saying this. He believes and acts on it, and that’s why elitists target him for removal even though he wants equity for everyone, even his critics, and business continues to thrive under his government. But not like in the “good old” days when it was all one-way.

Venezuelan Business is Booming – So Why Complain?

Business in Venezuela is indeed booming, and in 2006 the Financial Times said bankers were “having a party” it was so good. So what’s the problem? It’s not good enough for corporate interests wanting it all for themselves and nothing for the people the way it used to be pre-Chavez. Unfair? Sure, but in a corporate-dominated world, that’s how it is and no outliers are tolerated. Thus Hugo Chavez’s dilemma.

Last June, Business Week (BW) magazine captured the mood in an article called “A Love-Hate Relationship with Chavez – Companies are chafing under the fiery socialist. But in some respects, business has never been better.” Writer Geri Smith asked: “Just how hard is it to do business in Venezuela” and then exaggerated by saying “hardly a day passes without another change in the rules restricting companies.” Hardly so, but what is true is new rules require a more equitable relationship between government and business. They provide more benefits to the people and greater attention to small Venezuelan business and other commercial undertakings like an explosion of cooperatives (100,000 or more) that under neoliberal rules have no chance against the giants.

Nonetheless, the economy under Chavez is booming, and business loves it even while it complains. It’s because oil revenues are high, Chavez spends heavily on social benefits, and the poor have seen their incomes more than double since 2004 when all their benefits are included. The result, as BW explains: “Sales of everything from basics” to luxury items “have taken off….and local and foreign companies alike are raking in more money than ever in Venezuela.” In addition, bilateral trade has never been higher, but American business complains it’s caught in the middle of a Washington – Caracas political struggle.

The article continues to show how all kinds of foreign business is benefitting from cola to cars to computer chips. Yet, it restates the dilemma saying “As Chavez continues his socialist crusade, there are signs of rising discontent,” and it’s showing up now on the country’s streets with the latest confrontation still to be resolved, one way or another.

Events Are Ugly and Coming to A Head

Through the dominant media, Washington and Venezuelan anti-Chavez elements are using constitutional reform as a pretext for what they may have in mind – “to arouse the military to intervene” and oust Chavez, as Petras notes in his article titled “Venezuela: Between Ballots and Bullets.” He explains the opposition “rich and privileged (coalition) fear constitutional reforms because they will have to grant a greater share of their (considerable) profits to the working class, lose their monopoly over market transactions to publicly owned firms, and see political power evolve toward local community councils and the executive branch.”

Petras is worried and says “class polarization….has reached its most extreme expression” as December 2 approaches: “the remains of the multi-class coalition embracing a minority of the middle class and the great majority of (workers) is disintegrating (and) political defections have increased (including 14) deputies in the National Assembly.” Add to them former Chavez Defense Minister, Raul Baduel, who Petras believes may be “an aspirant to head up a US-backed right-wing seizure of power.”

The situation is ugly and dangerous, and lots of US money and influence fuels it. Petras puts it this way: “Venezuelan democracy, the Presidency of Hugo Chavez and the great majority of the popular classes face a mortal threat.” An alliance between Washington, local oligarchs and elitist supporters of the “right” are committed to ousting Chavez and may feel now is their best chance. Venezuela’s social democracy is on the line in the crucial December 2 vote, and the entire region depends on it solidifying and surviving.

Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

Also visit his blog site at www.sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The Steve Lendman News and Information Hour on www.TheMicroEffect.com Mondays at noon US Central time.

Stephen Lendman is a frequent contributor to Global Research. Global Research Articles by Stephen Lendma

see

Venezuela: The struggle for a united socialist party by Federico Fuentes

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The Anti-Empire Report by William Blum

November 7, 2007

The Anti-Empire Report by William Blum

The Anti-Empire Report
Read this or George W. Bush will be president the rest of your life

by William Blum
www.killinghope.org
November 6, 2007

In a sound-bite society, reality no longer matters

Last month, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told assembled world leaders at the United Nations that the time had come to take action against Iran. “None disagrees,” she said, “that Iran denies the Holocaust and speaks openly of its desire to wipe a member state – mine – off the map. And none disagrees that, in violation of Security Council resolutions, it is actively pursuing the means to achieve this end. Too many see the danger but walk idly by – hoping that someone else will take care of it. … It is time for the United Nations, and the states of the world, to live up to their promise of never again. To say enough is enough, to act now and to defend their basic values.”[1]

Yet, later the same month, we are informed by Haaretz, (frequently described as “the New York Times of Israel”), that the same Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni had said a few months earlier, in a series of closed discussions, that in her opinion “Iranian nuclear weapons do not pose an existential threat to Israel.” Haaretz reported that “Livni also criticized the exaggerated use that [Israeli] Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is making of the issue of the Iranian bomb, claiming that he is attempting to rally the public around him by playing on its most basic fears.”[2]

What are we to make of such a self-contradiction, such perfect hypocrisy?

And here is Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International: “The one time we seriously negotiated with Tehran was in the closing days of the war in Afghanistan, in order to create a new political order in the country. Bush’s representative to the Bonn conference, James Dobbins, says that ‘the Iranians were very professional, straightforward, reliable and helpful. They were also critical to our success. They persuaded the Northern Alliance [Afghan foes of the Taliban] to make the final concessions that we asked for.’ Dobbins says the Iranians made overtures to have better relations with the United States through him and others in 2001 and later, but got no reply. Even after the Axis of Evil speech, he recalls, they offered to cooperate in Afghanistan. Dobbins took the proposal to a principals meeting in Washington only to have it met with dead silence. The then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, he says, ‘looked down and rustled his papers.’ No reply was ever sent back to the Iranians. Why bother? They’re mad.”[3]

Dobbins has further written: “The original version of the Bonn agreement … neglected to mention either democracy or the war on terrorism. It was the Iranian representative who spotted these omissions and successfully urged that the newly emerging Afghan government be required to commit to both.”[4] … “Only weeks after Hamid Karzai was sworn in as interim leader in Afghanistan, President Bush listed Iran among the ‘axis of evil’ — surprising payback for Tehran’s help in Bonn. A year later, shortly after the invasion of Iraq, all bilateral contacts with Tehran were suspended. Since then, confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program has intensified.”[5]

Shortly after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iran made another approach to Washington, via the Swiss ambassador who sent a fax to the State Department. The Washington Post described it as “a proposal from Iran for a broad dialogue with the United States, and the fax suggested everything was on the table — including full cooperation on nuclear programs, acceptance of Israel and the termination of Iranian support for Palestinian militant groups.” The Bush administration “belittled the initiative. Instead, they formally complained to the Swiss ambassador who had sent the fax.” Richard Haass, head of policy planning at the State Department at the time and now president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said the Iranian approach was swiftly rejected because in the administration “the bias was toward a policy of regime change.”[6]

So there we have it. The Israelis know it, the Americans know it. Iran is not any kind of military threat. Before the invasion of Iraq I posed the question in this report: What possible reason would Saddam Hussein have for attacking the United States or Israel other than an irresistible desire for mass national suicide? He had no reason, and neither do the Iranians. Of the many lies surrounding the invasion of Iraq, the biggest one of all is that if, in fact, Saddam Hussein had those weapons of mass destruction the invasion would have been justified.

The United States and Israel have long strived to dominate the Middle East, viewing Iraq and Iran as the most powerful barriers to that ambition. Iraq is now a basket case. Iran awaits basketization. And, eventually perhaps, the omnipresent American military bases, closing the base-gap between Iraq and Afghanistan in Washington’s encirclement of China, and the better to monitor the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea areas.

There was a time when I presumed that the sole purpose of United States hostile policy toward Iran was to keep the Iranians from acquiring nuclear weapons, which would deprive the US and Israel of their mideast monopoly and ultimate tool of intimidation. But now it appears that destroying Iran’s military capability, nuclear and otherwise, smashing it to the point of being useless defensively or offensively, is the Bush administration’s objective, perhaps along with the hope of some form of regime change. The Empire leaves as little to chance as possible.

Cuba and Original Sin

Since the early days of the Cuban Revolution assorted anti-communists and capitalist true-believers around the world have been relentless in publicizing the failures, real and alleged, of life in Cuba; each perceived shortcoming is attributed to the perceived shortcomings of socialism — It’s simply a system that can’t work, we are told, given the nature of human beings, particularly in this modern, competitive, globalized, consumer-oriented world.

In response to many of these criticisms, defenders of Cuban society have regularly pointed out how the numerous draconian sanctions imposed by the United States since 1960 are largely responsible for most of the problems pointed out by the critics. The critics, in turn, say that this is just an excuse, one given by Cuban apologists for every failure of their socialist system. It would be very difficult for the critics to prove their point. The United States would have to drop all sanctions and then we’d have to wait long enough for Cuban society to recover what it’s lost and demonstrate what its system can do when not under constant attack by the most powerful nation in the world.

The sanctions (which Cuba calls an economic blockade), designed to create discontent toward the government, have been expanding under the Bush administration, both in number and in vindictiveness. Washington has adopted sharper reprisals against those who do business with Cuba or establish relations with the country based on cultural or tourist exchanges; e.g., the US Treasury has frozen the accounts in the United States of the Netherlands Caribbean Bank because it has an office in Cuba, and banned US firms and individuals from having any dealings with the Dutch bank.

The US Treasury Department fined the Alliance of Baptists $34,000, charging that certain of its members and parishioners of other churches had engaged in tourism during a visit to Cuba for religious purposes; i.e., they had spent money there. (As George W. once said: “U.S. law forbids Americans to travel to Cuba for pleasure.”[7])

American courts and government agencies have helped US companies expropriate the famous Cuban cigar brand name ‘Cohiba’ and the well-known rum “Havana Club”.

The Bush administration sent a note to American Internet service providers telling them not to deal with six specified countries, including Cuba.[8] This is one of several actions by Washington over the years to restrict Internet availability in Cuba; yet Cuba’s critics claim that problems with the Internet in Cuba are due to government suppression.

Cubans in the United States are limited to how much money they can send to their families in Cuba, a limit that Washington imposes only on Cubans and on no other nationals. Not even during the worst moments of the Cold War was there a general limit to the amount of money that people in the US could send to relatives living in the Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe.

In 1999, Cuba filed a suit against the United States for $181.1 billion in compensation for economic losses and loss of life during the first forty years of this aggression. The suit held Washington responsible for the death of 3,478 Cubans and the wounding and disabling of 2,099 others. In the eight years since, these figures have of course all increased. The sanctions, in numerous ways large and small, makes acquiring many kinds of products and services from around the world much more difficult and expensive, often impossible; frequently, they are things indispensable to Cuban medicine, transportation or industry; or they mean that Americans and Cubans can’t attend professional conferences in each other’s country.

The above is but a small sample of the excruciating pain inflicted by the United States upon the body, soul and economy of the Cuban people.

For years American political leaders and media were fond of labeling Cuba an “international pariah”. We don’t hear much of that any more. Perhaps one reason is the annual vote at the United Nations on a General Assembly resolution to end the US embargo against Cuba. This is how the vote has gone:

Yes-No
1992     59-2   (US, Israel)
1993     88-4   (US, Israel, Albania, Paraguay)
1994   101-2   (US, Israel)
1995   117-3   (US, Israel, Uzbekistan)
1996   138-3   (US, Israel, Uzbekistan)
1997   143-3   (US, Israel, Uzbekistan)
1998   157-2   (US, Israel)
1999   155-2   (US, Israel)
2000   167-3   (US, Israel, Marshall Islands)
2001   167-3   (US, Israel, Marshall Islands)
2002   173-3   (US, Israel, Marshall Islands)
2003   179-3   (US, Israel, Marshall Islands)
2004   179-4   (US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau)
2005   182-4   (US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau)
2006   183-4   (US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau)
2007   184-4   (US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau)

Cuba’s sin, which the United States of America cannot forgive, is to have created a society that can serve as a successful example of an alternative to the capitalist model, and, moreover, to have done so under the very nose of the United States. And despite all the hardships imposed on it by Washington, Cuba has indeed inspired countless peoples and governments all over the world.

Long-time writer about Cuba, Karen Lee Wald, has observed: “The United States has more pens, pencils, candy, aspirin, etc. than most Cubans have. They, on the other hand, have better access to health services, education, sports, culture, childcare, services for the elderly, pride and dignity than most of us have within reach.”

In a 1996 address to the General Assembly, Cuban Vice-President Carlos Lage stated: “Each day in the world 200 million children sleep in the streets. Not one of them is Cuban.”

On April 6, 1960, L.D. Mallory, a US State Department senior official, wrote in an internal memorandum: “The majority of Cubans support Castro … the only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship. … every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba.” Mallory proposed “a line of action that makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and the overthrow of the government.” Later that year, the Eisenhower administration instituted the embargo.[9]

Hugo the demon dictator strikes again

The latest evidence that Hugo Chavez is a dictator, we are told, is that he’s pushing for a constitutional amendment to remove term limits from the presidency. It’s the most contentious provision in his new reform package which has recently been approved by the Venezuelan congress and awaits a public referendum on December 2. The lawmakers traveled nationwide to discuss the proposals with community groups at more than 9,000 public events[10], rather odd behavior for a dictatorship, as is another of the reforms — setting a maximum six-hour workday so workers would have sufficient time for “personal development.”

The American media and the opposition in Venezuela make it sound as if Chavez is going to be guaranteed office for as long as he wants. What they fail to emphasize, if they mention it at all, is that there’s nothing at all automatic about the process — Chavez will have to be elected each time. Neither are we enlightened that it’s not unusual for a nation to not have a term limit for its highest office. France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, if not all of Europe and much of the rest of the world, do not have such a limit. The United States did not have a term limit on the office of the president during the nation’s first 175 years, until the ratification of the 22nd Amendment in 1951. Were all American presidents prior to that time dictators?

Is it of any significance, I wonder, that the two countries of the Western Hemisphere whose governments the United States would most like to overthrow — Venezuela and Cuba — have the greatest national obsession with baseball outside of the United States?

Reason Number 3,467 for having doubts about our God-given free-enterprise system

I recently bought my first cellphone and took it with me to Burlington, Vermont, only to discover that it didn’t work there. It seems that AT&T/Cingular doesn’t have cellphone towers in that area. But other phone companies do have towers there and their subscribers’ phones work. Is that not a really clever system?

To have a single national telephone system with all towers available for use by everyone would presumably upset libertarians and others who worship at the shrine of competition.. So instead we’re given another charming “market solution”, and the beauty of competition is preserved. Why stop there?  Just imagine the advantages in being able to call around to find out which fire station will give you the best rate should your house suddenly go up in flames.

An unwelcome guest at the table of respectable opinion

In the September edition of this report I presented a review of New York Times reporter Tim Weiner’s new book “Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA”. It was rather critical of the book, particularly as to what has been left out about CIA operations and the effect upon foreign peoples of these operations. The net result of these numerous omissions is to paint a picture of US foreign policy that significantly downplays the actions most destructive to the peace, prosperity, and happiness of the world.  It’s an old story — the media decide which issues to cover in the first place; they then decide how many sides there are to an issue; and then they decide what type of coverage is “balanced”. The major ideological problem of the American media is that they do not believe that they have any ideology.

But I wondered if I was not being somewhat unfair to Weiner in one or more cases; perhaps he had a good reason for some of his omissions; perhaps in the 700 pages, including 155 pages of small-type notes, I had missed something I thought had been omitted. I decided to send a copy of the review to him, hopefully to get his reaction, and wrote to the Times asking for his email address. I got back an email from Weiner himself which read, in full:

“Dear Mr. Blum: I read your review several days ago. And I’ve read all your books. best wishes, tw”

No challenges to anything I said; no corrections. I’d be surprised if he’s done more than skim a few pages of any of my books. His letter is his way of saying: “I really don’t want to hear from you again. Our worlds are not designed for mingling. Our truths are not the same, and neither my publisher nor the New York Times pays me to disseminate yours.”

NOTES
[1] Haaretz.com (Israeli newspaper), October 1, 2007

[2] Haaretz.com, October 25, 2007; print edition October 26

[3] Newsweek, October 20, 2007

[4] Washington Post, May 6, 2004

[5] Washington Post, July 22, 2007, p.B7, op-ed by Dobbins

[6] Washington Post, June 18, 2006, p.16

[7] White House press release, October 10, 2003

[8] Press release from the Cuban Mission to the United Nations, October 17, 2007, re this and preceding three paragraphs.

[9] Department of State, “Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, Volume VI, Cuba” (1991), p.885

[10] Washington Post, October 31, 2007, p.12

William Blum is the author of:
Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War 2
Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower
West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir
Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire

Portions of the books can be read, and signed copies purchased, at <www.killinghope.org>

Previous Anti-Empire Reports can be read at this website at “essays”.

To add yourself to this mailing list simply send an email to <bblum6@aol.com> with “add” in the subject line. I’d like your name and city in the message, but that’s optional. I ask for your city only in case I’ll be speaking in your area.

Or put “remove” in the subject line to do the opposite.

Any part of this report may be disseminated without permission.  I’d appreciate it if the website were mentioned. www.killinghope.org

An Engaged Political Culture in Venezuela

October 19, 2007

An Engaged Political Culture in Venezuela

By Cynthia Peters

At a little stand off an uneven road switchbacking its way up and down the Andean mountains, we stopped for a thick, syrupy sweet cafecito. It comes in a tiny, two-swallow sized cup, providing just the right hit of caffeine to keep us alert on the blind curves, which paradoxically are as numbingly repetitive as they are perilous. The two Venezuelans we met there, also on a coffee break, struck up a conversation. We talked amiably for a few minutes about their work bringing potable water to nearby villages, their thoughts about the Chavez government, and the role of grassroots advisory boards (“consejos comunales”) in determining what projects the government will pursue in which communities.

“What about Chavez’s push towards socialism?” I asked them.

“Socialism is about sharing,” one of them answered. “If I have three shirts, and you have none, I should at least give you one of mine.”

By Venezuelan standards, it wasn’t a particularly remarkable conversation. We had many others like them – some quite favorable toward the country’s revolutionary turn, and others less so. But for those of us accustomed to U.S. political culture, where so many citizens are so fatalistic about being able to play a meaningful role in society, the conversation was indeed remarkable.

It’s not that people in the U.S. don’t care about their communities and imagine ways to share what they have. My uncle, a conservative, church-going North Carolinian with a portrait of George Bush on his fridge and a son-in-law in Falujah, has made himself personally responsible for a stretch of highway near his home. Every few days, he walks the length of it picking up trash. “Mostly it’s cigarette butts,” he says, and he can’t believe the never-ending supply of them. But he doesn’t mind. He wants to do his part. He’s happy to do his part. “You got something else in mind?” he asks me. “You think there’s something else I could do to make a difference – especially when you’ve got all those corporations keeping the politicians in their pockets?” Collecting cigarette butts may not exactly be engaging work, but apparently it is no where near as coma-inducing as attempting to parse yet another sound bite from another candidate that sounded just like the previous one from the other candidate from the other party!

That’s the U.S. political culture in a nutshell. It feels more engaging to free a stretch of highway from tiny bits of litter than it does to participate in the political process. Not so in Venezuela. “One thing you can say about Chavez,” said one middle class Venezuelan named Ramon, “is that he’s got everyone thinking about politics.”

“But I don’t like him,” he added. “I voted for him at the beginning because I wanted to get rid of the old regime, but now he’s gone too far. He’s scaring away the middle class. He wants to take away our property. We’ve worked hard for what we have.”

We met this man, who runs his own business distributing fly and mosquito repellent, at a restaurant in the beach town, El Playon, filled with Venezuelan tourists enjoying one of the last weeks of vacation. During an hour-long conversation, he let us know that he agrees in principle with socialism. He feels grateful that Chavez is a strong international voice against the Bush agenda. But he feels Chavez has become a dictator. His ministers wear Rolexes and drive fancy cars. And, besides, if the poor would just work harder, they could enjoy all the same privileges as the middle class.

It should not, objectively, be easier for a poor man to give up one of his three shirts than it is for a wealthy man to give up a portion of his much larger economic cushion. But the wealthy man has worked very hard to justify his unequal access to comforts. He’d rather construct an elaborate ethic that helps him feel that he deserves what he has, rather than acknowledging the insecurity that goes with luck.

This was perhaps the most significant lesson for my two daughters, who traveled with their dad and me to Venezuela during the last week of August – the pure dumb luck that makes them comfortable while so many others in the world are left without even the most meager comforts. They were acquainted with statistics about income inequality. They had heard that the vast majority of the people on the planet live on the equivalent of one or two dollars a day. But they had never seen mile after mile of shanty towns, built out of mud and brick and pieces of bill board scavenged from the side of the highway. It’s challenging to hold the cruel facts of it in your mind without succumbing to some ideology that says all is the way it should be.

“It’s too bad the middle class is so alienated,” says a street market vendor named Adriana whom I met in Merida. “They have a lot to gain from this process because they have some education, they’re used to expressing themselves and being heard. They could bring their ideas to the “consejos comunales.”

“Consejos comunales” translates as “communal advice.” Adriana explained it to me this way: “Before, the government would come into our communities with their own agenda. They might come and repair the road, for example. The bigger problem in that community might be access to potable water, but there was no way to express that to the government. With consejos comunales, we have a way to get together and determine our priorities at the local level and then communicate those priorities to the government.”

On the two Sundays that we were in the country, we tuned into Chavez’s afternoon-long radio show, which he seems to use to build momentum for his policies, and during which he reveals himself to be part motivational speaker, part preacher, and part popular educator. Whatever you think of his views, he comes across as smart, energetic, anxious to learn, and confident enough to truly interact with people. I’m sure there are plenty of background people orchestrating the show, but there are a lot of unpolished moments, and there is a clear absence of “handlers.” Unlike most U.S. politicians, Chavez puts himself in front of the public without a script.

During one segment, Chavez used an extensive interview with fishermen and workers in a fish processing plant as a way to explain how socialism works. His technique was to get the fisherman talking about what aspects of their work were socialist. He skillfully wove their comments into his own elaboration of the meaning of socialism, sometimes sounding like a patient teacher, other times lapsing into the cadence of a preacher.

During another segment, he devoted the time to talking about corn. He waxed poetic talking about the nutritional properties of corn, the fact that it has been sown in Latin American since hundreds of years before Christ, and noting the role of human beings in the planting and harvesting of this staple crop. He interviewed farmers, consumers, workers in a corn processing plant. He wanted to know about where they got their seeds, how many varieties they planted, and what they had learned from their decades of experience. He seemed genuinely interested in integrating their knowledge with his. It’s a common outcome of human conversation – that two people or a group should exchange perspectives and come out more knowledgeable and more conscious than they were before. But between a president and a corn farmer, this type of exchange is unheard of (at least in my experience).

He spoke at length with a manager about why a certain plant was functioning at only an 80% capacity. And he didn’t accept easy answers. At one point, it was clear he had a pencil and paper out. He was calculating the plant’s volume in tons and figuring out percents and posing questions about the impact an increase in functionality would have – not a trivial question in a country where so many people are hungry.

As radio, it wasn’t superb. (You could hear paper being sorted and you could imagine the calculations happening.) But for a North American like me, working to tune in to the political culture, it was stunning. A president was having a seemingly unscripted moment during which he prompted a plant manager to actually think on his feet – about something that mattered to the least privileged in the country.

He also brought onto the show a boys baseball team that was heading into a championship game. He spoke with each child about the position he played and encouraged them to play their best. At other moments, he reminisced about learning how to plant corn from his grandmother. “See, my hands still know how to do it,” he said to the live audience as he demonstrated his grandmother’s technique. Again, not good radio by U.S. standards, but he doesn’t seem concerned about filling the airtime as much as he does about communicating with people on multiple levels.

There is a subtle but key quality in this style of communicating. That is, it involves listening. Chavez has clear ideas about what he wants for his country. But his vision includes popular participation, and his style on the radio show modeled a dynamic between “leaders” and “citizens” that assumes the populace to be part of the process – not an obstacle to the process.

Granted, there is such a thing as paternalistic listening, where the listener adopts the proper posture and nods a lot and then proceeds to do exactly as he had planned beforehand. And Chavez did not exactly include opponents or debaters in his show. I would have been interested in hearing how he dealt with those exchanges, but the country is not exactly deprived of opposition opinion given that every day, the mainstream media features anti-Chavez headlines, parodies, and attacks.

It’s risky to romanticize any leader. Leaders are prone to corruption. But it’s also important to keep some perspective. Preaching about socialism while flaunting expensive watches and fancy cars (assuming what Ramon said is true), is hypocritical, but it is corruption on an entirely different scale than what you see in the U.S. Here we have a president who claims to be fighting for democracy in Iraq, when in fact, he is occupying the country illegally while he enriches defense contractors (who destroy the place) and construction contractors (who get paid to rebuild it). That is hypocrisy on a scale that is almost too difficult to grasp (unlike the Rolex, which ironically causes more ire by virtue of the fact that it is comprehensible).

Meanwhile, what do I hear from Bush upon our return to the U.S.? “We’re kicking ass in Iraq,” he is quoted in the Boston Globe as saying to the Australian prime minister. Not only is it a blatant lie, it is inexcusable macho posturing in the face of an all-out tragedy for the Iraqi people, as well as many Americans, whose lives have been destroyed by the war.

Back in Miami at the end of our trip, we talked about how we would miss the lively culture of political participation we had learned about in Venezuela. We would miss the president who eschewed sound bites and talked and listened deeply about things that matter. We would miss the thoughtful political discussions you could have with workers at the roadside coffee stand.

As if on cue, my 11-year old noticed a key way we create community and share ideas in the U.S. She pointed at her Starbucks cup, which had a David Copperfield quote on it about how the most important thing in life is to stop saying “I wish,” and to start saying “I will.”

Back in the states, with a president who acts like a drunk fraternity brother, directives about pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps coming at us from the sides of to-go coffee cups, and an uncle who makes his presence felt on the shoulder of a lonely North Carolina highway, we’ll remember the existence of another model in Venezuela.