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Thorn in the side of new world order
Posted: Saturday, April 13, 2002

By Vincent Browne

THE IRISH TIMES - Hugo Chávez may have been in Bertie Ahern's mind when he visited George Bush in Washington before St Patrick's Day. Bertie swore obedience to American world hegemony, to its "war on terrorism" and to everything it entailed.

He didn't quite put it like that but that was the message and George Bush acknowledged it as such. The President of Venezuela, the most "yankified" of South American states, had failed to offer appropriate obeisance.

Chávez has characterised the US bombardment of Afghanistan as responding to "terror with terror". He brandished photographs of Afghan children killed by US bombs and called for an end to "the slaughter of the innocents".

The US response to this impertinence was to send its ambassador, Donna Hrinak, to see Chávez. They had what a US official said (according to the Washington Post of February 23rd) "a very difficult meeting". She told the democratically elected president (again according to the Washington Post) "to keep his mouth shut on these important issues".

Washington doesn't like Chávez for other reasons. First he has had the temerity to invite Fidel Castro to Caracas. He also visited Libya, Iran and Iraq, all members, with Venezuela, of OPEC, through which he arranged for a substantial increase in the price of oil (the Americans were especially indignant over his visit to Saddam Hussein).

The US administration has recently expressed worry about Chávez's democratic credentials. He became president in 1998 after he won 58 per cent of the popular vote. In 2000, under a new constitution, he won a higher percentage vote and his party won more than 80 per cent of the seats in a new congress and nobody has questioned the validity of those elections. While protesting its respect for democracy in Venezuela, there are suspicions that the US may have inspired three generals in the Venezuelan army to call for the resignation of Chávez.

VENEZUELA is probably the richest country in South America because of its oil - it is by far the most important source of oil for the US economy, yet it has managed to squander the riches it has brought in the last 40 years.

This came about in large part through inefficiencies of State-run industrial companies and corruption. The legacy has been vast expanses of motorways, ugly high-rise office and apartment complexes, massive wealth for a tiny minority, gigantic shopping malls, the ubiquitous rash of international hotels (the Four Seasons group has opened a new hotel in Caracas even more ostentatious than that in Ballsbridge), and vast shanty towns clinging to the hills in and around Caracas, housing millions of impoverished people. MORE

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