Venezuela's President challenges U.S. hegemony
Posted: Monday, July 7, 2003
By Chris Kerr, http://www.vheadline.com
Green Left Weekly's Chris Kerr writes: The Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela is not just a national phenomenon, it is impacted upon greatly by international developments, particularly the US-led campaign against it.
In 2002, the US government stepped up its intervention into Venezuelan affairs, energetically assisting the April 11 coup against President Hugo Chavez. Washington provided finances and advice to the alliance of business leaders, military generals and corrupt trade-union leaders that attempted to depose Chavez.
The military coup, which dissolved the constitution, the parliament and the courts and presided over more deaths from political violence in one day than in Chavez's entire presidency, was rejected by almost every Latin American government. Washington was one of the very few governments to endorse the coup ... and was left isolated when the attempt was foiled within 48 hours by a popular uprising.
In December, Washington supported the shutdown of Venezuela's oil industry, in another attempt to topple Chavez. Although some military and corporate figures called for a coup at the time, the crisis fizzled after two months (however, it left massive economic damage behind).
Although Washington didn't openly support calls for another military coup, it did openly support the unconstitutional demand for new presidential elections. This turned into an embarrassing blunder, however, when the proposal became the first major US initiative to be rejected by the Organization of American States (OAS).
'Friends' of Venezuela
Another Washington attack on the Bolivarian revolution came through the "Friends of Venezuela" group. Initially suggested by Chavez as a way to strengthen international support for his government, the idea was picked up by Brazilian president "Lula" da Silva, who, in January, formed a group made up more of enemies than friends.
The US decided to support the new "friends", which included the powers which have historically exploited Latin America (and which supported the April 11 coup): Spain, Portugal and the US. Da Silva also included some of the most unfriendly governments in the region, including the Chilean government, a product of a bloody coup against a leftist president.
Although Washington attempted to use this group to force a "negotiated solution" on Chavez, the results reflected the balance of forces in Venezuela more than the lopsided international pressure the "friends" represented.
Thus, the original demands of the opposition, which included the resignation of the president, the rehiring of the managers who were fired for sabotaging the country's oil industry, the disarming of the pro-Chavez population and the disbanding of the Bolivarian Circles, were abandoned in favour of two agreements: the opposition and government not to use provocative language when referring to each other (which was violated by both sides within 48 hours); and adherence to the constitution in referendums for elected positions. The latter had been Chavez's position since his election.
The Venezuelan government has also had to deal with confrontation with Colombia's ultra-right government, led by President Alvaro Uribe Velez. Venezuela's largest oil-producing province, Zulia, shares its western border with Colombia. Landlord and business oligarchies are powerful there, and peasant leaders are assassinated by their agents with impunity. Just next door, the war on the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia-People's Army (FARC) by Colombian military and right-wing paramilitaries is escalating. The whole region is therefore becoming increasingly militarized, adding to tensions between the governments.
On March 31, Chavez ordered the air force to bomb Colombian government-backed paramilitaries that had intruded into Venezuelan territory. In response, the Colombian government accused the Venezuelan government of actively supporting FARC military actions in Colombia, an accusation which the Venezuelan Vice-President Jose Vicente Rangel described as a "grotesque lie" designed to discredit Chavez.
The Colombian government had already accused Venezuela of protecting FARC members, and supporting the organization.
While some analysts believe that the Colombian government is attempting to deflect the blame for its inability to contain the FARC, others, such as Hector Mondragon, fear it will lay the stage for the US to attack Venezuela in the future. In an article, Mondragon agues that the US could justify such an attack as necessary to "guarantee Colombia's security" and as part of the "war on drugs."
Venezuela is also in conflict with the US over Chavez's proposal for an economic integration program for Latin America, an alternative to the US-led Free Trade Area of the Americas. The FTAA is the latest project seeking to force neoliberal economic policy down the throat of Latin America. Washington's adherence to such policies, and Chavez's opposition to them, has been a major source of conflict.
According to US sociologist James Petras, neoliberalism has already allowed multinational corporations to remit US$1 trillion in profits, interest repayments and debt repayments from Latin America between 1990-2002. In the same period, US and European banks bought over 4000 ex-public banks, telecommunications, transportation, oil and mining, retail and other companies throughout Latin America.
Venezuela has pursued an independent economic strategy. It, along with Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, is a member of the Community of Andean Nations (CAN). It also gives the Caribbean nations cheaper access to oil and gas, and has applied to become a full member of Mercosur, an economic bloc that includes Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.
Chavez believes Mercosur could further the economic integration of the entire Latin American continent. "We need to create a large union of Latin American republics to be able to negotiate in conditions of equality... we propose the necessity for Mercosur to be expanded, not only on the economic front, but also a political Mercosur", Chavez said at a news conference in Buenos Aires, after meeting with Argentina's President Nestor Kirchner, according to the May 26 Bloomberg website.
Venezuela is also in conflict with the US over its policy towards Cuba. Since the Cuban revolution in 1959, Washington has successfully isolated Cuba from the rest of the continent, including securing its expulsion from the OAS. US agitation against left-wing governments in the region during the last two decades has helped to undermine the allies Cuba has had.
Since the presidency of Chavez, Venezuela has become Cuba's largest trading partner, and the island nation's political isolation has been reduced.
Cuban President Fidel Castro was invited to da Silva's and Kirchner's inaugurations. This is particularly important given Washington's recently renewed drive to isolate Cuba from European nations. The US government could not get the most recent OAS meeting, held in Chile, to condemn Cuba's jailing of paid agents of the US government. Venezuelan and Brazilian delegates led the campaign to ensure the motion would be blocked.
It is likely that the Venezuelan government will also confront US imperialist interests in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Many OPEC nations are uneasy about US President George Bush's attacks on the governments of Venezuela, Iraq and Iran, all important members of OPEC. According to the June 17 Business Report, one delegate anonymously told Reuters: "The US can't continue to invent wars. We want to deal with the world powers - we will supply oil and gas, but you can't invade my country. After Iraq, who is next?"
Venezuela raised the question of national sovereignty at the recently revived, long-term strategy meeting. "We need to emphasize that the world has left behind the colonial era, when one power could take by force another country's resources", Venezuelan energy minister Rafael Ramirez told reporters after the June 11 OPEC ministerial meeting in Doha, Qatar.
Venezuela's proposal, which may be tabled at the next OPEC heads of state meeting in 2005, would link the security of oil supply to the preservation of OPEC nations' national sovereignty, and has been welcomed by Iran and Libya but rejected by Saudi Arabia. It could complicate plans to invade and overthrow more OPEC governments and gain control over their oil resources.
A June 13 Reuters report commented: "The idea of tightening OPEC's grip over two-thirds of the world's oil reserves, and seeking to avoid military attack, has awakened interest from other [OPEC] members. 'Of course it is a serious concern that OPEC members with big oil reserves will become occupied by foreign powers', said a delegate from another of the 11-member group ... Some delegates believe that unless OPEC rediscovers its ideological roots - asserting sovereignty over its natural resources - the cartel could be destroyed by a resurgent US foreign policy, combined with the financial power of four 'super-major' oil companies."
It is thus no surprise that the Venezuelan government is under pressure from Washington. The June 12 Wall Street Journal reports "Washington, which initially dismissed Mr. Chavez as a harmless big talker, now fears Venezuela's increasingly radical stance could hurt regional stability and hobble US initiatives ranging from free trade to the war on drugs. Some US officials say Venezuela has become Washington's biggest Latin American headache after the old standby, Cuba."
This article is scheduled to appear in the July 9, 2003 issue of Australia's Green Left Weekly