Venezuela: Chavez challenges US (Green Left Weekly, Australia)

Fred Feldman ffeldman at
Sun Jul 13 10:11:48 MDT 2003

(An excellent review of the international policies of the Venezuelan
revolution, which represent a major and growing challenge to the
course of US imperialism internationally. Fred Feldman)

VENEZUELA: Chavez challenges the US

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

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 Organisation 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

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”

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
Valez. 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 militarised, adding to tensions between the

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

The Colombian government had already accused Venezuela of protecting
FARC members, and supporting the organisation.

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 available on line
at <>,
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 (see
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 Carribean 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
 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 web site.

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

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

Venezuela raised the question of national sovereignty at the recently
revived, long-term strategy meeting. “We need to emphasise 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 `supermajor'
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,

>From Green Left Weekly, July 9, 2003.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.

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