[Marxism] Chavez Victory is Blow to Bush Administration

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Fri Aug 20 05:47:09 MDT 2004

(Excellent analysis of what happened in the
recall election and all the more compelling
because it has long been obvious that both
the NYT and Forero have no sympathy for the
Bolivarian process unfolding in Venezuela.

(And endorsement of the election results by 
nearly all of the Latin American governments,
the OAS and Jimmy Carter have strengthened 
the hands of both Chavez and, indeed, of all
of Latin America collectively. A friend who
is visiting Peru tells me there's a demand
now being made to "Bolivarianize" Peru's
constitution. I imagine most of the regimes
in Latin America would be petrified to have
such a recall provision as Venezuela has.

(And while it is true that Venezuela sells
lots of its oil to  the United States, the
price of oil now having reached nearly $49
a barrel means Venezuela has more options
than ever should the US market ever end.
It also means no one can imagine that the
efforts Washington has made to defeat the
Chavez government will let up, despite the
seemingly endless series of defeats for it.)

August 20, 2004
The Chávez Victory: A Blow to the Bush Administration

CARACAS, Venezuela, Aug. 19 - When President Hugo Chávez
was ousted in a coup two years ago, the Bush administration
celebrated, calling the ouster his own doing. The rest of
Latin America was left fuming by the overthrow and
expressed strong support for Mr. Chávez as he was almost
immediately swept back into power in a popular uprising.

On Sunday, when Mr. Chávez triumphed over his adversaries
in a referendum on whether he should be recalled from
office, countries from Brazil to Argentina, Colombia to
Spain heartily congratulated him. The United States
remained silent for more than a day, until a State
Department spokesman, Adam Ereli, offered tepid backing for
the "preliminary results."

The resounding victory was a blow to the Bush
administration, which has struggled with how to deal with
Mr. Chávez, a leftist firebrand who presides over the
world's fifth-largest oil exporter and has opposed
Washington on every major initiative in Latin America.
"There's no doubt in my mind that at least in the White
House - I don't know about the State Department - there was
a deep desire to see Chávez lose," said former President
Jimmy Carter, whose Carter Center monitored the election
and who has briefed American officials on his efforts to
broker a peace between the government and its opponents.

Now, the United States has the challenge of constructing,
from the ground up, a new relationship with Mr. Chávez, who
has done everything imaginable to antagonize what he calls
"the colossus to the north."

He has used an expletive to describe President Bush,
threatened to hold back oil sales if the United States
invaded, and expanded Venezuela's ties with Cuba. His
campaign to win in the vote was built largely on 
demonizing the United States.

"The Bush government will be defeated on Sunday," Mr.
Chávez told reporters three days before the recall vote.
"The confrontation in Venezuela is not really with this
opposition. The opposition has a master, whose name is
George W. Bush."

American diplomats privately say they do not think that 
Mr. Chávez believes his public statements, and that he
manipulates latent anti-Americanism for political gain. But
American policy has been largely counterproductive, only
contributing to Mr. Chávez's increasingly hostile barbs.

The United States long ago threw its lot in with an
opposition movement that is being discredited by foreign
diplomats and many Venezuelans for insisting that fraud
took place when the preponderance of evidence indicates it
did not.

The United States has also provided money to groups like
Súmate, which violated elections norms early on Monday by
distributing results of a survey of voters leaving the
polls that showed Mr. Chávez losing by a wide margin. Mr.
Chávez seized on this financing of anti-government groups,
channeled through the National Endowment for Democracy, to
whip his supporters into an anti-American frenzy.

"The United States is stuck in a time warp," said Riordan
Roett, director of Latin American studies at The Paul H.
Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns
Hopkins University. "It is using tools from the cold war,
when money from the National Endowment for Democracy was
useful in funding anti-Communist movements."

The United States policy has largely been out of step with
the rest of the region. Washington has been unable to grasp
the widespread reaction against free market changes across
Latin America, changes now being rolled back by
left-leaning leaders. In Venezuela, the United States has
operated on the presumption that Mr. Chávez's opponents had
more support, clearly underestimating that most Venezuelans
would vote to keep him in office.

"It's not that the U.S. is not paying attention, it's that
their calculation and strategy was wrong," said Eduardo
Gamarra, a Bolivian who is director of the Latin America
and Caribbean Center at Florida International University in
Miami. "And it's been wrong because it's been based on the
false assumption that Chávez is not popular, on the false
assumption that he's a dictator."

After Mr. Chávez's resounding win, the Bush administration
set itself apart from the rest of the region, calling on
the Venezuelan government's electoral board to "allow a
transparent audit," though international monitors
pronounced the election free and fair. On Tuesday, Mr.
Ereli, the State Department spokesman, dodged questions
from reporters about why the United States was not
congratulating Mr. Chávez.

A senior State Department official later said the United
States' reticence was intended to defuse tensions in
Venezuela, not to dismiss the results. He said Washington
would issue a broader statement backing the results after a
final audit.

Not all of Washington's diplomatic moves here have failed.
Ambassador Charles Shapiro, newly arrived in Venezuela when
Mr. Chavez was briefly ousted in 2002, met frequently with
him, patching up a relationship that was battered after the
White House expressed support for the interim government
that replaced him. The United States has also remained a
loyal buyer of Venezuelan crude oil. American giants like
Exxon Mobil and ChevronTexaco are producing oil and eyeing
an expansion into largely undeveloped natural gas fields
that are open to foreign investment. Those companies, and
other major multinational businesses, provided Venezuela
with much-needed foreign earnings when the opposition
called nationwide strikes that battered the economy.

Those commercial links can strengthen the bond between
Venezuela and the United States, which is dependent on
Venezuelan crude.

"The business sector, the large business sector, has
understood better the making of foreign policy than our
government," Mr. Gamarra said. "They looked at it from the
perspective of what business opportunities ought to be.''
Better relations with Mr. Chávez are possible. With his
presidency more secure since the vote, he has appeared open
to reconciliation. He has invited opposition leaders to
lunch and has expressed the wish for a new beginning with
the United States.

"I would hope that President Chávez would now cool that
anti-U.S. rhetoric," Mr. Carter said. "There's no doubt
that Chávez is a charismatic figure, very fiery in his
rhetoric, which I deplore. But that's his personal
characteristic, one of the avenues of his popularity among
Venezuelans. I think now, though, that he is not
campaigning for anything."

Steven R.Weisman contributed reporting from Washington for
this article.

More information about the Marxism mailing list