[Marxism] 'Inspired' By Haitian Coup, Venezuelan Putschists 'Take Hope' ...

David Quarter davidquarter at sympatico.ca
Thu Mar 4 19:31:55 MST 2004


[Forwarded from: Rick Rozoff]

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2004/03/04/MNGHG5E0V11.DTL

San Francisco Chronicle
March 4, 2004


Venezuela opposition takes hope from Haiti
developments 
Chavez foes watch fall of Aristide, look to U.S. for
aid 
Robert Collier


-Protesters carried banners reading "Bye-bye Aristide,
Chavez you're next, " and calls grew for the army to
overthrow Chavez. 
-The stakes for the United States are far greater in
Venezuela than in Haiti. 
Venezuela is the fourth-largest foreign supplier of
petroleum to the United States, so any unrest that
leads to a cutoff in oil exports would wreak havoc on
international oil markets and cause a dramatic surge
in U.S. prices of gasoline and heating oil. 
-"The opposition [sic] has taken the news from Haiti
as a sign that the United States will do the same to
Chavez as it did to Aristide." 
-But many analysts say that...the opposition is much
weaker than it was before last year's strike. 
-U.S. officials have supported the opposition's
attempts to organize the referendum on Chavez's
presidency. In 2004, at least $763,000 in U.S. foreign
aid is being channeled to groups linked to the
opposition -- an amount, however, markedly less than
the $2.9 million budgeted this year for Haitian
anti-Aristide "civil society" groups. 
-"The CIA has been telling Mr. Bush that Venezuela is
like Haiti, that Chavez has lost public support and
the army is ready to overthrow him, and the damn fool
believed it," Chavez said. "I'll make a bet with Mr.
Bush over who stays longer -- either you in the White
House or Hugo Chavez in Miraflores," he said,
referring to the Venezuelan presidential palace. 




A leftist president who has chilly relations with
Washington is driven from office amid chaotic public
protests, followed by the arrival of thousands of U.S.
troops. 

The scenario sounds like Haiti, but it's also what
many Venezuelans want for their country. 

Protests against President Hugo Chavez have spread
through Venezuela in recent days, as hundreds of
thousands of his opponents have paralyzed large parts
of Caracas and other cities. At least seven people
have been killed and scores wounded in clashes with
army troops, and opposition leaders are threatening a
repeat of the two-month general strike that brought
the economy to its knees early last year. 

Protesters carried banners reading "Bye-bye Aristide,
Chavez you're next, " and calls grew for the army to
overthrow Chavez. 

Bush administration officials do not hide their
distaste for Chavez. But in the face of the new
crisis, the Venezuelan leader has angrily
counterattacked, calling President Bush a "damn fool"
and denouncing national security adviser Condoleezza
Rice as "illiterate." 

The stakes for the United States are far greater in
Venezuela than in Haiti. 

Venezuela is the fourth-largest foreign supplier of
petroleum to the United States, so any unrest that
leads to a cutoff in oil exports would wreak havoc on
international oil markets and cause a dramatic surge
in U.S. prices of gasoline and heating oil. 

The crisis seems likely to escalate in the coming
weeks. 

Tuesday, Venezuela's electoral authorities rejected an
opposition petition for a referendum to decide whether
to recall Chavez. The elections council said 1.1
million signatures appeared to be forgeries, but it
offered the opposition a two-day period in late March
to allow the people whose signatures are in question
to confirm their authenticity. 

Diplomats from the Organization of American States
urged the opposition leaders to accept the council's
challenge. But many anti-Chavez leaders are refusing
to budge, saying the request is unreasonable. 

"The opposition has taken the news from Haiti as a
sign that the United States will do the same to Chavez
as it did to Aristide," said Margarita Lopez Maya, a
political science professor at the Central University
of Venezuela in Caracas. "They think the writing is on
the wall." 

"Some people in Venezuela are engaging in a lot of
wishful thinking right now," said Mark Falcoff, a
Latin America analyst at the American Enterprise
Institute, a Washington think tank. "The media have
been calling (the Haiti crisis) a trial run for
Venezuela and have been calling on the army to
overthrow Chavez. Without any agreement to cool things
off, there's a risk that unstructured violence could
grow." 

For the past two years, Venezuela has been the most
deeply divided nation in Latin America. 

Big business, labor unions [sic] and nearly all of the
middle and upper classes say Chavez is working with
his close friend, Cuban President Fidel Castro, to
turn the country into a Marxist dictatorship. The
opposition coalition has carried out three crippling
general strikes, and in April 2002 it overthrew Chavez
for two days until he was reinstated by young army
officers and crowds of his impoverished supporters. 

But many analysts say that despite the impressive
street protests in Caracas and other cities in recent
days, the opposition is much weaker than it was before
last year's strike. 

The walkout was spearheaded by a shutdown in the
state-owned oil monopoly, PDVSA, which caused a
complete stoppage in the nation's oil production and
exports for two months, nearly bankrupting the
government. 

Such a complete stoppage was possible because PDVSA's
executives and technicians were strongly loyal to the
opposition. After breaking the strike, however, Chavez
fired about 18,000 of the company's 40,000 employees
-- including most of its executives and technicians --
replacing them by hiring foreign professionals. 

"PDVSA is sufficiently inoculated to avoid a
repetition of anything like the strike last year,"
said Mazhar al-Shereidah, director of Petroanalysis,
an oil-industry consulting firm in Caracas. "There
could be sabotage of some production installation, a
terrorist attack, but I can tell you categorically
that the government now has complete control of the
company, and the opposition no longer can use it as a
political weapon." 

"The loss of PDVSA has really weakened the
opposition," said Lopez Maya. "And although the
opposition keeps calling on the military to 'fulfill
its historical role' and overthrow Chavez, the
military also has been purged. So it's not at all
clear what the opposition's strategy is, where it
thinks it is going with these protests." 

U.S. officials have supported the opposition's
attempts to organize the referendum on Chavez's
presidency. In 2004, at least $763,000 in U.S. foreign
aid is being channeled to groups linked to the
opposition -- an amount, however, markedly less than
the $2.9 million budgeted this year for Haitian
anti-Aristide "civil society" groups. 

In a speech Sunday before hundreds of thousands of his
supporters, Chavez accused the United States of
conspiring to overthrow him and predicted that Bush
would be defeated in the November election. 

"The CIA has been telling Mr. Bush that Venezuela is
like Haiti, that Chavez has lost public support and
the army is ready to overthrow him, and the damn fool
believed it," Chavez said. "I'll make a bet with Mr.
Bush over who stays longer -- either you in the White
House or Hugo Chavez in Miraflores," he said,
referring to the Venezuelan presidential palace. 

"Here is Bolivarian Venezuela to say 'no' to Yankee
interventionism, to say 'no' to Mr. Bush and his
invader, imperialist and colonialist government." 

But Chavez is exaggerating the threat, analysts say. 

"The Bush administration is stepping even more
carefully with Venezuela than with Haiti," said
Falcoff. "The oil factor works both ways. On one hand,
it makes people take notice and may make some people
want to control it. But on the other, there can't be
any serious disorder. Just ask Saudi Arabia -- is the
United States trying to overthrow them?" 

But Falcoff suggested that the parallel to Haiti's
events might not be completely mistaken. 

Like Haiti, where the Bush administration seemed to
acquiesce to the rebels' advance after it became
unstoppable, in Venezuela the administration might
agree to give Chavez a shove if he were teetering. The
pressure could include diplomatic or economic
sanctions. 

"We don't want instability," Falcoff said. "But if
there were already instability, then maybe the way to
stop it would be to remove the factor that causes it."


E-mail Robert Collier at rcollier at sfchronicle.com. 


 




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