[Marxism] Grass-roots groups in U.S. promote Chavez's 'revolution'

Jeffrey Thomas Piercy, El Pato Comunista mqduck at sonic.net
Mon Nov 21 09:42:03 MST 2005


The San Jose Murcury News, my local major paper (though I don't read 
it), which can often be quite conservative, ran this relatively 
flattering piece on Venezuela and US groups supporting him, the best 
I've personally seen in a major paper yet (that I can recall).

I'm rather surprised and delighted by how much media attention the 
providing of cheap oil to poor families is getting, too. Publicity is 
obviously the intention, and I'm surprised the major media is so far 
willing to play along.

--

http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/politics/13223689.htm
Posted on Mon, Nov. 21, 2005
Grass-roots groups in U.S. promote Chavez's 'revolution'

BY PABLO BACHELET

Knight Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON - Miami's Jesus Soto supports Venezuelan President Hugo 
Chavez's vision of "participatory democracy." Valerie Pusch of Chicago 
backs Chavez because of his policies on behalf of the poor.

And they say so loudly, as heads of their local Bolivarian Circles - 
among the dozen or so U.S. copies of the groups Chavez has set up 
throughout his country to mobilize Venezuelans on behalf of his 
socialist "revolution."

Even as Chavez attacks President Bush as his sworn nemesis, his 
government is running a strong campaign to curry favor with U.S. 
citizens through leftist grass-roots groups, paid lobbyists and public 
relations operatives and offers of cheap fuel for America's poor.

The Venezuelan leader is running a "grass-roots foreign policy," said 
Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Washington based Center for Economic 
and Policy Research, a group that supports Chavez.

"Obviously the government of the United States has not been very 
friendly and the Venezuelans figure they have a better chance at dealing 
directly with the people who don't have any particular reason not to 
like Venezuela," he added.

Chavez steadily accuses the Bush administration of planning to topple 
him, and his prosecutors have even filed charges of "conspiracy to 
destroy the nation's republican form of government" against four leaders 
of a Venezuelan activist group that received U.S. funds and helped 
organize a failed recall vote on the president last year.

Bush administration policy on both Venezuela and Cuba is to support 
pro-democracy groups - and Chavez seems to be taking a page from the 
same book.

Earlier this month, around 1,300 persons paid $20 each to attend "an 
evening of solidarity with Bolivarian Venezuela" in New York City. 
Partly organized by the local Bolivarian Circle, it was also endorsed by 
more than 80 leftwing organizations ranging from the U.S. anti-war group 
ANSWER to the Cuban legislature in Havana.

Organizers said it was the largest U.S. public demonstration to date in 
favor of Chavez, and was followed up a few days later by a similar 
affair in Los Angeles.

Some 15 Bolivarian Circles - named after Venezuelan independence hero 
and Chavez icon Simon Bolivar - now operate in the United States, in 
cities with populations of Venezuelan expatriates like Cincinnati, 
Boston and Miami but also in places like Salt Lake City, Knoxville and 
Milwaukee.

Although interviews with several members suggest the U.S. groups sprang 
up spontaneously and are not directed from Caracas, they seem to share 
strong left-of center views.

One member of the Detroit circle, Martin Schreader, is also an activist 
in the Detroit Working People's Association, whose Web site defines it 
as "working for the liberation of working people and the abolition of 
modern slavery - wage-slavery."

"Our purpose is to tell the world that there's no dictatorship in 
Venezuela," said Soto, a former police chief in Venezuela who founded 
the Miami circle in 2001 and has made several appearances on 
Spanish-language television. With 185 members of several nationalities, 
he says his group is the biggest of the U.S. circles.

Pusch, an adult education teacher married to a Venezuelan, said that if 
the United States is supposed to be supporting democratic processes, 
"why is there is so much trouble accepting this democratically elected 
president?"

The Venezuelan government appears to have started reaching out to 
grass-root U.S. organizations two years ago, when its embassy in 
Washington created the Venezuela Information Office (VIO) - fully funded 
by Caracas with nearly $800,000 in the year ending Aug. 31, according to 
Foreign Agents Registration Act filings at the U.S. Department of Justice.

Its first head was Deborah James, who went there from Global Exchange, a 
group that shares Chavez's strongly anti-free trade views. The office's 
Justice Department filings say it contacts journalists, to seek 
"balance" in the reporting on Venezuela, and key congressional staffers.

"The Venezuelan government feels frustration that their side of the 
story is not getting out," said Eric Wingerter, a spokesman who used to 
work for Defenders of Wildlife and Public Employees for Environmental 
Responsibility.

The filings also show the Venezuelan embassy hired a marquee Washington 
lobby firm, Patton Boggs LLP, in September of 2003 and paid it paid 
about $1.6 million. But the contract was not renewed when it expired 
late last year because the embassy ran out of money, said Venezuela's 
ambassador in Washington, Bernardo Alvarez.

According to the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington-based group 
that tracks lobbying payments, Venezuela paid out $500,000 for lobbying 
in 2004, mostly through its state oil company PDVSA and its U.S. branch, 
CITGO.

In another part of Chavez's efforts to curry favor with Americans, 
Venezuela, which already supplies 12-15 percent of U.S. oil imports per 
year, has offered to send more fuel after Hurricane Katrina and to sell 
cheap heating oil for America's poor, through members of Congress who 
are friendly to Chavez.

Just last week, Citgo clinched a deal to 12 million gallons of 
discounted heating oil to 45,000 families in Massachusetts, in a deal 
brokered with Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., and the nonprofit 
Citizen's Energy Corp.

Fadi Kabboul, a Venezuelan embassy adviser on energy issues, said Citgo 
hoped to reach a similar deal with the office of Rep. Jose Serrano, 
D-N.Y., who represents the Bronx.

Venezuelan officials say the savings for end users on both deals would 
be about $10 million.

Last month, Ambassador Alvarez sent Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., chairman 
of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, a letter highlighting 
Venezuela's decision to send an additional 2.5 million barrels of 
gasoline, jet fuel and diesel to help ease U.S. shortages caused by 
hurricanes.

To Bush administration officials the names of organizations that back 
the Venezuelan president have a familiar ring to them.

"The Venezuelans just got the Rolodex from Cuba," said one senior State 
Department official who asked to remain anonymous because of the 
sensitivity of the issue.

One of the scheduled speakers at the New York event was actor Danny 
Glover, a strong critic of U.S. sanctions on Cuba. He could not attend 
because he was working on a film.

Another speaker, the Rev. Lucius Walker of the group Pastors for Peace, 
routinely challenges the trade embargo on Cuba by organizing aid 
shipments to the island and all but daring U.S. customs officials to 
seize the goods.

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