[Marxism] New moves planned against Chavez

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Mar 10 07:20:04 MST 2006


http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-uslatin10mar10,0,2226304.story?coll=la-home-headlines
 From the Los Angeles Times
U.S. More Intent on Blocking Chavez
Venezuela's leader seeks to rally opposition to Washington as elections 
near in the region.
By Paul Richter
Times Staff Writer

March 10, 2006

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration is stepping up efforts to counter 
leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as he builds opposition to U.S. 
influence in Latin America.

U.S. diplomats have sought in recent years to mute their conflicts with 
Chavez, fearing that a war of words with the flamboyant populist could 
raise his stature at home and abroad. But in recent months, as Chavez has 
sharpened his attacks — and touched American nerves by increasing ties with 
Iran — American officials have become more outspoken about their intention 
to isolate him.

Signaling the shift, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Congress last 
month that the United States was actively organizing other countries to 
carry out an "inoculation strategy" against what it sees as meddling by Chavez.

U.S. officials believe Chavez uses his oil wealth to reward governments 
that share his anti-American views and to foment change in those that don't.

"We are working with other countries to make certain that there is a united 
front against some of the things that Venezuela gets involved in," said 
Rice, who called Venezuela a "sidekick" of Iran.

Rice leaves today on an eight-day trip to Latin America, Indonesia and 
Australia, including a stop in Chile for the inauguration of 
President-elect Michelle Bachelet. Rice said pointedly Thursday that she 
did not plan to see Chavez, who is expected to attend the inauguration 
Saturday.

As part of the administration's new view of Venezuela, U.S. defense and 
intelligence officials have revised their assessment of the security threat 
Venezuela poses to the region. They say they believe Venezuela will have 
growing military and diplomatic relationships with North Korea and Iran, 
and point with concern to its arms buildup. Of equal worry to them is 
Venezuela's overhaul of its military doctrine, which now emphasizes 
"asymmetric warfare" — a strategy of sabotage and hit-and-run attacks 
against a greater military power, much like that used by Iraqi insurgents.

The U.S. government's revived interest in Latin America comes at a time 
when Congress has been pressing the Bush administration to define its 
strategy amid a growing number of clashes with the Chavez government.

Last month, the United States and Venezuela engaged in a diplomatic 
tit-for-tat reminiscent of the Cold War, trading espionage accusations 
against each other's diplomats, then expelling them. The two countries have 
also clashed on airspace and landing rights for civilian and military 
aircraft, as the United States has sought to block Venezuela's bid to 
become a nonpermanent member of the United Nations Security Council. 
Venezuela has threatened to end the oil sales that provide the United 
States with about 12% of its imports, and begun rewriting its contracts 
with U.S. oil companies.

The tougher U.S. approach also reflects an administration interest in 
trying to head off any further leftist inroads in upcoming elections in the 
region. A number of governments face elections this year in Latin America, 
and Chavez has made known his support for opposition candidates in several 
of the countries, including Mexico, which will elect its president in July.

"There is some concern that if the United States doesn't play its cards 
right, there could be a major policy shift in the region that favors 
Venezuela's interests over the United States," said Daniel P. Erikson of 
the Inter-American Dialogue, a research organization in Washington.

Since taking office in 1999, Chavez has been trying to build a left-leaning 
alliance and has offered cut-rate oil and other inducements through a 
foreign aid program some believe to be worth billions of dollars annually. 
His stated aim is to push an alternative development model that eases the 
sting of globalism and favors the interests of the poor, who make up about 
40% of the region's population.

Bernardo Alvarez, Venezuela's ambassador to the United States, defended his 
country's policies, saying they respond to failed economic models that have 
increased poverty and social exclusion. "Chavez and [Bolivian President] 
Evo Morales are not accidents of history," Alvarez said.

In a recent interview, Alvarez defended Venezuela's relationship with Iran, 
saying the two nations had forged strong ties as co-founders of OPEC in 
1960. He said his government's repeated efforts to improve relations with 
Washington have been met with indifference.

"Any time we try to open a dialogue, there are people who act to sabotage 
it," Alvarez said.

Many observers are skeptical that Chavez has much appeal beyond Fidel 
Castro's Cuba and impoverished Bolivia, but U.S. officials are concerned 
that his efforts could foment violence in unstable countries and weaken 
Latin American support for the American program of free market economics 
and U.S.-style governance.

Rice said U.S. officials were trying to build international pressure to 
address what they see as Venezuelan abuses of democratic institutions at 
home. This year, she called European Union officials to draw their 
attention to the trial of a Venezuelan opposition group, Sumate, whose 
leaders face treason charges for accepting a $31,000 grant from the 
Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy, a private group funded 
by Congress.

"This kangaroo trial is a disgrace," she said. The EU, a key trading 
partner of Venezuela, signaled its concern by sending observers to the 
trial, she noted.

Chavez reacted strongly to Rice's criticism, saying it amounted to plans 
for an "imperialist attack" that he would resist.

Some State Department officials continue to emphasize that they do not want 
to be confrontational. Assistant Secretary of State Thomas A. Shannon, the 
top U.S. diplomat for Latin America, has said he is not looking for a 
quarrel with Chavez.

"We don't want to exaggerate his role or presence in the region," Shannon 
said in an interview. "We want to stay focused on a positive agenda for the 
region."

Military and intelligence officials have been more blunt.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld last month likened Chavez to Hitler, 
noting that both leaders were elected legally. At the same time, Director 
of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte, appearing before the Senate 
last week, said Chavez was spending "very extravagantly" to build alliances 
and seeking to strengthen ties with Iran, North Korea and Cuba.

Venezuelan Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel said this week in Caracas, 
the capital, that the recent tough talk by U.S. officials "represents a 
victory of the hawks in U.S. foreign policy," the official Cuban News 
Agency reported.

Whether the United States' tough talk will resonate among Latin American 
leaders is uncertain. Thus far, only Mexico, not an immediate neighbor of 
Venezuela, has persisted in criticizing Chavez. Mexican President Vicente 
Fox, who is in the final nine months of his presidential term and hails 
from a conservative party strongly committed to free trade, exchanged angry 
words with Chavez late last year over Mexico's U.S. ties.

In the widening spat, the Bush administration might be able to enlist 
countries that are heavily dependent on the U.S., or badly want the 
benefits of better ties with the north, one senior Latin American diplomat 
said.

But others, "even the ones who don't like Chavez, don't want to be out 
front," said the envoy, who declined to be identified because of the 
sensitivity of the subject. "They don't want trouble."

Times staff writer Chris Kraul in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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