[Marxism] Vietnam vet writes about visit to Venezuela

Fred Fuentes fred.fuentes at gmail.com
Fri Aug 31 10:47:58 MDT 2007

'Mr. Danger' Meets His Match
By John Grant
Philadelphia Daily News
August 31, 2007

CARACAS IS A city the size of Philadelphia built on rolling hills. A
drive on the autopisto reveals two distinct worlds living in
precarious balance.

There are districts of tall, glistening buildings of glass and
concrete with all the modern amenities of a nation with one of the
largest oil and gas reserves in the world - then there are great,
sweeping hillsides blanketed with thousands of ranchos, or shanties,
piled one upon the other. These barrios are considered off limits and
dangerous by those who live in the glitzier world.

The power of President Hugo Chavez lies in these vast poor barrios.
The poor in Venezuela outnumber the rich, and, unlike in the United
States, the poor vote in large numbers. This is the democratic reality
currently tormenting the Bush administration.

In 1992, as an army lieutenant colonel, Chavez led an audacious but
unsuccessful coup against President Carlos Andres Perez, who, in spite
of campaign promises, had given in to an IMF austerity plan for the
Venezuelan economy. The citizenry erupted, and thousands were killed.
Chavez did time for the coup attempt, but when Perez was impeached and
fled the country, Chavez was released.

In 1998, he was elected president. After a constitution change, he ran
again in 2000 and won a seven-year term. Thanks to public outcry, he
survived a coup in 2002. Unclassified documents show the Bush
administration knew every detail about the coup beforehand,
recognizing "President" Pedro Carmona, a businessman, right after the
coup. Carmona is now in exile in Colombia.

In 2004, Chavez won a referendum, then survived a 63-day general
strike organized by business leaders. Both efforts received millions
from the State Department and other U.S. entities.

Two months after the bungled coup, the United States created the
Office for Transition Initiatives, which was allocated $5 million for
2005. The office, according to the State Department, is designed "to
overcome the significant challenges posed by war-torn or otherwise
unstable countries." But is Venezuela "war torn" or "unstable" - or,
in Orwellian fashion, are efforts like the OTI actually intended to
foment instability?

Early this year, Chavez handily won re-election against the
conservative mayor of Maracaibo. All these elections were monitored,
the latest by Jimmy Carter's group, and declared clean.

So why is Hugo Chavez so demonized by the Bush administration? The
obvious answer is the potent combination of oil and Chavez's
identification with the interests of the poor. It also has to do with
Chavez, the man.

I recently witnessed the filming of Chavez's Sunday TV show, "Alo
Presidente," and it says a lot about his character. In a studio in
Miraflores, the historic white palace in Caracas, before an audience
of ambassadors, dignitaries from Africa, legislators from Colombia and
other neighboring nations and an assortment of guests, Chavez sat
behind a small desk covered with books, notebooks, maps and other
props and, in an ebullient manner, held command of the show for - I'm
not kidding - seven hours and 43 minutes.

EVEN THE MOST rabid anti-Chavista would concede it was a performance
of great stamina and intelligence. As a friend of his put it to me,
"Chavez is a sponge."

The theme of the show was what has become Chavez's mission: the
"integration" of the nations from the Rio Grande south to Tierra del
Fuego. He especially wants to change the relationship with the United
States, which, with a wry grin, he referred to as "Dracula." He likes
to say audacious things with a pop culture spin; for instance, in a
U.N. speech, he famously referred to George Bush as Senor Peligro,
Mister Danger.

Everybody seems to agree that the Chavez opposition has shot itself in
the foot so many times that it is fragmented and impotent. I spoke
with a number of anti-Chavistas, and not one of them suggested Chavez
used repressive methods. The arguments were similar to those that
people here make against welfare or affirmative action, saying Chavez
gives money to the poor and doesn't encourage work.

A Venezuelan doctor whose family is split between pro- and
anti-Chavistas, told me she has witnessed a clear improvement in the
delivery of health services.

Small clinics and thousands of Cuban doctors have been introduced into
the barrios. I saw several of the adult literacy classes springing up
in barrios everywhere. Chavez seems to empower the poor of Venezuela,
and they apparently love it when he tweaks George Bush. In this sense,
Mister Danger has helped Chavez immeasurably by being the classic
blundering imperialist.

Leaders in Washington would be wise to rethink Chavez. He has been
elected four times and is by any standard the legitimate leader of
Venezuela until 2014. The days are over of the United States
bamboozling a nation with a coup like it did in Guatemala in 1954 or
encouraging a takeover as it did in Chile in 1973 or forming a
guerrilla opposition army like it did in Nicaragua in the 1980s.

With the right U.S. leadership, it might even be possible to
"integrate" all of North, Central and South America into a positive
dialogue of mutually respecting nations seeking to improve the lives
of everyone. What a novel idea.

John Grant is a Vietnam veteran and a longtime member of Veterans for
Peace. He is a writer/photographer and lives in Plymouth Meeting.

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