US Antagonism Toward Venezuela

-by Jake Hess

Some things about US foreign policy just never change.

Today, like yesterday and the day before, the ugly specter of yanqui imperialismo hovers over Latin America like a starved vulture, ever eager to descend. A left-leaning government in Venezuela - whose ambitious reform programs threaten to loosen the stranglehold of corporate globalization on the Andean region - has been firmly entrenched in the middle of Washington's backyard. The US, careful to uphold its deserved reputation, is responding in the only way it knows how: support the overthrow of the government.

I started paying attention to Venezuela in April 2002, when President Hugo Chavez was temporarily booted by a prima facie mass uprising in that country, only to be restored days later by a phenomenal surge of popular support. It didn't take long for the usual suspects - John Pilger, William Blum, Greg Palast, et al - to start clamoring, citing possible CIA involvement in the coup attempt. Many analysts probably accused them of being beholden to conspiracy theories - wasn't Bush intoning about an enlightened crusade to spread democracy across the globe? - but it turns out that they were right all along.

We now have incontrovertible proof that the United States has been involved in various schemes to destabilize the Chavez government, including the April 2002 plan. But don't take my word for it; just ask the hard-left think tank called the CIA. They recently declassified documents showing that the Bush administration had detailed knowledge of an imminent coup attempt at least 5 days before it actually happened. Yet on April 12th, former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer - acting as a mouthpiece for the golpistas - lied about what actually occurred. He claimed that President Chavez "resigned" when in fact he was kidnapped by the military against his will.

The White House, then, not only lied about what it knew, but failed to notify the democratically elected Chavez government about its coming downfall. The Bolivarian Republic is our third largest supplier of oil - the US has a vested interested in keeping it stable - so you'd think that our leadership would feel more than cool indifference were a dramatic change of government to take place there. Unless, of course, we knew what was happening all along.

It doesn't end there. Washington's participation in Venezuela goes beyond tacit approval of attempts to overthrow the elected government in Caracas. A widely-cited internal investigation at the State Department revealed that they, alongside the Department of Defense, have provided more than $3 million worth of training and funding to the anti-Chavez opposition, including to individuals who may have been involved in the April 2002 putsch. In other words, the United States has been actively funding these destabilization attempts.

The National Endowment for Democracy, always loathe to miss out on the action, has also been involved. That organization - whose purpose is described by author William Blum as to "manipulate the political process" in other countries by "financing political parties, labor unions, books publishers, newspapers´┐Ż" (all work that the CIA formerly did covertly) - has funneled as much as $1 million Chavez's opponents annually, according to journalist Alexander Cockburn.

That American policy toward Venezuela amounts to an obscene and wholly illegitimate violation of the sovereign rights of that nation is obvious and doesn't need to be elaborated on. What does need to be explained is that, unfortunately, Washington's transgressions are not taking place in a vacuum. Instead, they fit neatly into a long tradition of American imperialism in the region. From 1798 to the end of World War Two, the US military intervened at least ninety times in Latin America - not to defend democracy, but to safeguard American interests. This theme stayed consistent during the Cold War, with Washington intruding there at least twenty five times, resulting in the successful overthrow of some ten governments, three of them democratically elected.

Hugo Chavez - who recently scored his ninth consecutive electoral triumph since he was first elected in December 1998 - is often compared to Salvador Allende, the former Chilean socialist president. He actually reminds me more of Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, the Guatemalan social democrat elected in 1951. What all three have in common is that they were freely and fairly elected by the impoverished people of their nations, and flattened by the United States (permanently in the case of Allende and Arbenz).

Washington fears Chavez out for the same reasons they did Allende and Arbenz: he champions a progressive reform program that conflicts with capitalist interests in his country. Chavez normally denounces "savage neoliberalism" of the sort advocated by the world's most powerful nations, supporting a "third way" between capitalism and socialism that allows for state involvement in the economy when necessary. His administration has reinvigorated the hereto faltering OPEC, purposefully securing an increase in world oil prices and enabling Chavez to up social spending. He speaks eloquently about his ambition to unite the people of Latin America against the outside forces of globalization, and has forcefully criticized US foreign policy.

The Chavez phenomenon is a positive one for all people in the world, not just Venezuela. His administration represents a forward-looking break from the status quo and should be supported by the American left as a bulwark against imperialism. Thus we should take Cockburn's advice and 'throw ourselves into the fray', lest Venezuela become the next casualty of American hegemony.

Jake Hess is a student activist based in Boston. Send him your thoughts at
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