Who's Afraid Of Venezuela-Cuba
by Jane Franklin
ZNet, March 14, 2005
For a long time there was only one country
in Latin America offering free health care to all its citizens.
Now there are two. The governments of both countries regard health
care as a basic human right. So Cuba, rich in health care, and
Venezuela, rich in oil, have arranged a barter deal for the benefit
of each population. This would seem to be a major historical example
of beneficial free trade. Who could possibly object?
Well, Condoleezza Rice for one, who seems
quite disturbed by this alliance. During an interview last October
with the editorial board of The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, then
National Security Advisor Rice called President Hugo Chávez
"a real problem." She said, "He will continue his
contacts with Fidel Castro, maybe giving Castro one last fling
to try to affect he politics of Latin America." Why is she
In that same interview, she praised Russia
in contrast to the Soviet Union. "Amazing things are happening
in the economy," she enthused, citing a "remarkable"
example of progress: "Putin is telling people they're going
to have to pay for their health care." Condoleezza Rice with
roots in Alabama, where many people cannot afford adequate health
care, has grown up to become a member of the corporate elite,
on the board of directors for such giants of industry as Transamerica,
Charles Schwab, and Hewlett Packard. Like her boss, President
George W. Bush, and other members of his cabinet, she is invested
in the oil industry, with a direct interest in Venezuelan oil
through Chevron Corporation. In 1995, the same year that Chevron
signed an agreement in Caracas to operate Venezuela's Boscan heavy-oil
field over a 20 to 30-year period, Chevron named its largest oil
tanker for a member of its Board of Directors: Condoleezza Rice.
After Rice became National Security Advisor in 2001, Chevron renamed
the tanker to avoid such a blatant connection.
Now Miss Oil Tanker of 1995 is Secretary
of State, in charge of implementing U.S. policy toward all countries.
It is no wonder she is eager to support such anti-Chávez
activities as the oil strike of 2002 that temporarily devastated
the Venezuelan economy. And it is no surprise that the alliance
between Havana and Caracas causes great consternation for the
Bush administration. Take the issue of free trade. For decades
Havana has refused to be controlled by Washington's trade mechanisms,
such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with its consequential
subtractions for domestic welfare and additions for foreign debt.
In 1985 Cuba hosted a conference on the Latin American debt crisis
where delegates called, to no avail, for a basic restructuring
of the relationship between debtor and creditor nations. Now Venezuela
has become a partner in resistance to this financial bondage,
although Venezuela, unlike Cuba, belongs to international financial
institutions such as the IMF.
Instead of conceding to the Free Trade
Area of the Americas (FTAA) that Washington is trying to impose,
Venezuela and Cuba have launched the Bolivarian Alternative for
the Americas (ALBA), an effort to unify Latin American countries
in the 21st century's continuation of the work of Simón
Bolívar, who was born in Venezuela, and José Martí,
who was born in Cuba. On December 14, President Fidel Castro and
President Hugo Chávez signed a far-reaching agreement "towards
the process of integration," including "the exchange
of goods and services which best correspond to the social and
economic necessities of both countries."
One example is literacy: "Both parties
will work together and in coordination with other Latin American
countries to eradicate illiteracy in third countries" (Article
5). The Cuban teaching method known as "Si se puede"
(Yes I can) is rapidly increasing literacy among Venezuelans and
is already used in many other countries, including Argentina,
Bolivia, Ecuador, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Mozambique, New Zealand,
Nicaragua, Nigeria, and Peru. What could be more conducive to
creating the democracy that George Bush claims to want to bring
to the world? Why should Washington not support the expansion
of literacy that is a necessity for true democracy?
The aim "to eradicate illiteracy
in third countries" strikes fear in the Bush administration.
In that same interview last October, Rice said "the key"
to stopping Hugo Chávez "is to mobilize the region
to both watch him and be vigilant about him and to pressure him."
She explained, "We can't do it alone....But the OAS (Organization
of American States) can do a lot." On November 20, with Rice
on her way to the State Department, The Washington Post followed
up with an editorial called "Watch Venezuela," advising
that Rice's plan to isolate Chávez "sounds like a
But the horse was already out of the
barn. Venezuela galvanized the creation of the South American
Union (or the South American Community of Nations) in December,
with the goal of creating a free trade zone among its members:
Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay,
Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. One major expression of this unity
is Telesur, a television network to broadcast, starting this year,
about Latin America from Latin America.
True to her plan, once she got her new
job in January, Secretary of State Rice lost no time in trying
to destroy that unity. The State Department sent letters to Latin
American leaders in order to mobilize them against Chávez
in a dispute between Venezuela and Colombia. Nobody answered the
State Department's call. U.S. pressure proved decidedly unhelpful,
exacerbating the conflict. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe turned
for help to none other than Fidel Castro. Castro sent Foreign
Minister Felipe Pérez Roque to Caracas. Brazil and Peru
also mediated. But as Uribe publicly acknowledged, it was Castro's
help that was crucial to the peaceful outcome when Uribe met with
Chávez in Caracas. Ironically, Cuba, which was able to
mediate successfully, is not even a member of the OAS, having
been expelled in 1962 as part of Washington's mobilization of
Latin American countries against Cuba during Operation Mongoose,
another attempt, following the Bay of Pigs, to overthrow the Cuban
Bush administration officials and media
have escalated their attacks against Hugo Chávez and Fidel
Castro. In the opening statement of her Senate confirmation hearing
on January 18-19, Rice called Cuba an "outpost of tyranny."
Perhaps the label of "terrorist nation" has lost its
fear-inducing effect even though Cuba remains on the State Department's
list of terrorist nations. Nobody can rationally figure out how
Cuba is a terrorist threat, especially after the total discrediting
of John Bolton's claim in 2002 that Cuba's medical system is a
cover for bioterrorism. So now the State Department is using "tyranny"
as the buzz word because Fidel Castro has not been elected in
a U.S.-approved kind of election like the one that took place
in 1901 under U.S. occupation--comparable to the January election
Nevermind that in 1952 when Castro was
running for Congress, Washington supported a coup that installed
the dictatorship of General Fulgencio Batista, canceling the election
and suspending the Constitution. Nevermind that the Helms-Burton
law of 1996 makes it illegal in the United States for Fidel Castro
(or his brother Raúl) to run in a Cuban election. If Cuba
were to hold such an election, the results would not be recognized
by the United States.
Hugo Chávez was elected in 1998
and re-elected with 59.5 percent of the vote in 2000 (the same
year that Bush was elected by the Supreme Court). In 2002, he
was restored to power in two days by his people after a coup supported
by Washington and cheered on by the U.S. media, notably The New
York Times. In 2004, Chávez won a referendum monitored
by international observers, including former President Jimmy Carter.
Yet in her confirmation hearing, Rice openly threatened the elected
government of Venezuela when she said she wants the OAS to hold
accountable "leaders who do not govern democratically, even
if they are democratically elected."
Of course U.S. overthrows of elected
governments are nothing new, as demonstrated in Brazil, Chile,
the Dominican Republic, and Haiti, to name a few. Venezuela is
now instituting land reform, the very issue that led in 1954 to
the CIA's overthrow of the elected government in Guatemala. Right
on cue, CIA Director Porter Goss, in his February 16 testimony
before the Senate Intelligence Committee, named Venezuela among
"potential flashpoints in 2005" because "Chávez
is consolidating his power by using technically legal tactics
to target his opponents and meddling in the region, supported
Another U.S. method of "regime change"
has been assassination as documented by the 1975 Senate Select
Intelligence Committee hearings in the wake of the war against
Vietnam when, for a brief period, some members of Congress dared
to attempt to rectify a few of the most murderous practices of
U.S. foreign and domestic policy. Fidel Castro was of course a
frequent target. In an incisive speech to the OAS on February
23, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Alí Rodríguez said:
"The absurdity of the accusations
levied against our government would not bother us in the least
if a multitude of facts did not exist that prove that when such
statements are made, it's because, sooner or later, the attack
will follow....It is what happened with Allende, it is what happened
in the Dominican Republic, it is what happened in Guatemala and
countless other cases. For the same reason, we cannot dismiss
information from our intelligence services concerning the physical
liquidation of our president, the same man who has been legitimated
every time he has been subjected to the scrutiny of the Venezuelan
Rodríguez noted that Article 1
of the OAS Charter states that the OAS "has no powers other
than those expressly conferred upon it by this Charter, none of
whose provisions authorizes it to intervene in matters that are
within the internal jurisdiction of the Member States."
He told the OAS members that, with all
due respect, Venezuela would like to "stress the need of
social justice as a fundamental component of democracy."
The Foreign Minister added that "democracy in a country like
Venezuela, whose concrete reality is one of poverty, depends on
giving the large majority of the country the opportunity to participate,
that is, the overcoming of poverty becomes the government's first
reason for being."
Imagine having a government that considers
overcoming poverty to be its first reason for being. Again and
again, people ask, Why does Washington oppose Cuba since it is
obvious that Cuba is not a threat to our national security? Rice
calls it an "outpost of tyranny," but the real reason
is the example that Cuba provides for people all over the planet
who desperately need health and education. Fidel Castro refuses
to tell people "they're going to have to pay for their health
care." And now Hugo Chávez, with Cuba's cooperation,
is putting that example into action in Venezuela.
With Cuban doctors making a difference
in the world, fear of the Cuban example increases among those
who have no intention of dealing with the great challenges of
our time: the millions of people around the world without health
care and without literacy. Writing from Honduras in her February
18 column, Mary Anastasia O'Grady, The Wall Street Journal's senior
editorial page writer and one of the most vociferous opponents
of both Castro and Chávez, reports that Cuba sent 350 doctors
to Honduras in 1998 when Hurricane Mitch wreaked havoc in a country
already poverty-stricken. O'Grady is concerned that the Cuban
doctors have stayed to look after Honduran people and that 600
Hondurans are studying medicine in Cuba so that they can return
to provide medical care for their people. O'Grady calls the Cuban
doctors "Fidel's foot soldiers" with "the potential
for soft indoctrination, a kind of tilling the soil in the poor
countryside so that it is ready when political opportunity presents
itself as it has in Venezuela of late." To a rational human
being, Cuba's ability to provide health care and Venezuela's eagerness
to work with Cuba to provide health care present quite a different
potential: that is, human potential for unselfish cooperation.
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