Venezuela in Washington's Sights

by Salim Lamrani, March 11, 2006


Washington's hostile policy towards the government of Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez gains increasingly worrying momentum. In a recent document, the Pentagon called the "resurgence of authoritarian and populist movement in some countries like Venezuela [a] source of political and economic instability". Such a statement is even more worrying, since the US Defence Department hardly ever cites countries in its strategic study (Quarterly Defence Review), published every four years; that department only limits itself to address general tendencies [1].

_Some days before, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, had compared Hugo Chavez to Hitler before Washington's National Press Club: "In Venezuela, we have Chavez, who possesses lots of money that stem from oil. He was legally elected, as Hitler was. Then, he has consolidated his power and is now working along Fidel Castro, Mister Morales and others ", he said. [2]. "We have seen how some populist leaders have attracted the people in those countries, as well as elections such as that of Evo Morales in Bolivia, which are clearly worrying" he concluded [3].

_Venezuela's response was not long awaited. Vice-president José Vicente Rangel strongly condemned Rumsfeld aggressive statements: "We are not willing to passively accept that our government [] be attacked with impunity by people who are fully disqualified from the political, moral and ethical points of view, as the gang of the US Hitler, George Bush " [4].

_In the same direction, the director of intelligence services John Negroponte, accused Venezuela of "launching a militant foreign policy in Latin America, which includes the supply of oil at preferential prices in exchange for allies". At the same time, he stigmatized the international TV channel Telesur, whose role is that of breaking the CNN supremacy in the continent. He told a senate committee that "Venezuela is the main challenge to security in the hemisphere" and that Washington's priority is to block at any price the re-election of Hugo Chavez in December, 2006. At last, he threatened Bolivia, which "continues to give ambiguous signs about its intentions" [5].

_"The militant foreign policy" advocated by John Negroponte refers to Venezuela's solidarity cooperation, which allows many poor nations in the region to purchase fuel at preferential tariffs. The Prime Minister of Grenada, Keith Mitchell, signed an energy cooperation agreement with President Hugo Chávez, which stipulates the supply of 1,000 barrels of oil daily with a 50 percent discount over the market price. Venezuela has also send a group of military and civil engineers to Grenada in order to repair schools damaged by hurricanes. The integration model promoted by the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), fully contrary to the ultra-liberal and destruction-oriented Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), has strongly irritated the White House [6]._In the face of open threats by the Bush administration, Venezuela has decided to reinforce its defence capacity by purchasing fighter aircrafts in Spain. But, Washington has prohibited the José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero government to sell Venezuela the military equipment, outfitted with US technology, since the total sale calculated in 2 billion dollars could "contribute to the destabilization of Latin America", according to Sean McCormack, spokesperson of the US State Department [7]. Also in that same direction, Brazil rejected the US prohibition by stating that it would proceed to sell 20 planes to Venezuela [8].

_According to Washington, the sale of weapons to Venezuela would imply the risk of regional destabilization. McCormark explains that the "concerns focus on what we consider an exaggerated militarization of Venezuela" [9].

_Meanwhile, the US company Lockheed Martin has just released several F-16 planes to Chile and it expects to send another eight of those planes to that country this year. Chile now possesses the most modern aircraft fleet in Latin America with that posing no inconvenience for the Bush administration, which is only obsessed about the progressive reforms undertaken by Caracas [10].

_Along with the significant purchase of necessary weapons for the defence of his nation (100,000 infantry guns and 15 helicopters purchased in Russia), President Chávez has decided to create an army with one million volunteers in order to face an eventual US military invasion of Venezuela. The Bolivarian government has decided to follow the Cuban example in terms of its preparation for war. "Why did the gringos invade half of the world except Cuba? In Cuba all the people [are ready] and trained to defend each corner of their national territory and the Cuban Revolution", said Chávez [11].

_The United States have also launched a campaign of espionage and promotion of internal subversion by using its embassy in Caracas, with the aim of destabilizing the country, which has increasingly experienced social advancements achieved by the Chávez government. "Some low-ranking officers used to provide the Pentagon with information", said the Venezuelan Vice-president. US military attaché John Correa, who had made contact with those officers to conspire against Venezuelan authorities, was expelled from the country [12]. As to the Venezuelan military, they were all tried for having cooperated with a foreign power [13].

_In retaliation, Washington declared Jenny Figueredo Frias, head of the cabinet of Venezuelan ambassador to Washington Bernardo Alvarez, person non grata and, at the same time, admitted that it was an arbitrary measure: "This decision is in response to the expelling by Venezuela of Commander John Correa, naval attaché at the US embassy in Caracas", said the spokesperson of the US State Department [14].

_Tony Blair, a loyal and unconditional ally of the Bush administration proved his full subordination to Washington during a weekly session of the British Parliament. Labor party parliamentarian Colin Burgon faced the Prime Minister: "I am sure that your share the satisfaction many labor party lawmakers feel about the left-oriented shift of Latin America [with the coming to power of ] governments that fight for the interests of the majority and not for the interests of a minority". Later, he asked Blair: "Would you agree that it would be bad for us to admit that our policy towards those countries, especially nations like Venezuela, be drawn up by the rightist republican agenda of the US government?" [15].

_In a surprising way, Anthony Blair replied: "Up to certain extent", in an attempt to justify his statement by affirming that it was "important that the Venezuelan government should understand that if it wants the respect of the international community, it must abide by the rules of the international community". Evidently, we have to understand that "international community" here means "the United States", whose "rules" must be enforced with no discussion at all. For Prime Minister Blair, the sovereignty of Britain ends where US interests begin [16]._Washington's concern is currently based on Hugo Chávez, since he symbolizes Latin America's political renovation by using national resources in the benefit of less favoured social classes. The Venezuelan government has just approved an impressive salary increase for public officials, which ranges from + 34 percent to + 61,8 percent and that stands for a 47 percent average increase. The Venezuelan government also raised minimum salaries for private employees up to 15 percent. Since the year 2000, the minimum salary in Venezuela has been raised each year from 20 to 30 percent. All the population has been benefited with incomes stemming from the country's economic growth, which went up to 9,4 percent in 2005 [17].

_In contrast, in France, the fifth World power with a highly praised social model, the salaries of public officials was only raised by 1 percent in 2005. Private sector wages registered a 0,6 percent increase in real terms (2,8 percent increase minus 2,2 percent inflation). "21st Century socialism", promoted by President Chávez is not to be applied soon in France, where the government has undertaken a merciless anti-social policy since 2002 [18].

_In the same way, one billion bolivares (Venezuelan currency) was destined to the "Barrio Adentro III" mission, a government-led free-of-charge and universal medical program. The money will allow the purchase of 30,932 medical equipment (ambulances and others). The fund, which stems from an oil surplus, is directly invested in the social sector [19].

_The only-of-its-kind public health system developed in Venezuela thanks, among other factors to the assistance given by 15,000 Cuban doctors, has allowed for 163 million medical consultations; that is, 8 consultations per person. The "Barrio Adentro I" mission has saved 31,186 lives thanks to the setting up of 1,012 popular medical offices in the poorest regions, which will be joined by another 20, 359 similar facilities. The "Barrio Adentro II" mission has created 100 integral diagnosis centers, which provide comprehensive medical assistance; while another 500 similar centres are being built throughout the country. At last, with the implementation of the "Miracle Mission" led by Cuba, more than 176,000 Venezuelans who had lost their sight as a consequence of cataracts, were submitted to free-of-charge eye surgery by Cuban specialists [20].

_Unemployment has continued to decrease in Venezuela from 13,2 percent in June 2005 down to 11,4 percent in December that year. The efficient government policy has allowed 367,199 people to find a job [21].

_UNESCO recognized the outstanding social achievements of the Bolivarian Revolution by awarding President Hugo Chávez the José Martí International Prize. The distinction stresses the efforts made by Chávez in favour of Latin American and Caribbean unity, as well as the preservation of regional identities, traditions and cultures [22]. In effect, Venezuela provides its neighbors with oil at preferential tariffs, as well as some US zones, such as Vermont, Maine and Rhode Island. Inhabitants of those regions, abadonmed by the Bush administration, will be able to purchase fuel at 40-percent subsidized tariffs by Venezuela's Citgo subsidiary. "That will translate into the saving of some million dollars for the people of Vermont", said Erin Campbell, spokesman of Vermont [23].

_On February 6, the Bush administration released its budget project for 2007, which includes significant increase in funds for the defence, internal security and foreign affairs. The US defence budget surpasses all records with a total of 439,3 billion dollars; that translates into a 6,9-percent rise respect to last year. At the same time, the budgets dedicated to health, justice, education and other sectors were drastically decreased. For instance, 141 social programs will undergo reductions or be interrupted. A 65-billion-dollar reduction is expected to affect the Medicare program, which provides medical attention to the elderly or physically impaired people. Pensions are also be deeply affected. Two contrary models of society face each other, the one in Caracas and the other in Washington. In the first the wellbeing of the population is at the center of the national program, while in the other, the development of the military industrial complex continues to be the absolute prioritiy [24].

_While the Bush administration is willing to do just about anything in order to avoid a new electoral victory by Hugo Chávez on December 3, 2006, Venezuela continues to implement reforms aimed at further improving the standard of living of the population. Its prestige in the continent is proportionally direct to the twilight of US influence in the region. The reason for that is quite simple: while Venezuela has destined 28 billion dollars in terms of external assistance for its neighbors for a seven-year term-an annual average of 3,6 billion dollars-, the United States has announced a massive decrease of its contribution for the year 2007, with a 28,5-percent fall in the assistance for the development of Latin America and the Caribbean, a 10-percent fall in medical assistance and an 11-pecent decrease of its financial contribution to the Organization of American States (OAS). Messages also opposed each other in this area: Caracas contributes 3,6 billion dollars annually as part of its assistance for Latin America, while Washington expects to decrease its 1,2 billion-dollar economic support [25].

_The Bolivarian government successfully challenges the neo-liberal doctrine, which is unsustainable in social, economic and political terms and that explains the anger of the White House. Despite several aggressions and threats coming from the U.S., President Chávez launched signs of opening to Washington by saying: "If they change that attitude, we will respond in the same way. Everything can be improved if they show respect for our sovereignty, respect for our decisions". However, is not very probable that reason and dialog lie in the heart of the belligerent Bush administration

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