SchNEWS | 20.08.2004 17:11 | Venezuela
Friday 19th August 2004 | Issue 465
WAKE UP! WAKE UP! IT'S YER CUT TO THE CHAVEZ...
CHIT AND CHAVEZ
“Chavez, like Castro, is not only an avowed Communist who has terrorized his own people, they both have assisted and worked with Middle Eastern terrorists. The US should intervene at once”. - Senator Larry Klayman, Republican Senator - Florida.
It’s no surprise to hear this from a US politician with an active interest in developments in Venezuela nor is it shocking to see him so actively embrace the neoliberal business elite in their attempt to overthrow the Venezuelan government. Intervention in the affairs of every Latin American country has defined US policy in the region since they stole half of Mexico in 1848. In just a thirty year period the CIA actively assisted with the overthrowing of democratically elected radical governments in Guatemala (1954), the Dominican Republic (1965), Chile (1973), Nicaragua (1980s) and Grenada (1983). Its involvement in a coup in Venezuela in April 2002 merely continues this historical record, as does its support for the right wing’s attempts to oust President Hugo Chavez in last weekend's referendum.
Chavez is a military man, who himself failed to overthrow the Presidency of Carlos Perez in a 1992 coup. After his release from prison he rose to power, promising to instigate a ‘Bolivarian revolution’, based on the ideals of Simon Bolivar, the “great liberator” of Latin America. Chavez posed as the new Bolivar, promising reforms to improve education, welfare and health for 80% of Venezuelans who live in poverty.
Access to education and healthcare in some of the poorest barrios has shot up with 1.5 million more schoolchildren getting three free meals a day and over one million more adults can now read and write. The Bolivarian constitution allows for the recall of any elected official (hence the referendum) and grants the right to a plot of land for anyone aged between 18 and 25, although as a personal favour to himself, Chavez also squeezed extensions to the presidential term.
Bolivarian markets’ are just one example of the boom in cooperative movements that have taken place over the past few years. In Petare, a working class district in Caracas, marketstall holders meet each Wednesday to set fair food prices for the weekend market. Participating sellers pay $1 to rent a pitch with this money being reinvested in local community projects. Out of the cities, Self Organised Rural Associations are being set up in an effort to develop a highly integrated system of cooperatives and LETS schemes, where skills rather than money are exchanged for food and other goods. City vegetable gardens are cropping (!) up across Caracas as the country seeks to become self-sufficient in food.
But its not the Co-ops that’s got up the nose of the Bush Administration Inc. Neither was it jealousy at the fact that Chavez actually won the election that made him president, it’s the fact that Chavez campaigned on the basis of a need to “transform the current, brutal, neoliberal economic model.” Whilst that itself was bad news for US investors (Venezuelans buy 1/3 of all US goods exported to Latin America), Venezuela also happens to account for 15% of US oil imports. The state-owned Venezuelan oil company, PDVSA oversees the largest reserves of any oil producing country outside of the Middle East and the country has 148 trillion cubic feet of proven natural gas reserves – the largest in the Western Hemisphere. A new Hydrocarbons Law recently raised taxes paid by private companies from 1-17% to 20%-30%.
Chavez has sought to increase his control of the oil industry, booting out Exxon, Shell & Texaco executives and cramming the organisation with loyal Chavistas. PDVSA owns Citgo, an oil company operating in the US which has $12 billion invested in refineries, terminals and pipelines there, indirectly employing 150,000 workers. When stopping short of invasion the US often uses economic pressure to bully a nation, but now the situation is being reversed by Venezuela. There’s also talk of combining Venezuela’s oil company with Ecuador’s, Brazil’s and Trinadad’s. These countries would then be able to bargain much harder in trade talks which, up to now, have been mostly a one-way deal designed only to benefit US investors. But the war manual of the Project for the New American Century, the right wing outfit that advises Bush on foreign policy matters, has identified a need for a “concerted national trade and security policy to prevent monopolistic collusion by foreign energy producers”. Given that Bush’s Latin American Department is crammed with rightwing Cuban exiles, including Otto Reich the architect of former President Ronald Reagen’s central American policy that saw 200,000 killed, it’s safe to say that such a deal is not going to be successful.
When Chavez took power the price of oil stood at $9 per barrel. Oil production was cut and by April 2002 the stuff went for $23, with extra revenue used to fund the reforms. Later that month Venezuela experienced what the US state department called “a temporary alteration of constitutional order” when the business class replaced Chavez with US-friendly head of the Venezuelan Chambers of Commerce, Pedro Carmona in a coup. He immediately suspended the constitution, legislative assemblies and began reversing Chavez’s anti neoliberal reforms. The US recognised the government immediately. Oil production was increased. Two days after the coup, loyal army troops and a demonstration of the poor, hundreds of thousands strong, helped restore Chavez to the Presidency. Carmona flew to Florida.
Despite Senator Klayman’s concerns it’s unlikely that Chavez has been plotting with the Taliban. Given that he has been re-elected numerous times, a dictatorship it is not, but neither is it a revolution. Chavez deals with the multinationals that have caused so much damage in the region already and the whole reform process is linked to the cult of personality surrounding him. If revolution is supposed to pass power to the people, then this one’s got a long way to go.
The streets of Caracas have been ringing to the sound of banging pots and pans for months, as the right wing nutcase opposition seeks to annoy the government through noise pollution. Now Chavez is apparently looking for some way to outlaw the banging of pots in protests. But restricting the right to demonstrate is always a tricky business as Caracas resident Armando Lefmans says, “I have made my own cassette of the noise. You put it on at a high volume so you don’t have to bother hitting a pan”.
* Recommend reading “The Battle of Venezuela” Michael McCaughan (Latin American Bureau 2004) www.venezuelanalysis.com