Just weeks before the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy, United States Southern Command General, John Bantz Craddock, alleged that “without a doubt…they (extremist contacts) exist in Margarita”, a Venezuelan outpost in the Caribbean.
Not being privy to the sources of US ‘intelligence’, it is impossible to commit with any certainty to the veracity of these comments, however, given the nature of the allegation in the current political climate, it is likely that the statement was authorised at the highest levels of United States’ government. However, even a brief analysis of the history of United States influence in Venezuela emphasises the need for such statements to be treated with a degree of scepticism.
Ever since the ascension to power of Hugo Chavez Frias, legally elected by the largest majority in Venezuelan democratic history in 1998, the US have overtly and covertly pursued measures to destabilise and discredit both the man himself and the policies he seeks to implement for his people.
In April 2002, the United States sanctioned a coup attempt against Chavez by Pedro Carmona Estanga, President of the Venezuelan chamber of commerce, Fedecameras. Those involved on the US side included Elliot Abrams, also linked to the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s, and Otto Reich, Bush’s Latin American policy-maker who acted as the United States’ ambassador to Venezuela in the same period. Unfortunately for the neo-conservative’s world vision, however, and as a direct result of Chavez’s ‘false’ populism, he was returned to power in two days at the insistence of the poor and disenfranchised citizens he represents.
Following this failure, the United States sponsored another seemingly democratic method to rid the world of the scourge of Chavez. In providing funds to Sumate, a civil organisation opposed to Chavez’s policies, the US government-funded National Endowment for Democracy knowingly financed the organisation of the August 2004 recall referendum. This resulted in a 59% majority support for Chavez, and although there were claims of “…a massive fraud” in the US News & World Report, The Carter Centre, an international observer, indicated that the result was accurate. Former US President Jimmy Carter even went so far as to state that the results “…will be much more satisfactory than they were in 2000 in Florida”.
Even the Christian leader and television evangelist, Pat Robertson, got in on the act in 2005, when he advocated assassination of President Chavez in his ‘The 700 Club’ show, describing him as a “strong arm dictator” and “a dangerous enemy” determined to bring Communism and Islamic extremism to the United States’ southern border. Although making such statements with no evidence or political expertise to back them up appears to be a prominent promotional tool for Robertson, and was not a reflection of US policy at the time, such propaganda will clearly affect the psyche of the American people unless the US government loudly and clearly revoke his statements.
The view of the White House, however, was clearly expressed in February 2006 when the Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, likened Chavez to Adolf Hitler in one of the daftest statements of baseless vitriol, declaring “He’s a person who was elected legally, just as Adolf Hitler was elected legally.” Of course, the same could be said of most of the world’s leaders. Could it be that Rumsfeld considers all leaders a threat to the United States, or is he espousing the emergance of a new class of leader, under the auspices of Bush’s own controversial election results, of dubious legality?
In reality, the policies promoted by Chavez since his election have resulted in a significant increase in the standard of living for the vast proportion of Venezuela’s population. Missions throughout the nation have raised the literacy rate in Venezuela to 99%, with Cuba and Venezuela being the only states in the Americas to achieve such standards. Primary, high school and higher education is available to all who choose to pursue it, regardless of class or social status, and the economy is growing at an unprecedented rate while poverty levels fall.
It is no wonder then, that despite the best efforts of the United States’ government, Chavez’s approval rating is the highest of any leader in the Americas.
More American interference in Venezuelan affairs is to be expected in the run-up to the December 2006 elections, and the shrill vitriol of the propaganda war will move up a gear, but it would be a true betrayal of Venezuelan and Latin American rights for this to be an influencing factor in the outcome of these elections. Hugo Chavez is a refreshingly democratic leader who involves the people in the poorest barrios in the democratic processes and achievements of his presidency in Venezuela, and is a beacon of light who should serve as an inspiration to the corrupt and self-serving regimes of Bush and Blair.