March 17 and 18 were bad days for the US government and the corporate interests it represents, as it suffered two blows to its campaign to undermine the growing movement in Latin America towards regional integration to challenge US domination.
US oil giant ExxonMobil, the world's largest publicly traded corporation, lost its court case in London on March 18 against Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA, resulting in the unfreezing of the US$12 billion in PDVSA's assets. ExxonMobil had been seeking this amount in compensation for the nationalisation of its investments in Venezuela's Orinoco oil belt last year.
The previous day, the Organization of American States (OAS) passed a unanimous resolution rejecting Colombia's military attack on Ecuadorian territory on March 6 against a camp of the left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) that killed at least 21 people.
Four Mexican students and an Ecuadorian citizen were killed in the illegal assault.
Colombia then claimed to have found FARC documents on laptops that survived the bombing at the camp "proving" that the Venezuelan and Ecuadorian governments were funding the FARC. Ecuador and Venezuela responded to the attack by breaking diplomatic ties with Colombia and moving troops to their respective Colombian borders.
The US publicly backed Colombia. Some commentators have alleged that the attacks could only have occurred with US collaboration. A March 26 IPS News report quoted an anonymous high-ranking Ecuadorian military official who claimed that "a large proportion of senior officers" in Ecuador share "the conviction that the United States was an accomplice in the attack".
Venezuela alleged that the bombing was part of a plan by the US to attack both the Venezuelan and Ecuadorian governments (which pursue policies that adversely affect the interests of US corporations) and undermine the push towards regional integration.
The unanimous vote at the OAS meeting — which involves all nations in the Americas except Cuba — to reject Colombia's military attack as an illegal violation of Ecuadorian sovereignty is a further blow to the US push. Even Colombia voted to "reject" its own actions.
The US, which reluctantly voted for the motion, subsequently expressed "reservations".
The London court ruling lifting the freezing of PDVSA assets in Britain is another blow to US imperialist interests, with PDVSA winning a total victory against ExxonMobil. Venezuela has suggested it could sue ExxonMobil for damages, due to false allegations the corporation made against PDVSA, potentially up to $1 billion.
ExxonMobil had secured court orders in British, Dutch and US courts freezing over $12 billion of PDVSA's assets in response to a dispute following the move by the government of socialist President Hugo Chavez to nationalise of private investments in the Orinoco.
Venezuela had already offered ExxonMobil compensation for the take-over, in which PDVSA took a majority share in all ventures in the Orinoco. Most companies involved agreed to this, however ExxonMobil was one of two companies that refused, with PDVSA taking over its entire operations.
While PDVSA assets remain frozen in Holland and the US — where the courts are still to decide the issue — the London ruling sets a strong precedent. ExxonMobil will have to pay PDVSA $766,000 for legal costs, according to a March 18 Venezuelanalysis.com article, and will be forced to return to the negotiation table with Venezuela to determine compensation for its nationalised assets — the position Venezuela has advocated from the start.
The ruling is also a victory for the right of underdeveloped nations to control their own natural resources, against attempts by First World corporations to exploit them. In Venezuela, oil wealth is pumped into social programs that have helped halve poverty rates since 2003 and provide free health care and education to millions of people.
In an example of the way Venezuela's oil wealth is used, a March 25 Venezuelanalysis.com article reported that Chavez has announced "a new tax on extraordinary oil profits … the revenue of which will help fund the expansion of health care programs known as the Barrio Adentro 'missions', which bring health care to marginalised communities …"
Chavez made the announcement while inaugurating "11 new surgery rooms and an intensive care facility fully equipped with 431 pieces of cutting edge medical technology" at the public University Hospital in Maracaibo. Similar remodelling is planned for 130 other public hospitals, to be funded by the new tax.
The US and its Colombian proxy, which receives the greatest amount of US military aid in Latin America, are continuing the campaign against Venezuela and the regional integration push it is spearheading.
According to a March 26 Venezuelanalysis.com report, Chavez accused the Colombia's minister of defence, Juan Manuel Santos, of renewing tensions after he stated on March 24 that Colombia's attack within Ecuador was "a legitimate act of war, a legitimate act in defence of democracy".
Santos also confirmed that an Ecuadorian citizen, Franklin Aisalia, had been killed in Colombia's assault, according to the article. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa had stated that if DNA tests proved that one of the dead was Ecuadorian, it would jeopardise the restoring of diplomatic relations between the two nations.
Venezuelanalysis.com reported that "Ecuadoran foreign minister Maria Isabel Salvador described Santos' comments as a 'cynical' attempt to justify aggression, 'not only against Ecuador, but the entire continent'".
Chavez said Santos was a "spokesperson for war" and stated the following day, "It was so difficult to restore calm. This immediately causes tension again."
Chavez pointed out that Santos's statement contradicted the official stance of the Colombian government, which only days before had voted for the OAS resolution rejecting the attack as illegal. He stated: "If I had a Defense Minister that went against the decision of the OAS, then I would dismiss him."
According to Venezuelanalysis.com, Venezuelan journalist and former vice president Jose Vincent Rangel has claimed that before Santos made his inflammatory comments, he had a secret meeting with US undersecretary of State, John Negroponte, and functionaries of the CIA, behind the back of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.
US President George Bush has continued the anti-Venezuela push, threatening to place Venezuela on a list of countries that sponsor terrorism. The justification for the threat is documents Colombia allegedly found at the bombed FARC campsite that Colombia claim prove the Ecuadorian and Venezuelan governments are backing the FARC, which controls around a third of Colombian territory and which the Colombian state has been battling for over four decades.
Investigative journalist and filmmaker Greg Palast has demolished Colombia's claims based on a study of the documents presented, which he declared fake, in a post to his website,
Both Venezuela and Ecuador have denied the allegations. Chavez claimed that the CIA were behind the documents, according to Venezuelanalis.com, joking: "It shouldn't surprise you if a photo of me with Bin Laden comes out of that computer."
Venezuela's representative to the OAS, Jorge Valero, responded to Bush's threat by arguing that the US government is "the terrorist government par excellence", and practices "state terrorism".
The US government, which supported ExxonMobil in its dispute, is backed by a propaganda campaign carried out in the US corporate media, which is echoed in the mainstream media around the world. Venezuela's minister for information, Andres Izarra, wrote an open letter to The Washington Post in protest at its biased coverage of Venezuela, with regular editorials and opinion pieces spreading lies and misinformation aimed at demonising the Chavez government.
Izarra stated: "More editorials and OpEds have been written this past year about Venezuela than ever before, 98% of which are negative, critical, and aggressive and contain false or manipulated information. We are therefore led to believe that the Washington Post is promoting an anti-Venezuela, anti-Chavez agenda …"
Izarra also announced that on March 28 and 29 Venezuela would host a Latin American Meeting against Media Terrorism in Caracas, to discuss the propaganda war by the private media against Venezuela and other left-wing governments in the region. Chavez stated on March 24 that Caracas would be "converted into the world capital of the struggle against media terrorism", during the conference.