In his weekly televised address to the nation on February 20, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez accused the US government of plotting to assassinate him. He said that advance warning of a potential assassination attempt had come from Cuban President Fidel Castro — a survivor of hundreds of documented assassination attempts by the CIA.
Chavez has long been despised by the US government for his role in leading a popular process in Venezuela known as the "Bolivarian revolution". Venezuela is the world's fifth largest exporter of oil and sells around 1.5 million barrels of oil a day to the US, almost as much as Saudi Arabia.
Despite this, when Chavez was first elected Venezuela's president in 1998, 80% of Venezuelans were living in poverty. Over the last seven years, Chavez has encouraged the poor majority to organise themselves at the grassroots level. Basing his government on such popular organisation, Chavez has moved to use his country's oil wealth to fund social programs that have brought health care, education, housing, basic infrastructure and heavily subsidised goods and services to the urban and rural poor.
The US rulers have long been accustomed to Venezuela being little more than a source of cheap oil. Although Venezuela's oil industry was nationalised in the mid-1970s, until Chavez came to power, US oil corporations paid only 1% in royalties to the Venezuelan government. By 1998, as little as 20% of the revenue from the nominally state-owned oil company was actually reaching the government.
The election of Chavez began to end the sweet deal for US oil corporations. A new constitution that banned the privatisation of the oil industry was drawn up and approved by over 70% of voters in a referendum. In December 2001, Chavez introduced a law that dramatically increased the royalties paid by foreign companies for the extraction of oil in Venezuela, as well as insisting that 100% of the revenue from the state oil company would go to the government.
The open hostility of the US government towards Chavez is aimed at protecting the investments of US corporations and motivted by fear that the example of popular power and wealth redistribution brought about by the Bolivarian revolution might spread to other South American countries.
In April 2002, Washington backed a military coup that briefly replaced Chavez as president with the head of Fedecamaras, the main employers' association. The coup was defeated by mass uprising by the urban poor and the ranks of the army.
Washington then poured millions of dollars into opposition groups via the US Congress-funded National Endowment for Democracy (as revealed by official documents released under the Freedom of Information Act and posted at <http://www.venezuelaFOIA.info>) to help them collect enough signatures to force a presidential recall referendum. However, in the referendum — held last August 15 — nearly 60% of voters rejected the proposition to recall Chavez.
With the capitalist-backed domestic opposition to Chavez extremely weak, the US military bogged down in Iraq, the US economy too dependent on buying oil from Venezuela to impose serious economic sanctions and with the failure of recent attempts to convince other Latin American governments to diplomatically isolate Venezuela, Washington is short of options with which to remove Chavez.
A February 16 Venezuela Analysis website article reported that the CIA has named Venezuela as "the leading Latin American nation to be alarmed about in 2005". On February 21, Venezuelan information minister Andres Izarra accused the US media of joining the US government in slandering and attempting to undermine the Chavez government.
Venezuela Analysis reported that Izarra denounced "the false information and groundless accusations" made almost on a daily basis in the US press as a new media war against the people of Venezuela and their government. Izarra explained that his statements were based on an analysis of the content of information presented during January and February this year by major US news outlets including the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, the Washington Post, the Miami Herald, the Los Angeles Times, CNN and Fox News.
Fox News made its contribution by screening an hysterical report on Venezuela on February 4 under the title "The Iron Fist of Hugo Chavez", in which it claimed that Chavez "is moving toward totalitarian rule at home in Venezuela and backing guerrilla movements in the region".
The Chavez government is so concerned at the what it considers the "new aggression" being prepared against it by the US rulers that Venezuelan foreign minister Ali Rodriguez took the issue to the Organisation of American States meeting on February 23. According to a February 24 report on the Vietnam News Agency website, "Rodriguez said the Venezuelan intelligence agency has obtained intelligence about the assassination attempt", and called for the OAS to hold an investigation.
Venezuela is taking measures to prepare to defend itself in case of military aggression, whether by a direct attack by the US or via proxy forces in the form of the Colombian military and/or right-wing paramilitaries. According to an article posted on the Vheadline website by Carlos Herrera on February 23, Chavez has announced plans to form "Popular Defence Units". Herrera reported that poor neighbourhoods in Caracas are already organising to resist any invasion.
Going on the offensive, Chavez stated in his February 20 address to the nation: "Don't make the mistake Mr Bush, of ordering my assassination, because you will regret it. Be assured that this people will make you regret it. Not only this people, but many others around the world, because the time of cowards is over, Mr Bush, because in this era we are living, peoples are rising everywhere, and there is no imperialism however powerful they are or believe they are, that could stop the awakening of the peoples that is occurring at the beginning of the 21st century."
From Green Left Weekly, March 2, 2005.
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