VENEZUELA: Chavez's revolution in foreign policy

Issue 

Stuart Munckton

Israel is "killing innocent children and whole families". "They dismantled the legitimate government of Palestine, and thwarted tremendous efforts to achieve peace and establish a Palestinian state", Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez said in an interview with Al Jazeera. The interview was televised on August 4, the day after Chavez ordered the withdrawal of Venezuela's ambassador in Israel to express indignation at the war on Lebanon and Palestine. On August 7, Israel responded by withdrawing its ambassador from Venezuela.

Chavez continued: "Now they are attacking Lebanon ... I am telling you with all honesty that the hand of the Americans is spurring them on. This hand is behind the Israeli aggression. It is imperialistic aggression."

Venezuela has not limited its solidarity with the Lebanese and Palestinians to diplomatic gestures — it has also sent 20,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid. Venezuelanalysis.com reported on August 8 that the same day as Israel withdrew its ambassador, Venezuela "sent a Boeing 707 jet full of aid to Lebanon to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis caused by the Israeli bombing".

On August 7, according to Venezuelanalysis.com, a delegation from Venezuela's National Assembly visited Damascus to meet with Palestinian groups in order to "support and identify as parliament members with the Lebanese and Palestinian peoples".

The response in the Arab world has been enormous. Chavez was already popular throughout the region for his government's anti-imperialist policies and for its willingness to use Venezuela's oil wealth to tackle poverty.

Tariq Ali noted in the March/April New Left Review: "Over the last few years, Chavez has visited the major countries in every continent, embarrassing some of his hosts by demanding a global front against imperialism."

Ali wrote that an earlier Chavez interview with Al Jazeera "had an electric impact on 26 million Arab viewers. It received the station's largest ever email response — tens of thousands — with the bulk of them posing a simple question: why can't the Arab world produce a Chavez?"

VHeadline.com reported on August 6 that the site had been deluged with email from Arab readers supporting Chavez's stance on Israel's war. A protest held in Kuwait after Venezuela withdrew its ambassador featured a large placard of Chavez that declared him a "true Arab leader".

Venezuela's charge d'affaires to Australia, Nelson Davila, announced to cheers at an August 12 Sydney demonstration against the war on Lebanon that if Israel continued its attacks, Caracas would cut all diplomatic ties with the country.

"We cannot have relations with states that attack humble peoples", Davila explained. The crowd featured a large contingent from the city's Lebanese community, many of whom waved Venezuelan flags. "The people of South America are with Lebanon!", Davila declared. His speech was followed by chants of "Chavez! Chavez!"

Following Venezuela's withdrawal of its ambassador, the Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign issued an open letter to Chavez hailing the move: "This courageous step is valued by all of our people as the model of action we would expect the world to take to protest against [Israel's] continued war crimes ..."

The letter explained that "we need to know that we are not alone. The withdrawal of the Venezuelan ambassador has given us new confidence and hope that the solidarity with our cause is gaining strength ..." It called on other governments to follow the example of Venezuela.

The Lebanese government also expressed its gratitude, with the country's president calling Chavez a "Latin American hero".

Associated Press reported on August 5 that Mahmoud Komati, a representative of Hezbollah, told the Latin America-wide TV channel Telesur that Venezuela's actions were "an example for revolutionaries" in defending "the oppressed, enslaved and humble peoples of the world".

Hezbollah's secretary-general, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, expanded on the resistance movement's view of Chavez in an August 14 interview posted on the website of Turkey's Party of Labour: "What most of the Muslim states could not do has been done by Chavez by the withdrawal of their ambassador to Israel. He furthermore communicated to us his support for our resistance. This has been an immense source of [morale] for us."

"Go and wonder around our streets!", said Nasrallah, and in nearly "every house, you will come across posters of [Argentinean-born revolutionary] Che [Guevara] or Chavez".

The Venezuelan government's position on Israel's war is a continuation of its policies both inside Venezuela and internationally. The government has won every election since Chavez's victory in 1998's presidential election, and Chavez is almost certain to win this December's presidential election. Key to its support is its leadership of a popular process known as the Bolivarian revolution.

By taking the state-owned oil industry out of the hands of the pro-US elite who ran it previously, the Chavez government has been able to redirect the country's oil wealth to social programs that, according to government figures, decreased the number of people living in poverty by 2 million last year alone. Venezuela is also attempting to develop other aspects of Venezuela's economy, and is providing cheap credit to the poor to establish cooperatives.

Despite being the fifth-largest supplier of oil in the world, when Chavez was elected in 1998, as much as 80% of Venezuela's population was living in poverty — a fact that the president insists condemns the system of imperialism, whereby the world is dominated by First World nations on behalf of corporate interests, condemning the majority of the world to poverty and underdevelopment. Latin America has been treated by the US as its "backyard" for decades.

Chavez sees Israel's war as an extension of US imperialism's drive to dominate the world on behalf of its corporations. He told Al Jazeera that the "real threat to the world is the imperialistic threat posed by the US, and Israel is one of its imperialistic instruments in this part of the world". Chavez argued, "We must defeat imperialism in this century, so that this elite will not annihilate the world".

The solution promoted by the Chavez government is the unity of Third World nations to challenge imperialism, starting with Latin America. Venezuela is pushing for Latin American nations to forge a bloc to counter US domination. This is the reason Venezuela's revolution has been dubbed "Bolivarian", referring to Venezuelan-born revolutionary Simon Bolivar who liberated much of South America from Spanish rule and advocated a South American union.

Chavez led successful opposition to the US-pushed Free Trade Area of the Americas and pushed a counter-proposal called the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA), which is focused on human needs, not corporate profits.

An August 4 Venezuelanalysis.com article explained that Venezuela's proposals to increase regional integration include "a continental literacy plan; a Latin American plan for free health care; an education scholarship program; a Social Emergency Fund; a Development Bank of the South; a regional Petroleum company, Petroamerica; a regional television station, Telesur; and many others".

Caracas has signed agreements such as Petrocaribe, an agreement between Venezuela and 13 Caribbean nations guaranteeing the latter energy security by selling them oil at a 40% discount.

As part of the agreement, Venezuela's state-owned oil industry is investing in Caribbean nations' state-run energy industries at the expense of private corporations. This contributes directly the rebuilding of state industries run-down or privatised as part of US-pushed neoliberal economic polices.

Chavez used a speech to the World Social Forum, held in Caracas in January, to explain how imperialism exploits Third World nations. He gave Ecuador as an example: "Ecuador exports crude petroleum and imports fuel [at much higher prices]. See, colonialism!"

Venezuela is assisting Ecuador to build a refining plant to break this cycle and enable it to produce its own fuel. During a July trip to Vietnam, which is in the same predicament, Chavez signed a similar agreement. In this way Venezuela is helping undermine the economic exploitation enforced by the First World governments and corporations.

Venezuela has united with socialist Cuba to help spread the success of the nations' social programs throughout the Americas. One example is Mission Miracle, whereby Venezuela flies people to Cuba for operations to have their eyesight restored — all completely free of charge. Hundreds of thousands of people across the region, including inside the US, stand to benefit.

Venezuela has extended its polices to the people of First World countries, recognising that the poor are also abandoned inside the rich nations. Thousands of poor people in the US have benefited from Venezuela providing cheap heating oil via community groups and local governments. Chavez has offered to extend this assistance to the poor in Europe, and has signed an agreement to do just that with London's mayor.

Venezuela is currently campaigning to win a 2-year seat on the UN Security Council. With Argentina set to vacate the seat that traditionally goes to a Latin American country, there is a battle for the spot between Venezuela and US-backed Guatemala. Caracas is pushing for the seat explicitly on the grounds that the UN needs to be reformed and that Venezuela will help counter US domination.

An August 12 analysis by the Washington-based Council of Hemispheric Affairs pointed out that a UN victory for Caracas "will represent a crushing defeat for State Department diplomacy". Venezuela is campaigning for the position by arguing that it will act "in favor of the interests of countries from the South".

Chavez has attacked the International Monetary Fund. The IMF offers Third World nations loans, but in return, these countries are forced to implement policies that further open them to exploitation by First World multinationals and leaves them stuck with crippling debt repayments.

Chavez has proposed an "international humanitarian fund" as an alternative. Venezuela has begun to make moves to make this a reality via the Bank of the South, which aims, in conjunction with other Latin American nations, to make funds available to nations in the region without the exploitation associated with the IMF.

The Chavez government's stance over Israel's war is an extension of this people-before-profits foreign policy. This combination of verbal attacks on the crimes of imperialism with principled action to advance the interests of the world's poor have increasingly made Chavez a hero for the world's oppressed and the Bolivarian revolution a beacon of hope.