"In another era, the alliance between an oil-rich joker in Venezuela, an ageing Cuban dictator and a jumper-wearing Bolivian peasant leader would hardly be worthy of superpower attention, but Latin America's shift to the Left is presenting the US with one of its biggest political and security headaches." So claimed a February 20 article in the Murdoch-owned Australian by Sarah Baxter entitled "Joker Chavez no laughing matter for Bush". The article is an attack on the socialist president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, and on the strengthening anti-imperialist alliance led by Cuba and Venezuela, which new Bolivian President Evo Morales has pledged to join.
The article drips with imperial arrogance as Baxter sneers at Morales and Chavez, both dark-skinned and from humble origins. Chavez, whose political movement has now won 10 elections in just seven years, is called a "clown" and a "buffoon", while Baxter pokes fun at "former Llama herder" Morales's dress sense. But behind the cheap jibes is a series of poisonous accusations aiming to justify the Bush administration's increasing aggression towards Venezuela.
Baxter writes that the "Pentagon and the CIA did not see off the Soviet Union during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 only to allow a fresh alliance of potentially nuclear-armed America-haters to form as close as 145km from the coast of Florida". There is no evidence that Venezuela is pursuing nuclear weapons, let alone has plans to sell such weapons to Cuba. In fact, while supporting Iran's right to develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes, Venezuela has called for the global eradication of nuclear weapons.
The article also repeats the slanderous claim that Chavez made anti-Semitic remarks late last year, a slur that circulated in the US media based on selective quotations and that has been rejected by Jewish groups both inside and outside of Venezuela.
Forced to acknowledge Chavez's repeated electoral victories, Baxter nonetheless labels Chavez an "authoritarian populist", despite the fact that Chavez's government has not cracked down on opposition, shut down media outlets or imprisoned anyone for simply opposing the government. Rather, Chavez has worked to extend democracy via attempts to directly involve the poor themselves in government.
Baxter begins to give away the real reason for the hostility, singling out for harsh criticism Venezuela's refusal to back the US-led campaign against Iran and for the Chavez government's invitation to representatives of Hamas, which recently won the Palestinian elections, to visit Venezuela. This anti-imperialist foreign policy explains the reason why, as Baxter reports, the US is desperate to prevent Venezuela from taking a seat on the UN Security Council.
Baxter's attack is not isolated, but follows a sustained campaign of lies and disinformation in the US media. A February 21 Venezuelanalysis.com article on the coverage of Venezuela in the LA Times pointed out: "A full twenty-eight editorials dedicated to President Chavez have been published since 1998. With only one exception, every piece has been overwhelmingly negative."
The media attack coincides with increasing hostility towards Venezuela from the Bush administration, which seems determined to go out of its way to scuttle any moves towards developing better relations with the Chavez government. On February 10, Chavez expressed his desire for better relations with the US, providing the US "shows us some respect", according to a February 11 Venezuelanalysis.com report. The previous day, US State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack had stated that the US was willing to develop better relations with Venezuela.
Venezuelanalysis.com reported on February 17 that "Almost immediately after what appeared to be a thawing of relations between Venezuela and the United States, the relationship suffered a severe setback. Only a day after Bernardo Alvarez, Venezuela's Ambassador to the U.S., met with assistant secretary of state Thomas Shannon, in which relations were said to take a new turn for the better, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the Bush administration is working on creating a 'united front' of countries against Venezuela."
Speaking at a US Senate budget hearing, Rice declared "one of the biggest problems that we face ... are the policies of Venezuela", singling out Venezuela's alliance with socialist Cuba as a key problem. Rice said the US was working on other nations, including Brazil, Chile, Spain and Austria, to attempt to form a "united front" to isolate Venezuela.
Behind the rhetoric about "democracy", what worries the Bush administration is the threat to US corporate interests by Venezuela's popular "Bolivarian" revolution. Led by Chavez, this process is taking increasing control over Venezuela's resources in order to tackle the problems of poverty and underdevelopment, with the aim of creating a "new socialism of the 21st century". As Venezuela claims to have the largest reserves of oil in the world, this is no small matter. The corporations — increasingly squeezed by restrictions on their "right" to make a profit unhindered, and by the growing development of the state sector — are not happy. However 66% of Venezuelans say they will vote for Chavez in the coming elections, according to a North American Research Inc. poll released on February 16.
Together, Venezuela and Cuba are working to spread the social missions that have been so successful in Venezuela to the rest of the continent. One is Mission Miracle, an agreement that aims to send hundreds of thousands of people with eyesight problems to Cuba free of charge for operations to restore their sight. Venezuela provides the funds to fly people, including US citizens, while Cuba's renowned free health-care system provides the operations.
An example of how Venezuela practically challenges US-pushed neoliberal polices is Venezuela's agreement with 13 Caribbean nations to guarantee them discounted oil. Venezuela allows these countries to delay payments and assists with transportation costs and the establishment of state-run storage and distribution facilities. The deal is only between Venezuela's state oil company PDVSA and other state-owned companies, which means it encourages "de-privatisation", by helping to build up the state sector at the expense of the private sector. The big oil corporations, marginalised by the deal, lose out.
PDVSA also has a deal via its US subsidiary CITGO to provide a combination of heavily discounted and free heating oil to thousands of poor US citizens in six states, to help them cope with sky-rocketing oil prices over winter.
In another example of international solidarity, the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal reported on February 18 on a campaign launched by revolutionary women deputies in the National Assembly (AN) to collect signatures in solidarity with the mothers of US soldiers killed in Iraq, with the aim of collecting a million signatures to send to the US embassy at a mass demonstration on March 8, International Women's Day. AN deputy Cilia Flores explained: "We do not want more children dead for oil, we do not want mothers to raise their children for them to go and die or kill."
It is easy to see that Baxter's accusation that the Venezuelan government is "anti-American" is absurd. The great danger for the US ruling class is that revolutionary Venezuela is showing much greater concern for US working people than the US government is. Such acts of solidarity expose the heartlessness and failures of the capitalist system inside the richest nation on earth.
Baxter is right to point out that the Venezuelan revolution is no laughing matter for the Bush administration. But the threat Venezuela poses is the threat of a good example. By breaking with the logic of capitalism and challenging imperialist interests, the Venezuelan revolution is destroying the myth that there is no alternative to the status quo. This gives hope to the poor in the region and puts pressure on other Latin American governments to also stand up to imperialism. The US ruling class is not prepared to sit by and allow this process to continue, lest more and more people get infected with the dangerous idea that a better world is possible.
From Green Left Weekly, March 1, 2006.
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