Revolutionary Worker #1180, December 22, 2002, posted at http://rwor.org
Under George Bush, the U.S. has declared a policy of "regime change"--claiming for itself the right to dictate what sort of government countries around the world should have. The U.S. has used this nakedly imperialist logic to attack Iraq. And, in South America, the U.S. has been pushing for a "regime change" in Venezuela--backing right-wing forces who want to overthrow the government of President Hugo Chavez.
On December 2, forces opposed to Hugo Chavez began a "general strike" to demand that Chavez submit to early elections. The strike is being led by big business owners and bankers, along with some trade union officials. This is the fourth such strike in the past year.
A strike in April led to a military coup against Chavez--a coup which had the handprints of the U.S. all over it. The coup quickly collapsed in the face of large pro-Chavez demonstrations and support for Chavez within the armed forces as well as opposition from other Latin American governments.
Chavez, a former officer in the Venezuelan military, was elected in 1998 with 58% of the vote. His term expires in 2006. The Venezuelan constitution allows for a recall election halfway through a presidential term--which would be August 2003 in the case of Chavez. But the Chavez opponents want an election right away--and they have the support of the U.S. government.
Chavez Becomes U.S. Target
The Chavez government has attempted some reforms within Venezuela's economy, which is centered on oil production and dominated by the U.S. His populist message and actions--such as a new land law promising to give some land to the landless--has gained Chavez support among large sections of the poor. But his policies are not aimed at fundamentally recasting the class relations in Venezuela--a society where 80% of the people live in poverty while the upper classes live in semi-fortified apartment buildings and hilltop compounds with pools and landscaped gardens. And Chavez's policies do not aim to actually liberate Venezuela from the grip of U.S. imperialism.
Still, some of his actions and policies have challenged certain aspects of the World Bank/IMF "model" for third world countries as well as U.S. interests in Latin America and internationally. And this has made Hugo Chavez a target of U.S. schemes.
In this era of "You're either with us or against us," Chavez described the U.S. war in Afghanistan as "fighting terrorism with terrorism" and held up photographs of children killed in the U.S. bombings. Chavez has refused to provide U.S. intelligence agencies with information on Venezuela's large Arab community.
Chavez has friendly relations with countries that the U.S. considers "outlaw" regimes, such as Iraq and Cuba. The Bush administration has been upset with Chavez's lack of "cooperation" with U.S. military intervention in neighboring Colombia.
Perhaps Chavez's greatest sin, in the eyes of the U.S. imperialists, has been his moves to increase domestic control over the oil industry. Venezuela is the world's fifth largest oil producer. It is the fourth largest source of imported oil for the U.S., supplying 13 percent of the total. So control and stability of the Venezuelan oil industry is a big concern for the U.S. ruling class.
At a time when the U.S. has been pushing third world countries to "privatize" and "open up" to greater penetration by foreign investors, the Chavez government moved to exercise greater control of the state oil company PDVSA and cut back the power of the foreign operators in oil production and export. Chavez also passed a law that doubled the taxes paid by ExxonMobil and other oil companies on newly found oil fields.
In addition, Chavez played a major role in revitalizing the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) by committing Venezuela to stick to OPEC sales quotas, causing a sharp rise in world oil prices. This put Chavez head to head against ExxonMobil, the number one extractor of Venezuelan oil.
Writing about these types of actions taken by Chavez, William Blum, the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since WW2,noted, "The United States has endeavored to topple numerous governments for a whole lot less."
Failed April Coup
In April of this year, the Bush White House attempted to "solve the problem" in Venezuela through a military coup.
On April 12, the elite in Venezuela, backed by a section of the armed forces, turned their guns on the presidential palace. They kidnapped Chavez and installed Pedro Carmona, the chief of Fedecamaras, the nation's confederation of business and industry, as the new president.
Carmona falsely claimed that Chavez had resigned. At his inauguration Carmona dissolved Venezuela's congress and supreme court while the business executives in attendance clapped and chanted, "Democracia! Democracia!"
The U.S. government and major media, such as the New York Times,sang the praises of the coup-makers. But when the Carmona regime collapsed within days, the Bush administration and the media mouthpieces had to eat their words.
Bush officials deny they had any role in the April coup. But the Observer of London reported, "Officials at the Organization of American States and other diplomatic sources assert that the U.S. administration was not only aware the coup was about to take place, but had sanctioned it, presuming it to be destined for success."
According to many news reports, Carmona and others in his circle made a series of visits to the Bush White House before the April coup. They conferred with Otto Reich, then the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. Reich is closely connected with the reactionary Cuban forces who have a long history of U.S.-backed plots against Castro. During the 1980s, Reich was a key figure in the Reagan administration's covert wars in Central America and in the Iran-Contra scandal.
The London Observer reported that when Reich met with Carmona and other Venezuelan figures, "The coup was discussed in some detail, right down to its timing and chances of success." The Observer also reported that, according to a former U.S. intelligence officer, the U.S. Navy played a direct role in the coup. According to the Observer,"The navy helped with communications jamming support to the Venezuelan military, focusing on communications to and from the diplomatic missions in Caracas belonging to Cuba, Libya, Iran and Iraq--the four countries which had expressed support for Mr. Chavez."
On the day Carmona claimed power, Reich summoned ambassadors from Latin America and the Caribbean to his office to make clear that the U.S. supported the ouster of Chavez. In an official statement, the U.S. State Department declared that Chavez had provoked his own removal and had "resigned."
U.S. Plots Continue
Since the April coup fiasco, the U.S. government has continued to support forces in Venezuela who want to get rid of Chavez. The U.S. has channeled hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to U.S. and Venezuelan groups opposed to Chavez, including the right-wing labor group whose protests led up to the April coup. The funds were provided by the "National Endowment for Democracy," an outfit created and financed by the U.S. Congress.
In the current "general strike," the anti-Chavez forces have been able to mobilize a large section of the middle class and to make a major impact on Venezuela's economy. Venezuela's oil industry has been severely affected, and this has unsettled international oil markets.
Three demonstrators were shot dead and nearly 30 were wounded on December 6 when at least one gunman opened fire in a crowded plaza in the wealthy Altamira district that had become the epicenter for anti-government protest. Chavez opponents blamed the government for the killings. The shooting of anti- government demonstrators sparked the coup attempt in April, and some suspect that the opposition itself may be behind the recent killings.
Venezuelan society is sharply divided. On December 7, 2 million people marched in support of the government. Pepsi-Cola workers in Aragua took over the factory so that they would not have to join the "strike" organized by the owners. The workers raised the slogan "Fábrica Cerrada, Fábrica Tomada"--"Close the Factories? We'll take them over!" On December 10, Chavez supporters surrounded the TV stations, which are openly for the rich elite and against the poor. The demonstrators shouted "medios golpistas" (putschist media) and "terroristas!" As we go to press, the government has sent troops to take over the oil installations.
This time, the Bush administration has taken the tactic--at least in open discussion--of calling for "electoral" opposition against Chavez and staying away from any talk of coups. On December 13, Bush's spokesman Ariel Fleischer said, "The United States is convinced that the only peaceful and politically viable path to moving out of the crisis is through the holding of early elections."
Of course, the fact is that "early elections" is precisely the demand of the anti-Chavez forces--a demand that goes against the constitution of Venezuela. Chavez has so far refused the demand to hold early elections, declaring that the constitution should be respected.
It is possible that Bush officials still may be plotting behind the scenes with forces in Venezuela to organize a coup. But they also fear the possibility of Venezuela falling into chaos or civil war--which could have serious implications for the U.S. through Latin America. And, very importantly, such developments could disrupt crucial oil supplies when the U.S. is moving toward war with Iraq.
Given the situation, the U.S. may be hoping to oust Chavez "through the ballot box"--or at least to pressure and threaten Chavez into closer obedience to U.S. demands. A Latin American expert with the Council on Foreign Affairs, a U.S. think tank, told the New York Times,"With war plans for Iraq afoot... [Bush administration officials] have to put aside their distaste for Chavez, because he has not done anything to stop the flow of oil."
Whatever the details of the U.S. plans, the Yankee imperialists have absolutely no right to attempt "regime change" in Venezuela--or any other country around the world.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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