Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
April 29, 2002
Venezuelans shun U.S.-biased leader
In mid April, we saw the curious events unfolding in news reports as president Hugo Chavez of Venezuela was ousted and installed again within a matter of days. Was this just a typical banana republic comic opera that we can dismiss as theatre of the absurd, or is our own rational civilization somehow deeply entangled as proxy playwrights for such global tragedies?
Some brief background. The republic of Venezuela is not an underdeveloped country as understood in "Third World" terms. It is the richest country in Latin America measured in average income per capita. Its exports income depends almost entirely (90 per cent) on oil. Venezuela is a member of OPEC and America's third largest supplier of crude oil. The playwright's handwriting on the wall becomes a little more in focus, if not abundantly clear.
During the last century, Venezuela experienced two dictatorships: Gomez from 1908 to 1935 and Perez Jimenez from 1948 to 1958. Since that time, it has adopted a parliamentary democracy. Under this system, Hugo Chavez was democratically elected, with 80 per cent of the popular vote.
In spite of Venezuela's petroleum wealth, there exists great disparity.
About 80 per cent of all its consumption, including its food requirements, are imported. In the last 40 years, it began to diversify by contracting assembly line production for U.S. and Japanese corporations, but there is no correlation between consumption and production.
In other capitalistic countries, the living standard is the product of several generations of labour and exploitation. This is not the history of Venezuela where wealth came out of the ground.
Still, the poorest 25 per cent of the population only receives 10 per cent of the national fortune and Chavez's sin was that he wanted to target more of the country's oil profits to fight Venezuela's staggering poverty.
He also had friendly dealings with Cuba. Here he ran afoul of the "you're with us or against us" ideology of the Bush administration.
What was especially irritating in Washington was that Chavez questioned the bombing of Afghanistan as "fighting terrorism with terrorism."
The U.S. National Security Agency, the Pentagon and State Department demanded Venezuela "unequivocally" condemn terrorism as defined by Peter Romero, the State Department's specialist on Latin America, who accused Chavez of supporting terrorism in Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia.
Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed concern about Chavez's "understanding what democracy is all about." Thomas Walkom in the Toronto Star clarified this interpretation of democracy as "those who do not supply us with the energy we want are against us."
In February, the U.S. announced it would provide US$98 million ($156.8 Cdn.) to arm and train Colombian soldiers ostensibly as part of the ongoing war on drugs, but now under the umbrella of war on terrorism, to protect strategic oil interests. Rumours are that U.S. bases are there to control the Amazon region.
At any rate, you get the picture. The U.S. would welcome a president in neighbouring Venezuela more friendly to their global aims. The coup failed.
Pedro Estanga, the oil executive, was ousted after two days in office and Chavez claimed democracy triumphed and that his sovereign nation's policies do not require U.S. approval.
The people obviously preferred to live with the devil they know than with any foreign-controlled proxy.
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