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Following the Venezuelan independence day last Wednesday, US presidential nominee Mitt Romney issued a statement saying that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez “failed to honor the spirit of freedom with which Venezuela was established. Hugo Chávez is promoting ideas in Venezuela and other Latin American countries that run counter to freedom, prevent prosperity and expand tyranny.”
The statement is typical US discourse opposing Chavez, who has long been a hate figure in US media. The populist ideas Chavez is promoting have long been a concern for the US. This was illustrated by a similar statement by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, then reacting to Salvardo Allende’s election in Chile in 1970.
Chile was then on the verge of becoming an independent socialist state rather than a Soviet satellite, a development which, according to Kissinger, “would be far more dangerous… because its ‘model’ effect can be insidious… our main concern is the prospect that [Allende] can consolidate himself and the picture projected to the world will be his success.”
Washington’s greatest fear, far greater than communism or the rise of totalitarianism, is, and always has been, successful independent nationalism. That has currently become a reality across Latin America following the last ten year’s remarkable development known as the “pink tide.” This movement is characterized by the election of leftist governments (with notable examples such as Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Rafael Correa in Ecuador and Evo Morales in Bolivia, among others), increased government control over natural resources with new social reforms favoring the poor and former marginalized indigenous populations, and a region-wide opposition to Washington influence stretching from Venezuela to Argentina.
Venezuela has been on the forefront of this socialist movement, initiated by the 1999 election of Hugo Chavez.
Hugo Chavez was elected President following two decades of economic turmoil in Venezuela. Chavez, coming from poor conditions himself, immediately set out to introduce reforms specifically targeting the poor majority – a former invisible group in a Venezuela dominated by a small and wealthy elite with close ties to the US.
Today, Venezuela has free health care and free education, as well as some of the highest literacy rates in the region. In 2002, the disgruntled upper class, rendered powerless under the Chavez government, staged a coup with the help of Washington. The US had been channeling millions of dollars to the coup makers through US Aid and the National Endowment for democracy. Chavez was replaced by Pedro Carmona, a businessman who suspended all members of the Supreme Court, the National Assembly and the National Electoral board and assumed dictatorial powers.
The IMF was not late to jump aboard; during a press briefing the day after the coup, Thomas C. Dawson, Director of the External Relations Department in the IMF, immediately pledged allegiance to the Carmona government, saying that “we stand ready to assist the new administration in whatever manner they find.”
All the while, official US spokesmen backed a phony story about Chavez supporters shooting innocent civilians. However, the poor masses were not going to accept being marginalized once again, and thus emerged with great numbers from the Barrios demanding Chavez reinstatement. As they approached the presidential palace, the army turned against the coup makers and reinstated Chavez, a mere 48 hours after his ousting.
Philip Agee, a former CIA agent operating in Latin America, explains why the US would back a coup overthrowing an elected government and replace it with a dictator: “In the CIA, we didn’t give a hoot about democracy. It was fine if a government was elected and would co-operate with us, but if it didn’t, then democracy didn’t mean a thing to us, and I don’t think it means a thing today.”
Venezuela is home to the largest oil reserves in the world outside of the Middle East, and is thus a country of vital strategic importance to the US. Detrimental to US designs, Chavez is forming close ties with China instead of Washington. Chavez is also cooperating closely with Cuba, Argentina and other South American nations under the premise of achieving a Latin American “grand unity,” in which Washington is not included.
The US often condemns Venezuela and its current form of democracy, while paradoxically praising and supporting the neighboring government of Colombia, a country with one of the worst human rights record in history. According to virtually unreported Latinobarometro polls, Venezuela is annually the highest ranking in all of South America when it comes to trust in democracy, assessment of the current and future economic situations, equality, justice, and education standards.
Venezuela has got its far share of problems, such as mounting inflation and continuous corruption, but compared to the pre-Chavez Venezuela, where the majority of the population were completely marginalized, the democratic development is nothing far from remarkable.
As Latin America is steadily slipping out of US control, Washington is waking up to a new multipolar world in which its powers are no longer taken for granted. The continent has seen a remarkable reversal of detrimental financial and social policies during the last ten years. The region, which contemptuously has been known as Americas “back yard,” is moving towards a future in which a bewildered Washington no longer has a place.
No wonder Mitt Romney is disgruntled.
Image COurtesy of ¡Que comunismo!