two articles on venezuela's revolutionary foreign policy
- Cuba and Venezuela Advance
Anti-Imperialist Foreign Policy
Venezuela Rallies International Resistance
to U.S./Israeli War, by Suzanne Weiss
Venezuela and Cuba Promote Solidarity
and Resistance, by Derrick O'Keefe
Venezuela Rallies International
Resistance to U.S./Israeli War
By Suzanne Weiss
While Israel invaded and brutally bombarded Lebanon in July, most of
the world's governments nodded in approval or folded their arms.
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, by contrast, roundly denounced
Israel's aggression against the Lebanese people.
"It really causes indignation to see how the state of Israel continues
bombing, killing … with all the power they have, with the support of
the United States," Chavez said August 21 after a military parade in
Venezuela's northwestern state of Falcon. "It's hard to explain to
oneself how nobody does anything to stop this horror."
Chavez backed up these words with action: Venezuela withdrew its
ambassador from Israel. On August 4, he declared he is "not interested
in sharing any business, offices, or anything" with the Israeli state.
Israel responded by recalling its ambassador to Venezuela on August 7,
criticizing what it called Chavez's "one-sided policy" and "wild
The Bolivarian government's actions, strikingly bold and courageous in
the context of imperialist-dominated world diplomacy, were consistent
with its foreign policy of defending and aiding countries under
imperialist attack. Nor did Chavez hesitate to condemn the U.S.
sponsors of Israeli aggression. "I am telling you with all honesty
that the hand of the Americans is spurring (Israel) on," he told the
Arab TV network Al-Jazeera on August 4. The "real threat to the world
is the imperialistic threat posed by the U.S., and Israel is one of
its imperialistic instruments in this part of the world."
Venezuela's Mideast Roots
Venezuela's stand in the Mideast conflict also reflects the direct
experience of many of its citizens. About 1.5 million Venezuelans are
immigrants or descendents of immigrants from Arab countries, many of
them recent arrivals from Lebanon and Palestine. There are at least
five deputies of Arab origin in Venezuela's National Assembly and one
state governor of Lebanese descent. Across Latin America, 17 million
are of Arab descent, of whom six million are Muslim.
During July, there were many marches in the streets of Caracas and
other cities in Venezuela – as well as in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay,
Colombia – to show solidarity with the Lebanese and Palestinians.
In 2005, the first Arab-South American Summit, held in Brazil, brought
together heads of state and representatives of 33 countries. (A U.S.
request for observer status was denied.) The summit adopted the
"Declaration of Brasilia" calling for close ties between South America
and the Arab world, and criticizing Israeli and U.S. aggression
The solidarity expressed in Brasilia was tested in July this year,
when member governments of the South American trade pact Mercosur held
a summit in Cordoba, Argentina. The meeting was also the occasion for
Venezuela's formal entry into Mercosur. Plans had been laid for the
signing at the Cordoba conference of a trade agreement between
Mercosur and Israel. But the Mercosur nations refused to sign the
accord and instead adopted an official document calling for a
ceasefire and an end to the attack on Lebanon.
The Venezuelan president's participation in the Mercosur summit
doubtless played a role in this decision. And surely the presence of
Fidel Castro, who came to sign a Cuba-Mercosur trade pact, also
weighed in the balance. Cuba's solidarity with the victims of Israeli
government aggression is of long standing, and the island has no
diplomatic relations with Israel. On June 29, Cuba's Ministry of
Foreign Affairs condemned Israel's military actions and called for the
immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Israeli troops from all
occupied territories, the ceasing of state-terror actions by Israel,
and respect for the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.
Venezuela Walks the Talk
In an August 3 address to the Venezuelan people, Chavez asked
"everyone in the country to give what we can for this fundraising
campaign for the reconstruction of Lebanon … destroyed by the
genocidal and fascist hand of Israel and its masters, the U.S.
In addition, his government pledged to send Lebanon 20,000 tonnes of
aid to "help alleviate the humanitarian crisis caused by the Israeli
bombing," dispatching a Boeing 707 full of supplies as a starter.
Hezbollah representative Mahmoud Komati, told the Latin America-wide
TV channel TeleSur that Venezuela took measures that were "an example
for revolutionaries when defending "the oppressed, enslaved and humble
peoples of the world." (Associated Press, August 8)
On world television channels one could see Venezuelan flags in
demonstrations in Beirut, next to Lebanese and Palestinian flags. It
was also reported that in Gaza and the West Bank city of Ramallah,
people placed posters of Chavez next to those of Arafat and Che.
(Al-jazeera, August 18)
Addressing the Masses
Israel's war on Lebanon coincided with an eight-nation tour by Chavez
to discuss south-south cooperation and emphasize the need for a
"multi-polar world," in which he advocated alliances to tie the
third-word countries more to each other and break U.S. hegemony.
Chavez denounced Israel at each stop. He called the Lebanese and
Palestinians "heroic people" and repeatedly voiced his criticisms of
Israel over its military offensive in Lebanon.
During Chavez's visit to Iran, he called for a global coalition to
combat "the U.S. imperialist monster" and reaffirmed that Venezuela
would "stand by Iran at any time and under any condition." Iranian
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad responded that Hugo Chavez "one of the
rare world leaders whose word and deed are the same."
In Damascus, Chavez received a hero's welcome: thousands of Syrians
waved banners and Venezuelan flags along the route Chavez took to his
meeting with Syrian President Hafaz el-Assad. The Syrian government
daily, Tishrin, described Chavez as "America's enemy number one,
international leader and the biggest supporter of Arab cause." After a
meeting with Assad, Chavez said, "We want to cooperate to build a new
world where states and peoples self-determination are respected."
While Chavez's official meetings were on a governmental level, his
words were directed to the masses and had deep resonance throughout
the Middle East.
In many prominent Arab newspapers, columnists ask why Arab government
leaders could not do for Lebanon what a Latin American non-Arab
non-Muslim leader dared to do. A protest held in Kuwait after
Venezuela withdrew its ambassador from Israel featured a large placard
of Chavez that declared him a "true Arab leader."
The Venezuelan news service Vheadline.com reported on August 6 that it
had been inundated with email from Arab readers supporting Chavez's
stand on Israel's war.
The second Arab-South American Summit took place in Caracas in July,
with delegations from 15 Arab and 12 South American nations. Among
other issues, the Summit approved Venezuela's application to join the
Arab League, which was accepted in September. It also backed bids by
Venezuela and Egypt for seats on the UN Security Council.
The U.S. has "stabbed the Middle East peace process in the heart,"
Chavez said as he left for the Summit. "We see a Security Council
blocked by the power of the veto, that of the government of the United
States especially…. If Venezuela could occupy a seat on the council,"
he continued, it might be able to "contribute modestly towards the
battle to free the world from the imperialist threat."
Venezuela's foreign ministry is optimistic it will get the 128 votes
it needs to gain a UN Security Council seat, despite strong opposition
by the U.S. government.
Strategy of Solidarity
The outspokenly militant spirit of Chavez's comments were frequently
out of step with the politics of his often conservative governmental
hosts. In fact, he used a diplomatic platform to address the Third
World masses, irrespective of the nature of their own governments. It
is to the masses that he entrusts the cause of 21st century socialism.
And the popularity of Hugo Chavez in the Mideast reflects new thinking
among the working masses of these countries.
Venezuela has taken initial steps toward socialism. Venezuela stands
as a powerful example that the wealth generated by the oil industry
can be used to improve the lives of Venezuelans and to aid working
people in other countries, even as far away as the indigenous and poor
people of Alaska. This is a contagious example that may not sit well
with wealthy aristocratic and capitalist rulers in such countries as
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and nearby states.
Behind Hugo Chavez's response to the Lebanon war lies a powerful
strategic concept. On January 31, 2005, at the World Social Forum in
Porto Alegre, Brazil, he declared, "It is impossible, within the
framework of the capitalist system to solve the grave problems of
poverty of the majority of the world's population." U.S. imperialism
is not invincible, he said, repeating the words of Jose de san Martin,
an Argentine independence hero, "Let's be free without caring about
what anyone else says."
Chavez's tour of the Middle East and Africa echoed this theme. "If we
don't make that better world possible," he said, "if we fail through
the rifles of the U.S. Marines, and through Mr. Bush's murderous
bombs; if there is no coincidence and organization necessary in the
South to resist the offensive of neo-imperialism, and the Bush
doctrine is imposed upon the world, the world will be destroyed."
(Granma, September 5)
As he told Al-Jazeera August 4, "We must defeat imperialism in this
century, so that this elite will not annihilate the world."
Venezuela and Cuba Promote
Solidarity and Resistance
By Derrick O'Keefe
This December, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is widely expected to
win a convincing re-election, with his approval rating soaring and the
Bolivarian Revolution bringing material gains to the country's poor
majority. Nevertheless, the opposition is preparing a major campaign
against Chavez, aiming to heap scorn on the Revolution's
In August, opposition candidates announced that they would forgo
scheduled primaries to unite behind Manuel Rosales, the governor of
the state of Zulia. Rosales, the candidate of Venezuela's oligarchy,
has put a nationalist, populist spin on his criticism of Chavez.
Unveiling the campaign slogan ¡Ni el imperio, ni el barbudo! (Neither
the [U.S.] Empire, nor the [Cuban] bearded one!), Rosales stated, "No
more dollars to any foreign country as long as there are slums in
Venezuela, as long as there is unemployment and hunger." 
With an opposition discredited by their ties to the ancien regime of
neo-liberal austerity and by successive failed counter-revolutions –
the April 2002 coup, the "oil strike" in the winter of 2002-2003 and
the August 2004 referendum – those campaigning against Chavez appear
set to focus much of their criticism on the Revolution's foreign
policy. Unable to openly criticize the redistributive measures taken
by the Chavez government too harshly, Rosales' strategy will be to
demonize the Cuban government with which Venezuela has close
relations, and to stoke chauvinism by attacking Venezuela's foreign
aid. This strategy's prospects are difficult to predict, and Chavez's
popularity has not yet suffered for his alliance with Cuba. In fact,
poor Venezuelans have benefited greatly from the Cuban foreign aid
programs that Caracas has now joined and supplemented.
An examination of the foreign policy of Venezuela and its regional
allies is an important part of understanding the dynamics of the
December elections and the larger social struggles taking place
regionally. It also helps to counter to steady stream of
disinformation coming out of Washington and the corporate media in
North America about Venezuela's foreign policy, their alliance with
Cuba, and their aid to movements throughout Latin America.
ALBA's Challenge to the Empire
So-called "free trade" agreements like NAFTA and the FTAA (Free Trade
Agreement of the Americas) have always been in reality agreements to
maximize the power of capital over labour across borders, designed to
minimize restrictions on corporate power. The Bolivarian Alternative
for the Americas, whose Spanish acronym "ALBA" means "dawn," formally
signed in December 2004 by the governments of Cuba and Venezuela, is a
comprehensive challenge to agreements like the FTAA. ALBA proposes a
framework for Latin American regional integration that encourages
economies of social solidarity, genuinely fair trade, and cooperation
on a number of levels. A joint declaration issued at an April 2005
conference for the implementation of ALBA stated this perspective:
We fully agree that the ALBA will not become a reality with
mercantilist ideas or the selfish interests of business profitability
or national benefit to the detriment of other peoples. 
The ALBA signatories' vision for a future Latin America was given an
important boost with the December 2005 election of Evo Morales in
Bolivia. At the end of April 2006, Morales traveled to Havana to sign
Bolivia into ALBA. Concrete measures now being taken to implement
ALBA's goals include, among others: elimination of tariffs between the
three countries, cooperation on literacy and health care programs
including HIV treatment and optometry programs, and energy technology
and resource sharing.
The ALBA agreements can be viewed as the codification of a
revolutionary vision for Latin America in confrontation with U.S.
imperialism. For Rosales and Venezuela's elites, this foreign policy
is not just a "wedge issue" where they believe they can score some
electoral points against Chavez; it is also a serious threat to their
long-term interests. What is less easy to understand, however, is why
the activities being undertaken to implement ALBA are coming under
criticism from some socialist forces internationally.
Left Critics of ALBA
The leading role of Cuba in ALBA is the target of criticism in a
recent article by Chris Harman, a leading member of the British
Socialist Workers Party. He describes Cuba's international solidarity
as a mechanism to curry favour with capitalist governments and to
quell revolutionary movements:
The Cuban government itself has long seen mass movements in other
countries as little more than a means of putting pressure on
established capitalist governments to establish friendlier relations
Dressing up the commercial exchange of Cuban doctors for
Venezuelan oil as an act of "socialist solidarity" is then used to
attempt to derail revolutionary possibilities today just as the
exchange of Cuban sugar for Russian oil was 46 years ago. 
Harman does not mention ALBA explicitly, but Cuba's socialist
solidarity in Latin America is a concretization of the ALBA vision
shared with Venezuela.
The sugar analogy here is faulty, to say the least. Cuban teachers and
doctors are surely commodities of a qualitatively different sort than
sugar. To take only the most obvious and salient difference: Socially
conscious doctors and teachers willing to serve the poor and
marginalized for little or no financial reward are exceedingly
difficult to produce at the early stages of a process of social
transformation. Cuba's infusion of these health and education workers
has made possible huge strides forward for the revolutionary process
in Venezuela, and now in Bolivia as well. In a recent interview,
Bolivian President Evo Morales described the aid received since his
inauguration eight months ago:
Fidel helps us a great deal. He has donated seven eye clinics and
20 basic hospitals. Cuban doctors have already performed 30,000 free
cataract operations for Bolivians. Five thousand Bolivians from poor
backgrounds are studying medicine at no charge in Cuba. 
The scope of the human capital deployed by Cuba is indeed staggering.
Le Monde Diplomatique recently profiled the medical internationalism
of Cuba, explaining how the island's human resources are now being
supplemented by Venezuelan technology and financing:
There are currently some 14,000 Cuban doctors working in poor
areas of Venezuela. The two governments have also set up Operation
Milagro (miracle) which, during the first 10 months of 2005, gave free
treatment to restore the eyesight of almost 80,000 Venezuelans,
transferring those suffering from cataracts and glaucoma to Cuba for
operations. More widely, the project offers help to anyone in Latin
America or the Caribbean affected by blindness or other eye problems.
Venezuela provides the funding; Cuba supplies the specialists, the
surgical equipment and the infrastructure to care for patients during
their treatment in Cuba. 
One would have to be suffering from a certain schematic blindness to
describe this cooperation as part of an effort to "derail" Venezuela's
transformative social process. Venezuela's foreign policy is now
thoroughly integrated with Cuba's internationalism, and this has
extremely positive implications for the entire region's prospects.
ALBA is part of a conscious and coordinated effort to promote economic
integration and cooperation in Latin America, not a to prop up
capitalist power but to build unity and strength against the imperial
centre in North America.
Axis of Evil or of Hope?
Chavez, for his part, has never attempted to conceal his admiration
for the Cuban Revolution; in recent weeks, for instance, he has made
two highly publicized visits to the bedside of Fidel Castro, who has
been recovering from an emergency intestinal surgery. It is perhaps
the fear of the combination of Venezuela's oil power with Cuba's human
resources that prompted the far right-wing National Review to run a
recent hysterical cover story about the "real Axis of Evil." 
Venezuela's potential to become something of an "anti-Saudi Arabia" –
a regional power spreading oil wealth to bolster progressive causes
and movements – extends even to the possibility of intervening to
assist the poor within the United States of America. Over the past
year, Chavez has signed agreements with U.S. state governments to
provide preferential prices for heating oil to poor communities,
including in places as unlikely as Maine. (Surely no critic on the
Left would assert that this is an effort to prop up the capitalist
regime in the United States?)
What is critical about the emerging 'Axis of Hope'
(Cuba-Venezuela-Bolivia), as author Tariq Ali dubs it in a forthcoming
book, is that it shows that a different foreign policy is possible.
Given a revolutionary mass upsurge and a successful struggle for
government, it is possible to wield the power of the state to the
purpose of technology transfer, cooperation in health and education,
and the larger process of integration and unity against the prevailing
neo-liberal economic order. This example will certainly be spotlighted
at this week's Summit of the Non-Alignment Movement in Havana, Cuba.
The global outlook of the process, it should be noted, has developed
together with the consciousness of its protagonists, the poor and
working people of Venezuela. The internationalism of the Bolivarian
Revolution is, then, much more than just a good idea of the
leadership, although it tends to sometimes be understood that way, as
seen in the growing popularity in recent weeks of Hugo Chavez across
many Arab countries for his strident denunciation of the Israeli
aggression against Lebanon.
This example from Latin America can allow us all to think about
fighting for real social change and for foreign policies that seek
genuine international cooperation among the world's peoples to fight
the scourges of poverty and Empire.
 "Heading for presidential elections." ElUniversal.com, August 26, 2006.
 "An alternative to the FTAA begins its implementation."
Venezuelanalysis.com, September 7, 2006.
 "Cuba behind the myths," by Chris Harman. International Socialist
Review, Issue 111, 2006.
 "Capitalism has only hurt Latin America: Evo Morales interviewed
by Spiegel." Znet, September 4, 2006.
 "Cuba exports health," by Hernando Calvo Ospina. Le Monde
Diplomatique, August, 2006.
 "Latin America's terrible two: Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez
constitute an axis of evil," by Otto J. Reich. National Review, April