Venezuela's Looking Good
- Robertson's not alone in his dislike of Chavez
By Mattie Weiss
08/29/05 "Star Tribune" -- -- Last Monday, Christian televangelist
Pat Robertson called for the assassination of Venezuelan president
Hugo Chavez. While Robertson's remarks were shocking in their utter
disregard for global democracy and the rule of law (he eventually
apologized), he is by no means the first to beat the drum against
In fact, his comments were merely a more vitriolic version of what
the Bush administration has been saying for some time, with
declarations to "contain" Chavez and the funneling of millions of
dollars to opposition groups within the country. The White House even
supported a 2002 military coup, before popular uprisings restored
Chavez to power. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and now Robertson are all in their own ways
trying to build the case that Chavez is a menace, a danger to
democracy and a source of instability in the region.
But I was in Venezuela just this month. And I saw a different
I attended the 16th World Festival for Youth and Students, which drew
more than 15,000 young peace and justice activists from across the
What I saw, in the enormous city of Caracas and the rural towns of
Monagas state, were huge numbers of people who, for the first time in
their lives, have free and adequate health care, the opportunity to
attend university, access to land grants and work contracts,
constitutionally assured rights for women and indigenous people, and
free breakfast programs for children. And with all this, a sense of
dignity and ownership over their lives.
Let me show you.
In a room that smells of Tiger Balm, with rain beating on the roof, a
doctor massages the curled hands and feet of a crippled boy while his
mother murmurs gentle words. Before the free hospital was built, the
boy had no access to regular physical therapy and lived in constant
An old woman, her eyes gleaming through thick glasses, says that two
years ago, when she enrolled in a reading class taught by university
volunteers, she practically ate the books in her hunger for words,
flying through basic reading and moving on to high school equivalency
courses. She plans to attend one of the nation's new free public
universities next year. At 76 she dreams of being a lawyer.
The 22-year-old Osmar, with tight curls and baggy jeans, says that in
yesterday's Venezuela he would have been a taxi driver or sold
cigarettes on the street, doing "work without honor." But he was
among the thousand top scorers on a nationwide exam and will soon
leave for five years of free medical school in Cuba.
These individuals, like millions across Venezuela, have experienced
tangible, visible change in their lives over the last several years.
But while these changes have made Chavez a hero in the eyes of
Venezuela's poor majority, they have made him an enemy in the White
It makes Washington's blood boil that Chavez not only denounces its
global mandates of fiscal austerity, structural adjustment and
radical privatization, but that Venezuela has the resources to
successfully enact its own development model.
Using its oil wealth, Venezuela is constructing one of the truly
alternative models of economic growth in today's world. The fourth-
largest exporter of petroleum to the United States, Venezuela has
shifted production from multinational corporations into the hands of
the state, which now harvests the bulk of this liquid gold in order
to sembrar el petroleo, "sow the oil," and invest billions inwards.
So while Venezuela sows its oil, Washington is sowing the seeds to
unseat Chavez. It is building up the case for invasion, a coup or an
assassination. If, for many of us, Robertson's comments were the
first we registered of this positioning, it is not the first for
Venezuelans, who speak often of being the potential next
battleground, overt or covert, in the United States' deceptive and
never-ending "war on terrorism."
Let us be wary. Very. For those moving to vilify Chavez are the same
people who knowingly lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq,
who used nonexistent uranium to justify a war in which tens of
hundreds of young Americans and countless Iraqis have died.
Let's also honor the value of freedom, of human dignity and
democracy. Let us support Venezuela's right to build its own future.
Mattie Weiss lives in Minneapolis.
Copyright 2005 Star Tribune.
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Chavez should praise the Lord for death call
IF PAT Robertson, the bellicose evangelist who broadcasts for God and
Bush, did not exist, Hugo Chavez would have been very glad to invent
him. Robertson's call for Chavez to be assassinated by the United
States on the grounds that it is cheaper than having a war, should
help to keep the president of Venezuela both alive and in power for a
few more years.
The relationship between the US and Venezuela deserves a lot more
attention than it normally gets, because it acts as a litmus test on
so many wider issues. How comprehensive, even now, is US opposition
to terrorism as an instrument of regime change? What lengths will
Washington go to in order to safeguard oil supplies? Who offers the
more attractive vision for his impoverished neighbours - George Bush
or Hugo Chavez?
Similar questions could have been asked in Latin America and the
Caribbean over many decades, and there would not have been much doubt
about the answers. The Robertson line would have prevailed with
little regard for the consequences - least of all for the
impoverished people. Nowadays the problem for Washington is that
there are many in the world who are on the lookout for double
standards - not only to justify criticising the US (as was always the
case) but for attacking it, which is rather different.
The US is already facing a diplomatic pickle over the case of Luis
Posada, one of its favourite terrorists, who is accused of blowing up
a Cuban aircraft in 1976 with 73 people on board - many of them
Venezuelan. Posada has turned up inconveniently in the US, and they
now have to decide whether or not to hand him over to the Venezuelan
authorities, who are seeking to extradite him. One would have thought
that Washington has an overwhelming vested interest in sending out an
unambiguous message that it will bring terrorists who blow up planes
However, there are plenty in Washington who basically agree with
Robertson. Latin America is their backyard. Different standards
apply. Robertson's unique stupidity did not lie in thinking
about "taking out" Chavez but in articulating it. There is already
every reason to suppose that Washington was deeply involved in the
failed attempt to oust Chavez in the bungled 2002 coup, which led to
the elected president being restored with greater popular support.
The particular difficulty for the US in relation to Venezuela is that
it needs the oil. Venezuela is the fifth biggest producer in the
world, and the major exporter outside the Middle East. At present
Chavez is hedging his bets by negotiating with other markets,
including China, to reduce dependence on the US as a customer. He is
also threatening to stop supplying the US for overtly political
reasons - retaliation for exactly the kind of activities Robertson
has obligingly advocated.
Chavez is himself an ambiguous and erratic figure. Venezuela, for all
its past corruption and poverty, has had elected governments for
almost half a century and Chavez tried to overthrow one of them in
his own 1992 coup. Many remain suspicious of his authoritarian
tendencies. But the fact remains that he was not only elected but had
his presidency overwhelmingly confirmed in a referendum that his
enemies forced in order to get rid of him.
It is very easy to understand why. Chavez's relationship with Cuba is
central to his strategy, and the two countries have cut a deal that
is difficult to fault. Cuba gets cheap oil and the peasants in remote
Venezuelan villages find themselves receiving the services of Cuban
doctors and teachers. In the centre of Havana, the biggest hotel is
reserved for poor Venezuelans flown over daily for hospital
treatment. When the blind see and the lame walk, they know who to
Chavez has now expanded this approach. On the very day when Robertson
was calling for him to be killed, Chavez was in Montego Bay
finalising an agreement with the Jamaican prime minister, PJ
Patterson, to supply oil on favourable terms, thereby saving the
country half a million dollars a day in imports. The Dominican
Republic, which had been brought to the verge of collapse by high oil
prices, has been rescued by the same kind of arrangement.
Amidst all the self-satisfied hype that surrounded the G8 meeting at
Gleneagles, a crucial reality was virtually ignored. It is that the
most pressing cause of impoverishment to developing countries is the
massive increase in oil prices. Probably the reason for ignoring it
was that, unlike other deep-rooted problems, it was entirely possible
to do something about it in the short term if the political will
existed. But it didn't. Chavez is doing for his poor neighbours what
the G8 declined to do for theirs.
There is a test in all of this for British foreign policy. When the
coup occurred in 2002, the immediate response of the Foreign Office
was to rush out a statement welcoming the overthrow of an elected
government. Before the ink was dry, Chavez was back in power. In
other words, we made complete fools of ourselves by being too
pathetically hasty to welcome what was assumed to be a success for
Washington. Did that make us any better than Pat Robertson? Will we
do better in future?
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