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Is Chavez next for the Aristide treatment?

In April 2002 the US tried a classic military coup in Venezuela, but got their fingers burnt when it was defeated in 48 hours by a popular uprising backed by progressive forces in the military. Between December 2002 and January 2003, Washington incited a bosses' lockout which paralysed the oil industry. But the government regained control

April 1, 2004
4 min read

The latest throw of the dice, between August 2003 and March 2004, involved use of the country’s Constitution to attempt an ouster of Chávez through a recall referendum. The aim was to compensate for the opposition’s lack of electoral support, with sympathetic media coverage, fraud and destabilisation. Once again they failed.

Washington’s dislike of Chávez became clear before his first election victory in December 1998, when the Clinton administration denied him a US visa. American hostility is not surprising given Chávez’ friendship with Cuba, his role in reviving OPEC and raising oil prices, his opposition to Plan Colombia and to the Free Trade Area of the Americas, his economic nationalism and radical social policies.

Venezuela has become the thorniest obstacle to Washington’s plans for military and commercial domination of Latin America. Now, after getting rid of Aristide in Haiti, is Chávez is next on the list?

Opposition leaders make no secret of their aims, and have threatened to create a situation “like in Haiti” on sympathetic private TV stations. Some even demonstrated in front of the US Embassy in Caracas in favour of intervention, with posters proclaiming “1. Hussein; 2. Aristide; 3. Chávez”.

Slanders have even been published in the US linking Chavez to Al-Qaida, only to be withdrawn after vigorous protests from Carcacas. Meanwhile, the real terrorists are receiving support in the US.

Two Venezuelan rebel military officers were accused of planting bombs at the Spanish Embassy and Colombian Consulate in Caracas last year in order to blame the terrorist destruction on the Chávez government. They are now in Florida requesting asylum, with vigorous backing from the “Miami Herald” and the Cuban exile lobby.

On March 4th the Venezuelan Ambassador to the UN, Milos Alcalay, resigned alleging human rights abuses by the authorities in Caracas during opposition demonstrations. Alcalay supported the 48-hour coup two years ago, but most Venezuelan consuls in the US declared their support for Chávez.

Chávez’s response has been uncompromising: “The government of Mr George W Bush has its hands in a plan of destabilisation against Venezuela, against the people, against Venezuelan institutions, against Venezuelan democracy”, he said in successive speeches during the crisis in Haiti. The US president “kidnaps presidents,” he said, adding that the US would “get a surprise” if it tried to do the same thing in Venezuela.

Evidence of Washington’s support for destabilisation in Venezuela abounds, but there is reason to suspect they may hold off for the time being. On 3 March Colin Powell surprised observers by declaring that “Hugo Chávez is the democratically elected President and the United States accepts this”. Washington, he said, would accept the verdict of the Venezuelan National Electoral Council on the referendum issue.

Inevitably, suspicion of ulterior motives in Washington was aroused, but the maneouvre may just be connected with Bush’s re-election campaign: the White House has enough foreign policy headaches in Iraq, Afghanistan and Haiti, and may realise that intervention in Venezuela would be extremely complex and costly.

This does not mean that the threat to Venezuelan democracy has disappeared. If Bush is re-elected, aggressive plans will undoubtedly be revived, and even a Kerry administration would be likely to pursue forms of destabilisation. Neighbouring Colombia under Washington’s faithful client President Uribe might be persuaded to act as proxy by infiltrating paramilitaries and saboteurs in Venezuelan border regions (incidents have already occurred, and Bogotá repeatedly accuses Chávez of supporting Colombian guerrillas despite the lack of any hard evidence of this).

What worries the US most is the possibility that the Chávez revolution may actually succeed. Its education, health, housing and agrarian policies are bringing tangible benefits to hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans, and recent reports in the financial press indicate that Venezuela may post the highest growth rate in Latin America this year. Whatever the reservations some leftists may have about Chávez, the need for solidarity with Venezuela in the face of US interventionism is as compelling as ever.

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