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2006-07-10,5:26 PM

US attempts to “create conditions to attack”

Stuart Munckton

BBC News reported on May 15 that the US government was placing a sanction on the sale of arms to Venezuela. The US State Department justified the ban by claiming that Venezuela is failing to assist counter-terrorism efforts, and has added Venezuela to the list of countries that are not fully cooperating with the US “war on terror”.

The US government has raised Venezuela’s friendly relations with the governments of Cuba and Iran, both considered by the US State Department to be “rogue states” that sponsor terror, as a reason for concern. State Department spokesperson Darla Jordan also accused Venezuela of providing a safe haven to Colombian left-wing guerrillas, according to a May 15 Fox News report.

The ban on arms sales itself is largely symbolic, as Venezuela has other arms sources, and the US was already refusing to provide Venezuela with the spare parts it needs to maintain its fleet of US-made F-16 fighter jets. In response to the sanction, according to an Associated Press report on May 16, Venezuela was considering selling its fleet of F-16s to Iran. The US reacted with outrage, which was as predictable as it was hypocritical. After all, if the US won’t sell Venezuela the parts needed to maintain its F-16 planes, then the only logical recourse for Venezuela is to seek to sell them to a third party.

The real significance of the move is that the US government has now officially listed Venezuela as “against us” in the “war on terror”. Venezuela is the only nation on the State Department’s list of countries not fully cooperating in the “war on terror” that is not also listed as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Ironically, Venezuela has long complained about the failure of the US to act against suspected terrorists inside its own territory. On May 4, the Venezuelan embassy in Washington issued a statement protesting the release from detention in the US of two former Venezuelan military officers who are wanted by the authorities in Venezuela for terrorist acts. The two, who fled to Miami in 2003 to escape arrest, are wanted over their alleged involvement in the bombings of the Spanish and Colombian embassies in Caracas that year. The Venezuelan government urged the US to abide by international agreements and extradite the two.

Venezuela has also repeatedly condemned the failure of the US to extradite Luis Posada Carilles to Venezuela, where he is wanted over his role in the bombing of a Cuban airliner in 1976 that killed all of its passengers. Like the two ex-military officers, Posada has been detained in the US only on grounds of alleged immigration violations.

History of aggression

The sanctions are only the latest aggressive move by the US against the Venezuelan government led by socialist President Hugo Chavez. The US supported a military coup that overthrew Chavez in 2002 and has funded opposition groups that have launched a number of attempts to bring down the Chavez government. The Chavez government, which enjoys the overwhelming support of the nation’s poor majority, has won nine national elections and sought to use the nation’s significant oil wealth to eradicate poverty and develop the Venezuelan economy. Venezuela is the fifth-largest supplier of oil in the world and claims to have the world’s largest oil reserves. Chavez has long argued that the US’s desire to control Venezuela’s oil is the reason for its ongoing hostility.

In an opinion piece published in the Los Angeles Times on May 19, Venezuela’s ambassador to the US, Bernardo Alvarez, explained he was “not surprised” by the US’s move, stating that the “extreme nature of these false allegations indicates that Washington is continuing its long campaign to delegitimise and undermine my country’s democratic government”. Alvarez said Washington had “failed to provide any evidence to substantiate” its claims.

A May 17 Venezuelan ministry of information statement entitled “The US wants to create conditions in order to attack Venezuela”, accused the US of “new heights of cynicism and shamelessness”. It responded to accusations of failing to collaborate in the “war on terror” by saying that if this means “not supporting the virtual genocide that [the US] practices against the people of Iraq” or not backing the push for a military attack on Iran, then “Venezuela is proud to respond that it shall never lend itself to demands of such nature, no matter what pressures are brought to bear against it”.

People before profits

US President George Bush followed the sanctions with an accusation on May 22 that in both Venezuela and Bolivia, democracy was being eroded, according to a May 23 Reuters report. This provided further proof that for the US president, the term “democracy” is merely a code word for “corporate interests”. In both cases, the claims are absurd. In Bolivia, President Evo Morales won the presidential elections in December with just under 54% of the vote and currently enjoys an approval rating of over 80%. In Venezuela, Chavez is almost certain to win yet again in the presidential elections scheduled for December. Independent polls put his likely vote at over 50%, while his nearest competitor doesn’t even reach double figures.

The reason for this popularity is the same reason Bush accuses Chavez and Morales of violating “democracy” — the willingness of the Bolivian and Venezuelan governments to implement policies that benefit their respective nations’ poor majority over the interests of foreign corporations. In Bolivia, the most decisive, but not the only, such measure was the May 1 decree nationalising the country’s gas reserves. This sent shockwaves through the US government and corporate circles, but it was the key election promise made by Morales, who merely fulfilled the wishes of the majority by carrying it out.

In Venezuela, the redistribution of wealth has already led to a significant drop in poverty via the establishment of a number of social “missions” in health care, education, food distribution, the promotion of cooperatives, employment, housing and other areas. An example of these programs is the “Negra Hipolita mission” created in January to assist the very poor, with the aim of providing them with food, medical care and decent housing. Venezuelanalysis.com reported on April 22 that this program has already had success in treating drug addicts living on the street, while out of a group of 99 families living off a garbage dump in Miranda state, 71 had been given decent housing through the mission. In this year’s budget, US$4.5 billion has been allocated to the social missions, an increase of 70% from last year.

Especially concerning for US corporate interests is that this “people before profits” approach is being spread internationally by Venezuela. Venezuela provides cheap heating oil to thousands of poor US citizens, and Venezuelanalysis.com reported on April 24 that there are plans to significantly extend the program. Chavez offered to do the same for the poor of Europe during his recent trip there. Venezuela has agreements with almost all Caribbean nations to guarantee them a supply of fairly priced oil that can be paid off over an extended period of time with low-interest-rate loans, and recently announced plans to include Haiti and a number of local government areas in Nicaragua in these agreements.

Venezuela describes the principles that guide its approach to international trade as an “alternative cooperation system”. A Venezuelan Presidential Press Office statement released on April 24 explained the principles of this system, whereby Venezuela seeks to break with international trade dictated by the profit motive, trading oil and other products in return for goods rather than money. As part of this system, Venezuela trades oil to Argentina and Uruguay, which pay by sending “high quality cattle, agriculture technology, medical equipment for cancer treatment and newborn treatment and software products, among others”.

The statement quoted Chavez explaining that “we are breaking from the neoliberal model and the so-called free trade; processes with rules set by powerful countries in the world. We believe in fair trade. We don’t believe in competition, but rather in cooperation. I am not giving away oil; we are just using it for Venezuelan peoples’ struggle against poverty and social exclusion.”

Chavez argued that the reason for the ongoing hostility against his government from the Bush administration was that “the American imperialist government is going through a desperate phase. Oil is running out and the capitalist model is in a conundrum. Consumption in the North has run into a problem: there is not enough oil on Earth to sustain such irrational consumption model.”

Venezuelanalysis.com reported on May 25 that Chavez responded to the hostility from the US by insisting the 21st century will go down as “the century which put an end to the North American empire”.

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