3 COUNTRIES, 1 ENEMY
by Charley Allan
Washington's "hidden war" against the people of Latin America is reaching a critical stage, and it's possible the future of the entire region could be decided in the next two months. If the popular leftwing leader of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, convincingly wins the recently announced recall referendum against him, scheduled for August 15th, the blow to the already fractured opposition could be enough to secure Chavez' "Bolivarian revolution" for generations. If however Venezuela's peaceful revolution fails, it would take Latin America back in time thirty years or more.
There is no doubt that Chavez will win this election, as he has done (with landslides) twice before - the difference now is that the whole world will be watching. After more than five years of politically progressive policies like land redistribution and massive investment in education and healthcare, Chavez has more solid support of the people than ever before. He has also made friends and allies in the anti-globalisation movement by sabotaging the neo-imperialistic Free Trade Agreement of the Americas from within. A victory in August will almost certainly result in him winning another six-year term at the 2006 general election, and after that his radical reforms will be irreversible.
But can the US let this happen to the country that used to be its number one oil supplier (before Chavez)? All the signs are that it's intent on "regime change". In 2002, the US backed a conventional coup which failed after just 48 hours. International pressure forced the Bush administration to back down from providing decisive military support, and the population promptly removed their dictator-for-a-day, Pedro Carmona (who was head of Venezuela's biggest business federation at the time).
Eight months later the discredited, coup-supporting CTV union joined with the business federation again to declare an indefinite general "strike". In reality, this was a boss's lock-out, which collapsed after two months of popular defiance. It did manage to cripple Venezuela's vital oil industry, costing $10 billion and nearly bankrupting the country. Despite this, the opposition still insists on blaming Chavez for "ruining the economy"!
Then there is the relentless propaganda against Chavez himself, especially inside Venezuela. He is called everything from a "monkey" (due to his mixed race) to another Mussolini or Hitler. It even stoops to forgery, as when the daily paper Tal Cual printed a front-page photoshopped image of him waving a revolver around, under the headline, "A Nation at Gunpoint." In the original picture, Chavez was in fact holding a rose.
Internationally, the propaganda is more subtle, but only just. The Guardian, adored by many as a progressive voice, last month published a piece straight out of the CIA text-book. Headlined "Leftwing dictator or saviour of the poor: Chavez faces new challenge to his rule", it was illustrated with a beret-wearing Chavez waving to supporters, arm frozen in an almost nazi-like salute. Writer Sibylla Brodzinsky, who usually works for the Miami Herald (a.k.a "the coup-plotters journal") makes the pretence of being balanced by quoting both sides, but then slips in some outrageous distortions. For example, we are told that many Venezuelans "worry about his apparent sympathy with neighbouring Colombia's left-wing rebels." (Note the cute use of the word "apparent".)
This accusation (repeated over and over in the US press) is extremely serious, as the "rebels" concerned are on George W Bush's terror hit-list, and such a link could provide Washington with pretext for militarily intervention. Unfortunately for the coup-plotters, the US's own top soldier for the region, General Benjamin R. Mixon, Director of Operations of the Pentagon's US Southern Command, has dismissed these reports for lack of any credible evidence - ironically in the Miami Herald itself.
But the threat to Venezuela from Colombia is indeed real. After 140 Colombian paramilitaries training in a ranch near Caracas were arrested there last month (reminiscent of the Contras in Nicaragua), Chavez described them as being "the seed of a terrorist group". He is currently lobbying the new Spanish government to cancel a contract to supply Colombia with forty-three AMX-30 tanks. These tanks are useless against guerrillas in the jungle or mountains, and are clearly intended for more conventional warfare, such as invading countries and capturing towns.
The possibility of US-backed military intervention via Colombia, under some dubious pretext (that's where the paramilitaries come in) grows daily. Andy Higginbottom, from the Colombia Solidarity Campaign, explained, "The situation on the Colombian border with Venezuela is very tense. Not only are paramilitary death squads passing into Venezuela, but US Marines are also stationed on the Colombian side patrolling the oil pipeline." He added, "The poor people of Colombia look across the border and see in Hugo Chavez the type of president they would like leading their country, while the rich in Venezuela would prefer a hard right-winger like President Uribe of Colombia."
Uribe, like his masters in Washington, believes in the "military solution". In a land where right-wing paramilitaries operate with impunity, human targets are more likely to be trades unionists or peasant organisers than "narco-guerrillas". But whether Colombian officers really want a border skirmish against a powerful and defiant neighbour, while their decades-old civil war spirals out of control, remains to be seen.
Watching from across the Caribbean is Cuba, which has much to lose if the Bolivarian government of Venezuela is defeated. Upon election, Chavez started an 'oil-for-doctors' barter deal with the island, which was badly needed after the collapse of their Soviet sponsor and previous oil supplier. Significantly, one of the first acts of the Carmona dictatorship during the coup was to announce that "not one more drop" of oil would go to Cuba.
For some time now the right-wing Cuban exiles in Miami have joined forces with Venezuelan Chavez-haters, and are even undergoing military training together in the Florida Everglades. When publicly challenged about this by Chavez, US Ambassador to Venezuela Charles S. Shapiro said that it was "not necessarily a crime" for terrorists to train on US soil, just as long as they weren't preparing terror against the US. As in the first hypocritical "War on Terror" heralded by Reagon, it's pretty clear that Bush is engaged in a war OF terror against the progressive movements of Latin America, and specifically the people of Venezuela, Colombia and Cuba. This time the stakes could not be higher.