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Chavez Victory: Defeat For Bush Policy

Chavez Victory: Defeat for Bush Policy

By Marjorie Cohn
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Friday 20 August 2004

The Bush administration is gritting its collective teeth at the outcome of Sunday’s recall election in Venezuela, which overwhelmingly affirmed President Hugo Chavez’s tenure. If President Jimmy Carter had not lent his enormous credibility to the election results, Bush and his minions would surely be crying foul in unison with the opposition.

Chavez was popularly elected by his countrymen and women in 1998 and 2000. Yet in spite of Bush’s claims to support democracy around the world, his administration has given succor those trying to overthrow Chavez’s government before, during and since the aborted coup in April 2002.

Officials at the Organization of American States affirmed that the Bush administration had sanctioned the coup. Bush’s then-Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Otto Reich, met with leaders of the coup for months before it was executed. Elliot Abrams, one of the neoconservative policymakers in Bush’s inner circle, approved the coup, according to the London Observer. And John Negroponte, now our ambassador to Iraq, was in on it, too.

Reich, Abrams and Negroponte comprised the troika that administered the “Reagan doctrine” in the 1980s, which supported vicious dictatorships in Central America, including those in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

As documented in the film, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” Chavez was forcibly removed from the presidential palace on April 11, 2002 by forces acting on behalf of Venezuela’s propertied class. Pedro Carmona, head of Venezuela’s confederation of business and industry, declared himself president. Within hours, Carmona purported to repeal laws enacted under Chavez that the executives of foreign oil companies opposed.

Forty-eight hours later, after thousands of workers and peasants stormed the palace demanding Chavez’s return to power, the military did an about-face and brought him back. The filmmakers, fortuitously present at the scene, were caught inside the palace and filmed the class struggle that played out with Chavez’s ouster and reinstatement.

Former U.S. Navy intelligence officer Wayne Madsen told the Guardian that our navy helped with communications jamming support to the Venezuelan military during the would-be coup. An American plane was present on the island to which Chavez was whisked away. The Bush administration provided financial backing to key participants in the coup attempt, which resulted in the deaths of 19 people.

Chavez incurred the wrath of Team Bush by championing the interests of the working class over the oil-igarchy in Venezuela. The fifth largest oil supplier in the world, Venezuela is a key provider of U.S. petroleum. By using oil profits to help his people instead of the multinational corporations, Chavez created an alternative model to Bush-backed neoliberal globalization.

Hugo Chavez’s plan of Bolivarianism – named after Simon Bolivar, father of Venezuelan independence – focused on a redistribution of the massive wealth generated by his country’s rich oil profits. He passed a law that doubled royalty taxes paid by ExxonMobil and other oil companies on new finds.

Chavez enacted the Ley De Tierras, which provided for unused land to be given to the landless; he instituted free health care and public education to all; he backed a new Constitution that enshrines rights for women and indigenous peoples; and he lowered the inflation rate.

Unlike the U.S.-backed Iraqi interim government, which shut down Al Jazeera for its broadcasts critical of the occupation, Chavez never shut down or censored private media controlled by tycoons trying to unseat him in the months leading up to Sunday’s election.

Nearly 95 percent of the electorate voted in the election, the largest percentage Jimmy Carter has ever seen. Carter and the Organization of American States have independently verified the validity of Sunday’s election results, and have even supported an audit, which Carter calls “infallible,” according to The New York Times. Nevertheless, the opposition refuses to sanction the results of the election or the audit.

Opposition exit polls, which Carter has dismissed as inaccurate and “deliberately distributed … in order to build up, not only the expectation of victory, but also to influence the people still standing in line,” were funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.

NED, a U.S. government organization purporting to promote democracy, was set up in the early 1980s by Reagan to counter negative revelations about the CIA’s covert operations in the late 1970s. NED successfully manipulated the Nicaraguan elections in 1990 and worked with right-wing groups in the late 1990s to oust Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Just last February, the Bush administration engineered a coup d’etat in Haiti, as I described in my editorial, Coup d’Etat – This Time in Haiti. The U.S. Marines put democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on a plane out of Haiti after officials from the United States threatened him into signing a purported resignation letter. Aristide, like Chavez, fell out of favor with Bush by resisting neoliberalism.

Hugo Chavez is, according to The Wall Street Journal, “Washington’s biggest Latin American headache after the old standby, Cuba.” Indeed, Venezuela is Cuba’s top trading partner, selling it discounted oil, while Cuba has sent thousands of doctors, teachers and engineers to work in Venezuela.

Speaking of Cuba, NED donated a quarter-million dollars in the early 1990s to the Cuban-American National Fund, the terrorist anti-Castro group in Miami. CANF financed Luis Posada Carriles, notorious for his involvement in the blowing up of a Cuba airplane in 1976, which killed 73 people.

Chavez, now trying to reunify his country in the wake of a contentious election, says: “Violence can only be ended if actions are taken so that all human beings have access to the fundamental human rights, including education, housing, work and health.” In a déjà vu from a hot-button issue facing us in the United States, Chavez told journalist Greg Palast: “Our upper classes don’t even like paying taxes. That’s one reason they hate me. We said, ‘You must pay your taxes.’”

Critical of the Bush administration’s covert activity against him and Fidel Castro, Chavez maintains: “They are also manipulating the U.S. people because there is a dictatorship in the United States.”

One would hope our election results in November are as reliable as Venezuela’s. If Bush is elected, we can expect him to go after Chavez again, and Castro as well. This would likely destabilize Latin America in much the same way Bush has destabilized the Middle East with his war on Iraq.

Leaders of countries throughout Latin America congratulated Hugo Chavez on his victory Sunday. Yet the Bush government, although grudgingly accepting the results, did not hail the exercise of democracy in Venezuela.

Bush’s agenda was roundly defeated with Chavez’s triumph. Chavez has opposed U.S. policy in Latin America, including military aid to Colombia and efforts to spread free trade agreements throughout the region. Voters who supported him understood that a vote to recall Hugo Chavez would be a vote for U.S. imperialism.


Marjorie Cohn, is a contributing editor to t r u t h o u t, a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, executive vice president of the National Lawyers Guild, and the U.S. representative to the executive committee of the American Association of Jurists.

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