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The Sins Of Venezuelan President Chavez

The Sins Of Venezuelan President Chavez

By Matt Robson

Venezualan President Hugo Chavez beneath a portrait of Simon Bolivar


The oil rich despots of Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and Kazakhstan use the oil wealth of their people to enrich themselves and their ruling elites, set up Swiss bank accounts and in the case of the Royal Saud Family, finance terrorism. Democratic activists and thinkers are persecuted.

Such regimes, which strip the wealth of their countries for personal gain, are emulated in many countries and supported by the G8 as valuable allies.

In oil rich Venezuela, however, democratically elected President Hugo Chavez and his government are not following the above model. Instead Venezuela’s vast oil wealth, under Chavez, is being used for massive poverty eradication programmes to provide health, education, housing and employment to the poorest . Its leaders do not siphon off wealth to offshore banks.

You would think ( wouldn’t you?) that the United States with its proclaimed mission of bringing democracy and its benefits to all and fighting corruption would be applauding President Chavez and holding him up as an exemplar for the despotic regimes whose oil and other mineral wealth goes into their own back pockets while the cesspools for terrorism continue to expand.

But no Washington has condemned the leader of Venezuela as a menace to world order.
It has also done everything possible short of invasion, to bring Chavez down. It tried to employ its old favourite , the staged coup, in 2002.

According to John Negroponte, Bush’s Director of National Intelligence, the despicable Chavez is “ spending considerable sums involving himself in the political and eceonomic life of other countries in Latin America and elsewhere, this despite the very real economic development and social needs in his own country.”

Now this particular US pot has a massive underclass with huge social and economic needs ( remember who suffered from Hurricane Katrina) and yet cheerfully spends 1 billion dollars a week in Iraq.

Meanwhile the Venezualan kettle is setting a cracking pace in improving the lives of the poorest workers and farmers and has been banking $10 billion per year in a special fund to continue tackling the causes of poverty.

But, complains the New York Times on April 4th, echoing the chagrin of the Bush administration , this abomination of a President is using the oil wealth to influence other countries : With Venezuela’s oil revenues rising 32 percent last year, Mr Chavez has been subsidising samba parades in Brazil, eye surgery for poor Mexicans and even heating fuel for poor families from Maine to the Bronx to Philadelphia. By some estimates, the spending now surpasses the nearly $ 2 billion Washington allocates to pay for development programmes and the drug war in western South America.”

So while the US selfessly funds development programs and fights drug wars which just happen to provide the cash and weaponry to keep corrupt regimes in power, the abominable Chavez is winning supporters across Latin America by investing in social and health programmes and making sure that the samba parade on Brazil went off with an even bigger bang then usual. How dare he peddle influence, the preserve of the old imperialist powers let alone spread socialist ideas that another world is possible by using national resources for the common good at home and abroad.

But the New York Times in the April 4 article lets us into the real secret of why Chavez is such a dangerous fellow for throwing money at poverty rather than handing it over to multinational corporations...Apparently he is intent on being “ the next Fidel Castro, a hero to the masses who is intent on opposing every move the United States makes, but with an important advantage.

It was bad enough having that Fidel Castro and his communist government nationalise US corporations , kick out the Mafia and their gambling, prostitution and drug rackets and provide free heath care and education to all Cubans after the Revolution in 1959.

Now along comes this Hugo come lately with vastly greater wealth that used to flow North spreading his bad influence with all those newly elected leftist governments in Argentina, Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Uruguay.

And it is this influence that is sending the US ballistic about comrade Hugo.
New Zealand should look more closely at this challenge to the policies of the rich world. For the countries of Latin America as a whole are demanding social and economic policies that are opposed to the measures that have allowed United States and European corporations to seize control of the internal markets of Latin America and deepen the dependence and poverty of the continent.

The Latin American countries, with Venezuela leading the charge , are developing their common market mechanism Mercosur to counter the US plan to expand the free trade area created by NAFTA.

What Venezuela has brought to Mercosur is an impetus to boosting the integration process between the economies where the member countries will co-operate on all levels – economic, political, social and cultural. Co-operative advantage under Venezuelan influence is edging out the neoliberal philosophy of comparative advantage.

And to make matters worse, from the perspective of Western corporations, Venezuela and Cuba are showing how it can be done to the benefit of their peoples and the peoples of the other Mercosur countries.

Venezuela has signed dozens of agreements with Cuba. Among them is a plan that uses Cuban expertise in healthcare to benefit the entire continent. This has included 600 new diagnosis centres for Venezuela, 600 dispensaries and 35 hi-tech centres to guarantee free healthcare for all Venezuelans who can also travel to Cuba for cataract operations and this scheme is being extended throughout Latin America.

Venezuela has opened branches of its national oil company in Cuba and many preferential trade tarfiffs have been put in place thus boosting employment in both countries.

The Venezuelan–Cuban axis condemned by Washington as an axis of evil is being
seen by Latin Americans as a beacon of hope. It is an example of genuine fair trade:
Each country provides what it is best placed to produce, in return for what it most needs, independent of global market prices.

The model is expanding. The Venezualan initiative Petro Caribe is a company created to provide energy resources to 11 Caribbean countries at a low price.

Venezuela is cooperating with Uruguay and Brazil to build oil refineries. The possibility of a single pan-South American oil company to benefit all is being discussed.

And the views on Latin America disseminated by the New York Times and other western media is under challenge by Telesur which is jointly owned by the governments of Venezuela, Uruguay, Cuba and Argentina. This television channel will provide news free of commercial interests and the influence of North American media.

Si senor , something is happening south of the border and New Zealand should be watching as this challenge to globalisation a la the neo liberal model grows stronger.
Perhaps it is time for Phil Goff to shake hands with Hugo Chavez rather than Donald Rumsfeld.


Matt Robson is a former New Zealand Cabinet Minister and MP. In the Labour-Alliance Government Mr Robson was the Associate Minister for Foreign Affairs


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