Venezuela in Black and White

Greg Palast is visiting Venezuela this week and is issuing a daily web log about his trip on his website, www.GregPalast.com. Here is the first installment.

Woman in a matronly blonde in the stylish leopard-patterned blouse

Here’s Venezuela in a snapshot.

The matronly blonde in the stylish leopard-patterned blouse doesn’t like the President of this Latin state. Correction: Maria Christina Tortosa hates, despises, sees RED when she speaks of President Hugo Chavez. “A co-moon-ist!” she avers in English.

Her polite interlocutor — red t-shirt, brown skin, eyes impatiently averted — is in a good mood. Jorge Lara has collected six thousand signatures of local voters seeking to recall members of Congress who oppose his hero Chavez.

And that’s what it’s all about. Race and class.  Whatever else you hear about Venezuela, this is the story in a single frame.  Like apartheid-riven South Africa, the whites, 20% of the population, have the nation’s wealth under lock and key.  The Rich Fifth have command of the oil wealth, the best jobs, the English-language lessons, the imported clothes, the vacations in Miami, the plantations.

That is, until Hugo Chavez came along.

Now the brown people, like community activist Lara — and President Chavez himself — have a piece of the action.  “Negro y indio,” Chavez calls himself.  Black and Indian.  And the blondes don’t like it.

In the photo’s background, there’s a guy with a gun, a soldier with the automatic weapon.

And that’s the other part of the picture in Venezuela. Our blonde, Mrs. Tortosa, is a poll-watcher for the Democratic Action Party which on Friday begins their own signature drive to recall Chavez.

If Tortosa’s party fails, “it will be civil war” says one supporter of the recall against the President.  Then it’s up to the soldiers in the middle to keep the peace … or choose the winner

And if you look closely, you’ll see in the shadows one other character with the power over Venezuela’s future … George Bush.  Fresh from bringing democracy to Afghanistan and Iraq, the US strongman has quietly turned his sights southward. 

Mr. Bush has quite a different idea of democracy than the ‘Chavistas’ in the red t-shirts.  Elections don’t necessarily figure into Bush’s picture of democracy.  The White House said once that Chavez’ winning a crushing majority of the vote in his 2000 election did not confer “legitimacy” on Chavez’ presidency.  Hmmm.

The director of the CIA, George Tenet, testified to the US Congress that Venezuela “worries” him. And THAT should worry the Venezuelans… except, of course, the blondes who, like the US president, seem to prefer their democracy without elections.

Greg Palast is author of the New York Times bestseller, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.  You can watch Palast’s  award-winning report for BBC television on last year’s coup in Venezuela by clicking on the link on the homepage of www.GregPalast.com.  Palast, on assignment in Caracas for Rolling Stone Magazine, will be sending daily dispatches to GregPalast.com and Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now.