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Opinion and Analysis: International

Preparing for U.S. Invasion of Venezuela

Exactly 35 years after a CIA-orchestrated coup brought down Salvador Allende's socialist government in Chile, the political climate in Latin America is boiling over and now threatens to explode.

On last Thursday's anniversary of Allende's murder, between 30 and 70 peasants in the Bolivian jungle province of Pando were machine-gunned to death on their way to a protest against regional governor Leopoldo Fernandez, a fierce critic of President Evo Morales.

Right-wing rioters have burned down countless government and media buildings across the country, temporarily taken over an airport, blockaded highways and sabotaged gas pipelines, just weeks after Morales won a recall referendum on his presidency with over two-thirds of the vote. It seems that the so-called "democratic opposition" isn't taking no for an answer.

Morales has denounced the brewing "civic-business coup" and expelled United States ambassador Philip Goldberg, who was previously head of mission in Serbia's breakaway Kosovo region from 2004 to 2006, after he was caught secretly meeting opposition separatist leaders. Washington responded by kicking out Bolivia's top diplomat, tit-for-tat.

In solidarity, live on television, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez gave US ambassador Patrick Duddy 72 hours notice to leave Caracas with the timeless phrase: "Yankee, go home!"

He also withdrew his own ambassador, insisting that, "until there is a government in the United States that respects the people of Latin America, there will be no Venezuelan ambassador in that country."

Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, an ally of Morales and Chavez, has joined in by refusing to accredit the new US ambassador there, while Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, himself no stranger to US-backed terror, has refused to attend a forthcoming central American summit because of Bush's presence.

South American presidents pledged support for Morales on Monday at a emergency summit in Santiago, Chile. The meeting was convened by Argentinean President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, who warned that, "if we don't act now, in 30 years we may be watching documentaries (about Morales) like those that we see today about Allende."

Back in Venezuela, journalist Mario Silva broadcasted a recording a week ago on his programme The Razorblade of active and retired military personnel plotting the assassination of Chavez by blowing up either his plane or presidential palace. Since then, five suspected coup plotters, including a vice-admiral, have been arrested.

On the tape, former national guard general Wilfredo Barroso Herrera spells out the plan: "We're going to take Miraflores Palace, we're going to take the TV installations. All effort is towards where the man (Chavez) is. If he's in Miraflores, the effort goes towards there."

Washington responded to Duddy's expulsion by freezing the assets of three of Chavez's aides, citing Venezuela's alleged support for Colombian "narco-guerillas." Because the US is heavily reliant on Venezuelan oil, economic relations have been relatively stable, but this development raises the stakes significantly. Although Chavez has warned that oil prices would double immediately if he cut off supplies to the US, he's also insisted that he currently has no plans to do this.

Meanwhile, the mainstream media are screaming about a new cold war, as Russian bombers and warships perform joint military operations with Venezuela. The same news outlets are less vocal about the background to this show of strength, which was Bush's decision to revive the US navy's Fourth Fleet in June, almost 60 years since it was disbanded.

With the US military now all over the Caribbean, you can't blame Chavez for wanting a bit of protection. And the US can hardly complain, what with its own troops on Russia's border causing trouble. Venezuela was one of the few countries to publicly back Russia over the South Ossetia crisis and has bought military hardware from the former super-power since the US imposed an arms embargo two years ago.

Chavez has also repeated his vow to defend Bolivia militarily if Morales is overthrown, the kind of support that he could've done with himself on April 11 2002 when a US-backed coup toppled him for two days before he was restored to power by angry masses and the loyal military.

The parallels between then and now are chilling and the opposition media in Venezuela are again playing a key role, not least by their deafening silence on the new coup attempt.

"They are doing the same as they did on April 11th, covering up a bloody coup," insists Jorge Rodriguez, who is the national co-ordinator of Venezuela's governing party and a former vice-president.  "The silence of the private media is the expression of its participation in the coup d'etat attempt."

The opposition mocks the latest coup threat as a fraudulent illusion constructed to shore up support for Chavez before local and regional elections on November 23, but this is a standard tactic that it employs when its plans are exposed, most memorably around the time of the coup and the bosses' lock-out later that year.

Silva, who is a candidate for state governor, argued on his programme that the coup plot proves that the opposition is afraid that it will do badly at the polls and is preparing a Plan B. But, while the lead-up to the elections will bring more danger for Venezuela, it's Bolivia that is bearing the brunt of US aggression right now.

Morales has declared a state of emergency in Pando and has accused Fernandez of being behind the massacre, calling for his arrest. He's sent in the army to restore order, but Chavez publicly accused the commander in chief of Bolivia's armed forces General Luis Trigo on Sunday of dragging his heels by ordering soldiers to remain in their barracks instead of protecting the people.

"General Trigo is like those who hid themselves when I called on the radio (in 2002) to tell them to put Plan Avila into action, which is a defence plan. The coup plotters of April, it's a very similar attitude, facilitate fascism and the destruction of the fatherland."

He went on to urge Bolivian soldiers under Trigo's command: "Don't betray the fatherland. History will hold you accountable if it happens again, as has happened on other occasions with soldiers who put themselves at imperialism's disposition."

On the subject of defending Morales, he added: "I'm not suggesting invading Bolivia, but we will not accept a coup. Bolivian oligarchy, just so you know. Gringo empire, just so you know. Bolivian soldiers who may be facilitating a coup, just so you know - we're not going to tolerate it, we're not going to accept it."

Bush may well have made it his top priority to overthrow Chavez, Morales and the other Latin American "pinkos" before he leaves office in a few months, but it looks like the "axis of hope" and its supporters around the world are better prepared than ever before. As Chavez says, "if there's a coup, the countercoup would be overwhelming."