For a long time there was only one country in Latin America offering free health care to all its citizens. Now there are two. The governments of both countries regard health care as a basic human right. So Cuba, rich in health care, and Venezuela, rich in oil, have arranged a barter deal for the benefit of each population. This would seem to be a major historical example of beneficial free trade. Who could possibly object?
Well, Condoleezza Rice for one, who seems quite disturbed by this alliance. During an interview last October with the editorial board of The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, then National Security Advisor Rice called President Hugo Chávez "a real problem." She said, "He will continue his contacts with Fidel Castro, maybe giving Castro one last fling to try to affect he politics of Latin America." Why is she so alarmed?
In that same interview, she praised Russia in contrast to the Soviet Union. "Amazing things are happening in the economy," she enthused, citing a "remarkable" example of progress: "Putin is telling people they're going to have to pay for their health care." Condoleezza Rice with roots in Alabama, where many people cannot afford adequate health care, has grown up to become a member of the corporate elite, on the board of directors for such giants of industry as Transamerica, Charles Schwab, and Hewlett Packard. Like her boss, President George W. Bush, and other members of his cabinet, she is invested in the oil industry, with a direct interest in Venezuelan oil through Chevron Corporation. In 1995, the same year that Chevron signed an agreement in Caracas to operate Venezuela's Boscan heavy-oil field over a 20 to 30-year period, Chevron named its largest oil tanker for a member of its Board of Directors: Condoleezza Rice. After Rice became National Security Advisor in 2001, Chevron renamed the tanker to avoid such a blatant connection.
Now Miss Oil Tanker of 1995 is Secretary of State, in charge of implementing U.S. policy toward all countries. It is no wonder she is eager to support such anti-Chávez activities as the oil strike of 2002 that temporarily devastated the Venezuelan economy. And it is no surprise that the alliance between Havana and Caracas causes great consternation for the Bush administration. Take the issue of free trade. For decades Havana has refused to be controlled by Washington's trade mechanisms, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with its consequential subtractions for domestic welfare and additions for foreign debt. In 1985 Cuba hosted a conference on the Latin American debt crisis where delegates called, to no avail, for a basic restructuring of the relationship between debtor and creditor nations. Now Venezuela has become a partner in resistance to this financial bondage, although Venezuela, unlike Cuba, belongs to international financial institutions such as the IMF.
Instead of conceding to the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) that Washington is trying to impose, Venezuela and Cuba have launched the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), an effort to unify Latin American countries in the 21st century's continuation of the work of Simón Bolívar, who was born in Venezuela, and José Martí, who was born in Cuba. On December 14, President Fidel Castro and President Hugo Chávez signed a far-reaching agreement "towards the process of integration," including "the exchange of goods and services which best correspond to the social and economic necessities of both countries."
One example is literacy: "Both parties will work together and in coordination with other Latin American countries to eradicate illiteracy in third countries" (Article 5). The Cuban teaching method known as "Si se puede" (Yes I can) is rapidly increasing literacy among Venezuelans and is already used in many other countries, including Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Mozambique, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, and Peru. What could be more conducive to creating the democracy that George Bush claims to want to bring to the world? Why should Washington not support the expansion of literacy that is a necessity for true democracy?
The aim "to eradicate illiteracy in third countries" strikes fear in the Bush administration. In that same interview last October, Rice said "the key" to stopping Hugo Chávez "is to mobilize the region to both watch him and be vigilant about him and to pressure him." She explained, "We can't do it alone....But the OAS (Organization of American States) can do a lot." On November 20, with Rice on her way to the State Department, The Washington Post followed up with an editorial called "Watch Venezuela," advising that Rice's plan to isolate Chávez "sounds like a wise policy."
But the horse was already out of the barn. Venezuela galvanized the creation of the South American Union (or the South American Community of Nations) in December, with the goal of creating a free trade zone among its members: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. One major expression of this unity is Telesur, a television network to broadcast, starting this year, about Latin America from Latin America.
True to her plan, once she got her new job in January, Secretary of State Rice lost no time in trying to destroy that unity. The State Department sent letters to Latin American leaders in order to mobilize them against Chávez in a dispute between Venezuela and Colombia. Nobody answered the State Department's call. U.S. pressure proved decidedly unhelpful, exacerbating the conflict. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe turned for help to none other than Fidel Castro. Castro sent Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque to Caracas. Brazil and Peru also mediated. But as Uribe publicly acknowledged, it was Castro's help that was crucial to the peaceful outcome when Uribe met with Chávez in Caracas. Ironically, Cuba, which was able to mediate successfully, is not even a member of the OAS, having been expelled in 1962 as part of Washington's mobilization of Latin American countries against Cuba during Operation Mongoose, another attempt, following the Bay of Pigs, to overthrow the Cuban government.
Bush administration officials and media have escalated their attacks against Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro. In the opening statement of her Senate confirmation hearing on January 18-19, Rice called Cuba an "outpost of tyranny." Perhaps the label of "terrorist nation" has lost its fear-inducing effect even though Cuba remains on the State Department's list of terrorist nations. Nobody can rationally figure out how Cuba is a terrorist threat, especially after the total discrediting of John Bolton's claim in 2002 that Cuba's medical system is a cover for bioterrorism. So now the State Department is using "tyranny" as the buzz word because Fidel Castro has not been elected in a U.S.-approved kind of election like the one that took place in 1901 under U.S. occupation--comparable to the January election in Iraq.
Nevermind that in 1952 when Castro was running for Congress, Washington supported a coup that installed the dictatorship of General Fulgencio Batista, canceling the election and suspending the Constitution. Nevermind that the Helms-Burton law of 1996 makes it illegal in the United States for Fidel Castro (or his brother Raúl) to run in a Cuban election. If Cuba were to hold such an election, the results would not be recognized by the United States.
Hugo Chávez was elected in 1998 and re-elected with 59.5 percent of the vote in 2000 (the same year that Bush was elected by the Supreme Court). In 2002, he was restored to power in two days by his people after a coup supported by Washington and cheered on by the U.S. media, notably The New York Times. In 2004, Chávez won a referendum monitored by international observers, including former President Jimmy Carter. Yet in her confirmation hearing, Rice openly threatened the elected government of Venezuela when she said she wants the OAS to hold accountable "leaders who do not govern democratically, even if they are democratically elected."
Of course U.S. overthrows of elected governments are nothing new, as demonstrated in Brazil, Chile, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti, to name a few. Venezuela is now instituting land reform, the very issue that led in 1954 to the CIA's overthrow of the elected government in Guatemala. Right on cue, CIA Director Porter Goss, in his February 16 testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, named Venezuela among "potential flashpoints in 2005" because "Chávez is consolidating his power by using technically legal tactics to target his opponents and meddling in the region, supported by Castro."
Another U.S. method of "regime change" has been assassination as documented by the 1975 Senate Select Intelligence Committee hearings in the wake of the war against Vietnam when, for a brief period, some members of Congress dared to attempt to rectify a few of the most murderous practices of U.S. foreign and domestic policy. Fidel Castro was of course a frequent target. In an incisive speech to the OAS on February 23, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Alí Rodríguez said:
"The absurdity of the accusations levied against our government would not bother us in the least if a multitude of facts did not exist that prove that when such statements are made, it's because, sooner or later, the attack will follow....It is what happened with Allende, it is what happened in the Dominican Republic, it is what happened in Guatemala and countless other cases. For the same reason, we cannot dismiss information from our intelligence services concerning the physical liquidation of our president, the same man who has been legitimated every time he has been subjected to the scrutiny of the Venezuelan people."
Rodríguez noted that Article 1 of the OAS Charter states that the OAS "has no powers other than those expressly conferred upon it by this Charter, none of whose provisions authorizes it to intervene in matters that are within the internal jurisdiction of the Member States."
He told the OAS members that, with all due respect, Venezuela would like to "stress the need of social justice as a fundamental component of democracy." The Foreign Minister added that "democracy in a country like Venezuela, whose concrete reality is one of poverty, depends on giving the large majority of the country the opportunity to participate, that is, the overcoming of poverty becomes the government's first reason for being."
Imagine having a government that considers overcoming poverty to be its first reason for being. Again and again, people ask, Why does Washington oppose Cuba since it is obvious that Cuba is not a threat to our national security? Rice calls it an "outpost of tyranny," but the real reason is the example that Cuba provides for people all over the planet who desperately need health and education. Fidel Castro refuses to tell people "they're going to have to pay for their health care." And now Hugo Chávez, with Cuba's cooperation, is putting that example into action in Venezuela.
With Cuban doctors making a difference in the world, fear of the Cuban example increases among those who have no intention of dealing with the great challenges of our time: the millions of people around the world without health care and without literacy. Writing from Honduras in her February 18 column, Mary Anastasia O'Grady, The Wall Street Journal's senior editorial page writer and one of the most vociferous opponents of both Castro and Chávez, reports that Cuba sent 350 doctors to Honduras in 1998 when Hurricane Mitch wreaked havoc in a country already poverty-stricken. O'Grady is concerned that the Cuban doctors have stayed to look after Honduran people and that 600 Hondurans are studying medicine in Cuba so that they can return to provide medical care for their people. O'Grady calls the Cuban doctors "Fidel's foot soldiers" with "the potential for soft indoctrination, a kind of tilling the soil in the poor countryside so that it is ready when political opportunity presents itself as it has in Venezuela of late." To a rational human being, Cuba's ability to provide health care and Venezuela's eagerness to work with Cuba to provide health care present quite a different potential: that is, human potential for unselfish cooperation.