Venezuela’s Chavez Pointed Out the Obvious

Hugo Chavez's speech at the United Nations in New York in mid-September ignited a firestorm of indignation. It's too bad that these same people who were outraged by Chavez's speech were not so offended by the Bush administration's support for a military coup against Chavez.

Hugo Chavez’s speech at the United Nations in New York in mid-September ignited a firestorm of indignation from politicians, TV pundits, and editorial writers that has yet to be extinguished. The president of Venezuela referred to President Bush as “the devil” and warned the world about the threat of the “American empire.”

It’s too bad that these same people who were outraged by Chavez’s speech were not so offended by the Bush administration’s support for a military coup against Chavez’s democratically elected government in 2002.

Although Chavez’s U.N. language was undiplomatic, a military coup that abolishes another country’s constitution, Supreme Court and elected Congress is considerably less diplomatic. But almost all of the voices loudly denouncing Chavez were silent – or worse, supportive – when democracy was temporarily overthrown in Venezuela.

THE U.S. STATE Department has stated that “U.S. assistance programs provided training, institution building, and other support to individuals and organizations understood to be actively involved in the brief ouster of the Chavez government.”

The CIA has released documents showing that the Bush administration had advance knowledge of the coup; but the White House and State Department lied about the events, claiming it was not a coup at all, in an effort to help it succeed.

The Bush administration claims that it is not currently funding efforts to topple Venezuela’s government, but it is pouring millions of dollars into organizations within the country and won’t divulge where this money is going.

So Chavez can hardly be blamed for seeing President Bush as a threat to democracy and the sovereignty of nations. So, too, does most of the world, as was evidenced by the hearty and sustained applause that his speech received from the U.N. delegates.

More powerful evidence will be seen on Oct. 16: despite intense lobbying, threats, and bribing from the Bush administration, the majority of countries will vote to have Venezuela represent Latin America on the U.N. Security Council. The United States is backing Guatemala, a country with a long history of horrific human rights abuses.

Yet Chavez is not anti-American, as the media describe him. While in New York, he announced that Venezuelan-owned Citgo would more than double the number of U.S. low-income households – already in the hundreds of thousands last winter – that would receive heating oil at discounts of up to 40 percent this year. “Citgo Petroleum and Venezuela have stepped up to the plate to help people worried about freezing in their own homes this winter,” said Brian O’Connor of Citizens’ Energy Corp. in Boston.

It was not the United States or Americans that Chavez railed against in his speech, but “the empire,” and he was careful to make that distinction. “What kind of democracy do you impose with marines and bombs?” he asked.

Many millions of Americans are asking the same question: They do not think that the United States should invade other countries or try to rule the world. And we are paying a high price for such efforts, especially in Iraq, where more than 2,700 U.S. soldiers have been killed and more than $380 billion wasted.

U.S. AMBASSADOR to the United Nations John Bolton responded to Chavez’s speech by lamenting that the Venezuelan president didn’t give the “same freedom of speech” to Venezuelans that he had just exercised. Conservative TV talk show host John McLaughlin made fun of Bolton’s ignorance: “Well, Ambassador Bolton, maybe they already have freedom of speech.” Indeed they do, with the most anti-government media in the hemisphere.

The Bush administration seeks to de-legitimize Venezuela, both to weaken Chavez’s criticism and to justify its intervention there. The media often contribute to this effort. But Venezuela remains a democracy, even if Washington doesn’t like what its elected president has to say.

(Editor’s note: The writer is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.)