Originally published by The Sacramento Observer
Several weeks ago, U.S. News & World Report published a story suggesting that Venezuela was becoming a hotbed of terrorism in the Western hemisphere. The story was, at least in part, based upon information allegedly provided by unnamed individuals in the Bush administration. In many respects, this story epitomized the hostility toward the democratically-elected government of President Hugo Chavez that has been coming from the White House particularly since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
As you might remember, President Chavez, while condemning in no uncertain terms the terrorist attack, called upon the Bush administration to not respond by attacking Afghanistan. It appears, whether one agrees or disagrees with President Chavez, that the Bush administration adopted the attitude that it was up to the rest of the world to unconditionally support any and all actions that the Bush administration deemed appropriate. Any question, or any divergence from the White House line was seen as unfriendly.
President Chavez was anointed unfriendly.
When Chavez was temporarily overthrown in a coup in April 2002, the Bush administration rushed to support the ‘coup people’ (to borrow a term invented by President Bush’s father in describing another situation), whereas virtually every other country in the Western hemisphere condemned this undemocratic action. Upon his restoration to power, the Bush administration suggested that they hoped that President Chavez had learned something from this experience, an interesting comment for an administration that supposedly opposes terrorism and other forms of illegality.
The Bush administration has continued to smile upon the opposition forces in Venezuela that have attempted to oust President Chavez, first through mass demonstrations and a lockout in early 2003, and later through a petition. I am still trying to figure out what business it is of the U.S. to interfere in such internal affairs.
Then comes the U.S. News & World Report story.
Interestingly and ironically enough, shortly after its publication, U.S. military officials debunked the entire notion of Venezuela as such a hotbed. The story, however, has not been retracted. Then came Venezuelan allegations of CIA involvement in efforts to overthrow the government of President Chavez. The response on the part of the Bush administration has not only been to deny the report, but to ridicule it. This ridicule has been echoed by various U.S. media outlets.
I would humbly suggest that one should not so quickly dismiss the suggestion that the CIA, or some other U.S. intelligence operation, is or has been appropriately involved in Venezuelan internal affairs. Frankly, the track record for the U.S. in Latin America has not been a pretty one. Rather it has been one that has witnessed a continuous pattern of U.S. interference, invasions, coups, blockades and assassinations going back to the initial reaction of the U.S. to the independence of revolutionary Haiti in 1804.
The list of such actions is as overwhelming as it is telling. The invasion and seizure of one half of Mexico in 1846; the seizure of Cuba and Puerto Rico in the Western hemisphere through the Spanish-American War; invasions of Mexico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua in the early 20th Century; the Guatemala coup of 1954; assassination of Dominican dictator Trujillo in 1961; continuous assassination attempts, invasions, covert operations and a blockade against Cuba; coup in Brazil in 1964; coup in the then British Guiana in 1964; invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965; coup in Chile in 1973; arming of death squads in various Latin American countries; organizing and arming the terrorist Contras in their war with the Sandinista government in Nicaragua in the 1980s; invasion of Panama in 1989… And this is not the entire list.
When there is a track record like this, it might make sense for commentators in the U.S. (including and especially the Bush administration) to shy away from quick dismissals and ridicule when an allegation emerges from our Latin American neighbors regarding suspected U.S. interference. The U.S. has shown itself to be a rather belligerent component part of the Western hemisphere, and a condescending one towards those nations south of the Rio Grande. The notion that Latin Americans have a right to self-determination that should be respected by all countries, including and especially the U.S., seems to be a notion antithetical to the mind-set of presidential administration after presidential administration occupying the White House.
In each case, laying the foundation for some form of hostile interference by the U.S. has involved demonizing either the government or significant popular movements in the specific target country. Thus, when the Venezuelans suggest CIA interference, I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt. After all, history demonstrates time and again that the U.S.A. has been far from an honest broker when it comes to Latin America.
Bill Fletcher Jr. is president of TransAfrica Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit educational and organizing center formed to raise awareness in the United States about issues facing the nations and peoples of Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America. He also is co-chair of the anti-war coalition, United for Peace and Justice (www.unitedforpeace.org). He can be reached at [email protected].