Bush vs. Chavez

Imagine the following - the nation Martin Luther King called "The Greatest Purveyor of Violence in the World Today" may brand democratic Venezuela a state sponsor of terrorism if extremist lawmakers on the Hill get their way.
Imagine the following – the
nation Martin Luther King called "The Greatest Purveyor of Violence in
the World Today" may brand democratic Venezuela a state sponsor of
terrorism if extremist lawmakers on the Hill get their way.

On March 12, George Bush
accused Hugo Chavez of backing Colombian-based "terrorists" and using
Venezuela's oil wealth for an anti-American campaign. He further
claimed Chavez has a "thirst for power….of squander(ing his
country's) oil wealth….of prais(ing a) terrorist leader as a good
revolutionary and order(ing) his troops to the Colombian border. This
is the latest step in a disturbing pattern of provocative behavior by
the regime in Caracas. He has also called for FARC terrorists to be
recognized as a legitimate army (and his) senior regime officials have
met with FARC leaders in Venezuela."

At the same time, 21 extremist
lawmakers want Venezuela named a state sponsor of terrorism and added
to the State Department's list of five others for "repeatedly
provid(ing) support for acts of international terrorism" under three US

— the Export Administration Act, section 6 (j);

— the Arms Export Control Act, section 40; and

— the Foreign Assistance Act, section 620A.

Countries now listed include –
Syria (1979), Cuba (1982), Iran (1984), North Korea (1988), and Sudan
(1993). Designation triggers sanctions that "penalize persons and
countries engaging in certain trade with state sponsors."

The US Code Definition of Terrorism

The US Code defines "international terrorism" as follows:

(A) "violent acts or acts
dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of
the United States or of any State, or that would be a criminal
violation if committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or
of any State;

(B) appear to be intended –

(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;

(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or

(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and

(C) occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States…."

The US Army Operational Concept
for Terrorism (TRADOC Pamphlet No. 525-37, 1984) shortens the
definition to be "the calculated use of violence or threat of violence
to attain goals that are political, religious, or ideological in
nature….through intimidation, coercion, or instilling fear."

The US Definition of War Crimes – Part I, Chapter 118, Number 2441 of the US Code

(a) "Offense. – Whoever,
whether inside or outside the United States, commits a war crime, in
any of the circumstances described in subsection (b), shall be fined
under this title or imprisoned for life or any term of years, or both,
and if death results to the victim, shall also be subject to the
penalty of death.

(b) Circumstances. – The
circumstances referred to in subsection (a) are that the person
committing such war crime or the victim of such war crime is a member
of the Armed Forces or a national of the United States (as defined in
section 101 of the Immigration and Nationality Act).

(c) Definition. – As used in this section the term "war crime" means any conduct –

(1) defined as a grave breach
in any of the international conventions signed at Geneva 12 August
1949, or any protocol to such convention to which the United States is
a party;

(2) prohibited by Article 23,
25, 27, or 28 of the Annex to the Hague Convention IV, Respecting the
Laws and Customs of War on Land, signed 18 October 1907;

(3) which constitutes a
violation of common Article 3 of the international conventions signed
at Geneva, 12 August 1949, or any Protocol to such convention to which
the United States is a party and which deals with non-international
armed conflict; or

(4) of a person who, in
relation to an armed conflict and contrary to the provisions of the
Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Mines,
Booby-Traps and Other Devices as amended at Geneva on 3 May 1996
(Protocol II as amended on 3 May 1996), when the United States is a
party to such Protocol, willfully kills or causes serious injury to

Two Hemispheric Neighbors Worlds Apart

Under US terrorism and war
crimes statutes as well as by any international standard, the US is a
flagrant and serial abuser. The record is hardly disputable in spite of
efforts made to sanitize it.

In contrast, Hugo Chavez seeks
unity; wants stability; embraces his neighbors; and promotes global
solidarity, equality and political, economic and social justice quite
mirror opposite to Washington's conquest and imperial agenda. Unlike
America, Venezuela doesn't attack or threaten other nations. It offers
no-strings aid (including low-priced oil to US cities) and mutually
beneficial trade and other alliances.

Chavez champions human rights,
has no secret prisons, doesn't practice torture or state-sponsored
killings, respects the law and everyone's rights under it. He's a true
social democrat in a participatory democracy, and has been elected and
reelected overwhelmingly under procedures independently judged open,
free and fair. That's what Bolivarianism is about, but try hearing that
from Washington or the dominant media using any pretext to vilify it
and the man who leads it.

Chavez is a hero in the region
and around the world, and that makes him Washington's target. Imagine
the Bush administration matching his December 31 gesture or the media
reporting it fairly. He granted amnesty to imprisoned 2002 coup
plotters, except for those who fled the country. The decree pardoned
figures accused in the scheme, who took over state television at the
time, who tried to murder him in recent years, and who later sabotaged
state oil company PDVSA during the 2002 – 2003 management lockout. He
also pardoned 36 other prisoners in a conciliatory measure to turn "the
page (and direct the) country….toward peace."

In a post-9/11 environment, here's how Washington rewards him:

— he's relentlessly targeted by measures that so far stop short of disrupting business;

— on December 11, three
Venezuelans and one Uruguayan were arrested and charged in US federal
court with acting and conspiring as agents of the Venezuelan government
without having notified the US Attorney General; they were accused of
conspiring to conceal the source, destination and role of the
Venezuelan government to deliver $800,000 to Argentina with a US
businessman as conduit;

— on November, 2007, by
conspiring with Colombia to halt mediation efforts with the FARC-EP for
the release of 45 hostages at the time, including three US contractors;

— for repeatedly denying
Venezuela's extradition request for Luis Posada Carriles who's wanted
for outstanding crimes and in spite of a legally-binding extradition
treaty between the countries dating since 1923;

— on November 5, for approving
H. Res. 435 EH (by voice vote) condemning Iran as the "most active
state sponsor of terrorism;" it also targeted Venezuela with examples
of relations between the two countries that are hostile to Washington;

— on September 14, 2007,
citing Venezuela for the third consecutive year for failing to observe
international counternarcotics agreements;

— on June 21, for approving
representative Connie Mack's H. Amdt. to H.R. 2764 to direct $10
million for propaganda broadcasting into Venezuela;

— on June 12, the State
Department targeted Venezuela in its annual Trafficking in Persons
Report that placed the country in Tier 3 status for not making adequate
efforts to combat trafficking in persons;

— on May 24, for unanimously
approving S. Res. 211 condemning Venezuela's disregard for free
expression for not renewing (one of) RCTV's operating licenses;

— on May 14, for the second
consecutive year, condemning Venezuela for not fully cooperating in
antiterrorism efforts; other nations listed were Cuba, Iran, North
Korea and Syria;

— on April 30, the State
Department condemned Venezuela for being unwilling to prevent the
country's territory from being used as a safe haven by Colombian
"terrorist groups;"

— on March 6, the State
Department cited Venezuela's human rights situation showed
"politicization of the judiciary, harassment of the media, and
harassment of the political opposition;"

— on March 1, the State
Department condemned Venezuela for being one of the principal
hemispheric drug transit countries because of its location, rampant
high-level corruption, weak judicial system, and lack of international
counternarcotics cooperation;

— on February 7, Secretary
Rice accused Chavez of "assault(ing) democracy in Venezuela (and)
destroying his own country economically (and) politically;" and

— on January 11, National
Intelligence Director (and serial killer) John Negroponte accused
Chavez of being "among the most stridently anti-American leaders
anywhere in the world (whose) try(ing) to undercut US influence in
Venezuela, in the rest of Latin America, and elsewhere
internationally;" he also said his military purchases were threatening
his neighbors and could fuel a regional arms race.

The above examples only covered
2007 with many comparable and more extreme ones in earlier years.
Excluded as well are continuing covert actions with open-checkbook
funding to destabilize and topple the Chavez government. One of them is
what Latin American expert James Petras mentions in his March 12
article on the FARC-EP and "The Cost of Unilateral Humanitarian
Initiatives." He explains that Chavez's diplomatic rapprochement with
Uribe won't halt "large-scale (Columbian) paramilitary (infiltration
into) Venezuela (that) destabiliz(e) the country" because Washington
wants it continued.

So far, actions have stopped
short of disrupting business, but anything is possible before January
2009 or thereafter. Washington fears Chavismo's good example. It's
strengthening, spreading and creating angst in American hard right
circles and for Democrats as well.

Charges and Countercharges

The March 13 Wall Street
Journal reported that US intelligence officials have been examining
"computer files (claimed to have been) seized from (FARC-EP) guerrillas
earlier this month by Colombian commandos." The Uribe government (with
no supportive evidence) says they show Chavez "was in contact with the
rebels and plann(ed) to give them $300 million. If true, that could
open Venezuela to US sanctions," but Washington will likely use lesser
measures instead.

White House National Security
Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe gave no indication either way in
stating: "Our intelligence agencies are looking at the material
acquired….and we will see where that lands." Assistant Secretary of
State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon said: "Declaring
somebody a state sponsor of terrorism is a big step, a serious step.
It's one that we will only take after very careful consideration of all
the evidence." For her part, Secretary Rice was true to form adding:
"it is an obligation of every member of the United Nations…not to
support terrorists."

There was more as well from an
unidentified senior US official who said government lawyers were asked
to clarify "what goes into effect in terms of prohibitions or
prohibited activities" when a "state sponsor" designation is made. He
added that if Washington accepts the computer documents as valid, then
"I think it will beg the question of whether or not Venezuela, given
Chavez's interactions with the FARC, has….crossed the threshold of
state sponsor of terror."

Former State Department arms
trafficking expert, James Lewis, explained further. He said "state
sponsor" (designation) immediately imposes (restrictions) on the
abilities of US companies to work in" the country. They'll be
"forbidden from operating there, forbidden from receiving any money
from Venezuela. It would make it very hard for Venezuela to sell oil to
the US. All the arrangements we have now where Venezuelan oil is
routinely sent to the United States would have to stop." Lewis stopped
short of speculating this will happen, but his tone suggests it's
unlikely. Corporate interests would also balk because business in
Venezuela is booming, so are profits, and at a time companies are
struggling for every source they can get.

That wasn't on Mary Anastasia
O'Grady's mind in her March 10 Wall Street Journal column. She was all
venom and agitprop in her commentary on "The FARC Files – Four
presidents (Chavez, Correa, Morales and Ortega), four best friends of
terrorists." She claimed laptop documents "show that Mr. Chavez and
(FARC-EP leader) Reyes were not only ideological comrades, but also
business partners and political allies in the effort to wrest power
from Mr. Uribe." She also attacked the FARC-EP with a menu of charges,
including efforts to buy 50 kilos of uranium for a possible dirty bomb
and a (mysterious) letter explaining "terrorist efforts to acquire
missiles from Lebanon." And she jumped on four regional leaders for
"support(ing) FARC violence and treachery against Mr. Uribe."

On the same page, a Journal
editorial referred to the "Venezuelan strongman" and "Chavez Democrats"
who help "our enemy by spurning our best Latin ally," and it "isn't the
first time Democrats have (done it), but it would be the most
destructive." The reference is to the Colombia (US) Free Trade
Agreement. It's stalled in Congress and likely dead this session with
Democrats not wanting to touch it in an election year – unless they can
cut a deal with the administration for something they want.

The Journal blasts them and
Jimmy Carter, too, for blessing Chavez's 2004 electoral victory. It
then claimed Democrats "oppose the deal on grounds that Mr. Uribe has
not done more to protect 'trade unionists.' In fact, Mr. Uribe has done
more to reduce violence in Colombia than any modern leader in Bogota.
The real question for Democrats is whether they're going to choose
Colombia – or Hugo Chavez." And the beat goes on with 10 more months
under George Bush for it to boil over and plenty of media support
heating things up.

In the face of criticism,
Caracas wasn't quiet. Reaction was swift with Venezuela's OAS
representative, Jorge Valero, calling the administration "the terrorist
government par excellence….an aberration, an absolutely stupid thing
to say (by a government in Washington) that practices state terrorism,
that has invaded Iraq and Afghanistan without respect for international
law, that commits genocidal practices (around) the world, that has
invaded Latin American and Caribbean countries, that aims to present
itself as the moral conscience of the world."

Venezuela's Information
Minister, Andres Izarra, added that US officials are considering
measures against Venezuela because "they are searching for new ways to
attack….and move forward with their plan to finish with the
Bolivarian Revolution."

In a March 14 televised speech,
Hugo Chavez dared the Bush administration to designate Venezuela a
state sponsor of terrorism. He said doing it is Washington's response
to the country's success and added: "We shouldn't forget for an instant
that we're in a battle against North American imperialism and that they
have classified us as enemies – at least in this continent they have us
as enemy No. 1." Their "imperial plan is to overthrow this government
and knock down the Bolivarian Revolution. They're afraid of (its impact
in) Latin America" (and, indeed, he's right).

As for allegedly paying $300
million to the FARC-EP, the Venezuelan government denounced the claim
as an "exercise in falsification (and added) that the only foreign
government that finances the conflict in Colombia is the United
States." Caracas also affirms that its only guerrilla contacts were for
hostage releases with key peace interlocutor Reyes now dead because of
Colombia's (made in USA) incursion.

Other countries have also
negotiated, including France, Ecuador and the US as recently
declassified documents show. In 1998, Philip Chicola, State Department
Office of Andean Affairs director, met secretly in Costa Rica with
FARC-EP leaders Reyes and Olga Marin after Secretary of State Albright
designated the group a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) in 1997.

In the end, where will this
lead with views on that score mixed. Venezuela is America's third or
fourth largest oil supplier, the price of crude now tops $100 a barrel,
and the Wall Street Journal suggests measures far short of cutting off
a vital supply source are likely. Other analysts agree because ending
trade would harm both countries at a time world markets are roiled and
the US economy is shaky.

Nonetheless, Republican
congressman Connie Mack says Chavez "is using his vast oil wealth to
fund terrorism in his own backyard (and it's) critical that the
administration now act swiftly and decisively" against him. On March
13, he and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen introduced H. Res.10-49 (with eight
co-sponsors) "calling for the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to be
designated a state sponsor of terrorism" and "condemn(ing) the
Venezuelan government for its support of terrorist organizations" with
direct reference to the FARC-EP.

Even with support in Congress,
this effort won't likely get far according to Venezuelan expert Dan
Hellinger. He notes how anti-Chavez forces are capitalizing on events
but says "the odds are against them precisely because I think there's
probably not much interest in the Congress (overall) in terms of making
things worse with Venezuela at the moment." Key State Department
diplomats aren't "likely….to want to pour gasoline on the fire" or
take any action that may harm the economy in an election year and on an
issue that's mainly an administration one – and a lame duck one on the
way out.

Michael Shifter of the
Inter-American Dialogue went further in suggesting Latin American
leaders won't tolerate designating Venezuela a state sponsor of
terrorism and "would react very strongly, because of all the political,
security, and economic implications."

It remains to be seen what's
next, but Chavez knows what he's up against from a rogue administration
in Washington with lots of time left to destroy Bolivarianism, oust its
main proponent, vaporize Venezuela, and end the republic if that's what
it has in mind. Stay tuned for further updates in Bush v. Chavez.