Venezuela: Amateur Dramatics, False Witness

Shakespeare foresaw Thomas Shannon's July 17th Statement to Congress on Venezuela by four hundred years. There he was, the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, mewling about Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, giving the United States and him, Poor Tom, a hard time.

 "Who gives any thing to Poor Tom? whom the foul
fiend hath led through fire and through flame, through ford and
whirlpool, o'er bog and quagmire; that hath laid knives under his
pillow and halters in his pew; set ratsbane by his porridge; made him
proud of heart, to ride on a bay trotting-horse over four inched
bridges, to course his own shadow for a traitor. Bless thy five wits!
Tom's a-cold. O, do de, do de, do de. Bless thee from whirlwinds,
star-blasting and taking! Do poor Tom some charity, whom the foul fiend
vexes. There could I have him now, and there again, and there." (Storm still)

King Lear, Act 3, Scene 4.

Thomas Shannon's July 17th Statement to Congress on Venezuela
by four hundred years. There he was, the Assistant Secretary of
State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, mewling about Venezuelan
President, Hugo Chavez, giving the United States and him, Poor Tom, a
hard time.

Here' s Poor Tom now:

Government of Venezuela claims we have practiced interventionism in its
political and economic life. It regularly refers to us as an “Empire,”
opposes our initiatives in the Americas, and seeks out our adversaries
as friends and allies. It has broken off cooperation with us on
counter-drug and counter-terrorism activity, ended long-standing
intelligence liaison relationships, shut down military cooperation and
security assistance programs, and nationalized the holdings of some
American corporations."

O, do de, do de, do de …….Could that
possibly have anything to do with measures taken by the US
government? Shannon gives us the list:

"Specifically, we have:

  • declared Venezuela to be “not fully cooperating” in the fight against terrorism;
  • determined that the Government of Venezuela has “failed
    demonstrably” in meeting its obligations under international
    counternarcotics agreements and U.S. domestic counternarcotics
  • rescinded Venezuela’s eligibility to purchase most kinds of U.S. weapons and weapons systems;
  • closed Venezuela’s Military Acquisition Office in Florida;
  • arrested unauthorized Venezuelan agents;
  • denied Venezuela access to Export-Import Bank financing and Overseas
    Private Insurance Corporation coverage;
  • designated several Venezuelan nationals under Executive Order 3224
    and the Narcotics Kingpin Act for support provided to Hizballah and for
    trafficking illicit drugs."

In fact, on terrorism, it is the
United States that has consistently refused to meet its international
obligations by refusing Venezuela's request to extradite mass
murderer Luis Posada Carriles for the bombing of a civilian airliner
killing 76 people. Likewise, the United States harbours Venezuelan
anti-government terrorists as well as individuals like former
President Carlos Andres Perez and well-known actor Orlando
Urdaneta who have called publicly for the assassination of Hugo Chavez.
Similarly, the United States protects and supports Cuban
terrorists who, during a terror campaign lasting nearly fifty
years, have murdered over 3000 people in Cuba, including a foreign

On drugs, when the US Drugs Enforcement Agency worked
in Venezuela in 2004, about 43 tons of cocaine were interdicted. After
ending cooperation with the DEA, Venezuela upped its drugs
seizures to nearly 80 tons in 2005. In 2007, the amount seized was
nearly 60 tons. Venezuelan government figures suggest the overall
figure this year is likely to be similar to last year's seizures,
with over 29 tons of drugs (62% of which was cocaine)
seized so far in 2008. The Venezuelan authorities ended cooperation
with the United States' DEA because they had doubts about the
DEA's integrity.

The US authorities have failed to demonstrate
any substantive link between people Shannon refers to as "unauthorized
Venezuelan agents" and the Venezuelan government. Nor is it clear what
relevance dubious allegations against individuals in Venezuela
completely unrelated to the Venezuelan authorities might have to US
government relations with its Venezuelan counterpart. Outside the US,
Latin American governments like those of Brazil or Argentina tend to
dismiss such behaviour by the US government. In the same way, the US
arms embargo against Venezuela can be seen as a well-worn,
self-fulfilling US government ploy to smear targeted victims. In
the 1980s it targeted Nicaragua. Now it targets Venezuela.

Poor Tom's fool's tale

when Poor Tom whinges that fiendish Hugo Chavez, while perhaps not
setting ratsbane by his porridge, at least "seeks out our adversaries
as friends and allies", one has to look and see. Venezuela is friends
and allies in Latin America and the Caribbean with Uruguay, Brazil,
Panama, Argentina, Haiti, Surinam, Paraguay, Jamaica, Belize, Dominican
Republic, Honduras, Guatemala and Guyana. It works closely with
US-friendly OPEC countries like Nigeria, Angola, Saudi Arabia and
Algeria. Venezuela has important trade relations with Portugal, China
and Vietnam.

All these countries are US friends and in many
cases allies too. Venezuela remains one of the most reliable and
important suppliers of
oil to the United States. It operates programmes of subsidised
heating oil for low income families in several US cities. It also has
very important trade and energy relations with the US
government's most important regional ally, Colombia, despite sharp
disagreements on other issues. What Poor Tom seems upset about is that
Venezuela also has important trade relationships with
countries that refuse to be bullied by the US, like Iran, Russia,
Belarus and Cuba.

countries make up the lesser part of Venezuela's global trade and
diplomatic relations. Most countries in the world have generally friendly trade relations
with Russia. Outside the US, most of the world has friendly
relations with Cuba and a majority with Iran too. Votes in the
UN General Assembly show repeatedly that on major
international issues it is the United States that is diplomatically
isolated. Assistant Secretary of State Shannon's July 17th statement to
Congress is another example of misleading testimony delivered
by a disingenuous government official to mostly lazy-minded, smug US

Tom ended his Statement : "The rhetoric and reflexive anti-Americanism
of the Venezuelan government has damaged the ability of Venezuela to
communicate effectively with us and many of its neighbors. However, we
remain committed to a positive relationship with the people of
Venezuela and have the patience and the persistence necessary to manage
our challenging relationship. In so doing, we will remain focused on
our larger, positive hemispheric agenda to consolidate democratic
institutions and ensure that the benefits of democracy and open markets
reach all citizens."

A reasonable translation of that given the
US record in the region would be: "Bless thy five wits! Tom's
a-cold…we'll cry Monroe Doctrine ratsbane, ride our
bay trotting-horse Fourth Fleet….. our star-blasting,
taking corporates multinational shall monopolise the foul
Latin American fiends, there could I have him now…. do poor Tom
some charity." While amateur Shakespearian dramatics stalk
Congressional hearing rooms, mainstream commentary echoes Shannon's
assertion of "a growing international perception that Venezuela has hit
the limits of its international influence."

Venezuela consolidates

that perception indeed exists, it is mistaken. Venezuela's trade
and diplomatic influence continues to grow. In Maracaibo, at the recent
July 14th
Petrocaribe summit, Guatemala, a key US ally in
Central America, joined that regional solidarity-based trade and
cooperation initiative. Petrocaribe now incorporates Antigua and
Barbuda, Bahamas, Belize, Cuba, Dominica, Grenada, Guatemala, Guayana,
Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Nevis/St
Kitts, Santa Lucia, Saint Vincent and Grenadines, Surinam, as well
as Venezuela.

Another vital regional US ally, Costa Rica, an
observer in Maracaibo, announced on July 17th it had applied to join
Petrocaribe. Petrocaribe also benefits El Salvador through
non-governmental supply arrangements benefiting the country's public
transport sector. Should the FMLN win next year's elections in March,
all the indications are it will immediately join not just
Petrocaribe but also the more comprehensive solidarity and cooperation
initiative, the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas, ALBA. On July
21st, in Honduras, John Negroponte's former death squad stomping ground,
the government made clear it is seriously considering joining ALBA.

recent successful meetings in Russia and Belarus, Venezuelan President
Hugo Chavez visited both Spain and Portugal. In Spain, King Juan
Carlos presented him with a T-shirt
printed with "Why don't you shut up?" – a good-natured reference to
their angry exchange during the Iberian-American Summit meeting in
Santiago de Chile in November 2007. President Chavez also met the
president of Spain's government, José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.
They discussed the possibility of Venezuela supplying Spain with
200,000 barrels of oil a day and Spanish assistance with renewable
energy and infrastructure.

In Portugal, the Venezuelan President
signed three commercial contracts and two memorandums of understanding
before meeting with Portuguese President, Aníbal Cavaco Silva. The trade deals are worth US$750m,
covering telecommunications and housing as well as port and energy
infrastructure. This latest set of deals follows up earlier agreements in May this year with Portugal's State energy company GALP to supply Venezuelan crude oil in exchange for soy oil, pasta and powdered milk.

on the trade front, it is completely counterfactual of Thomas Shannon
and like-minded commentators to suggest that Venezuela is somehow
losing influence. The reverse is true. It is the US and its European
Union allies that continue to lose influence in Latin America because
their discredited neoliberal debt-plus-aid model cannot compete with
Petrocaribe and its big sister ALBA whose magic ingredient is oil.
Nor can they realistically hope to reverse the momentum of regional
efforts towards sovereign integration despite experiments with
destabilization in Bolivia and in Venezuela itself.

The Andean context

is the key also to any adequate understanding of Venezuela's relations
with its Andean neighbours, in particular, Ecuador. To understand
Ecuador's relations with Venezuela one has to bear in mind Rafael
Correa's experience as Economy Minister in the previous caretaker
government of Alfredo Palacio, following the ouster of Lucio Gutierrez,
the regional context in terms of Peru, Bolivia and Colombia and the
oppressive impact of US government militarism in the region.

has cut off relations with Colombia following the Uribe regime's
illegal, US-supported attack on Ecuadoran territory in which it
massacred 20 people indiscriminately – Mexican civilians, an Ecuadoran
and also guerrillas of the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC).
Colombia has made the renewal of relations much harder by making wild
accusations of support for the FARC guerrillas against Rafael Correa's
government. While steadfast against intimidation from Colombia,
President Correa has also seen in Bolivia that the US government
is supporting conflictive, destabilising separatist movements,
while US destabilization efforts in Venezuela remain constant.

Correa is well aware of how incipient moves for autonomy in the
region of Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest and most economically important
city, are likely to be exploited by the United States and its
regional allies. While outgoing US ambassaador Linda Jewell has
worked to keep relations
smooth, that has not changed Correa's decision to close the important
US air and naval base at Manta when the lease expires in 2009. The
recent reactivation of the US Navy's Fourth Fleet
may be in part an interim response to the looming loss of that
facility. Latin American governments generally regard it as a menace.

Correa's Peruvian counterpart, President Alan García,
has already been accused by opponents of wanting to establish
a US military base in Peru. But Garcia has been unwilling to support
Colombia against Ecuador. After losing the first round of Peru's 2006
presidential elections, Garcia won the run-off against nationalist
Ollanta Humala by a margin only slightly less dodgy than Felipe
Calderón's win in Mexico. With little support outside Lima and other
urban centres and support in national opinion polls at only 33%, Garcia
is unlikely to waste what little domestic credit he has on diplomatic
entanglements in support of Colombia.

Both Garcia and Correa
hope they can revive the Community of Andean Nations (CAN) as a
regional bloc with a common purpose. Venezuela left the CAN in 2006
because Colombia and Peru negotiated bilateral free trade deals with
the United States, something the Venezuelan government felt made
nonsense of CAN's purpose. In 2005 Venezuela had helped Ecuador cope
with the Sucumbios-Orellana oil crisis by guaranteeing supplies.
Earlier that year, as Ecuadoran Economy Minister, Correa had negotiated
a US$300m credit with Venezuela. The deal sidelined the World Bank
and the IMF. In response, those
outfits exerted successful pressure on the Ecuadoran
government to force Correa out of the Economy Ministry.

So it is
with those antecedents that, on July 14th this year, Presidents Correa
and Chavez inaugurated the construction of a US$10bn mega-refinery not
far from the US base at Manta. Correa and Chavez were joined by
Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega for a "mini-summit". Nicaragua, a member of
ALBA, also has a dispute with Colombia, over maritime borders. It too
is engaged in a joint venture oil refinery funded by Venezuela. The
three leaders almost certainly compared notes on Colombia and on US
destabilization activities in Central America and the Andes.

Ecuadoran oil refinery will be the biggest on Latin America's
Pacific Coast.
The deal, in the making since 2005, follows other energy
agreements between Ecuador and Venezuela on developing joint
strategic alliances, gas and oil exploration, exploitation and
refining agreements. Ecuador despite being a major oil producer has
just three refineries refining only 176,000 barrels a day. The new
refinery will have the capacity to refine 300,000 barrels per day.

this important joint venture, Correa's position in relation to
Venezuela is complicated by two other factors. One is that
Ecuador's new Constitution will be put to a referendum in September
after deliberations by a Constituent Assembly that have lasted eight
months. So any important change in Ecuador's foreign relations – like
joining ALBA, if that is still on the cards – will have to wait on
popular ratification of the new Constitution.

Another major
factor in Rafael Correa's calculations is the issue of a medium-term
renewal of the US Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act.
Ecuador, with non-oil exports to the US worth hundreds of millions of
dollars has been the leading beneficiary of the ATPDEA, slightly ahead
of Colombia and Peru. The US Congress renewed the Act in February
this year for ten months until the end of 2008. In 2006, Ecuador's
exports to the US were worth over US$6bn, of which about US$4.5bn was

All this context renders more explicable Ecuador's decision
not to join ALBA for the moment. It already has substantial favourable
energy deals with Venezuela. It has important commercial relations with
the US and its Andean neighbours. So it makes sense for Ecuador's
government to pace whatever future changes it may have in mind in
accordance with its own priorities rather than hurry along at
the pace of countries like Venezuela or Bolivia.

That does
not mean Correa himself is not committed to change, especially in
relation to regional integration. Ecuador has been a prime mover in
setting up the Bank of the South along with Argentina and Venezuela.
They have brought on board Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.
Colombia and Surinam have also applied to participate. The Bank of the
South should start operations later this year with a capital of between
US$7bn and US$10bn – another step forward in the steady advance of
regional integration. During the visit by President Chavez to Ecuador
to initiate the refinery project, Rafael Correa described the integration process in Latin America as "irreversible".

United States is at the margins of and in conflict with that process
because the US government has proved incapable of adapting
appropriately to its declining power and influence in the region. Its
political, economic and
diplomatic failure has set the scene for the unconvincing amateur
dramatics of the State Department's Poor Tom Shannon. Clinging to a
dog-eared, bowdlerized script with crucial passages torn out,
Condoleezza Rice and John Negroponte watch from the wings. The
audience of fact-proof people from Congress suspend their

government foreign policy is a menacing fiasco and will
be just the same under the next US government – whether the winner in
November is the militarist plutocrat nominee John McCain or whether it
is the militarist plutocrat nominee Barack Obama. Governments outside
the US are well aware, President Chavez has for years consistently
advocated a peaceful solution to
Colombia's civil war. He has worked tirelessly to secure the release of
prisoners held by the FARC. But in the United States' political
classes, ignorance, bigotry and denial reign.

As Machetera's blog has noted,
when asked during an interview given in Denver to Chile's El Mercurio
newspaper, whether Hugo Chavez represents a threat, Barack Obama
replied, “Yes,
I believe he’s a threat, but a manageable one….We know for example,
that he may have been involved in supporting the FARC, harming a
neighbor. This is not the kind of neighbor we want. I believe that it’s
important, through the Organization of American States (OAS) or the
United Nations, to initiate sanctions that say that this behavior is
unacceptable." As Sam Beckett wrote, "The sun shone, having no
alternative, on the nothing-new."

toni writes for tortillaconsal.com