A New Era Between Washington and Venezuela?

From everything that’s been said and done in less than a month by the new administration of Barack Obama, is there evidence of any change in the hostile and aggressive tone against Venezuela?

For a moment, to please all those who’ve fallen in love with the new president of the United States, let’s forget everything that was said about Venezuela during the last two terms of the ex-president George W. Bush, by spokespeople in his government. And let’s also forget about everything Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said during the campaign because, well, sometimes the things that are said during the campaign are just to please the voters. So we’re just going to analyze what Obama and the new members of his team have expressed since he was elected to the most powerful political position in the world.

The new United States president didn’t delay much in repeating the same comments about President Chavez and Venezuela that he made during the campaign. During an interview with the US-Hispanic television channel Univision, January 13, 2009, President Barack Obama, responding to a question about Latin America and specifically Venezuela, declared, “Chavez has been a force that has impeded the progress in the region.” Later he commented, “We must be very firm when we see this news, that Venezuela is exporting terrorist activities or backing malicious groups like the FARC. That creates problems that are unacceptable. That is not the good international behavior that we would expect from anyone in the hemisphere.”

This declaration from President Obama sounds like something coming from the Bush Administration, just as President Chavez pointed out. (Note: here I could say yet again that exactly that is true, that there isn’t much difference between Bush and Obama with respect to the imperialist policies of the United States, but I promise that I won’t say it yet. It’s better that I be able to prove it with his own actions and attitudes.) In that statement, Obama repeated the two main viewpoints promoted by all the Washington agencies, including the Congress headed by the Democratic Party, during the last four years: Chavez is a destabilizing force in the region, and Venezuela has ties with terrorism. But let’s continue.

Later, the new Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, declared during her confirmation hearing in the U.S. Senate, “We have problems in our own hemisphere with some energy providers, like Hugo Chavez… We have a challenge in Latin America, and our challenges have to do with the way we get involved to make a difference. We should worry less about what Chavez says and more about what we do at the end of the day.” Here it’s valid to compare what the then-incoming Secretary of State Condoleezza said in 2005, when already in her confirmation hearing she stated that “Hugo Chavez is a negative force in the region.” That famous phrase by Rice put the aggressive, hostile, and bellicose plan against Venezuela into action, which is obviously being reinforced by the new administration in Washington, regardless of color or political affiliation. In the United States, be him red or blue, Republican or Democrat, he is an imperialist regardless. Here it should be added that with respect to the analysis, what a candidate to the highest diplomatic position in the United States says in her confirmation hearing is a demonstration of her priorities when she takes the office of Secretary of State. So the fact that two Secretaries of State have spoke of Venezuela and President Chavez as a “negative force” or a “problem” has significant implications for Washington’s foreign policy. Since 2005, Venezuela has been and continues to be a policy priority for security, defense, and intelligence in the United States. It was classified as such in a July 2008 State Department report which highlighted three global priority areas in US foreign policy: Iran’s support for the Iraqi insurgency, the growing presence of Al Qaeda en Afghanistan, and the “association” of Venezuela with “terrorist states.” I’ll repeat, what I have just detailed in this last phrase are the three global priorities for the security, defense, and diplomatic corps of the United States. Venezuela is among these three.

But as if this wasn’t enough, in his swearing-in speech, the new United States president declared, “Each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries.” Okay, he didn’t necessarily name Venezuela, but there’s no doubt that the South American country with the largest oil reserves in the world was in mind when he made that comment. Further along in his speech, when President Obama was alerting the enemies of the United States that his government would retake and defend its position as world leader (as if it had done something different in recent years), said “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” Well, here he didn’t necessarily direct this message indirectly to Venezuela, but still, with everything that has been said about Chavez’s government, it’s quite possible.

And then there’s James Steinberg, the new number two in the State Department. This young gentleman’s résumé includes positions like recent chancellor of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin; Analyst for the RAND Corporation, a business contracted by the Pentagon to develop its principal strategies; Assistant National Security Advisor at the White House (1997-2001); and a researcher at the Brookings Institute, one of the three think tanks that develop the imperialist policies of Washington. Steinberg already began to throw darts hard at Venezuela during his United States Senate confirmation hearing on January 22. In response to a question regarding Latin America by Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Steinberg said, “I think that the people have realized that the offers of Chavez don’t lead to a better life or better success of the peoples… For too much time, we’ve ceded the playing field to Chavez, whose actions and vision for the region don’t serve the interests of his citizens nor of the people throughout Latin America.” What? Obviously Senator Menendez is not being well informed about how much things have improved in Venezuela over the last ten years. For example, Venezuela today enjoys the lowest unemployment rate in its history, lower than the unemployment rate in the United States! (In Venezuela it’s at 6 percent while in the United States the unemployment rate is at 7.2 percent). Not even to mention that in Venezuela, under the revolutionary policies of President Chavez, no Venezuelan is without free medical attention at all levels, while the United States healthcare system is deplorable. More than 46 million US citizens live without access to the healthcare system. And statistics in education, infant mortality, life expectancy, industrial development, recovery of cultural traditions, indigenous languages, and the level of electoral participation that the Bolivarian government has accomplished is without precedent in Venezuelan history.

But to top off this treatment from Obama’s government, their website shows that they clearly consider Venezuela to be their number one enemy. In the section of the site where they highlight their political agenda related to energy, one finds the following objective: “Eliminate Our Current Imports from the Middle East and Venezuela within 10 Years.” And in another part of the agenda the same concept is articulated this way: “Within 10 years save more oil than we currently import from the Middle East and Venezuela combined.” This same objective was repeated January 26, 2009, when he said, “The United States will not be a hostage to increasingly limited resources from hostile regimes,” during a White House ceremony. Okay, so Venezuela is considered to be one of the most important objectives of the Obama administration in the area of energy, which is considered part of the security and defense strategy of Washington.

So from everything that’s been said and done in less than a month by the new administration of Barack Obama, is there evidence of any change in the hostile and aggressive tone against Venezuela? I think the answer is a resounding no, unfortunately. What is demonstrated is simply what we’ve been saying: the empire is the empire, regardless of its color. Until it stops viewing itself as the best in the world and the global leader that looks to impose its vision and model on the rest, the empire will continue being the same. Meanwhile, Venezuela, together with other free and honorable peoples, must continue constructing its future, remaining alert to the imperial attacks that threaten its prosperity.

Translated by Erik Sperlinger