After ten and a half years in office, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is very savvy about America’s intentions. On January 17th, even before Barack Obama’s inauguration as U.S. president, he said Obama has the “same stench” of his predecessor as US president and was at risk of being killed if he tries to change the American “empire.”
He added that frayed ties with Washington were unlikely to improve despite the departure of Bush, the man he called the “devil.” Now there’s a new “devil” with his fingerprints all over the June 28th Honduran coup. More on that below.
After earlier hoping for better US – Venezuelan relations, Chavez reacted to Obama’s rhetoric, accusing him of obstructing Latin American progress and exporting terrorism. In late March on his Sunday radio and television program “Alo Presidente,” he voiced the same concern in calling Obama an “ignoramus” and suggesting “he should read and study a little to understand reality…. the obstacle to development in Latin America has been the empire (he) preside(s) over today.”
The U.S. State Department released its 2008 Human Rights Report on Venezuela on February 25th 2009. While calling Venezuela a “constitutional democracy,” it accused the government of outrageous, groundless offenses.
The report accused Venezuela of numerous human rights abuses, including arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life; mistreating prisoners in custody; unlawful killings by security forces; disappearances; torture and abuse of detainees; harsh prison conditions; arbitrary arrests and detentions; denial of fair public trials; incarcerating political prisoners; violating personal privacy; and more.
It also accused Venezuela of censuring the press and free speech by harassing the private media; using government-controlled outlets to air unsubstantiated charges against their owners; using a pro-government organization to fire tear gas canisters at Globovision’s headquarters; and changing the penal code to make criticizing the president a crime.
Other charges listed in the report included compromising Internet freedom; limiting free assembly, association, and movement; limiting religious freedom and attacking Catholic bishops and the Papal Nuncio for commenting on political issues; anti-Semitism; protection of refugees; electoral irregularities; government corruption and transparency; trafficking in persons; and obstructing the right to organize and bargain collectively.
Overall, the report described America, not Venezuela and its constitutionally mandated freedoms which make it the hemisphere’s most open and democratic society, with Chavez its most popular leader after ten and a half years in office. In America, George Bush left office with the lowest approval rating ever for a president, and Obama’s poll numbers are sinking fast after fewer than seven months as chief executive. His hostility toward center-left Latin American democracies won’t improve them.
On July 20th, AP reported that a “US congressional report on drug trafficking in Venezuela charges that corruption within the government and military led to a permissive environment that allows smuggling to flourish.” Released by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), it also charged the government with “extend[ing] a lifeline to Colombian rebels and other illegal armed groups that rely on drug sales for financing by providing significant support and safe haven along the border.”
In addition, the GAO said “available data indicate that drug trafficking through Venezuela is increasing,” the police and National Guard are involved, bribes facilitate it, and cooperation between Washington and Caracas has decreased because fewer DEA agent visas were approved.
Chavez called the report “a new lie,” like so many others, and another effort to vilify him and his government. He also accused America of being “the top drug trafficking country on this entire planet” and added that recent large drug seizures and arrests show his resolve to fight Colombian cocaine smuggling.
The recent mid-April Summit of the Americas highlighted growing regional disenchantment with Washington under a new administration no different from its predecessor and in some respects worse. It demands everything and offers nothing but failed policies and rhetorical promises that leaders like Chavez and others know are hollow.
James Petras is a long-time Latin American expert. In his new book due out in August titled “Global Depression and Regional Wars,” he addresses what he also discussed in his May 21 article, “Obama’s Foreign Policy Failures: Diplomacy, Militarism and Imagery.”
He explained that the US financial collapse and “accompanying economic depression has led to a major crisis and conflict between North and South America with profound long-term consequences,” including hundreds of billions of repatriated US dollars harming regional countries dependent on American capital, “financial protectionism,” and the virtual “de-capitalization of Latin America” to the detriment of credit-starved regional exporters and importers.
America first policies and stepped-up militarism are contrary to “any harmonization of interest and strengthen nationalist, regionalist and statist political and economic policies and governments in Latin America,” according to Petras. Like his predecessor, Obama’s policies have “accelerat[ed] the shift in Latin America away from US dominance.” This is evident in Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and for half a century in Cuba, and it is the reason their governments are targeted.
Spinning the News – Dominant Media Efforts to Vilify Chavez
In America, Chavez bashing remains in vogue with major media contributors especially vocal after he accused the State Department, CIA, and Pentagon of being behind the Honduran coup with clear evidence it’s true after decades of US meddling in the region.
A July 31 Washington Post editorial headlined “Rockets for Terrorists” accused Chavez of supporting FARC-EP “insurgents.” It said there is “extensive evidence that the government of Venezuela had collaborated with a Colombian rebel movement known for terrorism and drug trafficking…. The evidence was contained in laptops captured from a guerilla base in Ecuador.”
In fact, none existed, according to INTERPOL’s forensic experts. Their examination of the laptops discovered “no evidence of modification, alteration, addition or deletion in the supposed user files from three laptop computers, three USB thumb drives and two external hard discs seized during a Colombian anti-narcotics and anti-terrorist operation on a FARC camp on March 1st 2008.”
At the time, Chavez denounced the documents as forgeries meant to vilify him. But like indigestion, they’ve resurfaced with new charges that, according to the Post, “will be even more difficult to ignore,” even though they’re as baseless as earlier ones.
This time they’re over late July claims that “sophisticated Swedish-produced anti-tank rockets” sold to Venezuela in the 1980s were captured in a raid on a FARC-EP camp. Supposedly, the same laptops referred to “a FARC operative in Caracas” discussing them in 2007 with two top Venezuelan generals, including the director of military intelligence, Hugo Armando Carvajal Barrios.
Calling Chavez a “caudillo,” (a strongman or military dictator), the editorial accused him of “public bluster” after withdrawing his ambassador and diplomatic staff from Colombia and “threaten(ing) to close the border to trade” for reasons the Post omitted.
Colombia is a corrupted narco-state and the region’s most repressive death squad democracy that targets unionists, human rights activists, and legitimate resistance groups like the FARC-EP. Chavez acted in response to America’s stepped up military presence there and intention to supply the government with new weapons and technology plus billions through Plan Colombia in support of the “Uribe doctrine” that’s hard right, corporate-friendly, militarized enforcement.
Stepped Up Gunboat Diplomacy
During his late June White House visit, president Alvaro Uribe gave the Pentagon access to seven new military bases – three airfields, two naval installations, and two others later revealed. The largest is Palenquero Air Base, north of Bogota. Another is the Malambo Air Base near the Venezuelan border. The two navy bases are at Cartagena and Bahia Malaga, and the Florencia army base as well, near the Ecuadoran border, along with nine other military installations currently stationing US forces.
These are supplemented by the reactivated Fourth Fleet in April 2008 (headquartered at Florida’s Mayport Naval Station) after a 60 year hiatus. It was created during WW II for Latin America and the Caribbean, disbanded in 1950, and now again operating to “conduct varying missions including a range of contingency operations, counter narco-terrorism, and theater security cooperation activities.”
According to US Naval Forces Southern Command chief Adm. James Stevenson last year, “the Fourth Fleet will send a message to Venezuela and the region.”
Commandant of the National War College General Robert Steel, said at the time, “The United States’ obsession with Venezuela, Cuba and other things indicates they are going to use more military force, going to use that instrument more often.”
With Fourth Fleet strength including aircraft carriers, submarines, other sophisticated attack ships, and nuclear weapons, indeed it may, and that has regional leaders worried, given the increased US military presence in Colombia.
The move sparked regional outrage with Chavez saying “They are surrounding Venezuela with military bases” and may “soon start sending thousands of North American soldiers to Colombia…. These are contract soldiers who are nothing more than paramilitary mercenaries and assassins. Airplanes, radar, sophisticated weapons, bombs – and of course, they say it’s to fight drug trafficking.”
Ecuador’s Minister of Internal and External Security, Dr. Gustavo Larrea, warned of “an increase in military tension” with more US forces in Colombia.
On the pretext of fighting drug trafficking and hemispheric security, militarizing Colombia, a close Washington ally, is meant to intimidate Venezuela, Ecuador, and other center-left governments. It threatens Chavez and his allies and will replace the Manta, Ecuador base, now closing, after president Rafeal Correa declined to renew its lease last year. At the time, The New York Times called it “a critical platform in the fight against narcotics smuggling.” In fact, it’s part of America’s global footprint with over 1000 bases spread across every continent, and a key factor behind growing animosity against its intrusive presence.
Nonetheless, the Post cited the above GAO report about Venezuela’s “permissive environment” for the FARC that had “allowed the group to massively increase its cocaine smuggling across the border.” According to the Post:
“This all sounds an awful lot like material support for terrorism — which raises the question of whether the State Department will look again at whether Mr. Chavez’s government or its top officials belong on its list of state sponsors of terrorism,” an action even the Bush administration never took although talk surfaced that it might after earlier reckless charges were made. That’s unfinished business for Post writers and Washington hard-liners who suggest that Obama should focus on “those in the hemisphere who have been caught trying to overturn a democratic government (meaning Colombia, not Honduras) by supplying terrorists with advanced weapons.”
The New York Times’ Simon Romero produces similar reports from his Caracas post. On July 20th, in his piece titled “State Ruled by Crime and Chavez Family,” he highlighted Barinas for being “the bastion of the family of President Hugo Chavez and the setting for a terrifying surge in abductions.” He called it “anarchy [where the Chavez family] accumulates wealth and power” while others fear for their lives.
Then on August 2nd, he jumped on the claim that “Venezuela Still Aids Colombia Rebels, New Material Shows.” He said these new materials indicate “detailed collaborations between the guerrillas and high-ranking [Chavez government] military and intelligence officials as recently as several weeks ago,” despite the above-cited proof that earlier “evidence” was fraudulent and baseless. Even so, Romero says it confirms that “the FARC operates easily in Venezuela…. despite repeated denials by President Chavez.”
An August 3rd Bloomberg.com report headlined “Venezuela Media Closings Hurt Freedom, Executive Says” called the “closing of 32 radio stations and two television broadcasters…. an example of Cuban-style repression.” While stating that the July 31st action followed from their “fail[ure] to comply with an order issued last month to update documents at the government regulator.” It failed to explain that their licenses had expired, they violated regulations, and community media serving all Venezuelans will replace them.
Telecommunications (CONATEL) and Housing and Infrastructure Minister Diosdado Cabello said the stations were operating illegally, hadn’t registered, and failed to pay required fees. In addition, another 206 stations may face similar penalties for violating broadcast regulations.
Hundreds of private stations operate freely throughout the country because they comply with the law. Many other non-profit, non-commercial community stations make Venezuela perhaps the freest, most open society in the world, not one enforcing censorship as the State Department and anti-Chavistas contend.
Cabello explained that the state cracked down against lawbreakers by “recovering the concessions that were being used illegally for more than 30 years. It is an act of justice that has to do with giving power to the people,” not an attack on media freedom, as Bloomberg suggests, or an attempt to accelerate a “push for a government-run economy” by takeovers of private industries.
In fact, the stations operate freely and profitably in Venezuela, but unlike in America, they’re held accountable for law violations. In the US, corporate lawyers and lobbyists write business-friendly legislation and regulations, contrary to the public interest. That’s a major difference between the two countries and why Chavez is targeted for the good example he represents.
Implications of the Honduran Coup
There’s no debate about the Honduran coup despite media efforts to distort information about it. It was made-in-the-USA like most others in the region over many decades. Since the late 19th Century, America has directly meddled in Latin and Central American states well over 50 times, a record unmatched by any other nation, and the abuses keep mounting. They involved invasions, bombings, occupations, assassinations, and coups as well as countless destabilization and election rigging interventions.
In Honduras alone, American Marines invaded to protect US business interests in 1903. They also intervened in 1907 during a war with Nicaragua. In 1911 – 1912, they came to support a coup against the liberal Davila regime, aided by two US mercenaries, one of whom became Honduras’s army commander-in-chief. US forces remained for months to protect American interests. In 1919, they intervened in Honduras’s election campaign. In 1924 – 1925, they came again for the same reason. In 1980, US aid began supporting the Nicaraguan contras, given sanctuary in Honduras to launch cross-border attacks. Finally, from 1982 – 1990, America used Honduras as a land-based aircraft carrier to support the Contra insurgency against the Nicaraguan Sandinista government. Mass killings and atrocities were committed. Over $1.6 billion in military aid was provided. A US military presence was established at Soto Cano Air Force Base. American forces remain there today in close liaison with Honduran commanders who wouldn’t blow their noses without first asking permission. Through close Pentagon – Honduran military ties, the June 28th coup was coordinated along with the US State Department.
All Honduran officers from captains on up are trained at the School of the Americas where they’re taught how to torture, repress, exterminate poor and indigenous people, overthrow democratically elected governments, assassinate targeted leaders, and suppress popular resistance when it erupts.
The June 28th coup against President Manuel Zelaya was a coordinated State Department – Pentagon project working with Honduran commanders and top opposition political figures to establish a de facto dictatorship. The scheme followed similar tactics against earlier Latin American governments, including Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala (1954); the failed Bay of Pigs invasion against Cuba (1961) and hundreds of subsequent unsuccessful assassination attempts against Fidel Castro; Juan Bosch in the Dominican Republic (1963) followed by a 1965 US invasion to crush popular support to return him to power; Joao Goulart in Brazil (1964); Salvador Allende in Chile (1973); Uruguay’s military junta takeover from a civilian democracy (1973); Isabel Peron in Argentina (1976); Carlos Humberto Romero in El Salvador (ousted by a right-wing El Salvador junta in 1979); the assassination of Panama’s Omar Torrijos (1981); Maurice Bishop in Grenada (1983); Manuel Noriega in Panama (1989); Jean-Bertrand Aristide twice (1991 and 2004); and Manuel Zelaya in Honduras (2009).
Zelaya was blamed for the action to legitimize the coup d’état government, destroy Zelaya’s image, weaken his authority if a negotiated return is arranged, and effectively render him impotent until the November 29th presidential and parliamentary elections after which a new president will take office since Zelaya can’t succeed himself.
Will Chavez Now Be Targeted?
Throughout his tenure, numerous attempts were made to destabilize his government, discredit his leadership and policies, and oust him in the aborted April 2002 coup. In addition, Chavez and others claim assassination schemes were hatched, the latest one forcing him to cancel his June 1st El Salvador trip to attend President Mauricio Funes’ inauguration.
In his place, Foreign Affairs Minister Nicolas Maduro said it was learned that “ultra right wing [Venezuelan] groups…. linked to ultra conservative coup sectors, together with the international ultra right,” hinting Washington primarily, were behind an assassination plot.
Chavez said he got reliable information about a scheme “to launch one or several rockets at the Cubana airline plane that was already to leave from Maiquetia” airport in Caracas. His regular plane was being repaired, so Cuba provided a substitute. He and Bolivia’s Evo Morales planned to travel together, so perhaps there was a plot to kill them both.
Chavez also accused former Venezuelan military personnel of involvement, some of whom entered San Salvador earlier. “I know them,” he said, “they have sworn to me that they were going to kill me because they say it’s my fault that they lost their jobs and didn’t reach the highest military ranks. The government of the United States is behind all this,” specifically suggesting the CIA, not Obama himself.
Earlier suspected plots were also uncovered. As a result, Chavez is very watchful for future ones, given his troubled relations with America, not at all eased since the accession of Obama. On numerous occasions, US-Venezuelan lawyer and Chavez confidante, Eva Golinger, has said that schemes are always underway to destabilize the government, vilify Chavez, and look for ways to oust him, thus far without success.
On August 3rd, she said that after CONATEL’s suspension of media licenses, “opposition groups in Venezuela are again trying to provoke a coup against Chavez…. They are calling for destabilization activities throughout the nation…. and using this situation as an excuse to call for protests [and on] the international community to support their destabilization actions.”
For the past ten and a half years, Washington and Venezuelan oligarchs have targeted Chavez relentlessly andwon’t let up while he’s in office. Whether the Honduran coup signals stepped up efforts ahead remains to be seen. Perhaps so given Washington’s regional history of intolerance of democracies that place national interests above America’s. Chavez explained it well saying Obama “risk[s] being killed if he challenges the American empire.” So far, there’s not a hint of it in sight.
Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at [email protected]. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The Global Research News Hour on RepublicBroadcasting.org Monday – Friday at 10AM US Central time for cutting edge discussions with distinguished guests on world and national issues. All programs are archived for easy listening.