Caracas, February 15, 2007 (venezuelanalysis.com)— Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez yesterday responded to comments made last week by U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice who accused him of “destroying” Venezuela “economically, politically.” Chavez said it showed there was now an “economic plan against Venezuela.” Chavez also referred to U.S. President George W. Bush’s scheduled visit to Latin America warning that the peoples of the continent would “respond to the North American empire.”
“Condoleezza turned again to disparaging me and said that I am destroying the country’s economy – this shows that there is now an economic plan against Venezuela, and this does not mean that they have abandoned their political, military or paramilitary plots. The empire never rests! ” Chavez said, and called Rice’s comments the latest “imperialist” attack from a “desperate” country.
“We have enough clients to whom we can sell oil, we are not dependent on the United States,” Chavez said, adding that the US was free to stop buying Venezuelan oil if it felt strongly enough. Chavez accused the U.S. of “going round South America trying to isolate Venezuela.”
“The peoples of Latin America will respond to the North American empire… that is how we’ll welcome the head of the empire… we’re too much for them, we have decided to be free and no force will be able to stop us on our chosen path,” Chavez said.
Chavez was responding to comments Rice made regarding Venezuela to the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week. Rice said, “I believe there is an assault on democracy in Venezuela and I believe that there are significant human rights issues in Venezuela,” and accused Chavez of Chavez was “really, really destroying his own country, economically, politically.”
Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro last week responded to Rice’s comments saying that they were part of a new campaign aimed at undermining support for Venezuela’s democracy and Chavez’s leadership on an international level, and accused the U.S. of promoting and financing the campaign.
Chavez’s comments were made at an event held yesterday and follow a spate of verbal attacks by U.S. officials on Venezuela in recent weeks.
Last month, the recently nominated U.S. deputy Secretary of State, John Negroponte called Chavez “a threat to Latin American democracies,” followed the next day by Bush’s expression of concern at the state of democracy in Venezuela. Last week, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Western Hemispheric Affairs, Thomas Shannon, said that the relationship between the U.S. and Venezuela was “really poor.”
Rice’s comments on the state of democracy in Venezuela are at odds with polls by the Chilean NGO Latinobarometro, which have repeatedly shown that a majority of Venezuelans are happy with their democracy. Moreover, they believe it is getting more democratic every year. According to a 2006 Latinobarometro poll, Venezuelans were second only to Uruguay in saying that they are satisfied with their democracy, with the percentage increasing throughout Chavez’s presidency, rising from 32% in 1998 to 57% in 2006. This compares to an average rating of 38% in the rest of the continent.
On the economic front, according to figures from the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV), Venezuela’s GDP growth in 2004 and 2005 was 18.3 percent and 10.3 percent respectively. Last year’s BCV figures show GDP growth was 10.2 percent.
This positive performance of the economy comes in the wake of a two-month long oil strike which ended in February 2003. The strike, which was led by sectors opposed to the government, crippled Venezuela’s economy, with GDP falling by 24.9 percent in the period between the first quarter of 2002 and the first quarter of 2003. The recovery of GDP since then has been dramatic.