Chavez and Venezuelan Officials React to US Remarks on Referendum and Relations with Cuba

Venezuela tells the US government to stop "sticking its nose" in the country's affairs, in response to a series of comments by US officials on Venezuela's relations with Cuba, and a possible recall referendum on the President Chavez's mandate.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez addresses the crowd during the swear-in ceremony of personnel for a government program of low-prices food markets know as Mercal.
Photo: Venpres

Caracas, Venezuela. Jan 11, 2004 ( Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez responded angrily this Saturday at US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice’s concerns about a possible recall referendum on his mandate this year. On Wednesday, Rice urged President Chavez to “demonstrate that he believes in democratic processes” by allowing the referendum.

Chavez and Venezuelan government officials have repeatedly said that it is only up to Venezuela’s National Electoral Council to decide if the requirements for the recall referendum were fulfilled by the opposition in order for the recall to take place.

In early December, opponents of the President collected signatures to request a recall referendum on his mandate. Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE), part the Electoral Branch of government whose main members are independent officials, will begin the process of verifying the validity of the signatures next week. If enough valid signatures were collected, a recall referendum could take place as early as May. However dozens of claims of fraud have been made, which if proven true, could result in insufficient signatures to trigger the recall.

“We will not remain silent”

“The government of the United States is attacking the Venezuelan government again. We will not remain silent because we are not cowards, because there is courage and dignity here,” said Chavez.

“The United States should worry about its own problems such as racial discrimination, poverty, hunger and corruption. Deal with your own problems and let us rebuilt our country,” Chavez added.

A chain of attacks

The Venezuelan President’s statements came after a series of comments by US officials, signaling the end of a break from “microphone diplomacy” which lasted several months, in which both US officials avoided making public statements about Venezuelan affairs, and Chavez softened his anti-neoliberal and anti-imperialist rhetoric.

Last week, US State Department spokesman, Adam Ereli, and Roger Noriega, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, said that the US government is concerned about alleged reports that claim that Venezuela and Cuba are creating and funding an effort to cultivate anti-American sentiment in Latin America. Noriega also called on Chavez to observe the rule of law in the run-up to a possible recall referendum.

U.S. officials reportedly told the Associated Press that Chavez may have provided resources that may have helped in the ouster of Bolivia’s pro-American president, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada last October. Venezuelan Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel immediately demanded the United States provide proof of Venezuela’s alleged help in the ouster of Losada. “The US does not want to acknowledge that the true cause of the fall of governments such as Losada’s, has to do with the poverty and misery generated by neoliberal policies imposed by imperialist economic models. That’s the real cause of instability in this continent,” said Chavez.

Three weeks ago, US Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America, Otto Reich -a Cuban born anti Castro official- said that the United States “is exceedingly concerned at the constant reports of the presence of Cuban agents in Venezuela.”

Chavez praised the way the Argentine government responded to US criticisms of their relationship with Cuba. US Undersecretary of State for Hemispheric Affairs Roger Noriega said that Argentina’s relationship with Cuba worries and mortifies the US government, and criticized Argentine officials for not meeting with Cuban dissidents during a recent trip to Havana. Argentine President Nestor Kirchner responded by saying that there will no longer be “automatic alignment” by Argentina with U.S. policies, and that Argentina was an independent nation and no longer a “carpet to trample on it”.

“They attack other governments without discretion and without any concerns for our countries’ sovereignty, and without any respect for legitimate presidents,” said Chavez. “The US government should accept that the time of cowardly governments on this continent, subordinated to the dictates of Washington is coming to an end,” he said.

Rice “illiterate”

Chavez called Rice “illiterate” and invited her to “learn the language of people’s dignity”. Chavez criticized the US support for the April 2002 coup d’etat against his government, and reminded people that Condoleezza Rice had cheered on the coup. When rebel military generals removed Chavez from power, the US State Department declared that Chavez had provoked his own removal and praised the Venezuelan military for its role. After the coup, the US Ambassador to Venezuela met with the new dictator, who had dissolved Venezuela’s Congress and the Supreme Court, fired all elected state governors, the Attorney General and other officials. Shortly after Chavez’s return to power, Condoleezza Rice said that Chavez needed to “respect the constitutional processes”, and that “just because Chavez was elected doesn’t mean he exhibited democratic values”.

“It is beyond me to understand why anybody who believes in democracy or wants people to believe that they believe in democracy would want to have anything in that regard to do with Fidel Castro,” said Rice at a press conference ahead of next week’s Summit of the Americas in Moterrey, Mexico.

Chavez asked why Rice has not expressed any concerns about the elections in which George W. Bush resulted president of the US, “which will go on to history as a doubtful election.”

“I have the video tape of this advisor lady [Ms. Rice] -who praises herself of being a defender of democracy- applauding the fascist coup d’etat here,” said Chavez. The President said it would be a good idea to play that video on a big screen at the Monterrey meeting so people can see Ms. Rice making statements in supporting the coup.

“When I call her illiterate, I meant that she does not know how to read the reality of our people,” later said Chavez.

Foreign Relations Minister also reacts

Venezuela’s Foreign Relations Minister Roy Chaderton also reacted to Condoleezza Rice’s statements. Chaderton said to be surprised that Ms. Rice apparently ignores that the call for recall referenda corresponds to an independent branch of the Venezuelan government. “I suggest that Ms. Rice read the statements made by Mr. Secretary of State Colin Powell.” Powell said recently that they must wait for Venezuela’s Electoral Council to verify the validity of the signatures collected by the opposition in order for the referendum to take place. Powell’s comments were welcomed by Venezuelan officials as proof of his knowledge of Venezuelan law.

Chaderton refuted Rice’s suggestions that Venezuela has allowed its territory to be used by guerrilla fighters from neighboring Colombia as a base for their activities. “If Dr. Rice harbors the naive intention of provoking a fight between Venezuelans and Colombians, we can assure her that there is no power capable of achieving that goal,” said Chaderton.

“Ms. Rice paid visits to several rulers, authorities and personalities linked to regimes that are authoritarian, dictatorial, and violators of human rights,” added Chaderton.

Vice President criticizes Cold War strategy

Venezuela’s Vice President criticized the US “cold war strategy” towards Latin America in the twenty first century. “Putting the US relations with Latin America to spin around Cuban affairs, within the framework of a vision tied to a cold war era, is a deplorable act of simplification.”

Rangel suggested that Cuban American anti-Castro groups may be behind the latest US negative comments against Latin American countries. Rangel said that the US runs the risk of becoming isolated in the region by making statements without knowing the realities of Latin America.

Rangel said that “fortunately a different vision prevails in some intellectual, cultural, union, political, and opinion sectors in the US, who insist on an overhaul of US policies towards Latin America after the failure of the Washington Consensus”. The Washington Consensus is a set of neoliberal policies that have been imposed on Latin American countries by the Washington-based international financial institutions since 1989.

“See you in Monterrey”

The latest impasse on US Venezuela relations comes just before Chavez and Bush will participate at the two-day Summit of the Americas which starts on Monday in Monterrey, Mexico. More than 30 leaders from the hemisphere will participate in the summit.

“Do they want the Summit to be a failure?” asked Chavez on the US officials’ latest interference in the internal affairs of some Latin America countries. “We will see each other there in Monterrey, and we will say several things that must be said,” declared the President.

Curiously, as Chavez faces a possible recall on his mandate, a recent poll by US-based Zogby conducted in Latin America, deemed Bush the hemisphere’s most unpopular president.

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