Venezuela Today: An Introduction to the Main Actors Related to the Bolivarian Revolution

INTRODUCTION

Venezuela is important to the United States because it is a major oil supplier and because it is a relatively close neighbor that is exercising considerable influence in Latin America, the Caribbean, and beyond.

Venezuela's democratic political system was born in 1958 with a popular uprising that overthrew the dictatorship of General Pérez Jiménez. Despite much rhetoric, until 1998 the state was ruled by a democracy of pacts and coalitions between two parties that excluded the left and catered to US corporate interests. The US oil companies determined how much oil they would take and what they would pay. They ran the oil drilling operations and the export sector. These were four decades in which much of the prosperity of the United States was achieved by importing raw materials from South America at bargain basement prices.

Venezuela on the other hand was almost completely dependent on imported products and technology. In the early 1990’s, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank pressured Venezuela to accept Washington's 'consensus' on free trade.

For the past two centuries the arable land in Venezuela had been in the hands of several hundred families, while an impoverished peasantry worked it. Ever since the 1823 Monroe Doctrine[1], Latin American nationalists have sought to get out from under the yoke of US hegemonic power. In 1998, 80% of Venezuelans were essentially abandoned to their fates in poverty, struggling to sustain themselves. They had practically no access to health care, education, or any form of social service. The other 20% of the population consisted of a) the rich ruling elite that protected US interests, b) those who did business with the United States (selling beef and coffee, and importing commodities) and c) the small middle class (small entrepreneurs, professionals, technocrats, and employees). This pattern of dependency was typical across the entire South American continent.

Today, the majority of South American governments are opposed to US hegemony. The US has successfully only convinced Chile and Colombia to sign their Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) formula.[2] However, the US ‘war on terror’ has inevitable co-opted elements from within all the national armies.[3]

What follows is a list of the major players affecting Venezuela today and their roles as of mid October, 2010. They fall into two large groups: those who tend to favor Washington's dominance in world affairs, and those who do not.

THE ACTORS

Hugo Chávez

The main actor is undoubtedly Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías, the Venezuelan president and the ideologue of  the ‘Bolivarian revolution’.

Chávez won the presidential elections in 1998 in a landslide[4] victory after a failed coup in 1992. He inherited a state riddled by a culture of crime and corruption. He was reelected in 2000 for a  six-year term. Millions of the country’s 29 million people, who were previously apathetic or apolitical saw benefits in the economic structuralism that it brought, and joined the Chavista movement. 

In December of 2006, Chávez called for a referendum and won with 63% of the vote. It was the highest electoral turnout in Venezuelan history. In the recent September elections, however, pro-Chávez parties lost the popular vote and won only 98 of the 165 seats in the National Assembly—losing their previous two-thirds supermajority.

Chávez has been characterized by some as a wacky utopian who sooner or later will run the Venezuelan economy into the ground. Others perceive that he is sincere in his concern for the country’s poor and marginalized and is very popular in Venezuela and throughout Latin America. His ‘magnetic personality [is] of the Clintonian type, a genuinely original figure in Latin America, a radical left-wing nationalist … a pragmatic improviser’ (Gott, 2005).

Nationally, in addition to acquiring high technology from economically developed countries (EDCs), the Chávez government is building up industries through bilateral cooperative agreements in which Venezuela holds a 60% stake. Since the most recent election, perhaps in response to the growing number of disenchanted Chavistas who have become frustrated and appear to be losing their original enthusiasm, Chávez has kept his promise to accelerate the Bolivarian revolution. The Venezuelan newspaper El Universal reported just last week that 185 industries had been nationalized in 2010 alone.[5] Business expropriations are usually the result of government determination that the companies are either obstructing the national economy or exploiting poor people.

Internationally, the Chávez government is consolidating strategic relations that counter US influence in Latin America and that more generally nurture a multi-polar world.  Working in this manner with other LDCs, Chávez is forging a significant international South-South network.

At the time of this writing, Chávez is on a tour that will take him to Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Syria, Iran, Libya and Portugal, where he is solidifying relations and establishing ever more bilateral trade agreements (BTAs).

Chávez refers to the United States as ‘a terrorist state’ and capitalism as a ‘dangerous cancer’.

The Bolivarian Revolution and 21st Century Socialism

Chávez’s Bolivarian revolution is supposed to spearhead 21st Century Socialism—the Venezuelan world-system theory. It emerged in response to US dominated, unfettered free-market capitalism, that the government regards as modern day imperialism. Socialism’s aim is to give the poor access to education and health, to deepen popular democratic control over socioeconomic policy, and to distribute wealth more equitably. 21st Century Socialism holds that US dominated free trade inevitably establishes an exploitive and dominating relationship with LDCs rather than a level playing field.

The Bolivarian revolution has introduced a string of social programs and reforms designed to deepen and extend social democracy. Its agricultural reform is 'based on the premises that farmers should have control of their land and product, that the country should produce its own food, and that chemical fertilizers and pesticides should not be part of agriculture' (Broughton, 2010). Since 2001 ‘the government has expropriated (with compensation) some three million hectares of land,[6] and has issued permits to tens of thousands of families to work a total of two million hectares’ (WW4, 2010).

In response to massive and chaotic urbanization, in particular in Caracas, the Bolivarian revolution has significantly empowered local grassroots community organizations to take responsibility for organizational and infrastructure issues. It is thought that about three-quarters of Venezuelans are receiving some form of state-sponsored health, education, housing assistance and food provision (Hafiz, 2010).

According to the Education Ministry, over the past 11 years of revolution, enrollment in schools has increased by nearly 1.5 million and the desertion rate of primary students has dropped from 2.5% to 1.7%. According to UNESCO, in terms of university enrollment, Venezuela places fifth in the world and second in Latin America. Just this month, the Ministry of Education announced that it was distributing 768,000 laptop computers to first and second graders. At the event Chávez declared: ‘This wouldn’t be possible in capitalism … Even though the wealthy hate me more and more each day, I’ll continue to work for the people’ (Ellis, 2010).

Revolutionary Venezuela refers to the FTAA as ‘genocide’. They perceive that in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States’ promotion of free elections, freedom of the press, etc. translate into violent coercion. Rather, Venezuela uses its oil wealth to build and support regional trade agreements (RTAs) including ALBA, Petrocaribe, and multistate ventures like Petrosur.[7] It forges bilateral trade agreements (BTAs) based on principles of cooperation, solidarity, and human development.

While in theory it may seem almost idyllic, in practice it appears that the majority of the social programs and community developments of 21st Century Socialism are characterized by technical and managerial inefficiency and internal corruption. It is commonly acknowledged that the businesses expropriated during the 12-year revolutionary rule have at best struggled to maintain previous production levels.

A Latin American cooperant[8] who works in Venezuela wrote me the following: “Only time will tell, whether or not the communal councils will be able to fulfill the fundamental task of decentralizing the Venezuelan state, and radicalizing and deepening 21st Century Socialism toward new conceptions of democracy and popular control.”

Oil

Venezuela is the world’s seventh oil producer, and as such is the third largest Latin American economy. It is estimated that its oil reserves will grow to reach 316 billion barrels next year (Faucon, 2010a).[9] Once a victim of dependence, Venezuela has made oil the currency for 21st Century Socialism.

However, the oil industry in Venezuela has been plagued by technical mismanagement (Cala, 2010). Also, like other LDCs, Venezuela is dependent on outside capital investment (FDI) and know-how to develop its oil fields. Venezuelan crude oil is typically heavy and extra-heavy and sour,[10] making it difficult to extract (Cala, 2010) and more expensive to refine.

In 2006 the revolutionary government introduced a principle that all contracts governing foreign-run oil operations would need to be converted into 25-year joint ventures in which Venezuela would hold a 60% share. Most foreign corporations, including Chevron, Repsol, and Shell, complied. Others, including France's Total and Italy's ENI ignored the deadline. They were compensated, and told to leave (Gould, 2006). ENI has since returned and is participating in the construction of a new upgrade refinery.

Oil exports account for more than three-quarters of the country’s revenue, and about half of total government revenues (Jessup, 2010). There are concerns that oil exports will need to curtailed in the near future to compensate for increased domestic needs.[11] Chávez has repeatedly said that the price of oil will need to increase to $90–$100 a barrel as early as 2011[12] (Faucon, 2010) to compensate for the weakening US dollar.

Between 2005 and 2009, Citgo, the Venezuelan oil distributor,[13] had provided free heating oil to approximately 400,000 households in 16 states through a US non-profit organization called Citizens Energy (CBSNews, 2009). According to Citizens Energy, Venezuela’s contribution to elderly and poor of the United States amounted to 100 million gallons in 2008.[14]

The Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA)

The concept of the Bolivarian revolution was extended to neighboring countries in 2004 through the creation of the RTA known of as the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA). The ideology of ALBA is to integrate a family of sovereign LDCs into a non-aligned block that would give them collective leverage to reject the expansion of NAFTA and the FTAA into Latin America and the Caribbean.

The trade agreements established by ALBA are cooperative in nature and based on fair and complementary exchanges. ALBA allows Caribbean member nations to purchase Venezuelan oil at deeply discounted prices, thus alleviating their energy woes and lessening their dependencies on the United States, the IMF and the World Bank Group.

Already ALBA represents 30% of the OAS.

Cuba

Relations between Venezuela and Cuba have been the driving force for Latin American economic and political integration. Venezuela and Cuba have a symbiotic relationship in the face of what they perceive as US imperialism. Both countries view the United States with suspicion and a degree of fear.  Within ALBA, Cuba is Venezuela’s strategic ally. Indeed, Chávez has made Fidel Castro his mentor.

Venezuela and Cuba have elaborated myriad cooperation agreements in the areas of health, education and technology. Cuba has as many as 39,000 professionals working and teaching in Venezuela as cooperants. Nearly 31,000 of them are engaged in health services for the poor. Meanwhile, over 3,500 young Venezuelans are being trained as doctors in Cuban universities.

Dozens of major development projects in Cuba have been supported by Venezuela including the revamping of the port of Cienfuegos, and the much awaited for 965 mile long, 640-gigabyte, fiber-optic cable linking Cuba to Venezuela.[15] Trade ventures with Cuba are estimated in the order of $10 billion a year.[16]

The account is settled with oil. Chávez is an ardent supporter of improving Cuba’s oil-producing capacity but until this resource can be tapped, Venezuela literally enables Cuba to survive—with some 100,000 barrels of oil a day.

Scholars, including Eva Golinger,[17] would argue that recent coups and attempted coups in Honduras and Ecuador are part of a concerted, covert, CIA effort to attack ALBA and destroy the Bolivarian revolution.

Ecuador

Ecuador is a member of ALBA and  a staunch ally of Venezuela and the Bolivarian revolution.

Ecuador’s president is Rafael Vicente Correa Delgado.[18] Since assuming the presidency in 2007, Correa has taken a firm stand against the US capitalist economic model that has dominated his country for generations. In 2006 he refused to sign an FTA with the United States (BW, 2006). He favors economic structuring to provide more funding for social programs directed at the poor. He has repeatedly embarrassed foreign petroleum companies with calls to conform to environmental agreements and investment standards. Perhaps worst of all, from the perspective of the US government, he has refused to renew the contract to use Ecuador’s Manta airport as a US military base,[19] which instead he intends to lease to China (WT, 2007).

Last month a police branch of the Ecuadoran security forces attempted a coup. Correa was kidnapped and detained by the police for several hours before being rescued by special military forces.

Some have reported that the coup was ‘backed by political organizations funded by USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy’ (Golinger, 2010). Others report that it was an autochthonous,  pro-active response to perceptions that Correa was planning to dissolve the National Assembly ‘after a large group of elected officials defected to the opposition’ (Hirst, 2010).

Correa is back in the presidency. His term ends in 2013. His popularity would indicate that he will be reelected and serve as president of Ecuador until 2017.

Dominica

Dominica joined ALBA at the end of 2007. Under ALBA, Venezuela stores crude oil in Dominica for processing and distribution to other Caribbean islands. Venezuela has also given Dominica soft loans for development projects and has accepted bananas as a payment for oil.

Venezuela had a 49% stake in the construction of an oil refinery on Dominica, but after Dominica so easily recognized Mr. Zelaya’s successor in Honduras last year (see Honduras, below), Venezuela may withdraw from its commitment.

Nicaragua

Nicaragua is a country that in 1979 replaced the pro-US dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza with a humanitarian, revolutionary Sandinista government under Daniel Ortega.

When the Sandinistas toppled the Somoza dictatorship, the US harbored the bulk of the former National Guard in Honduras[20] to the North and Costa Rica to the South. There what would become the Contras were fed, housed, trained and directed to wage low-intensity, terrorist operations against the Sandinista supporters—paid for by US tax dollars.

After 10 years of sadistic attrition, the Nicaraguan revolution was broken.

Ortega found a way to remain in politics.[21] Since the defeat of the Sandinista revolution he has become a born-again Christian. Perhaps his only remaining connection to revolution is his relationship to the Bolivarian revolution through ALBA.[22]

The Islamic Republic of Iran (Iran)

The relationship between Venezuela and Iran is particularly interesting.

In the face of growing tensions between the United States and Iran, Venezuela has engaged in flirting with Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and supports Iran's nuclear energy program. Iran has bestowed on President Chávez the Islamic Republic Medal—its highest state honor,[23] and is happy to expand its influence in the Latin American region.

Since 2007, Iran has had ‘observer status’ in ALBA.

According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, over the past five years, $4.6 billion worth of bilateral trade has been established between the two nations (Bates, 2010).[24] Others estimate the trade at less than $100 million per year (Cala, 2010). Nonetheless, Iran provides Venezuela with agricultural, energy, military and heavy industry technologies[25] worth over $2 billion per year and hopes to increase that by tenfold in the next few years.[26] Just recently, Venezuela and Iran discussed establishing a joint oil shipping company.

Proponents of US free trade initiatives insist that Chávez and Ahmadinejad ‘both should be understood as populist, autocratic politicians driven by their survival instinct, not ideology.’ They say ‘[p]opulists are pragmatists [that] can fit into any part of the ideological spectrum, from fascism and left-wing radicalism, to nationalism … [and] are rendered stable by increasing economic devolution to the masses, scapegoating a common enemy, propping the economic interests of a new ruling elite, and gradual takeover of a state’s institutions’ (Cala, 2010).

Recently, adding fuel to the fire, speculative reports[27] have circulated with the warning of  ‘compelling evidence’ that Venezuela is providing Iran with uranium in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1929 (Noreiga, 2010). Although this report is amply refuted,[28] it serves to negatively taint the images of both Venezuela and Iran in the eyes of public opinion in the West.

The United States insists that Iran’s uranium enrichment process could be a ploy to create weapons-grade material for military purposes, and has overtly threatened Latin American countries that getting ‘too closely involved with Iran’ could have ‘diplomatic consequences’ (F&F, 2010).

Chávez replies that Iran, and Venezuela, have the sovereign right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes[29] and chides: ‘It's the same tale, the same story of the [American] empire and all of its worldwide networks trying to impede the independence of our people’ (Bates, 2010).

Petrocaribe

Petrocaribe is an energy alliance between 14 Caribbean states.

For the past three years the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has been receiving between 120,000 and 140,000 barrels per day of cheap oil.[30] According to BBC’s David Jessup, without Venezuela’s Petrocaribe program ‘every Caribbean nation other than Trinidad and Barbados, [and] much of the region would by now be in economic free fall’ (2010). The lion’s share goes to Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.

It is thought that by 2015, Venezuela will be owed a full one-third of the Caribbean's total external debt. Furthermore, there is concern within CARICOM that Venezuela may decide to prioritize exports to the United States, China and Cuba, leaving them at significant risk.

Honduras

Once the ‘banana republic’[31] par excellance, Honduras, under President Manuel Zelaya, was the 17th member to join Petrocaribe.

In June 2009, a military coup, supported by the right wing elite, ousted Zelaya. As a result Honduras was expelled from the OAS and Venezuela cut off its oil supply.

Zelaya was a Chávez enthusiast. Among other things he (like President Correa of Ecuador, see above) had entertained closing a US military facility, the Palmerola Air Base,[32] located just north of the capital. Zelaya had entertained the idea of converting it into an international airport.

Since the coup, Honduras has not recovered its democracy. Many journalists and resistance leaders have been kidnapped and/or assassinated by death squads with impunity (Pine, 2008; Villeda, 2010).

The US administration is working to reintegrate Honduras back into the OAS. Zelaya remains in exile. Needless to say, the Palmerola base has remained in the hands of the United States.

Mercosur

Mercosur is an RTA established in 1991. It is Latin America’s Southern Common Market. It provides ‘a counterweight’ to the FTAA (R&B, 336).

Linking Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay and to a lesser degree the Andean Community, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru,[33] Mercosur is South America's largest business network. Comprehensively, it represents ‘a market of 372 million people with a combined GDP of over 2.3 trillion’ (Idem).

Venezuela is seeking membership in Mercosur. Chávez hopes to make it more anti-imperialist. He is urging the formation of a Mercosur development bank, to serve as an alternative to the World Bank Group. He has also proposed an alliance between Venezuela, Mexico and Brazil (PDVSA and the state companies PeMex, and PetroBras) complete with an intercontinental gas pipeline. 

Right-wing members of the Paraguayan senate are obstructing the ratification process of Venezuelan entry into Mercosur.

The People’s Republic of China (China)

Diplomatic ties between Beijing and Caracas have expanded dramatically over the past several years.[34]

China has committed to joint-ventures in major industrial projects in Venezuela that include not only long-term mining and drilling research and development, but also major infrastructure initiatives such as refurbishing commercial ports, construction of new oil refineries, oil tankers, and even a national rail system.

Venezuela is producing Chinese electronics with Chinese technology.

In addition to large foreign investment dedicated to production facilities, China is cooperating with Venezuela to help her modernize its military capacity with high-technology, early warning radar equipment, communications satellites, and military training aircraft.

The Russian Federation (Russia)

Russia shares Venezuela’s opposition to US global dominance. Moscow has signed multiple bilateral agreements to work with Venezuela in a wide range of issues including energy, military-technical cooperation, and housing construction.

A Russian energy consortium has interests in a major Venezuelan oil drilling venture—estimated to yield 850,000 barrels per day (Reuters, 2010).

Over the past five years Russia has provided Venezuela with an estimated $4.4 billion in military equipment[35] including tanks and anti-aircraft rocket systems, and has installed a factory to manufacture AK-47 rifles in Venezuela. 

More recent projects include the creation of a master plan to develop Caracas through 2020, the erection of earthquake-resistant, high-rise social housing for Venezuelans currently living in slums, and the establishment of a Russian-Venezuelan bank (Razumovskaya, 2010).

During Chávez’s recent visit to Russia, it was announced that Russia would build two 1,200 megawatt nuclear reactors[36] in Venezuela.

Ukraine and Belarus

Ukraine and landlocked Belarus and Ukraine are gaining ever more independence from Russia. Russia recently cut energy subsidies for Belarus resulting in a 36% price increase for their oil. Both Belarus and Ukraine are very interested in establishing long-term oil supplies from Venezuela.

Venezuela ships oil to Ukraine. Until the new pipe line was made operational, the Venezuelan oil was transported to Belarus for refining from the Black Sea by rail (M&C, 2010). 

Just this month at a signing of a 30 million ton crude oil deal with Belarussian President Lukashenko, estimated to be worth $19.4 billion, Chávez declared, ‘Bellarussian refineries will have no shortages for the next 200 years’ (Makhovsky, 2010).

Significant quantities of oil refined in Russia and Belarus are sold to the EU.

Belarus is supplying Venezuela with seismic technology needed by the oil industry, a new aerial defense system, and is involved in constructing the Venezuelan natural gas distribution infrastructure. Belarus and Venezuela have established joint ventures to manufacture special natural gas tankers, heavy machinery, construction tools, bicycles, and plastics in Venezuela. Also, under discussion are plans to create large agricultural complexes in Venezuela with Belarussian know-how.[37]

The United States of America

The major world stage actor opposing the Bolivarian revolution is undoubtedly the United States. The US government frequently refers to Venezuela as a ‘rogue’, ‘rebel’, or ‘terrorist’ state.

The United States has been actively engaged in supporting the Venezuelan internal opposition[38] (see Internal Opposition, below) and isolating Chávez in the international community.

Venezuela is surrounded by US military stations[39] and radar sites located in Antigua, Aruba, Bahamas, Cuba, Curacao, Colombia, Ecuador,[40] Honduras, El Salvador and Peru. Their presence is a persistent reminder of the power the United States could exert on Venezuela to secure its oil interests (Lindsay-Poland[41], 2004).

When President Obama took office, Chávez expressed optimism that relations with the United States could become more respectful, but hopes of a more constructive relationship faded when, according to Chávez, the Obama administration ‘tacitly supported the coup against the democratically elected president of Honduras’ (VenezuelaAnalysis.com, 2010).

Despite this cold war scenario, the United States is Venezuela’s primary export partner. It  imports 40.7% of Venezuela’s $101.7 billion annual exports—primarily oil (Wolframalpha, 2010).

While Exxon[42] was among the companies expelled from Venezuela, some US corporations are still operating there. General Motors de Venezuela declared last week that it will continue investing in Venezuela to expand production capacity and meet customers' needs, and that it ‘believes in the country’ (Deniz, 2010).

Venezuela has been asking the United States for the extradition of Cuban-born Venezuelan citizen Posada Carriles since 2005. He is accused of the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner killing 73 people. The United States has ignored the request.

In June 2010, the Obama administration proposed African-American Dr. Larry Palmer to be the new ambassador to Venezuela. Palmer, former US charge d'affaires in Ecuador (1999–2002), US Ambassador to Honduras (2002–2005), and current president of the US government-funded Inter-American Foundation (IAF),[43] is known to be a strong free trade advocate (VenezuelaAnalysis.com, 2010). An editorial in the Venezuelan alternative news website Aporrea, warned that if accepted, Palmer would ‘dedicate himself to …  directing from Caracas the plans for enemy penetration in the [Venezuelan] afro-descendant movements’ (Ibid).[44] His nomination was considered an affront[45] by the Chávez administration and they rejected him.

In a gesture to neutralize an intensification of tension and in contrast to what anyone might have predicted, US President Obama said on October 19, 2010, that the United States ‘had no objection to Venezuela developing nuclear power for civilian energy purpose … [and] urged the Venezuelan people not to believe their leader's anti-American propaganda’ (AFP, 2010).

The Internal Opposition

The narrative from the internal opposition is hateful of Chávez and everything he represents. Their tactics over the past years have included fomenting crippling strikes, sabotaging oil rigs, and stimulating street and media provocations that incite violence, and even coup attempts.

The most significant coup attempt was in April 2002. It was led by General Nestor González González. The very first act carried out by the short-lived coup government was to abolish the constitution and dissolve the Supreme Court and the elected National Assembly.

In 2005, the internal opposition boycotted the legislative elections.

Professionals including doctors, lawyers and engineers have historically come from the former plutocratic class. Consequently, a significant portion of the funding that the government distributes to the poor inevitably finds its way back to them. Nonetheless, they feel their future is uncertain and their assets are at risk. In addition to corruption,[46] according to WolframAlpha, the mean annual inflation that they have had to content with between 2000 and 2010 has been over 26%, with a high of almost 35% in 2003.

"Professionals including doctors, lawyers and engineers have historically come from the former plutocratic class. Consequently, a significant portion of the funding that the government distributes to the poor inevitably finds its way back to them. Nonetheless, they feel their future is uncertain and their assets are at risk. In addition to corruption, according to WolframAlpha the mean inflation they have contended with between 2000 and 2010 has been over 26%, with a high of almost 35% in 2003."

In the recent September election, the fractured opposition united under a broad Democratic Unity Table and won a significant 52% of the popular vote. However, due to redistricting, they remain a minority in the National Assembly with 61 of the 165 seats, while Chávez supporters control 96 seats (Mogollon and Kraul, 2010).

There have been several very high profile demonstrations against the agrarian revolution and government land seizures. In late August, a 49 year old Venezuelan farmer, Franklin Brito, made world headlines after dying as a result of a long hunger strike. To dramatize his convictions, Brito had sewn his mouth shut and amputated a finger (Wyss, 2010).

It is expected that the political platform of the internal opposition will continue to focus public opinion on the crime rate, the high cost of living and the protection of private property (Poliszuk, 2010). It is also predictable that they will continue to receive significant funding from the United States.

Colombia

Colombia is the largest recipient of counterinsurgency aid from the United States after Iraq and Afghanistan. Over the past ten years the United States has spent over $7 billion through Plan Colombia—a plan conceived in 1998 to eradicate drug production and defeat the FARC (see FARC below). Furthermore, the United States extended to Colombia a variety of trade preference programs.[47]

In November 2006, Colombia signed the United States-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (CTPA), also referred to as the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, which eliminated all tariffs on most US exports to Colombia. This has resulted in Colombia becoming the largest export market for US agricultural products in South America.

More recently, much to Venezuela’s dismay, Colombia acquiesced to have five new US military[48] bases established on Columbian territory—bringing the total to seven. 

In July 2010, Chávez broke off diplomatic ties with Colombia and put his military on alert after departing President Alvaro Uribe accused Venezuela of harboring FARC guerrillas. This comes at the heels of a Colombian military incursion into Ecuador in 2008 based on the same pretext.

On August 7, 2010, former Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos took over as President of Colombia. The new administration ‘inherit[ed] a bankrupt public-health system, high unemployment and twin battles against drug lords and guerrillas that are far from over’ (Otis, June 21, 2010).

There is a general perception that in the coming years US aid to Colombia will decrease significantly as the United States becomes more involved in it’s war on terror in other parts of the world. In an effort to stabilize the region, the new Colombian administration is trying to normalize relations with Venezuela which under normal conditions, after the United States, would be Columbia's second largest export market.

In the past few weeks Venezuelan and Colombian foreign and defense ministers have met, and several bilateral commissions have been established ‘to invest in infrastructure links between the two countries in order to improve trade, and to make social investments in the border region, build public libraries, and organize cultural events … [to] seek to optimize the transport of oil, gas and electricity between the two countries … [and] to discuss border security, cross-border drug trafficking, and the incursion of Colombian illegal groups into Venezuelan territory’ (LAHT, Oct. 8, 2010).

The FARC

FARC is the Spanish acronym for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

The FARC is often associated with anarchic and ruthless criminality. It is important to review their actual history in order to appreciate Venezuela’s dilemma.

Colombia in the late 1940s saw an insurgency of peasants seeking a fair chance in life. When negotiations brokered by the Communist party[49] with the plutocracy failed, they established their own ‘independent republics’ deep in the south of the country, based on their socialist ideology.

In 1964, the Colombian military, supported by the United States, waged a devastating attack against the independent republic of Marquetalia. It was the survivors of that massacre that formed the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - People’s Army (FARC-EP) and declared war against the state.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the FARC was the largest left-wing group in South America. They had an agrarian economy that provided for subsistence, basic schools, a functioning judicial system, and health care.

The attrition imposed by Plan Colombia has all but broken their viability.

Logically, there is a strong tie of solidarity between the Bolivarian revolution and the FARC. But with the FARC designated as a ‘terrorist organization’ by both the European Union and the United States, the relationship has been forced underground. Publicly, Venezuela takes every opportunity to point out the asymmetrical nature of the 40-plus-year struggle and calls on the world to recognize the FARC as an ‘insurgent group’—rather than as ‘terrorists’.[50]

The Dutch Antilles

Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao are Caribbean colonies of The Netherlands. What makes them important is their location within Venezuela's territorial waters and the fact that the United States operates ‘anti-drugs interdiction operations’ from the islands.

In late 2009, Chávez accused the United States of militarizing the Dutch Antilles.[51] Indeed at the beginning of 2010, Venezuela claimed US military drones launched from Aruba had encroached into Venezuelan air space, and soon after threatened to withdraw its support of the Isla refinery on Curacoa that it had leased for many years. The refinery had been refining Venezuelan oil for decades and at one time represented in excess of 10% of the Venezuelan worldwide refinery network with capacity to process more than 3 million barrels a day. The threat is not particularly significant however, because the refinery is run down and environmentally obsolete.

Kingdom of Spain

Spain has traditionally played a paternalistic role with its Latin American ‘cousins’.

More than 100 Spanish companies operate in Venezuela, including ‘major energy firms such as Iberdrola and Repsol. The latter’s recent gas discoveries in Venezuela have the potential to meet Spanish energy demands for the next seven years’ (Gratius, 2010).

While tradition and such important economic interests clearly affect foreign policy considerations, recently there has been significant tension has been building between the two counties.

Spanish investigative reporter Antonio Salas’ claim[52] that Venezuela harbors training camps for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and for the Basque terrorist group ETA[53] (El Universal, 2010) was a bomb shell. This story was corroborated by two ETA defendants held in Spain, who testified that they had received training in Venezuela from former ETA member, Arturo Cubillas.

Spain is insisting on Cubillas’ extradition back to Spain. King Juan Carlos has gotten personally involved (Brinkley, 2010). The case is complicated by the fact that Cubillas was exiled to Venezuela in 1989[54] at the request of former Spanish President Felipe Gonzales and accepted by former Venezuelan President Carlos Andrés Pérez. Furthermore, Cubillas is now a Venezuelan citizen and serves as chief of security for the Venezuelan Agriculture Ministry. ‘Cubillas’s wife is Chávez's chief of staff’ (idem).

On October 14, 2010, Venezuela responded to Spain’s extradition request by initiating its own extradition proceedings against Army Major General Néstor González González, wanted in Venezuela ‘for incitement to civil rebellion’ in the April 2002 coup in Caracas (Becker, 2010).

CONCLUSION

There are other less consequential actors. Unfortunately, this assignment does not provide sufficient time to continue delving into the more subtle plots and subplots.

Without a doubt, Hugo Chávez's Bolivarian revolution has aroused great interest among progressives who applaud the social programs that benefit the poor.

But is the Venezuela experience a viable path to liberation in today's world? Is it proposing a new world order that is a viable alternative to unipolar domination? Or is this 21st Century Socialism, with all its aspirations for full participatory democracy, a bankrupt, liberal, ideological philosophy?

The story of Venezuela is ongoing. It will unfold with time.

NOTES

[1] The Monroe document proclaimed that European powers should no longer ‘interfere’ in the affairs of the newly independent nations of the Americas.

[2] Essentially, FTAA promotes unfettered free trade. Latin American countries are concerned that FTAA might translate into a tsunami of US imports and services.

[3] Special forces and secret services are cooperating with US-directed drug interdiction programs and counter-terrorism operations.

[4] In 1998 Chávez won with 56% of the vote.

[5] <http://english.eluniversal.com/2010/10/11/en_eco_esp_venezuela-has-seize... (accessed October 11, 2010).

[6] Land seizures usually occur because the land is deemed abandoned.

[7] Petrosur was conceived as a multistate oil company initially conformed by the national oil companies of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, and Venezuela—sometimes referred to as the South American OPEC.

[8] Rosendo Martínez, a Cuban biologist friend working as a cooperant in Venezuela.

[9] Currently reserves are estimated to be 211 billion barrels.

[10] Sour crude oil has a sulfur content greater than than 0.5%.

[11] Venezuelan Energy Minister, Rafael Ramírez, has said that a reduction in the export of oil products ‘may indeed occur in 2010 because our priority is the domestic market.’

[12] Several OPEC nations have indicated that the weak dollar has hurt their economies. 

[13] Citgo is a US corporation Owned by PDV America, Inc., an indirect wholly owned subsidiary of Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., the Venezuelan national oil company.

[14] For accepting this aid, Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fla., accused Citizens Energy Chairman Joseph Kennedy of  ‘betraying the legacy of President John F. Kennedy, his uncle’ (CBS News, 2009).

[15] According to TMCNet.com, the new cable will be operational in July of2011. It is planned to be extended to Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and the Lesser Antilles. Cuba has a 65/124 Mb/s bandwidth satellite-based Internet link. The US Treasury Department has not allowed Cuba to connect to an existing fiber-optic cable that runs just 32 miles from Havana.

[16] Up from $388 million when Chávez was elected in 1998.

[17] Eva Golinger was the winner of the International Award for Journalism in Mexico (2009) and is the author of several best-seller books including The Chávez Code: Cracking US Intervention in Venezuela (2006 Olive Branch Press).

[18] Illinois University educated economist.

[19] Unless the United States reciprocated by letting Ecuador establish a military base within the United States .

[20] Where Negroponte was Ambassador in Honduras from. He went on to become Ambassador to the UN, Ambassador to Iraq, and Director of National Security.

[21] Other comandantes have become mainstream capitalists.

[22] Nicaragua, through ALBA’s Project Bolivar-Sandino, exchanges Nicaraguan agricultural products for Venezuelan oil.

[23] The award was to demonstrate Iran's gratitude for his ‘support for Iran's stance on the international scene, especially its opposition to a resolution by the International Atomic Energy Agency.’

[24] This is probably a high estimate. A real figure might be closer to $3–$3.5 billion.

[25] Corn flour production, automobiles and tractors, and drilling and mining.

[26] There is concern that financial triangulation between Venezuela and Iran could allow Iran to circumvent sanctions and access credits.

[27] These reports were produced by Roger Noreiga, US ambassador to the OAS from 2001 to 2003 and US assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere from 2003 to 2005. He is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and managing director of Visión Américas LLC, which represents the United States  and foreign clients.

[28] See: <http://crooksandliars.com/jason-sigger/neocon-invents-venezuela-nuke-thr....

[29] Peaceful use of nuclear reactors includes generating electricity needed for development and creating radioisotopes for use in medicine.

[30] Petrocaribe member countries pay 40% within 90 days of delivery, and retain the remainder of their payment in the form of a 1% loan repayable over 25 years.

[31] Through the first half of last century the Honduran economy and national infrastructure was dominated by the United Fruit Company, the Standard Fruit Company, and the Cuyamel Fruit Company. 

[32] South Americans associate the Palmerola Air Base with US presence in the region and more particularly with US counterinsurgency operations and psychological warfare that took place in the 1980s while the US supported the contras against the Sandinistas.

[33] These countries are associate members and are excluded from the bloc's customs union (BBC News, 2010).

[34] The Chinese are investing strategically around the globe in an effort to gain ascendance as an economic power and erode US economic hegemony.

[35] A fairly detailed list of Russian weaponry sold (and to be sold) to Venezuela (dated Oct 15, 2010) can be found at <http://en.rian.ru/mlitary_news/20101015/160963585.html>. The cited figure does not include a recent $2.2 billion credit line for weapons purchases.

[36] Russia has built a nuclear power plant in Iran and plans to build more in China, the Czech Republic, India, and Turkey. The Associated Press announced the Russia-Venezuela nuclear deal on Oct. 15, 2010.

[37] According to BelTA article released on Oct. 16, 2010, the Belarussian Minister of Agriculture and Foodstuffs has proposed a 1,100 head dairy farm project.

[38] The strategy involves sustaining anti-Chávez groups and their propaganda, distorting information, depicting Chávez as an international pariah ‘dictator’ and human rights violator, coordinating with ‘coupsters’ to provoke street protests and disruptive actions such as strikes to create chaos.

[39] Known as ‘cooperative security locations’,or CSLs, many of which are ‘outsourced’ to private, for-profit contractors to fight the supply-side of the drug war, but serve similar purposes as military bases (Lindsay-Poland, 2004).

[40] The Ecuadorian Congress never approved the base agreement within its territory in the first place.

[41] John Lindsay-Poland is coordinator of the Fellowship of Reconciliation Task Force on Latin America & the Caribbean.

[42] ExxonMobil (and British Petroleum) had been paying Venezuela royalties of a meager 1% of the value of the oil extracted. Court documents show that Exxon Mobil's Venezuelan unit had a net income of $362 million on sales of $758 million in 2006, the company's last full year of operations in Venezuela: a profits-to-sales ratio four times the company's worldwide average.

[43] The IAF has been associated with a group of US and European foundations that have supported opposition and insurgency groups in Venezuela over the past ten years.

[44] Similarly, groups in the US opposed to the Castro government in Cuba have focused considerable efforts trying to influence the African-Cuban community.

[45] In addition to his Curriculum Vitae, the Venezuelan government took offence by offensive remarks made by the nominee about Venezuela in his Senate confirmation hearings—and consequently ‘disqualified himself’ (Toothaker, 2010).

[46] Transparency International's corruption index (perceived levels of corruption) ranks Venezuela close to the worst—tied with Angola and the Congo.

[47] Including the Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA) and the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP).

[48] Current US strategy seems to be that of outsourcing ‘military’ activity to private corporations that serve the same function.

[49] Dissident members of the Liberal Party also participated in the negotiations.

[50] The distinction is that an insurgent group has a political agenda.

[51] These three Antilles islands are subject to NATO military obligations which contemplate the United States’ right to station Predator and Reaper drones on their bases (Rozoff, 2010).

[52] Salas spent six years undercover in Venezuela.

[53] According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the ETA ‘conducts terrorist attacks to win independence for a Basque state in northern Spain and southwestern France.’ According to EITB.com, the ETA has killed more than 800 people in Spain since 1968.

[54] Together with 27 other Spanish ETA guerillas.

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ABBREVIATIONS

ATPA             Andean Trade Preference Act

BBC                British Broadcasting Corporation

BTA                Bilateral trade agreements

CARICOM     Caribbean Community           

CIA                 Central Intelligence Agency

CSL                 Cooperative security locations

CTPA              Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement

EDC                Economically developed countries

ENI                 Eni S.p.A. an Italian multinational oil and gas company

EP                   Ejercito Popular, People’s Army

ETA                Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, Basque separatist organization

EU                   The European Union

FDI                 Foreign direct investment (capital)

FTA                 Free trade agreement

FTAA              Free Trade Area of the Americas

GDP                Gross Domestic Product

GSP                 Generalized System of Preferences

IAF                 Inter-American Foundation

IMF                 International Monetary Fund

LDC                Less developed countries

NAFTA           North American Free Trade Agreement

NATO             North Treaty Organization

OAS                Organization of American States

OPEC              Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries

PDVSA           Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., the Venezuelan state-owned petroleum company

RTA                Regional trade agreements 

UN                  The United Nations

UNESCO        United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

US                   United States

USAID           United States Agency for International Development

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