In April 2002 the Venezuelan people rose up and reversed a U.S. supported military coup against Chávez, who had been elected president in 1998 and then again under a new more democratic constitution in 2000. In winter 2002–03 Chávez’s government overcame with popular backing an oil industry shutdown and general lockout to which Washington had given its blessing. And in August 2004 the Venezuelan poor mobilized to deliver Chávez a resounding victory in a recall referendum in which Washington had done everything it could to bolster the opposition.
Unable to instigate another coup because of the military’s allegiance to the Chávez government, and prevented from introducing a full economic blockade by the fact that Venezuela supplies 15 percent of U.S oil imports, the Bush administration’s current options for destabilizing the Venezuelan revolution are limited. It has therefore turned to declaring Venezuela a military threat to the hemisphere and hence to the security of the United States. By calling its new policy one of “containing” Venezuela, it seeks to justify a more nakedly imperialist policy of regime change, building the case for U.S. military intervention if necessary in order to secure U.S. hemispheric dominance.
The lead role in articulating this new more aggressive posture has been taken by Roger Pardo-Mauer, deputy assistant secretary for western hemisphere affairs in the defense department, and a former state department representative to the Nicaraguan Contra terrorists, who with U.S. backing helped bring down the democratically elected Sandinista government in Nicaragua by 1990. In an interview with the Financial Times (March 13, 2004) Pardo-Mauer hypocritically stated that Chávez has adopted a “hyena strategy” in Latin America and is guilty of “downright subversion.” Venezuela is accused of supporting insurgents in Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru. Venezuela is also being criticized by the Bush administration and the corporate media for threatening to cut off the supply of Venezuelan oil to the United States if force is used in any way against it, and for working at building a global alliance against what Chávez calls “the imperialist power of the United States.”
But the strongest U.S. criticisms are aimed at recent defense purchases by Venezuela, which has acquired 100,000 Kalshnikov rifles from Russia and military aircraft from Brazil. It is also seeking to obtain radar equipment from China. In a trip to Brazil in March, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld stated (as reported by Richard Benedetto in USA Today, April 1, 2005) “that he ‘could not imagine’ what Venezuela, with an army of 34,000, was going to do with 100,000 assault rifles.” The insinuation is that Venezuela means to use these Russian rifles to arm revolutionary movements in other countries. Yet, given that Venezuela is being directly threatened by the largest and most aggressive military power on earth, it has every reason to want to purchase weapons with which to arm its population for a guerrilla-based struggle against a potential invading force—something that should not surprise Rumsfeld at all.
Still, it appears that the new containment policy is already bearing fruit. In a climate of intense U.S. pressure on Argentina regarding Chávez, the Argentinean minister of defense José Pampuro recently suggested that Venezuela’s arms purchases could touch off an arms race in the region (Jonah Gindin, Venezuelanalysis.com, April 1, 2005).
What has really drawn Washington’s ire, however, lies elsewhere: in the acceleration of the revolutionary process in Venezuela since the failed U.S.-supported coup of three years ago. Chávez now speaks openly of the need for “inventing the socialism of the 21st century.” Worse still from a U.S. ruling class standpoint, the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela is seeking to show the rest of the world the way forward, by introducing a revolutionary democratic strategy geared to the real needs of the population. At the same time Venezuela is attempting to break out of the U.S. economic orbit by working on diversifying the markets for its oil, signing energy deals with France, India, and China—in a move that is viewed as deeply threatening to U.S. oil interests. Venezuela is also seeking a stronger economic coalition among Latin American countries, and is actively promoting a global alliance against U.S. imperialism. No wonder that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has declared Venezuela a “negative force in the region” and Otto Reich, former assistant secretary of state in the first Bush administration, has declared the Venezuela-Cuba connection the “Axis of Evil: Western Hemisphere Style.”
For the peace movement in the United States and throughout the world there can be only one response to current U.S. attempts to corner and then move in for the kill on its revolutionary Latin American neighbor: Hands Off Venezuela!
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