View Full Version : U.S. Intervening Against Democracy in Venezuela

Dec 21st, 2002, 02:42 AM
Opposition demonstrators march through one of Caracas main highways asking for early elections or President Hugo Chavez resignation

U.S. Intervening Against Democracy in Venezuela
By MARK WEISBROT | AlterNet 12/20/2002

CARACAS"Where are they getting their money?" asks historian Samuel Moncada, as the television displays one opposition commercial after another. Moncada is chair of the history department at Central University of Venezuela in Caracas. We are sitting in one of the few restaurants that is open in the eastern, wealthier part of Caracas.

For two weeks during this country's business-led strike, the privately owned stations that dominate Venezuelan television have been running opposition "infomercials" instead of advertisements, in addition to what is often non-stop coverage of opposition protests.
"I am sure there is money from abroad," asserts Moncada. It's a good guess: Prior to the coup on April 11, the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy stepped up its funding to opposition groups, including money funneled through the International Republican Institute. The latter's funding multiplied more than sixfold, to $340,000 in 2001.

But if history is any guide, overt funding from Washington will turn out to be the tip of the iceberg. This was the case in Haiti, Nicaragua, Chile and other countries where Washington has sought "regime change" because our leaders didn't agree with the voters' choice at the polls. (In fact, Washington is currently aiding efforts to oust President Aristide in Haiti - for the second time). In these episodes, which extended into the 1990s, our government concealed amounts up to the hundreds of millions of dollars that paid for such things as death squads, strikes, economic destabilization, electoral campaigns and media.

All this remains to be investigated in this case. But the intentions of the U.S. government are clear. Last week the State Department ordered non-essential embassy personnel to leave the country, and warned American citizens not to travel here. But there have not been attacks on American citizens or companies here, from either side of the political divide, and this is not a particularly dangerous place for Americans to be.

In this situation, the State Department's extreme measures and warning can only be interpreted as a threat. The Bush Administration has also openly sided with the opposition, demanding early elections here. Then this week Washington changed its position to demanding a referendum on Chavez's presidency, most likely figuring that a divided opposition could easily lose to Chavez in an election, despite its overwhelming advantage in controlling the major means of communication.

The discussion in the U.S. press, dominated by Washington's views, has also taken on an Orwellian tone. Chavez is accused of using "dictatorial powers" for sending the military to recover oil tankers seized by striking captains. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer urged the Venezuelan government "to respect individual rights and fundamental freedoms."

But what would happen to people who hijacked an oil tanker from Exxon-Mobil in the United States? They would be facing a trial and a long prison sentence. Military officers who stood outside the White House and called for the overthrow of the government (and this just six months after a military coup supported by a foreign power) would end up in Guantanamo facing a secret military tribunal for terrorism.

In fact, the U.S. press would be much more fair if it held the Venezuelan government to the standards of the United States. In the U.S., government workers do not have the right to strike at all, as Ronald Reagan demonstrated when he summarily fired 12,000 air traffic controllers in 1981. But even this analogy is incomplete: The air traffic controllers were striking for better working conditions. Here, the employees of the state-owned oil company - mostly managers and executives - are trying to cripple the economy, which is heavily dependent on oil exports, in order to overthrow the government. In the United States, even private sector workers do not have the legal right to strike for political demands, and certainly not for the president's resignation.

In the United States, courts would issue injunctions against the strike, the treasuries of participating unions would be seized, and leaders would be arrested.

Meanwhile, outside of the wealthier areas of eastern Caracas, businesses are open and streets are crowded with shoppers. Life appears normal. This is clearly a national strike of the privileged, and most of the country has not joined it.

More than anything right now, this country needs dialogue and a ratcheting down of the tensions and hostilities between the two opposing camps, so as to avoid a civil war. But this dialogue will never happen if the United States continues to pursue a course of increasing confrontation.

Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington D.C.

Dec 21st, 2002, 02:50 AM
Reader Opinions

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Name: Khalil Spencer
Date: Dec, 20 2002
Replying in part to Ms. Aristimuno's post. It is irrelevant whether one group or many oppose Mr. Chavez. That is the business of the Venezuelan people to sort out. The point of the article is whether the U.S. is attempting to covertly remove an elected leader. Imagine the outcry in the U.S. if a foreign government were funnelling massive amounts of money into our nation in order to "destabilize" or remove President Bush, elected to office by the skin of his teeth. Double standard? What else is new. So the question isn't who opposes Mr. Chavez, but whether Venezuela's democratic processes are being subverted by an arrogant USA. As an American, I have nothing but disgust for more Allende style coups. If one believes in democracy, one must believe in it for other people too.

Name: Carolina Aristimuno
Date: Dec, 20 2002
are you blind? do you really think that just the "wealthier" part of the country form the opposition? I am sorry to inform you that all kind of people support the opposition and its ideals. Have you not realized that the oppsition is form by the all the political parties, eccept for MVR of course, plus all king of public and private groups. Chavez has ruined our country, he needs to leave!

Dec 21st, 2002, 02:55 AM
When the polls show that 80% of the country wants him out. Even his own ex wife says he needs to be out. when 3 million people march throughout the streets of Caracas. when instead of hearing the soundof night life all you hear are posand pans being banged I don't see how wat the U.S. is doing is anti-democratic. I think it has been well established by the people of Venezuel Chavez needs to be out.

Dec 21st, 2002, 03:28 AM
How is the US intervening AGAINST democracy?

Dec 21st, 2002, 03:54 AM
"Where are they getting their money?" asks historian Samuel Moncada, as the television displays one opposition commercial after another. Moncada is chair of the history department at Central University of Venezuela in Caracas. We are sitting in one of the few restaurants that is open in the eastern, wealthier part of Caracas.

For two weeks during this country's business-led strike, the privately owned stations that dominate Venezuelan television have been running opposition "infomercials" instead of advertisements, in addition to what is often non-stop coverage of opposition protests.
"I am sure there is money from abroad," asserts Moncada. It's a good guess: Prior to the coup on April 11, the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy stepped up its funding to opposition groups, including money funneled through the International Republican Institute. The latter's funding multiplied more than sixfold, to $340,000 in 2001.

As the article indicates, the US government has a long history in meddling in the affairs of other countries COVERTLY to get rid of democratically elected presidents that the US govt. doesn't like. The fact that Venezuela has a constitution that calls for early elections next August should be respected by all democracy loving people.

For those who don't know much about the history of Venezuela, I would suggest that you read the history of this country, especially the last forty years. Venezuela is one of the richest countries in the world because of its oil wealth, yet; it has SQUANDERED its wealth on corruption and fat bank accounts abroad. Venezuela now doesn't have anything to show for its wealth now. Matter of fact, its last president Carlos Andres is wanted for stealing MILLIONS of dollars from the people of Venezuela.

Don't take my word! Read for yourself the history of the country. Because it has alot to do what's happening in present.

Dec 21st, 2002, 04:07 AM

Dec 21st, 2002, 04:21 AM
america does have little respect for the democracies of other nations and yet they dare criticise nations who are not democratic.
n.z. has before beeen disrespected by america not getting its own way and been "punished"for following the will of its people.

the us does not encourage democracy abroad if it wont accept the terms of democracy abroad.other countries business are there own business.

Dec 21st, 2002, 04:25 PM

Dec 21st, 2002, 04:28 PM
Britain advises nationals to leave Venezuela

The British government has advised its nationals in Venezuela to leave the country and said it was pulling out non-essential diplomatic staff.

"We have recommended that British nationals leave Venezuela unless they have an urgent reason to remain," a foreign ministry spokesman told AFP.

"Families of British diplomats and non-essential members of staff will be withdrawn," he said, adding that there were around 20 British diplomatic staff plus dependents in the Latin American state.

The move came as a strike called by opponents of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez entered its 20th day.

Dec 21st, 2002, 04:31 PM
A jubilant Chavez supporter in the Venezuelan capital Caracas

Venezuela on the brink

A new challenge to Venezuela's Hugo Chavez suggests an imminent showdown. There may be more at stake than the stability of the country's oil exports, Hisham El-Naggarwrites from Buenos Aires

The world is becoming accustomed to a Venezuelan crisis every few months. The previous one proved to be little more than a putsch. The current one has all the trappings of a showdown between President Hugo Chavez's supporters and opponents. For the moment at least, the military are not directly involved.

The precariousness of the situation stems from the fact that Chavez has lost popularity, but still has a strong power base, notably among the poor. Flamboyant, provocative and convinced of the constitutional legitimacy of his hold on power, he has no intention of bowing to his opponents' pressure and calling early elections -- a prospect apparently not contemplated in the country's constitution.

There is more to the struggle than a simple argument about what the Venezuelan constitution does or does not allow. In the opinion of many -- including himself -- Chavez has come to represent the paradigmatic populist leader. The role includes a generous dose of anti-Americanism, or at least a willingness to consort with traditional enemies of the United States like Cuba, Iraq and Libya.

Chavez's loss of popularity has more to do with the deterioration of living standards, especially among the middle class, than with his international stance. But the US is openly backing the opposition to Chavez. Indeed, the State Department has all but made the call for early election its own. The opposition to Chavez is wide-ranging. It includes broad segments of the middle class, almost the entire economic establishment, much of the church leadership, a portion of the union movement -- especially in the vital oil sector -- and a part of the armed forces. In a country and region where the poor easily outnumber everybody else, Chavez would be sitting pretty if he had the undivided support of the lower classes.

The trouble is, he probably no longer has it. Many of the poor have only become poorer since Chavez was democratically elected, largely with their support, four years ago. As paradigms go, Chavez's dilemma is perhaps typical of Latin American populist leaders these days. Increasingly, pure rhetoric is not enough to rally the masses any more, what the masses are clamouring for is a palpable improvement in their living standards.

Alas, the most obvious recourse available to a populist leader, namely "redistribution of wealth", is likely to produce disappointing results. Wealth in much of Latin America is concentrated in such a tiny segment of the population that even dispossessing it entirely would be insufficient to bring about the bonanza the population so desperately craves.

The key is, therefore, growth rather than redistribution, or at any rate than redistribution alone. Unfortunately, growth is a slow affair at best, and if populist leaders' "revolutionary" claims are to amount to anything concrete, they have to be able to show at least an effort at restructuring the economy root and branch in the short term. But such is not the sort of exercise populists excel at, it is far easier to have a go at rhetoric, red herring disputes and virtuoso showmanship. None of which Chavez has disdained. He has had one advantage over other Latin American populists: Venezuela is the fifth largest oil exporter in the world and the supplier of 13 per cent of US oil needs. That has meant enough hard currency to stave off near-bankruptcy, all too common elsewhere on the continent, and also a certain margin for manoeuver in dealing with a cautious US which, however hostile to him, would rather not jeopardise such a vital -- and non-Middle-Eastern -- oil source.

This is why Chavez's opponents have chosen to centre the challenge to his authority on the oil sector. The experience of the putsch earlier this year has taught them that there is a part of the armed forces that is still loyal to Chavez, ousting him by force is impractical -- even if "the Free World" acquiesces in old-fashioned coups. But if they can bring the oil sector to a standstill, they can strangle his regime's lifeline and leave him with no argument as to why the North should put up with him much longer.

So far this episode has followed much the same script as the first stage of the putsch earlier this year. If the "anti-Chavists" have learnt from their mistakes, they will eschew any direct attempt to junk the constitution and try to rule the country by force. These were the very errors which provoked a reaction from a majority of the armed forces and put their all-too-enthusiastic foreign supporters -- the IMF, for instance, which all but welcomed the coup while it lasted -- in a awkward spot.

Chavez's opponents have gone out of their way this time to stake all on a "peaceful" strike with no military overtones. By making the strike open, the idea is to win a war of attrition.

Chavez, on the other hand, is unlikely to take it lying down. He has already emphasised that the call for early elections is anti-constitutional, and his own supporters from poorer neighbours have organised counter-demonstrations in opposition to the numerous anti-Chavists demonstrations calling for "elections now". The outcome is anything but a foregone conclusion. For one thing, the international scenario is more complex. Instability elsewhere in the oil-producing world makes Venezuela's oil particularly important and a prolonged strike most inconvenient.

Meanwhile, Latin American governments are reluctant to support the US call for early elections. In a region where not a few presidents have been ousted by popular pressure, what appears to be at stake is the creditworthiness of the constitutional process. Considering the effort it took to make democracy the norm and coups decidedly gauche, that creditworthiness may matter more at the regional level than the thirst for oil does elsewhere in the world.

Dec 21st, 2002, 04:42 PM
I think at one point Venezuela was Latin America's richest country. Venevision and Venevision International are Spanish languages second most important media company next to televisa from mexico. Chavez was elected fairly but then he showed his corrption and the people want him removed so why not remove him?

Dec 21st, 2002, 06:01 PM
I just don't get you people that are saying the US isn't supporting democracy?!

If the PEOPLE want early elections... and the US is supporting that...

then they're supporting democracy.

Dec 21st, 2002, 06:14 PM
Who in the hell is "you people"? :(

Hell...the people in the US voted for Al Gore in 2000 according to the popular vote and think that Bush was handed victory by the Supreme Court. But we have rules and a CONSTITUTION. So does Venezuela. Chavez was elected TWICE by the people of Venezuela. What's the big deal? In their constitution there are provisions to address certain grievances.

If everytime a certain segment of the population wants to change their presidency at the whim of a few, what kind of stability would you have? Too much of this has happened enough already in Latin America and the US and its business interests have subverted the democratic elected governments far too much. Read history!! ;)

Dec 21st, 2002, 06:21 PM
What kind of stability do you have when 80% of the population doesn't support the government?

Dec 21st, 2002, 06:34 PM
where did you read 80 percent? or did you just make that number up? ;)

Dec 21st, 2002, 09:47 PM
Selesfan1 stated that.

Dec 22nd, 2002, 05:12 AM
The Pilin Leon had been sitting idle in Lake Maracaibo

Motorists wait hours to fill up

The opposition demonstrated in support of the Caracas police force

Mr Chavez denounced "coup-plotting oil elites"

Sunday, 22 December, 2002, 01:21 GMT
Venezuelan tanker forced into port

The Venezuelan Government has commandeered and steered into port an oil tanker, in an attempt to break a general strike that has led to severe petrol shortages.
The ship, the Pilin Leon, sailed into port in Lake Maracaibo on Saturday and began unloading its cargo of petrol.

The ship had become emblematic for the opposition, after its captain joined the strike and moored offshore, refusing to dock.

The move comes as opponents of President Hugo Chavez took part in another march in the capital, Caracas, to demand early elections.

The 20-day-old strike has crippled oil production in Venezuela - the world's fifth largest exporter of crude.

On Friday, government forces boarded the Pilin Leon and detained its crew.

On Saturday strike-breaking workers took the ship to the oil terminal of Bajo Grande.


Local media say distribution to petrol station in western Venezuela should take place over the next two days.

The opposition demonstrated in support of the Caracas police force
The chairman of Venezuela's state oil company, PDVSA, has described this as a victory for the government

The chairman, Ali Rodriguez, said the authorities would shortly move other striking tankers.

Petrol shortages have forced many stations to close. On Saturday there were queues at those that were open in the Caracas area.

The growing unavailability of petrol has sparked fears of food shortages and civil unrest.

Mr Chavez has denounced PDVSA executives - many of whom have joined the strikers - as "coup-plotting oil elites" and said he would "clean up" the company.

On Wednesday the president issued a decree allowing the military to commandeer privately-owned lorries, ships and planes to distribute supplies.


On Saturday, hundreds of anti-government protesters took part in a march in Caracas celebrating the 33rd anniversary of the city's police force.

The protesters waved Venezuelan flags and held banners demanding the resignation of Mr Chavez.

President Chavez took control of the police force last month, arguing that it was not loyal to the government.

But on Wednesday, the Supreme Court returned authority over the force to the opposition mayor of Caracas, Alfredo Pena.

The opposition accuses President Chavez of mismanaging the economy and authoritarianism, and is calling for early elections.

The threat of widespread unrest has led the UK government to advised its nationals to leave Venezuela.

Families of British diplomats and non-essential members of staff will be withdrawn.

On Saturday Foreign Office spokesman in London said the fuel shortages were "likely to impact on critical supplies of essential commodities in coming days and might in turn trigger disturbances".

Several other countries - the US, Canada and Germany - have already given similar travel advice to their residents.

Dec 22nd, 2002, 05:42 AM
I feel for Chavez too. If my dictatorship was coming to an end, I wouldn't be very happy either :p

Dec 22nd, 2002, 06:19 AM
Venezuela troops tackle strike :wavey:
Sunday 22 December 2002, 14:30PM

Military troops went on the offensive on Saturday to crush a 20-day-old strike that idled Venezuela's oil sector, but workers remained defiant, while foreign nationals were urged to leave the country.

As the government announced a military plan to enforce a Supreme Court order for oil workers to resume work, troops reportedly arrested and handcuffed striking oil tanker crews.

Further fueling the tension, the right-wing opposition claimed its leaders escaped after being tipped off that political police were about to arrest them.

Defence Minister Jose Luis Prieto said he formed a task force charged with ending the strike, and warned that recalcitrant workers will be punished.

The opposition promptly responded with a pledge to pursue the protest aimed at forcing the resignation of President Hugo Chavez, whose term ends in 2006.

"We warn the people not to give up their struggle," said Eddy Ramirez, a spokesman for the strikers.

As strike organisers addressed journalists at a Caracas hotel, they received a tip-off that police were gathering outside and were set to arrest them, according to opposition spokesman William Davila.

Business leader Carlos Fernandez, unionist Carlos Ortega and other opposition officials left the hotel through a back door and drove off, he said.

The government made it clear it fully intended to crush what officials call an illegal and even treasonable strike.

Soldiers on Saturday raised the anchor of the Pilin Leon oil tanker, which had become emblematic of the strike that immobilised it in western Venezuela's Lake Maracaibo.