The Moment of Truth — February 9, 2002

The Golem Wants to Go Down South

Hi, I’m mejeffdorchen, and welcome to the Moment of Truth, the good part you wish the whole thing could be as good as when you say to yourself, “I wish every part could be as good as the good part.”

Where’s the next target in the US war on terrorism? The Iran/Iraq/North Korea axis of evil? The Phillipines? Indonesia? Sudan?

How about Venezuela? What? Yeah! Have you heard that they have a terrorist president there? Hugo Chavez Frias? President Chavez was elected four years ago by a landslide on his promise to clean out the corrupt government and distribute land and wealth more fairly. He changed the name of the country to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and had the constitution rewritten, having won an 88% percent go-ahead in a national plebiscite on whether he could or not. His reform of the courts and banks initially made it less of a hassle for foreign investors to trust their investments there, and helped bring inflation down from 40% when he took office to 12% at the end of 2001. Economic growth is strong, according to projections for the coming year by Credit Suisse First Boston. Chavez’s federal prescription program makes medicines available to the 80% of the population too poor to pay full price, at up to 40% less than retail. He has moved out of the presidential estate and turned the former presidential palace into a school, gotten rid of private planes and other outrageous perks for government officials, and has not had a single person censored, let alone arrested, for speaking out or demonstrating against his government. A recent examination of journalistic freedom by the Organization of American States gave the Chavez government a clean bill of health, though they did fault his supporters for their angry, and in at least one case violent, demonstrations against the classist media companies that propagandize against their president.

Actually, Chavez’s arrogant style assuages neither such propaganda nor his supporters’ reactionary anger. A majority of doctors and other professionals including engineers and agricultural experts have refused to help with the president’s anti-poverty projects. Business leaders are antagonistic to Chavez’s rhetoric against the neo-liberal globalization policies of the ilk that recently brought catastrophe to Argentina. Together with the media, these sectors have been a huge propaganda pain in Chavez’s ass. Chavez rails back at them on his radio show “Hello President.” They propagandize back at him. Their propaganda and his railing spur anti-Chavez demonstrations and pro-Chavez demonstrations. Chavez’s supporters, who see the president as their only chance to empower themselves, have made it clear with rocks and bottles, and one pipe bomb that thankfully didn’t hurt anyone, how pissed off they get when they hear their leader slandered by those they see as standing in the way of their lives being improved.

And the US State Department has made grunting noises about how unhappy they are that Chavez and Castro are friends. In exchange for oil, Castro sent Venezuela some doctors to help the poor that the high-tone Venezuelan specialists are too good to treat. Chavez has also tried to mediate negotiations between the government of neighboring Colombia and antigovernment Colombian guerrillas. According to Colin Powell, Chavez’s meeting with the guerrillas indicates his support of terrorism.

Now, as we know, support of terrorism is one of the criteria for having your country bombed. And as we also know, standing in the way of US business interests is a good way to get your government toppled by a US-supported coup. The question is whether Venezuela resembles Iran in 1953 and Chile twenty years later, whose elected governments were antagonistic to allowing foreign corporations to dictate their national economic policies, or, say, Afghanistan under the Taliban.

Actually, the question is, can the State Department and its pliant and ignorant propaganda distributors in the US press make us BELIEVE that Chavez is a dictatorial supporter of terrorism, rather than an elected leader of a democracy that just doesn’t happen to want his nation to be bled dry by the likes of the World Economic Forum?

Recently, in spite of wholehearted support of the Chavez government by the vast majority of the military, a couple of generals have spoken out against Chavez, calling him the usual names the capital-sympathetic media use. At the same time, rich anti-Chavez Venezuelan capitalists have been pulling their investments out of the country, which is weakening the economy. This is similar to what happened just before the Pinochet coup in Chile in 1973, when US business and covert government operators undermined the Chilean economy to weaken the elected Allende government. Do these two generals have friends in the CIA and US business kindling their ambitions? Will one of them be the new Pinochet?

The fact is, Chavez is not as mellow as Allende was. This works both to his advantage and his disadvantage. Although he hasn’t actually repressed anyone so far, he yells and threatens a lot. This makes him seem tougher, more like a chewy old coot than a tender pigeon, harder to kill, cut up and devour. It also pisses off people like the US State Department and the business and professional classes of Venezuela, and may be inflammatory enough to contribute to a civil war without any outside help from the Bush administration or the extreme capitalists.

Still, he claims his vision for the Venezuelan economy includes as much free market as possible with only as much state control as necessary to protect social infrastructure and emeliorate poverty, and in spite of his dictatorial dramatics, the society is far more democratic and open than in the years leading up to his election.

Well, we’ve all seen populist reformers go bad, whether through paranoia fed by capitalist-contrived subversion of their rule or simply through their own ruthlessness. And this Chavez guy seems like a good candidate for either one. But I’m gonna ask you all in my most sober tone, which you all know I’m not famous for, to please keep an eye on the situation down there. If he’s gonna screw up, let it be because of himself and not because of the government that WE’RE supposed to be telling what to do. Listen with a critical ear to what’s being said about him and the Venezuelan social situation and economy, and remember to consider the sources.

It just may be possible that a developing nation can recover from oligarchical capitalist explotation, avoiding ruinous policies of global financial preditors, without turning into a social and military casualty of US covert intervention. That would give the global justice movement some concrete policy alternatives to point to that next time around might not require the tactics of a pompous, belligerent strongman to get implemented.

And if our government does end up wielding the terrorism label at anyone who displeases them in any way, as they seem poised to do, we the people have got to be prepared to examine every alleged terrorist on a case-by-case basis, abroad or at home, and speak out when the facts don’t match the propaganda.

This is an especially important responsibility for those of us who supported unleashing US military might against terrorism in the first place.

I’m mejeffdorchen and this has been another Moment of Truth.

[sources for this essay: NY Times; Le Monde Diplomatique; San Francisco Chronicle;; articles by economics historian Steve Ellner; In These Times; Granma International;; Time Europe]