The U.S. media is aghast that Colombian mercenaries were hired to assassinate Haiti’s president, but this is the same operation that was hired by a U.S. company to murder Hugo Chavez — a story which got no U.S. press.
For more on the kidnap and failed assassination of Hugo Chavez read this excerpt from The Best Democracy Money Can Buy…
The Price of Dissent: Venezuela, Exception to the New Globalization Order, Taken Hostage
Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand lies. Take the San Francisco Chronicles’s front-page story of June 13, 2002. Not much of a story actually, just a big photo of angry people and a caption under the headline “100,000 March Against Venezuelan President.” The caption said the angry people wanted Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, kicked out. The demonstrators say Chavez is a dictator. There was no story beyond the photo and caption from Reuters (Mr. Manisty’s amenable service), but they ran in almost every paper in the USA.
I’d just come back from Caracas — and I have to report the photo is legit. In fact, I saw a good 200,000 march against President Hugo Chavez. But what the American papers did not report was that nearly half a million Venezuelans marched for Chavez. By the time the story reached the New York Times, the anti-Chavez crowd had metastasized into 600,000, a fantasy easy to print as the paper of record had no reporter in Venezuela. Pro-Chavez demonstrations of up to a million citizens had, appropriate to Latin America, “disappeared” from American papers and broadcasts.
This Stalinesque cropping of the news simply continued the yearlong disinformation campaign against the populist South American president. It hit bottom when, on April 12 and 13, 2002, every major paper in the USA — with no exception — announced that Chavez had resigned his presidency. He was “unpopular,” he was “dictatorial” and so, admitting to these truths, he quit. Two things caught my eye about that story: First, every one of these factoids was dead wrong. Second, almost all papers used identical words, the ones quoted, plus “resigned” . . . which I traced back to a U.S. State Department briefing.
In fact, President Chavez had been kidnapped but had spoken to cabinet members via a cell phone handed him by a sympathetic guard. Chavez had agreed to his “arrest” by leaders of a coup d’état who, had he resisted, would have slaughtered everyone in Venezuela’s White House, Mirafiores. But, he told his cabinet, “I am still president.” Within twenty-four hours, Chavez was back at his desk, “unresigned.”
What was this all about — a president taken hostage, the bent coverage, the smears? Why was the Bush administration’s maniacal hatred of Chavez fiercer, if less public, than its hatred of Saddam Hussein? In Caracas, Chavez minister Miguel Bustamante Madriz explained it to me. “America can’t let us stay in power. We are the exception to the new globalization order. If we succeed, we are an example to all the Americas.” Bustamante Madriz, who had first tipped me off about the false “resignation” reports, is a lucky man. He came close to a bullet in the head from the coup leaders. But he didn’t feel lucky. The Bush administration still had his government in its crosshairs.
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That Bush had played footsy with the coup plotters is beyond question. Chavez has videotape of a U.S. military attaché from our embassy entering the army base where Chavez was held captive — something the State Department would not deny. And there was no denying that Bush’s ambassador had rushed down from his hilltop compound to have his picture taken with the grinning cutthroats who had overthrown a democratically elected president. Bush’s White House is quoted as saying that Chavez’s election by “a majority of voters” did not confer “legitimacy” on his government. (How appropriate from the victors of Florida.)
What “exception to the new globalization order” could instigate such fury from Washington?
Back to the demonstrations. On May Day, 200,000 blondes started out from the Hilton Hotel marching east through Caracas’s shopping corridor along Casanova Avenue. At the same time, half a million brunettes converged on them from the west. It would all have seemed like a comic shampoo commercial if sixteen people hadn’t been shot dead when the two groups crossed paths two weeks earlier.
The May Day brunettes support Chavez. They funneled down from the “ranchos,” pustules of crude red-brick bungalows, stacked one on the other, that erupt on the steep, unstable hillsides surrounding the capital city. The bricks in some ranchos are new, a recent improvement in these fetid, impromptu slums where many previously sheltered behind cardboard walls. “Chavez gives them bricks and milk,” a local TV reporter told me, not hiding her contempt, “and so they vote for him.”
Chavez’s crimes go beyond giving milk and housing to the poor. His real sin was to pass two laws through Venezuela’s national assembly. First was the Ley de Tierras, the new land law that promised to give unused land to the landless — but only those properties held out of production for more than two years by big plantation owners.
But Chavez’s tenure would not have been threatened had he not also passed the petroleum law that doubled the royalty taxes paid by ExxonMobil and other oil operators from about 16 percent to roughly 30 percent on new finds. Chavez also moved to take control of the state oil company PDVSA — nominally owned by the government, but in fact in thrall to these foreign operators.
This was no minor matter to the United States. Few Americans realize that Venezuela has at times become the USA’s number-one supplier of foreign oil. It was the South American nation that broke the back of the 1973 Arab oil embargo by increasing output from its vast reserves way beyond its OPEC quota. Chavez is not only president of Venezuela, but equally importantly, president of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Chavez had almost single-handedly rebuilt OPEC by committing Venezuela to adhere to OPEC sales quotas, causing world oil prices to double to over $20 per barrel. It was this oil money that paid for the “bricks and milk” program and put Chavez head to head against ExxonMobil, the number-one extractor of Venezuelan oil.
As OPEC’s general secretary Ali Rodriguez says: “The dependence of the U.S. on oil is increasing progressively. Venezuela is one of the most important suppliers of the U.S., and the stability of Venezuela is very important for [them].” It is from Rodriguez that I learned the April 12, 2002, coup was enacted before the plotters were ready, and why. Iraq and Libya were trying to organize OPEC to stop exporting oil to the United States to protest American support of Israel. U.S. access to Venezuela’s oil suddenly became urgent. The April 12 coup against Chavez was triggered by U.S. fears of a renewed Arab oil embargo without the Venezuela failsafe in place. Chavez had to go, and right now.
The Ultimate in Corporate Lobbying
Chavez is dark and round as a cola nut. Like his followers, he is an “Indian.” But the blondes, the “Spanish,” are the owners of Venezuela. A group near me on the blonde march screamed “Out! Out!” in English, demanding the removal of the president. One edible-oils executive, in high heels, designer glasses and push-up bra had turned out, she said, “To fight for democracy.” She added: “We’ll try to do it institutionally,” a phrase that meant nothing to me until a banker in pale pink lipstick explained that Chavez’s removal “can’t wait until the next election.”
Like their hero George W. Bush, the anti-Chavistas don’t equate democracy with voting. With 80 percent of Venezuela’s population at or below the poverty level, elections are not attractive to the protesting financiers. Chavez had won the election in 1998 with a crushing 58 percent of the popular vote and that was unlikely to change except at gunpoint.
And so on April 12 the business leadership of Venezuela, backed by a few “Spanish” generals, turned their guns on the presidential palace and kidnapped Chavez. Pedro Carmona, the chief of Fedecamaras, the nation’s confederation of business and industry, declared himself president. One might say this coup was the ultimate in corporate lobbying. Within hours, Carmona set about voiding the forty-nine Chavez laws that had so annoyed the captains of industry, executives of the foreign oil companies and latifundistas, the big plantation owners. Carmona had dressed himself in impressive ribbons and braids for the inauguration. In the Miraflores ballroom, filled with the Venezuelan elite, Ignazio Salvatierra, president of the Bankers’ Association, signed his name to Carmona’s self-election with a grand fiourish. The two hugged emotionally as the audience applauded.
Carmona then decreed the dissolution of his nation’s congress and supreme court while the business people clapped and chanted,“Democracia! Democracia!” I later learned the Cardinal of Caracas had led Carmona into the presidential palace, a final Genet-esque touch to this delusional drama. But this fantasy would evaporate “by the crowing of the cock,” as Chavez told me in his poetic way.
OPEC director Rodriguez, now a lawyer-executive but once a leftist guerrilla in Venezuela’s mountains, helped clear up a mystery for me: How Chavez saved himself from execution by the coup plotters. It turns out Rodriguez had telephoned his old buddy Chavez from OPEC headquarters in Geneva just before the coup to tip him off about the Arab embargo talk. Chavez himself told me that the call helped him prepare. According to Juan Barreto, a leader of Mr. Chavez’s party in the national assembly, pro- Chavez troops were hidden in the corridors underneath the presidential palace.
On April 13, corporate coup leader Carmona, fresh from his fantasy inaugural, received a call from the head of a pro-Chavez paratroop regiment stationed in Maracay, outside the capital. Up to a million Venezuelans were marching on the presidential palace demanding Chavez’s return. Carmona, surrounded, could choose his method of death: bullets from the inside, rockets from above, or dismemberment by the encircling “bricks and milk” crowd. Carmona took off his costume ribbons and surrendered.
While the immediate cause of America’s panicked need to remove Chavez was a looming oil embargo, the heart of the Bush administration’s grievance goes much deeper, to Venezuela’s unique place as the “Anti-Argentina” — to globalizers, the economic equivalent of the Anti-Christ. Argentina accepted the World Bank’s four-step economic medicine with fatal glee: free trade, “flexible” labor laws, privatization and reduced government budgets and regulation. Chavez rejects it all outright, beginning with the phony “free” trade agenda under the terms of the WTO and NAFTA (which the United States would expand to South America under the aegis of the Free Trade Area of the Americas). Trade under these terms is anything but free to the peoples of the Southern Hemisphere — the “Opium Wars” coercive imbalance as identified by Joe Stiglitz. Instead, Chavez calls for a change in the North-South terms of trade, increasing the value of commodities exported to Europe and America. Chavez’s longer-term policies of rebuilding OPEC and higher tariffs on oil must be seen in the context of smashing imbalanced trade relations epitomized by the WTO.
We saw how the World Bank’s secret June 2001 “Country Assistance Strategy” progress report ordered Argentina to pull out of its economic depression by increasing “labor force flexibility.” This required cutting works programs, smashing union rules and slicing real wages. Contrast that with Chavez’s first act after defeating the coup: announcing a 20 percent increase in the minimum wage. Chavez’s protection of the economy by increasing the purchasing power of the lower-paid workers, rather than cutting wages, is anathema to the globalizers.
Chavez moved to renationalize oil and rejected the sale of Venezuela’s water systems, while Argentina sold off everything including the kitchen-sink tap. Economist Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic Policy Research calculated that the loss of income from state businesses accounts for 100 percent of Argentina’s cavernous fiscal deficit. Argentina followed World Bank and WTO directions and sold off the banks and water companies owned by the state or Argentines to Citibank, Enron, Bank Santander and Vivendi of the United States, Spain and France. These swiftly vacuumed up Argentina’s hard currency reserves, setting the stage for the national bankruptcy at the first hint of speculator-driven currency panics. Imagine if Argentina had not sold off its oil companies on the cheap, or impoverished Ecuador had not dropped out of OPEC — they would today be wealthy, not wanting.
Chavez took the path exactly opposite to the guidance given, and ultimately imposed, on Argentina by the World Bank and IMF. To pull out of the downturn threatened by a corporate embargo of investment in his nation, Chavez taxed the oil companies and spent the money — the “bricks and milk” solution, old-style Keynesianism. This is none too revolutionary despite his rhetoric. Chavez is no Fidel — in fact, he’s not a socialist of any sort. With Marx discredited as the philosophy of the “losers” of the Cold War, “Chavismo” is as radical as it gets. Chavez is an old-style social democratic reformer: increased investment in housing and infrastructure, control over commodity export prices and land to the landless — an attack on the “landlordism” that Professor Stiglitz places at the heart of world poverty. Had Chavez won office in the time of Jack Kennedy, he would have fit in nicely with the old “Alliance for Progress” development model, JFK’s kinder, gentler answer to Communism. Today, Chavez’s redistributionist reformism offers an operating, credible alternative to the IMF’s corporate-friendly free market nostrums.
Unfortunately for Chavez, his economic plan was working. Despite the European and American media’s hoo-ha over how Chavez has “ruined” Venezuela’s economy, its gross domestic product grew by 2.8 percent in 2001. And it wasn’t all due to improvements in oil prices; excluding crude oil, economic activity jumped by about 4 percent. Compare the “ruined” Venezuelan economy to Argentina, which the World Bank displayed as the pet student of market theory, now a financial delinquent.
The Keystone Kops-style plot against Chavez by Venezuela’s military-industrial complex served Big Oil’s interests. But that’s an old-style shoot-’em-up coup, likely to fail. The coup d’états of the twenty-first century will follow the Argentine model, in which the international banks seize the financial lifeblood of a nation, making the official presidential titleholder merely inconsequential except as a factotum of the corporate agenda.
This is what Chavez’s minister meant when he said Venezuela represented a threatening example that could not be allowed to succeed. Dissent from the new globalization order will be punished. Already, the plan I saw put in place in Chile against Allende (President Richard Nixon’s order to his CIA chief to “make their economy scream”) is in the offing for Venezuela: capital boycotts, sabotage, disinformation intended to cause panics and financial runs. And lastly, there is the all-important propaganda war aimed at U.S. citizens to ensure that Americans remain ignorant and quiescent when a democratically elected president is assassinated, overthrown or hounded from office.
Greg Palast (Rolling Stone, Guardian, BBC) is the author of The New York Times bestsellers, Billionaires & Ballot Bandits and the book and documentary,
The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.
His latest film is Vigilante: Georgia's Vote Suppression Hitman
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