Sunday, May 15, 2005

What scares them so much? 

The editor of Ultimas Noticias, which is by far the most widely read and respected paper in Venezuela (it actually always tries to tell both sides of the story which is a novel concept in Venezuela these days), Eleazar Diaz Rangel writes a column each Sunday called “The Sundays of Diaz Rangel”. They are often very good so I will be reproducing many of them here in english. Here is this weeks column which makes a very important point:

Los Domingos de Diaz Rangel

What worrys them so much?

Pilgrims running around the world against Venezuela

That is a question that Venezuelans are asking them selves for months now, when at the highest levels of the American government they keep declaring their concern for Venezuela. When they had a chance to get rid of Chavez they tried various options: the coup of April 2002, the strike and the revocatory referendum. And as they have already given up on being able to beat Chavez in the 2006 elections they are now desperately looking for other ways with the support of Latin American.

What worrys them so? Clearly, it can’t be that almost a million and a half Venezuelans have learned to read and write. And why should it bother them that so many poor people have access to health care through Mission Barrio Adentro [Places 20,000+ Cuban and Venezuelan doctors in poor neighborhoods to provide free health care]? Or that people can purchase basic necessities at low cost in the Mercal markets? Nothing that is occuring here, not even that Chavez has 70% support and that the opposition finds itself in its worst moment; nothing of that is really the true cause for so much concern in the White House.

The answer could be somethign that Dr. Ramon Velasquez told me more than a year ago: that the United States is more worried about the influence that Chavez has abroad then what is actually happening here inside Venezuela.

Many years ago, Roger Maris, member of the Nacional Security Counsel of the U.S. said: “Henry Kissenger considered Allende a much more dangerous threat than Castro. If the consciousness of Latin America was awakened some day it wouldn’t be because of Castro. It was Allende that was the living example of social reform and democracy in South America. There were ocurring disasterous events in the world at that time, but only Chile frightened Kissinger”

It doesn’t take much imagination to change the names and dates and realize that Bush and his collaborators have arrived at similiar conclusions.

In the Oval Office one must have heard the alarm over events – “The Presidents of Central America are very concerned over the increasing protests in Nicaragua demanding the resignation of the President there.” – revealed an article in the Associated Press. More than a million Mexicans forced president Fox to take a step back and allow Lopez Obrador to be a presidential candidate and from all appearences he’ll be the next president of Mexico. In Ecuador, President Gutierrez, who was very aligned with U.S. policies was forced out and the future is uncertain. And nearby, in Peru, the popularity of Toledo is only 6%. The situation in Bolivia couldn’t be more worrying as Evo Morales will probably win the next elections. And leftists won the presidential and parlimentary elections in Uruguay for the first time in 100 years.

The agreements between Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela in oil and other areas have gone much further than had been thought. (They must be carefull in their disagreements with Brazil and Argentina due to their position in the Security Council of the U.N.) And Bush’s proposed free trade agreement, ACLA, couldn’t be doing worse.

But that is not all. No one a year ago imagined that a South American Community of Nations would be created- much less that it would have a summit with 22 Arab countries. And did you read the final declaration from that summit? Each paragraph condemmed U.S. policies: a unipolar hegemonistic world, unilateral measures, and what the U.S. conception of terrorism is. But what is even worse is what happened in the OAS. The U.S. backed a conservative Salvadoran and after a little while they saw that wasn’t going to work; then they supported the Mexican candidate and the OAS divided into equal factions of 17 countries each; when facing certain defeat they had to abandon the Mexican and finally support the Chilean candidate.

That is how things have been recently. (Years ago, the U.S. candidate to head the Interamerican Human Rights Commission was defeated for the first time in the history of the OAS, in spite of Colin Powell’s lobbying; worse still it was a Venezuelan that won). Luigi Einaudi of the U.S. didn’t hide his disgust in front of a group of journalists over the influece that Venezuela has had even over english speaking countries (“they sell them cheap oil”) and that Venezuela’s proposals always get as many votes as those of the U.S. Even more recenlty Lulu [President of Brazil] was in Venezuela to sign a “strategic alliance”.

Even the extreme right newspaper, the Washington Times, editorialized over the failed trips of Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld who tried to condem Venezuela in the OAS. Everywhere their message was rejected. For example, the position of Chilean President Lagos is to move even closer to Venezuela. Even the Colombians don’t go along and “turn the page on the purchase of arms” contraversy that the Bush administration had been bringin up everywhere.

Naturally, the U.S. thinks Chavez is guilty of everything. But with this tack they will certianly keep failing in their Latin America policy. They simply don’t realize that the changes that are occurring in Latin America come from within each individual country and region, although certainly encouraged by the news of what is happening in Venezuela. Maybe if some day they would just listen to Violeta Parra, Ruben Blades, and Ali Primera they would understand better what is happening.

I think Diaz Rangel has really hit the nail on the head here. What concerns the U.S. isn’t Venzezuela becoming another Cuba – that certainly is not going to happen. As has been mentioned here before even most Chavez supporters neither think nor desire that Venezuela become another Cuba. And having another Cuba wouldn’t scare the U.S. so. A dictatorial country with a failed economy certainly isn’t going to serve as a role model for change in Latin America.

But the Venezuelan model, with complete democracy, freedom, and a very succesfull economy all combined with extensive and highly popular social programs most certainly is a model which people all over Latin America are seeking to emulate. When Chavez shows up on a stage in Brazil with Lula it is Chavez who is cheered and who has to tell the crowd not to boo Lula. From the Tierra del Fuego to the Rio Grande there is no one more popular right now than Chavez with his 6 years in office and 70% approval rating. You don’t win office in Latin America these days by running away from Chavez, you win by getting him to stand on the stage with you. And THAT has the powers that be in Washington mortified.


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