Thursday, September 08, 2005
U.S. tries everything, but can't slow Chavez
BY PABLO BACHELET
Knight Ridder Newspapers
WASHINGTON - (KRT) - Several months ago, the Bush administration decided to implement a two-pronged policy to contain Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez: expose him before his regional peers as a dangerous meddler and support Venezuelan institutions such as labor unions and political parties as a way to offset his growing power.
But the policy has gotten off to a rocky start, interviews with former and current administration officials and analysts show.
Chavez, who openly touts his friendship with Cuban leader Fidel Castro, has proved adept at countering every challenge thrown his way by Washington, observers say. Latin American nations have been reluctant to turn against a neighbor flush with oil money, and administration officials say they're unwilling to reveal the most damning evidence against Chavez for fear of compromising intelligence sources.
On the public-relations front, the administration has struggled to produce an alternative to Chavez's populist appeal.
''The alternative should not be how you stop Chavez but how you have an alternative message for the region that is more compelling,'' said Bernard Aronson, who was assistant secretary of state for Latin America in the early 1990s.
The Bush administration lost much of its leverage on Venezuela after it appeared to condone a failed coup against Chavez in April of 2002, undermining Washington's reputation as a defender of democracy. Afterward, Washington supported an ''electoral'' and ''constitutional'' solution to Venezuela's political crisis. With mediation by the Organization of American States and the Carter Center, Venezuela held a recall referendum on Chavez in August 2004 that he easily won.
After the referendum, the administration went back to the drawing board to come up with a new policy. Officials say some in the government advocated a get-tough approach by, for instance, turning a spotlight on allegations that Chavez did not play fair in the referendum or turning up negative evidence about Chavez's record on human rights and corruption . There was at least one proposal that would have affected Venezuela's oil industry.
''Scrimmages within the administration on Venezuela were often very, very rough,'' said Miguel Diaz, a former CIA analyst on Latin America who tracked the internal debate on Venezuela last year for the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
In January, the State Department decided to form its own task force to better monitor events in Venezuela.
The policy review was completed in the spring. The idea was to help the Venezuelan opposition and other ''civil society'' groups with money and other resources supplied by the National Endowment for Democracy - a private institution that obtains most of its money from the U.S. Congress - and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Chavez has accused the National Endowment for Democracy of supporting groups that have tried to overthrow him.
The administration also wants Latin Americans and Europeans to do the same, creating what the official described as ``connections between their NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and Venezuela.''
In early June, Bush met at the White House with Maria Corina Machado, a spokeswoman for Sumate, a grass-roots citizen participation movement. Machado is facing treason charges for accepting U.S. funds to promote the recall referendum.
At the same time, officials have tried to put the spotlight on Chavez's purported meddling in places such as Bolivia and Ecuador.
Roger Pardo-Maurer, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's top advisor on Latin America, in July told the Heritage Institute, a conservative think tank, that Cuba and Venezuela had a deliberate plan to make Bolivia a ``Marxist, radical, anti-U.S., pro-Cuba, drug-production state.''
Rumsfeld said last month that Cuba and Venezuela have been involved in Bolivia ``in unhelpful ways.''
Bush administration officials have said Venezuela provided cash and other assistance to radical groups. But the administration has declined to go into details, citing concerns that doing so would reveal intelligence-gathering sources.
The result is that U.S. statements have sounded mostly empty, analysts said.
Chavez has dismissed most U.S. allegations against his government as lies or intrusions into the sovereign affairs of a state. He has also gone on the offensive.
He dismisses Bush's push for free trade in the hemisphere as a self-serving ''neo-liberal'' ploy to further impoverish Latin Americans. He has increased his influence in the region by spending hundreds of millions of dollars on bonds from Ecuador and Argentina, and has offered cheap oil to Caribbean nations.
The administration was embarrassed when the Rev. Pat Robertson, a religious broadcaster and former Republican presidential candidate, suggested last month that Chavez be assassinated.
Robertson eventually apologized, but to many Latin Americans the affair appeared to give credibility to Chavez's assertions that Bush was plotting to kill him.
When the United States tried to get the Organization of American States to make sure countries are governing more democratically, Venezuela successfully spearheaded a campaign to water down the initiative.
''Every time there is a public-relations crisis (the Bush administration) seems to be on the losing end,'' Diaz said.
© 2005, The Miami Herald.
What this says to me is that the conservative media is owning up to the fact that Chavez is actually doing somehting right. Call it Propoganda or what you will, the fact that this type of commentary is necessary to convey a message, the message that they deem more people need to notice, is testimony to the governments achievements. In essence the spin has spun out. El topo (spherical toy spun with a string) has lost its momentum, and what seems like an honest approach, is being sought to deal with the success of the Venezuelan Governments implementation of its plans. Why, one may ask, does spin need to be added? Because it goes against all the precepts that foreign governements have for control over dominions not their own. A new plan of sorts has to be meshed out, and it may be the circumstance that the BS has run its course in the face of unprecedented success. Take the case of the accusations of Venezuela providing funding to Bolivia. Accusations come cheap, proof comes with expensive excuses, the likes of which has brought forth an honest interpretation of the mistakes made in assessing how foreing policy is to be handled against a government that is both, critical of superpowers yet remains unequivocally democratic. A scourge for imperialist domination, when a country has the wherewithall to understand its situation and play by the rules.
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Venezuela's Chavez Avoids Class War
By Sergio Pareja
Pat Robertson's recently retracted suggestion that the United States should "take out" Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is an extreme echo of the views of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Earlier this year when asked by Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., if there was anything good she could say about Chavez, she responded, "It's pretty hard ... to find something positive."
I have traveled to Venezuela to visit family all my life. During my most recent trip, I could not avoid hearing about the "evils" of Chavez from the well-off, many of whom are convinced that he will turn Venezuela into a socialist dictatorship. Although this group recognizes that Chavez has done some good things for Venezuela, they think the bad greatly outweighs the good.
The huge lower class, on the other hand, adores Chavez and can point to countless positive developments during his presidency.
While in Venezuela this past June and July, I made it my personal quest to determine why Venezuela's upper classes hate Chavez. "He's a socialist," was a common response. Another common response was that he provokes the United States with his anti-imperialist rhetoric.
Other responses I received had more to do with guilt by association: Chavez hangs out with Fidel Castro and even visited Saddam Hussein at least once. Finally, I was commonly told that he is usurping patriotism for his political advantage and that he is trying to pack the courts with judges who think like he does. Sound familiar?
"But what is Chavez doing that you hate so much?" I asked. "What, specifically, are his governing policies?" The answers I received, while purely anecdotal, were telling. In general, the wealthy criticize his taxes and social programs, many of which are remarkably similar to U.S. social programs.
I discovered that, for the first time in Venezuela's history, the government is truly enforcing its tax laws. What does this mean from a leader who claims to be a "21st century socialist"? I asked my cousin, a successful orthopedic surgeon, what he now must pay in income taxes under Chavez. "10 percent to 15 percent of my income," was the response— not quite the wealth redistribution I'd envisioned.
I also learned that one of the biggest complaints about Chavez is that he has raised the national minimum wage from about $25 a week to about $40 a week. For live-in household servants, the rate increased from about $15 a week to about $25 a week.
To put this in context, this is what it costs to have somebody work for you from before sunrise until after dinner. Servants cook, clean, do laundry, watch your children, and basically do anything you ask them to do.
What else has Chavez done? In exchange for oil to Cuba, Castro has sent teams of Cuban physicians to Venezuela. Chavez then sends them into poor neighborhoods to provide free health care for people who have never seen a doctor in their lives.
In addition, he has built vocational schools in poor neighborhoods so poor people can learn skills that will allow them to earn more. The wealthy view this as raising the cost of labor.
What else has Chavez done? The Chavez government uses its oil wealth to hire workers to engage in public works projects, such as fixing potholes in roads, keeping parks clean, and improving public buildings. For example, the government is building the first-ever public subway system in Valencia. People of means complain that "only poor people will use it."
The government also has started a housing program for the poor through which the government works with builders to build livable, low-cost housing. It works with banks to provide long-term, low-interest loans to home buyers.
The feeling I got in Venezuela last month is that people with money still have money. I saw an abundance of new expensive cars on the road. One of my uncles continues to build and run high- rise apartments and hotels at a healthy profit.
I saw a complete freedom to speak out against the government, with daily newspaper articles and songs on the radio calling for Chavez's ouster. It made me question our freedom here in the United States. With so many people here opposed to the war in Iraq, and with some brilliant anti-war songs being written, why haven't I heard even one of those songs on the radio?
I am painfully aware that Chavez may ultimately turn out to be a cruel and corrupt dictator. That has been the history of Venezuela, and it certainly could happen again.
However, by giving a voice to the poor, Chavez also may have prevented a bloody class war. I have seen that Venezuelan war coming for years.
It is an embarrassment that our secretary of state doesn't see, or won't admit to seeing, any of the good that Chavez has done. It's also an embarrassment that the founder of the largest Christian political organization in this country would call for Chavez's assassination.
Sergio Pareja teaches at the University of New Mexico School of Law.
is getting off to a very good start and looks to be promising for the Pan Caribbean countries that have chosen to sign on to the alternative to US free trade agreements:
Chavez and the leaders of nine nations signed accords Tuesday that set out the details of the Venezuelan leader's Petrocaribe initiative, which could help some of the more fragile economies in the region survive the shock of higher fuel prices.
Those signing the accords included the Dominican Republic, which has already proposed a series of national measures aimed at curbing fuel consumption, along with smaller countries such as Antigua, Suriname and St. Kitts and Nevis.
Under the plan, Caribbean governments would pay market price for Venezuelan oil, but they would only be required to pay a portion of the cost up front and could finance the rest over 25 years at 1 percent interest, Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson told the gathering. Governments could also pay for part of the cost with services or goods such as rice, bananas or sugar while oil-rich Venezuela would provide assistance in expanding shipping and refining facilities.
Venezuelan Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said the Petrocaribe initiative may also be extended to any interested Central American nations.
Definitely a step in the right direction for Latin America and the Caribbean. Hopefully Central America will notice the success and join in before signing long term free trade agreements.
Venezuela to seize Heinz plant
CARACAS, Venezuela -- A state governor allied to leftist President Hugo Chavez has ordered Venezuelan troops to seize an abandoned tomato-processing plant owned by the H.J. Heinz Co., a state official said Monday.
The plant in the eastern state of Monagas still belongs to Heinz but hasn't been used for years, said Angelica Rivero, a spokeswoman for the governor.
"The governor decided to seize the plant so it can be protected from looters and later be put to use," Rivero said.
Monagas Gov. Jose Gregorio Briceno told the state-run Bolivarian News Agency the plant changed hands several times under previous governments before Heinz bought it in 1997 and later ceased operations.
Has taken assets of other firms
Debbie Foster, a spokeswoman for the Pittsburgh-based food company, said the plant had not been used for eight to 10 years but gave no other comment.
Venezuela's constitution says the government will respect private property but that the state may expropriate property if for public use or "social interest," as long as compensation is paid.
Sounds like its time to make it work for for the people. Ketchup anyone?
Venezuela August car sales up 71.6% on year, off 7.7% on month
(I know OW likes these, and so should you!)
CARACAS (MarketWatch) -- Venezuela's automobile industry sold 18,544 vehicles in August, up 71.64% from the same period last year but down 7.65% from July, the Cavenez automobile industry chamber reported Tuesday. Sales of imported cars have begun to climb in recent months as the economy continues its recovery, Cavenez data show.
Current car sales for the year now stand at 136,196 units, 82% higher than sales during the same eight months of 2004.
Last year, car dealerships sold a total of 134,357 vehicles, a considerable jump from 2003 when the economy experienced a deep economic slump.
Tax exemptions on cars assembled in Venezuela, economic growth of over 17% over last year, expected to gain another 5% this year, Gas at 0.17!!! Deme dos!
Lastly, a candid look inside the New Orleans Disaster
from someone who knows.
Monday, September 05, 2005
The major challenge the Bush Administration has to contend with is the lack of Federal Government response to a disaster that was forecasted to be extremely severe.
“"If it were a Category 4 storm, the scale and scope of what we would do would be much greater," Hosler said. "We would have more emergency response vehicles already pre-positioned the area. We would have more Red Cross kitchens identified and ready to open."
In fact it was known that the levee system surrounding New Orleans could not support any hurricane measuring a category 4 or better. Further, the rising waters were also known to be an aftereffect of the hurricane not a separate natural disaster as some government officials have been trying to portray. The result is the virtual drowning of an entire metropolitan area whose effects on the economy can only be speculated upon.
What Katrina has managed to do very effectively, as if its winds had a metaphysical force to extend over into the ethereal world, is to blow off the thin veneer of seemingly stable social society. The winds have blown the wool that shields the eyes of the American public and has exposed the true ugly skeleton of racial, social and class exclusion, that naturally manifests itself into the guy we see floating bags of looted beer on makeshift rafts made from the flotsam of what used to be other peoples homes. The question to ask is what condition were these people living under to have them now take advantage of what may seem like an opportunity? Can a governments will to help its citizenry be inferred by the actions it takes under trying times?
February, 2005 Vargas, Caracas, Venezuela: In February of this year, 6 months prior to the Katrina devastation the Venezuelan government also faced a challenge. Heavy rains in the mountainous region of Vargas are caused massive flooding. The Venezuelan government, however, had its finger on the pulse of the storm. When conditions got to the point where action needed to be taken to avoid a repeat of the devastating 1999 mud and rock slide that killed up to 30,000 people, it mobilized and proceeded with a coherent plan to evacuate its citizens using the nations resources to ensure their safety.
Perhaps the Venezuelan Governments actions were guided more out of weariness at a repeat of the 1999 catastrophic loss of life. But then any land mass along the Gulf area is prone to severe weather, as the US knows all too well by the several hurrcanes that have caused damage in Florida. Many times natural disasters promote the growth of economies. The devastation on one hand terrible as it may be will be cancelled out by the need to rebuild which takes money loaned and money spent. Wherein lies the heart of action in saving peoples lives? Where is to be found the act of consciously helping, at any expense? It is not hard to see why The Venezuelan Government leads by example in offering aidto even its staunchest critic. Perhaps it is in this governments nature to extend a helping hand.