The problem the Bush administration has with Venezuela’s populist President Hugo Chavez, is his “heretical” views about the disposition of Venezuela’s oil wealth. Chavez believes that oil revenues generated by Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) should benefit the people of Venezuela rather than being recycled back to the United States.
In 1998 Chavez defeated an oligarchy composed of Euro-Venezuelans (mantuanos) and its corrupt political system. The Euro-Venezuelans could be counted on to recycle petro-dollars to the United States, engage in lavish shopping sprees in Miami and purchase US securities and real estate while people of Amerindian or African ancestry (pardos) suffered varying degrees of poverty.
Chavez, a former military officer, is a pardo and his determination to alter the situation was viewed as an attack on the international trade and financial system based on the preservation of dollar hegemony. As long as petro-dollars were recycled to the United States, as long as oil was priced in dollars, then, as Henry L. K. Liu observed in Asian Times, the U.S. could “continue to produce dollars while the rest of the world produced things that dollars … buy.”
In order to carry out the popular mandates in the 1999 Constitution which established the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the 67 percent of oil revenues dedicated to PDVSA “operating costs” would have to be reduced. Chavez’s efforts to get these costs under control have led to the current “strike” of oil industry executives and managers who, having grown rich off these costs, desire an even greater share through the privatization of Petroleos de Venezuela.
What is standing in the way of both the mantanos and privatization is Hugo Chavez and the poor peasantry, landless rural workers, the urban poor, sections of the working class and the traditional petty bourgeoisie, as well as segments of the military. Hundreds of thousands of Chavez supporters have organized themselves into Bolivarian Circles, whose tasks include raising the consciousness of citizens, developing new forms of participatory organizations in communities, and engaging in projects in the areas of culture, health, education, recreation, and housing, as well as preserving Venezuela’s historical heritage.
Efforts to remove Chavez became a priority for the Bush administration and the Chamber of Commerce of Venezuela who staged a two-day coup in April 2002 that resulted in Pedro Carmona, president of Venezuela’s Chamber of Commerce assuming the position of head of government. Carmona’s first moves included: suspending the National Assembly and the Supreme Court, annulling the constitution; and changing the name of the country. The coup was carried out in the name of preserving democracy and was greeted with glee from the White House. which was actively involved in its organization.
The failed coup provided an opportunity to purge the military of graduates of the School of the Americas; accelerate the development of Bolivarian Circles and intensify the process of land redistribution. According to Al Giordino, publisher of Narco News, the mobilization of the formally excluded represented a “revolutionary process sweeping away decades of a caste system.” Rejecting their subordination to the mantuanos, peasants and the bulk of impoverished workers have become conscious of themselves as historical subjects, “no longer available to report for duty as slaves.”
A failed coup and the emergence of revolutionary consciousness among formerly oppressed workers and peasants have increased the desperation of Venezuelan elites as well as the Bush administration. The latest “strike” in the oil industry temporarily halted oil exports. But the executives of PDVSA who plotted the strike have either been fired or replaced with managers loyal to the Bolivarian Revolution. While not yet back to full production, oil exports have been increasing. According to Ali Rodriquez, President of the state oil monopoly, Venezuela will once again be producing more than 2 million barrels a day and will meet its export commitment by the end of January.
With the oil strike collapsing and the anti-democratic executives and managers discharged, the Bush administration is again trying to force Chavez from office, reaching outside Venezuela to Caesar Gaviria, head of the Organization of the American States, to engineer a regime change. In a Washington Post article mistitled “Venezuela Initiative Readied: US Plan Seeks to End Conflict,” Karen D. Young writes about a US initiative to establish “Friends of Venezuela” who would force Chavez to submit to early elections. This hostile initiative will fail just as the coup and strikes have failed to topple Chavez. But its intent will be clearly revealed: dispose of Hugo Chavez to send a warning to the newly elected Presidents, Lula de Silva of Brazil and Lucio Gutierrez of Ecuador about the limits of economic “heresy.”
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