Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez spoke to French industrialists on Oct. 26: “Fidel and I are conspiring … against death, against hunger, against misery, against diseases, against that poverty that grinds down our people. We are helping as many people as we can, not only in America, but throughout the world.”

Those words must have set nerves on edge among Washington’s rich and powerful. In fact, plans are already in place there for war with Venezuela, according to the Washington Post. The 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review lists five nations as possible strategic threats to the United States in the post-Iraq era. Venezuela, a “rogue nation,” is one of them, and “full-spectrum contingency planning” is in full gear. Venezuela’s ties with China, Iran and Russia are worrisome to the Pentagon, and Venezuela is seen as supporting revolutions in Bolivia and Ecuador.

The Chavez government earlier this year activated its 2-million-member reserve force and over the past three months has carried out joint military civilian maneuvers. In December 2004, Venezuela agreed to buy 110,000 rifles, 33 helicopters and 50 fighter-bombers from Russia, and to buy naval aeronautical material, 10 transport planes, and four coast-guard cutters from Spain. The nation is buying 50 training and combat jets from Brazil.

Washington is currently attacking the Chavez government through the back door, from Colombia. Interviewed on Telesur on Nov. 2, President Chavez accused Colombian intelligence agencies of instigating plots against his government, a charge denied by Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe.

On Oct. 27, a military court in Venezuela sent three Venezuelan military officers and 27 Colombian soldiers to jail for their part in an anti-Chavez plot in April 2004. Observers have repeatedly accused U.S. military forces in Colombia of close ties with paramilitary groups there.

And the U.S. government was allegedly involved in the Nov. 18, 2004, assassination of Danilo Anderson, who as prosecutor was investigating the April 2002 abortive coup against Chavez. In a deposition for the trial of Anderson’s killers, witness Giovani Jose Vasquez de Armas claimed that at meetings in Panama, Sept. 3-6, 2003, the plotters “discussed the plan [for assassination] with the help of the FBI and CIA.” The witness stated that in early 2004 they decided to target Anderson, rather than Chavez.

U.S. threats and unsubstantiated claims have become commonplace, with none more spectacular than highly placed evangelical clergyman Pat Robertson’s call on national television for Chavez’s murder.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had set the stage a few months earlier when she referred to “democratically elected leaders who govern in an illiberal way.” U.S. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, briefing reporters traveling to Argentina recently with President Bush, said that with record oil prices, “One would expect to see a lot of progress on poverty” in Venezuela, which he alleged was lacking. Hadley added, “We’re concerned about … the status of democracy within his country.’’

Recently released data contradict Hadley on both points. Figures from the Venezuelan National Institute of Statistics indicate that poverty went down during the first years of the Chavez government and then shot back up after the 2002 coup attempt and subsequent management oil industry shutdown. Since then, however, poverty has dropped to levels significantly below those of the pre-Chavez era. The data are confined to monetary income and do not include food subsidy benefits and free health care.

And Venezuelans do identify their government as democratic. A poll undertaken by Latinobariometro, based in Chile, and reported in The Economist, surveyed 20,000 people in 18 South American countries. More Venezuelans described their government as “totally democratic” than citizens of other nations. They demonstrated the second highest level of satisfaction with how democracy functions. Polling carried out before Chavez became president showed that Venezuelans were far less satisfied with the workings of democracy then than they are now.

President Chavez has another line of defense against a U.S. invasion. “Millions of U.S. citizens would oppose the war,” he said during his visit to France. “There is a lot of poverty in the USA. … These people have no proper health care, no jobs. They understand what we are trying to do in Venezuela, and they support us.”