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After the Venezuela Referendum

Managua, Nicaragua

For the Venezuelan government the result of the recall referendum last Sunday was a triumphant validation of its legitimacy, its policies and its President, Hugo Chavez. It amounts to an electoral Dien Bien Phu (1) for the United States and its allies who have worked determinedly to destabilize Venezuela’s political life in almost every conceivable way since George W. Bush and Dick Cheney took office. In particular, the mainstream international media who have consistently calumnied the Venezuelan State and its constituent entities, although chastened by the referendum victory, remain mealy-mouthed or downright hostile both in their news coverage and in their analysis.

The case of the London Independent–publishing a story on their web site announcing an opposition victory and then pulling it with no apology or comment (2)- was perhaps the most egregious. But almost all the international mainstream press , even while grudgingly recognizing the win for Chavez, tended to recycle the same tired old chestnuts. Chavez has divided the country, Chavez has close ties to Cuba, Chavez is a populist strongman, Chavez depends on windfall oil revenues. Little or no mention was made of three key recent policy achievements (apart from the phenomenally successful educational and health campaigns) of the Venezuelan government–the rapprochement with Colombia on infrastructure integration, the association with the Mercosur trading block and the incredible turnaround in oil production following the destructive opposition management lock-out in 2002.

The plea Chavez has made for dialogue(3) with opposition leaders has so far met silence or rejection. Large sections of the opposition continue making absurd claims of massive fraud in the referendum. No matter how hard President Chavez tries to promote reconciliation, the responses of much of the opposition are likely to range from truculent obstruction to outright sabotage. They may even reject the referendum result outright and act to tip the country into chaos once more.

The Nicaraguan election of 1984–lest we forget

Despite obvious differences (Venezuela is not subject to daily terrorist attacks organized by the United States) the political situation in Venezuela continues to throw up parallels with Nicaragua in the 1980s. Twenty years ago this November, the Sandinistas won a decisive electoral victory. Prior to their success in staging the watershed 1990 election, which as an organizational achievement more than stands comparison with the extraordinary effort in Venezuela last weekend, the1984 vote was the most free and fair election Nicaragua had ever had.

The Sandinistas won support from over 60% of the voters in that election. Right wing opposition groups, organized and funded by the United States, boycotted the vote. Other opposition parties fought the election and won significant representation in Nicaragua’s legislative assembly, especially for the long marginalized Atlantic Coast.

Impartial foreign observers, including a delegation of UK parliamentarians, declared the election to be free and fair. It decisively sealed the legitimacy of the Sandinista government, especially in relation to its Central American neighbours. But even at that stage the destructive US terrorist war and the illegal trade boycott against Nicaragua had rendered consolidation of the social and economic benefits of the revolution impossible.

The US government organized attacks on fuel storage tanks in the main Nicaraguan Pacific port of Corinto. US-laid mines damaged foreign shipping in Nicaraguan waters. At the same time, the US was funding, training and equipping Contra mass murderers who roamed remote rural areas in task forces of up to as many as five or six hundred, attacking virtually defenceless rural cooperatives, burning clinics and schools. They murdered teachers and health workers, targeting farmers and their families just as the Israeli-trained Colombian paramilitaries do today with the support of the US and British trained Colombian army and the active collusion of the Colombian government,

Leading Nicaraguan opposition political figures like Violeta Chamorro and Arnoldo Aleman were complacent beneficiaries of the terrorist crucifixion of their country by the United States, just as Alvaro Uribe and his colleagues are currently in their country, Colombia. It is hard to believe that these trajectories are not regarded as guiding stars by the recalcitrant anti-democratic Venezuelan opposition. In 1984 the terrorist Reagan administration ignored the November election result in Nicaragua and proceeded apace with their policy of war, economic strangulation and diplomatic isolation.

The Iran Contra team–¡Presente!

The same strategy is likely from the current Bush administration as regards Venezuela. The ouster of President Aristide in Haiti made clearer than ever their total lack of respect for the legitimacy of elected governments. Many of the people now in government in Washington, like Richard Armitage, figured in the Iran Contra scandal involving illegal arms deals, money laundering and drugs.

They bypassed due constitutional process so as more surely to destroy Nicaragua. It is the presence of such people in government, not the attacks of September 2001, that explain why the US Constitution is currently trashed and in tatters. These same murderous white collar terrorists who destroyed Nicaragua are now formulating US policy toward Venezuela and the rest of Latin America.

On the other hand, little change can be expected in the event of John Kerry becoming US President. The Democrats’ Me-Too-But-More-So foreign policy offers scant relief from US imperial greed in Venezuela or anywhere else in Latin America. As Miguel D’Escoto Nicaragua’s former foreign minister has pointed out, “It would be a serious mistake to conclude that the current behavior of the United States represents something temporary that will change when George Bush Jr. leaves the presidency. Never in its history has the United States taken a backward step in its drive towards universal domination and never has it corrected its behavior, going from bad to worse from the point of view of the rights of the rest of humanity.”

Likely future patterns

The Venezuelan opposition may well try and hold out just as the Nicaraguan opposition did after the 1984 election. They will hope for US money, diplomatic muscle, covert action and economic strong-arming to help them get their way. US government proxies like Colombia’s President Uribe will talk peace and act dirty-war, just as the presidents of Nicaragua’s neighbours in Central America did during the 1980s.

The standard imperial tool kit as deployed throughout the last century is likely to be put to work to dent, damage and corrupt Venezuela’s shining example of participatory democracy. Although in Venezuela’s case its huge oil reserves make it likely that the heavier items in the tool kit, like mass terrorism and illegal economic sanctions, will stay under wraps. For Cuba, however, the empire’s humiliation in Venezuela may mean yet more turns of the sanctions screw and greater exposure to reckless US military action or provocation.

For the US dominated international financial and trade institutions, Venezuela’s decisive defence of Latin American autonomy, dignity and self-determination is a menace. It challenges the long standing contradiction between their avowed espousal of poverty reduction and their insistence on irrational deregulation and knock down auctions of public resources. They cannot permit Venezuela’s example to be copied elsewhere in the continent and still maintain their current policies. So they are likely to act swiftly and clearly to restrict the options available to heavily indebted countries like Brazil or Argentina. Ecuador and Bolivia are susceptible to the same treatment.

It will be interesting to see what happens in volatile Bolivia when people ask why Bolivia’s gas wealth cannot be used to build health and education options for the poor majority just as Venezuela’s oil wealth does. Already resistance to President Carlos Meza’s disingenuous manipulation of the July 15th gas referendum is taking the form of direct action with campesinos taking over oil production facilities. (4) In Ecuador President Gutierrez is finding it increasingly hard to stave off indigenous criticisms of his current policy of collaboration with the United States policy in the region.

Ever greater urgency can be expected on the part of US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick and his team to push through “free trade” deals, fastening in place on a permanent statutory basis US trade and investment advantages. Zoellick’s team may well try and put such deals, already programmed this year for Andean countries like Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia on an even shorter schedule than they are already. Venezuela’s bilateral negotiations with Argentina and its wider relationships with the Southern Cone trading block Mercosur and the Caribbean economic community Caricom pose a dire threat to the imperial neoliberal model that has had a free run in the Americas for nearly 20 years.

In environmental matters, the implications of the Venezuelan authorities commitment to major infrastructure projects are still not clear. They may be tempted to follow the pattern of irresponsible displacement of indigenous populations and environmental damage in search of the chimerical macro-economic benefits giant infrastructure projects promise but generally fail to deliver. But in the area of genetically manipulated seeds, Venezuela’s stance against environmentally dangerous and unproven biotechnology may help stem the rampant proliferation of genetically modified crops in other parts of Latin America too. So the referendum result may be bad news for multinational bio-tech outfits like Monsanto, Dupont and Dow as well as for the European companies Syngenta and Bayer (Aventis).

Miltarily, as the US implements its recently announced troop re-deployments and withdraws troops from Europe, some are likely to be moved to the Andes. The defeat in Venezuela is a clear signal to the empire that a new urgency may be needed to defend its hegemony. Under either Bush or Kerry the options for defending US and allied imperial interests are the same as they have always been, brute military force and shameless economic coercion. But it may not be too far-fetched to believe the incredible creativity and resilience of the Latin American peoples that dawned again in Caracas last weekend will come to symbolise hope and reconstruction lifting us all out of the current nightmare of neoliberal injustice and despair.

TONI SOLO is an activist based in Central America. Contact via


1.Fifty years ago in May 1954 the battle of Dien Bien Phu ended French colonial rule in Vietnam.

2.narcosphere. “UK’s Independent Newspaper Falsifies Venezuela Election Results!” Ron Smith, Aug 15th, 2004 ( “Rueda de prensa desde Miraflores Presidente Chávez insiste en llamar al diálogo y a la unidad Por: RNV” 16/08/04 (




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