What do you call a nation that provides medical aid to desperately poor people in Mexico, heating assistance to low-income families in the U.S., crucial project financing to some of the poorest countries in Africa, and aid to impoverished Caribbean island nations?
If you’re the New York Times, you call it “provocative,” and you call the leader of that country “the next Fidel Castro.”
Venezuela, under President Hugo Chavez, has been turning its increasingly valuable oil reserves into an engine for development, not just in Venezuela, where the revenues are being used to finance schools, housing and job creation for the nation’s long-suffering and long-ignored poor, but also across Latin America, in the process creating a new model for Latin America-one which challenges the imperial domination of the United States.
In an April 4 page one article that reeks of Cold War rhetoric, Timesman Juan Forero warns that with Venezuela’s oil revenues rising 32 percent last year, Venezuela’s foreign aid spending “now surpasses the nearly $2 billion Washington allocates annually to pay for development programs and the drug war in western South America.” (The drug war is foreign aid?)
Quoting only Chavez critics-both political opponents within Venezuela, and U.S. government and right-wing think tank members in the U.S.-Forero paints an ominous picture of a budding threat to U.S. influence in the Americas.
The most appalling quote comes from John Negroponte, the overall director of intelligence services in the U.S., and a man with a long history of meddling in the affairs of, and indeed subverting the governments of nations in Latin America. Mr. Chavez is “spending considerable sums involving himself in the political and economic life of other countries in Latin America and elsewhere, this despite the very real economic development and social needs of his own country,” Negroponte is quoted as telling Forero.
This from an official of a nation that has so far wasted $500 billion destroying a nation in the middle east, that is making preparations for going to war against yet another nation in the middle east, that has subverted nations from the Tierra del Fuego to the Yucatan, including Venezuela, and that, it must be noted, has been for years ignoring “very real economic development and social needs” inside its own borders.
Given the fact that no one has accused Chavez of any of the kind of subversive or heavy-handed pressure of the kind for which the U.S. has become notorious-only of providing much needed financial aid to less fortunate countries-what exactly is so awful about a an oil-rich country like Venezuela spreading the wealth?
The only negative things Forero can seem to come up with are that Chavez has been derisive of President Bush, referring to him in speeches as a “donkey,” “drunkard” and “coward,” and that right-wing critics have accused him of “mismanagement” and “populist decadence.” Heck, Bush faces worse invective than that at home.
Even the comparisons between Chavez-the twice-elected leader of Venezuela-and Castro, the aging dictator of Cuba-are tendentious at best. Cuba, desperately poor and the victim of decades of U.S. trade embargo and subversion policies, has admittedly on occasion offered at least rhetorical support for anti-U.S. rebels, as in El Salvador and Nicaragua. Chavez, while openly espousing anti-imperialist views and seeking to challenge U.S. dominance in Latin America, has never been accused of fomenting rebellion in the region. Indeed, if there is anything about Castro’s Cuba that Venezuela under Chavez has been emulating it has been Cuba’s commendable practice of furnishing of doctors and teachers to needy regions of Latin America.
Would that the U.S. would engage in more of this kind of “influence peddling,” and less of the kind that involves arms sales, military bases and the training of secret police in the fine art of torture.
Imagine a Latin America where the U.S. and Venezuela vied in seeing who could provide more doctors for the peasants of Guatemala and Brazil, or who could provide lower-interest loans for water projects in Bolivia or Ecuador. Imagine, for that matter, a Philadelphia where poor people didn’t have to depend upon handouts of cheap oil from Venezuela to keep their apartments warm through the winter because of federal cuts in heating oil assistance programs.
Imagine, while we’re at it, a New York Times that could write a front page article about the wasteful militarism of America’s increasingly dictatorial President George W. Bush, juxtaposed against the unmet “economic development and social needs of his own country.”
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Lindorff’s new book, “The Case for Impeachment“,
co-authored by Barbara Olshansky, is due out May 1.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org