[Last update: 17 April 2002]


"If they are moving toward a violent solution, encouraging the military toward violence, then they are playing with fire. The business sector continues to criticise us. So why don't they do something to help this country, like bringing back the $120 billion they keep in banks overseas?" - Tarek William Saab, Head of Venezuela's Foreign Policy Committee.

Three years ago Chávez was elected president of the fourth largest oil producer in the world. On a tide of public support he won with the biggest majority in four decades. The population of Venezuela were eager for drastic change. They wanted a government that would rid them of corruption and redirect the country's oil wealth from the pockets of multinationals and towards the poor of Venezuela. In Venezuela 80 per cent of a population of 24 million live in poverty.

Chávez set about changing the Constitution. Out went the prescribed Washington model of elections and political parties, and in came a participatory democracy with an emphasis on popular assemblies, social movements and continuous referendums. As a result Venezuela's new constitution now includes guarantees for indigenous, and women's rights, free healthcare and education up to university level. To reduce corruption Chávez restructured the courts and the legal system. In a country where the prisons are amongst the most dilapidated and dangerous in the world he met with prisoners and convinced them to hand over their weapons while promising to look at the prison conditions and the injustices of their sentences.

He also introduced two new laws that have brought him to the edge of his demise and the country to the brink of a right-wing coup. Firstly, he increased the tax paid on oil exports from 16 to 30 per cent and passed a new energy law that requires 51 per cent government participation in all oil ventures.

Secondly he introduced a land reform bill. The bill makes it possible for the government to take land that has remained unproductive for 2 years and re-distribute it to the poor. Within the law there is a provision that extends credit to any private farmer who wants to make his land productive rather than lose it. The bill is broad and does not differentiate between farm, private and church land.

These two laws have prompted small but powerful sections from the unions, middle class, rich, media, high ranking military officers and the Catholic Church inside Venezuela to call for Chávez's resignation. In the words of investigative journalist Greg Palast "the Church says the meek will inherit the earth, but not while they are alive."

The right-wing opposition are using tactics similar to those used to oust Salvador Allende in Chile during the early 1970s. The rich are being used to create a feeling of chaos and paint a picture of Chávez as the 'dictator'. The military will then be encouraged to mount a coup seemingly for the sake of the country.

No More Mr. Nice Guy

Criticisms of Chávez's reforms outside of Venezuela have come from financial institutions, governments, and the CIA. The IMF is even willing to bankroll an interim government according to James Petras, professor at the State University of New York. He believes the IMF and other financial institutions are creating an economic crisis to oust Chávez. He says, "There is no economic crisis. The economic problems facing Chávez have always been there; they are problems that Chávez inherited. Venezuela is an oil rich country that pays its debts and follows IMF guidelines etc."

George Tenent, head of the CIA and Colin Powell, US Secretary of State have both been critical of Chávez. They claim that he is undercutting American foreign policy by opposing US counter-narcotics aid to Colombia, providing oil to Cuba and giving political support to guerrillas and anti-government forces in neighbouring Colombia.

While Chávez has a long history of 'irritating' the US by attacking its foreign policy he has been careful not to allow himself to become involved in the civil war in Colombia. Chávez declared Venezuela neutral and has helped in the release of hostages from the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and helped the Colombian government during the peace talks.

Chávez has a vision for a new world order "Rather than accepting the imposition of models and economic policies, what we should do is march in the direction of a system of international relations based on equality and mutual respect" he says.

Sounds like there's a leader who's not prepared to sell his people up the river and go along with what neo-liberalism forces on his country, for a change. When four high ranking army officers called for him to be overthrown, each one was interviewed by a joint civilian and military team and released the next day. Imagine if that had happen here or in the US - the officers would have been charged with treason and thrown in prison.

James Petras, believes that "Chávez is an extremely moderate politician who is being hammered for not allowing drug-surveillance flights over Venezuela, being opposed to Plan Colombia (SchNEWS 273) and working with OPEC."

Perhaps the most important figure in the foreign-sponsored destabilisation campaign is Alfredo Peńa, the Mayor of Caracas and critic of Chávez. Peńa has been visiting Washington recently meeting with the World Bank and the state department and is being groomed to replace Chávez.

The irony of all this is that the backer of the coming coup, the US, is under the administration of a president who stole the presidency in a coup d'etat. According to Greg Palast "No one wants to be in the same room as President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela these days, much less stand next to him. He is a dead man walking. It's not so much a case of if he gets assassinated it's just a matter of when".

For more info on dodgy dealings in Latin and North America visit: www.rebelion.org, www.el-nacional.com

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