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WHAT WE THINK
Venezuela's challenge to the empire

May 19, 2006 | Page 3

CONDOLEEZZA RICE wants you to believe the conflicts between the U.S. government and Venezuela are Hugo Chávez's fault. "[T]he Venezuelan government is making a great deal of effort to ensure bad bilateral relations, unfortunately," the secretary of state scoffed to the media earlier this month.

So was her recent statement that Venezuela is the "biggest problem" for democracy in the hemisphere aimed at promoting good relations? How about her call for the international community to form a "united front" to isolate the Chávez government? Or the State Department's announcement this week that it was officially banning arms sales to Venezuela for its refusal to cooperate with "counter-terrorism efforts"?

In reality, Rice and the Bush administration view Chávez and his populist reign as a threat to U.S. interests, not only in Venezuela--the fourth-largest supplier of oil to the U.S.--but across Latin America.

That's why they sponsored a coup against him in 2002 and backed a 2003-2004 employers' lockout aimed at sabotaging the oil industry. Chávez survived both these attempts to topple him, but that doesn't mean the U.S. has given up.

The U.S. government's history of crushing individuals and movements that challenge its domination over its "backyard" is long and bloody, but Chávez and Venezuela have a few things going for them.

For one, the U.S. military is tied down by the disastrous occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Also, the rising price of oil has given Chávez room to maneuver. He has used the country's growing oil wealth to fund programs for health, economic development and literacy that serve millions of Venezuela's poor.

Moreover, Chávez's left-wing populism is one face of a continent-wide revolt against the neoliberal program imposed on Latin America by the U.S. He has mass support within Venezuela among the country's workers and poor, and more widely across the continent--something the U.S. corporate media's descriptions of Chávez as a megalomaniac dictator can't explain.

In fact, the radicalization in Venezuela goes far beyond Chávez, extending to millions of ordinary people mobilized in new trade unions and community organizations.

For some of them at least, Chávez's measures have been too cautious. The government's land reform program has distributed only a small amount of property abandoned by big owners, and it has tried to moderate a growing movement of workers taking over idle factories and running them collectively.

The real threat to U.S. interests lies not in a single political leader but this wider radicalization of ordinary Venezuelans.

This weekend, a demonstration calling for "Hands off Venezuela and Cuba" will take place in Washington. This will be an important opportunity for U.S. opponents of Washington's imperialist adventures to show solidarity with Venezuela and demand an end to the continuing blockade of Cuba.

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