Venezuela's Chavez Says Invasion Plans Uncovered (2004)
daily prophecies that President Bush will order an attack on Iran, there's mostly demure silence here about the fact that Venezuela and its president, Hugo Chavez, are facing their most serious crisis since Chavez nearly lost power and his life in the military coup of 2002.
An overthrow, even a defeat at the ballot box, for Chavez would be a major earthquake, with huge consequences across Latin America and in the United States. During Bush's two terms, Hugo Chavez's presidency has symbolized America's decline. In decades past, a consortium of Venezuelan generals and the CIA would have finished off Chavez, the same way Guatemala's Jacobo Arbenz was turfed from office in the 1950s and Salvador Allende and his moderate left government were toppled by Pinochet, the Chilean Army and the CIA in 1973. Even Bush Sr. managed to turf Panama's Noriega into prison.
But Chavez has gone from strength to strength, grandstanding with a supply of cheap home-heating oil for poor people in U.S. cities, denouncing Bush Jr. as the "devil" in the United Nations and forging a close alliance with the United States' Public Enemy No. 1 these past 50 years, Fidel Castro. Chavez survived the 2002 coup and has prevailed at the ballot box in all electoral contests ever since.
From the point of view of the U.S. government, Chavez's menace stems not only from the high price of oil, which has given him unexpected leverage, but also from his intent to push Venezuela toward major radical reforms -- in land for peasants, education, housing and opportunity for the poor. For the rest of the continent, Venezuela presents the threat of a good example.
Chavez's proposed constitutional reforms have provoked the current confrontation, and the overall political temperature has been sharply raised by unprecedented verbal brawling between the volcanic Chavez and the king of Spain, Juan Carlos, on Nov. 10 at an Ibero-American summit. Chavez's denunciations of former Spanish president Jose Maria Aznar as a "fascist" culminated in a spat in which Juan Carlos shouted, "Why don't you shut up?" and temporarily quit the conference room. Chavez's ire teemed from the well-founded belief that the king and Aznar had been playing an active role in the failed 2002 coup against him.
Fidel Castro has now entered the fray. From his sickbed, the 81-year-old declared in a speech read over Cuban radio that "when the king of Spain in an abrupt way asked Chavez: 'Why don't you shut up?,' in that instant, the hearts of all Latin America quivered. Saturday, Nov. 10, 2007, will go down in history ... as the day of truth ... an ideological Waterloo."
On Dec. 2, Venezuelans will vote in a referendum on changes to the constitution proposed by Chavez and his government. The changes -- already debated, amended and voted through by the Venezuelan Congress during the past six month -- range in efforts, including increasing the power of popular institutions, decentralization, unlimited term elections (such as were enjoyed by Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher), a lowering of the voting age to 16, reduction of the work day to six hours, a presidential term of seven rather than six years, new emergency powers, and an end to the independence of Venezuela's central bank.
Both in Venezuela and in the United States, these changes have been portrayed in hysterical terms as a power grab by Chavez, all part of the march toward dictatorship. And of course the charges do have a certain truth. Chavez is trying to level the playing field in Venezuela, long dominated by a small, corrupt elite. So long as the Central Bank enjoyed the independence that Gordon Brown handed the Bank of England, Venezuela's sovereignty was leased out to the international money markets.
Now ex-minister of Defense, Raul Baduel has launched a violent attack on the referendum, on Chavez and on the Congress. Back in 2002, Baduel, a Army general, refused the invitation to launch a Pinochet-type bloodbath. But he is a right-winger, and on Nov. 5, in a press conference he'd convened, he appeared to favor a military coup.
Chavez has said he has every confidence in the Venezuelan Armed Forces' respect for his democratically elected government. The Venezuelan elites and the U.S. government see the next few weeks as the last opportunity they may have to reverse the tide. We may see a "strategy of tension" script unwind, as it has done in the past with coups in which the CIA has had a role: bombs in public places, assassinations, dramatic marches. On the other hand, Chavez is popular, canny and a survivor. The stakes are very high.
© Creators Syndicate
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