No. 450

Tomado de

U.S. Intervening Against Democracy in Venezuela

By Mark Weisbrot, AlterNet
December 18, 2002

CARACAS - "Where are they getting their money?" asks historian Samuel
Moncada, as the television displays one opposition commercial after
another. Moncada is chair of the history department at Central University
of Venezuela in Caracas. We are sitting in one of the few restaurants
that is open in the eastern, wealthier part of Caracas.

For two weeks during this country's business-led strike, the privately
owned stations that dominate Venezuelan television have been running
opposition "infomercials" instead of advertisements, in addition to what
is often non-stop coverage of opposition protests.

"I am sure there is money from abroad," asserts Moncada. It's a good
guess: Prior to the coup on April 11, the U.S. National Endowment for
Democracy stepped up its funding to opposition groups, including money
funneled through the International Republican Institute. The latter's
funding multiplied more than sixfold, to $340,000 in 2001.

But if history is any guide, overt funding from Washington will turn out
to be the tip of the iceberg. This was the case in Haiti, Nicaragua,
Chile and other countries where Washington has sought "regime change"
because our leaders didn't agree with the voters' choice at the polls.
(In fact, Washington is currently aiding efforts to oust President
Aristide in Haiti - for the second time). In these episodes, which
extended into the 1990s, our government concealed amounts up to the
hundreds of millions of dollars that paid for such things as death
squads, strikes, economic destabilization, electoral campaigns and media.

All this remains to be investigated in this case. But the intentions of
the U.S. government are clear. Last week the State Department ordered
non-essential embassy personnel to leave the country, and warned American citizens not to travel here. But there have not been attacks on American citizens or companies here, from either side of the political divide, and this is not a particularly dangerous place for Americans to be.
In this situation, the State Department's extreme measures and warning
can only be interpreted as a threat. The Bush Administration has also
openly sided with the opposition, demanding early elections here. Then
this week Washington changed its position to demanding a referendum on
Chavez's presidency, most likely figuring that a divided opposition could
easily lose to Chavez in an election, despite its overwhelming advantage
in controlling the major means of communication.

The discussion in the U.S. press, dominated by Washington's views, has
also taken on an Orwellian tone. Chavez is accused of using "dictatorial
powers" for sending the military to recover oil tankers seized by
striking captains. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer urged the
Venezuelan government "to respect individual rights and fundamental freedoms."

But what would happen to people who hijacked an oil tanker from
Exxon-Mobil in the United States? They would be facing a trial and a long
prison sentence. Military officers who stood outside the White House and
called for the overthrow of the government (and this just six months
after a military coup supported by a foreign power) would end up in
Guantanamo facing a secret military tribunal for terrorism.

In fact, the U.S. press would be much more fair if it held the Venezuelan
government to the standards of the United States. In the U.S., government
workers do not have the right to strike at all, as Ronald Reagan
demonstrated when he summarily fired 12,000 air traffic controllers in
1981. But even this analogy is incomplete: The air traffic controllers
were striking for better working conditions. Here, the employees of the
state-owned oil company - mostly managers and executives - are trying to
cripple the economy, which is heavily dependent on oil exports, in order
to overthrow the government. In the United States, even private sector
workers do not have the legal right to strike for political demands, and
certainly not for the president's resignation.

In the United States, courts would issue injunctions against the strike,
the treasuries of participating unions would be seized, and leaders would
be arrested.

Meanwhile, outside of the wealthier areas of eastern Caracas, businesses
are open and streets are crowded with shoppers. Life appears normal. This is clearly a national strike of the privileged, and most of the country
has not joined it.

More than anything right now, this country needs dialogue and a
ratcheting down of the tensions and hostilities between the two opposing
camps, so as to avoid a civil war. But this dialogue will never happen if
the United States continues to pursue a course of increasing confrontation.
Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy
Research, in Washington D.C.