[News] Venezuela - Alexander Cockburn - CounterPunch

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Fri Jul 2 08:46:24 EDT 2004

Monday, Jun 28, 2004

By: Alexander Cockburn - CounterPunch

You can set your watch by it. The minute some halfway decent
government in Latin America begins to reverse the order of things
and give the have-nots a break from the grind of poverty and
wretchedness, the usual suspects in El Norte rouse themselves from
the slumber of indifference and start barking furiously about
democratic norms. It happened in 1973 in Chile; we saw it again in
Nicaragua in the 1980s; and here's the same show on summer rerun in
Venezuela, pending the August 15 recall referendum of President Hugo

Chávez is the best thing that has happened to Venezuela's poor in a
very long time. His government has actually delivered on some of its
promises, with improved literacy rates and more students getting
school meals. Public spending has quadrupled on education and
tripled on healthcare, and infant mortality has declined. The
government is promoting one of the most ambitious land-reform
programs seen in Latin America in decades.

Most of this has been done under conditions of economic sabotage.
Oil strikes, a coup attempt and capital flight have resulted in
about a 4 percent decline in GDP for the five years that Chávez has
been in office. But the economy is growing at close to 12 percent
this year, and with world oil prices near $40 a barrel, the
government has extra billions that it's using for social programs.
So naturally the United States wants him out, just as the rich in
Venezuela do. Chávez was re-elected in 2000 for a six-year term. A
US-backed coup against him was badly botched in 2002.

The imperial script calls for a human rights organization to start
braying about irregularities by their intended victim. And yes,
here's José Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch. We last met him in
this column helping to ease a $1.7 billion US aid package for
Colombia's military apparatus. This time he's holding a press
conference in Caracas, hollering about the brazen way Chávez is
trying to expand membership of Venezuela's Supreme Court, the same
way FDR did, and for the same reason: that the Venezuelan court has
been effectively packed the other way for decades, with judicial
flunkies of the rich. I don't recall Vivanco holding too many press
conferences to protest that perennial iniquity.

The "international observers" recruited to save the rich
traditionally include the Organization of American States and the
Carter Center; in the case of the Venezuelan recall they have
mustered dead on schedule. On behalf of the opposition, they exerted
enormous pressure on the country's independent National Electoral
Council during the signature-gathering and verification process.
Eventually the head of the OAS mission had to be replaced by the OAS
secretary general because of his unacceptable public statements.

The Carter Center's team is headed by Jennifer McCoy, whose
forthcoming book, The Unraveling of Representative Democracy in
Venezuela, leans heavily against the government. One of its
contributors is José Antonio Gil of the Datanalysis Polling Firm,
most often cited for US media analysis. The Los Angeles Times quoted
Gil on what to do: "And he can see only one way out of the political
crisis surrounding President Hugo Chávez. `He has to be killed,' he
said, using his finger to stab the table in his office far above
this capital's filthy streets. `He has to be killed.'"

Media manipulation is an essential part of the script, and here,
right on cue, comes Bill Clinton's erstwhile pollster, Stan
Greenberg, still a leading Democratic Party strategist. Greenberg is
under contract to RCTV, one of the right-wing media companies
leading the Venezuelan opposition and recall effort. It's a
pollster's dream job. Not only does he have enormous resources
against an old-fashioned, politically unsophisticated poor people's
movement, but his firm has something comrades back home can only
fantasize about: control over the Venezuelan media. Imagine if the
right wing controlled almost the entire media during Clinton's

That's the situation in Venezuela. Just think what Greenberg's
associate, Mark Feierstein-a veteran of similar NED efforts in
ousting the Sandinistas in the 1990 elections-can do with this kind
of totalitarian media control. NED? That's the National Endowment
for Democracy, praised not so long ago by John Kerry, who, like
Bush, publicly craves the ouster of Chávez.

The NED is coming over the hill arm in arm with the CIA and CIA-
backed institutions in the AFL-CIO, where John Sweeney's team has
dismally failed to clean house. The NED has helped fund the
opposition to Chávez to the tune of more than $1 million a year.
Among the recipients are organizations whose leaders actually
supported the April 2002 coup-they signed the decree that overthrew
the elected president and vice president and abolished the country's
democratic institutions, including the Constitution, Supreme Court
and National Assembly. The coup was thwarted only because millions
of Venezuelans rallied for Chávez.

Left out of the coup government, despite his support for it, was
Carlos Ortega, head of the CTV (Central Labor Federation). The AFL's
Solidarity Center, successor to the CIA-linked AIFLD, gets more than
80 percent of its funding from the NED and USAID and has funneled
NED money to Ortega and his collaborators. The Solidarity Center has
been up to its ears in opposition plotting, a reprise of the Allende
years, when the AFL helped destroy Chilean democracy. The AFL has
denied any role, but Rob Collier, an excellent San Francisco
Chronicle reporter, recently gave a detailed refutation of AFL
apologetics in an exchange in the current New Labor Forum. "In
Venezuela," he writes, "the AFL-CIO has blindly supported a
reactionary union establishment as it tried repeatedly to overthrow
President Hugo Chávez-and, in the process, wrecked the country's

The CTV worked in lockstep with FEDECAMARAS, the nation's business
association, to carry out the three general strikes/lockouts" of
2001, 2002 and 2003. The CTV, Collier says, was directly involved in
coup organizing, and its leader was scheduled to be part of the new

The end of this particular drama has yet to be written. The left
here in the United States could make a difference if it got off its
haunches and threw itself into the fray.

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