[News] Mounting provocations against Venezuela

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Thu Jan 27 08:54:47 EST 2005

Mounting provocations against Venezuela

News & Analysis: South & Central America
By Bill Van Auken

The barrage of US provocations against Venezuela since the beginning of the
year is a clear indication that the oil-rich South American country will be
one of the principal targets in the global war on "tyranny" elaborated by
George W. Bush in his inauguration speech last week.

The latest campaign mounted by Washington has centered on the kidnapping in
Caracas last month of a senior international representative of the
Colombian guerrilla movement, the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of

The FARC representative, Rodrigo Granda, was abducted by a combined force
of US-trained Colombian special forces and elements of the Venezuelan
military, who were reportedly paid over $1.5 million to collaborate in the
kidnapping. Several Venezuelan national guardsmen--ironically, leading
members of an elite anti-kidnapping unit--have been placed under arrest for
their part in the seizure of Granda.

The operation, a flagrant violation of Venezuela's national sovereignty,
recalled the cross-border seizures and murders of exiled political
dissidents carried out by Latin American dictatorships in the 1970s under
the CIA-backed "Operation Condor."

While branded a "terrorist" by both the rightist government of President
Alvaro Uribe in Colombia and the Bush administration in Washington, Granda
was a public figure who served as a political spokesman for the FARC,
traveling to numerous conferences in Latin America and Europe.

On December 8 and 9, just days before his kidnapping, Granda had addressed
a Venezuelan government-sponsored "Bolivarian Congress of the Peoples"
attended by other international delegations. He had not been charged with
any crime, outside of speaking publicly against the policies of the
US-backed Colombian regime.

Washington's reaction to the escalating diplomatic confrontation between
Venezuela and Colombia provoked by the incident leaves no doubt that the
kidnapping involved US collaboration and constituted a deliberate extension
of the Bush administration's "global war on terror."

In its manner of execution, the kidnapping bore the hallmarks of the
criminal and unilateral military aggression that has characterized this
so-called war by the US administration. No warning was given to the
Venezuelan government, much less any evidence of Granda's supposed guilt or
formal request for his extradition. Rather, the FARC official was grabbed
off the street in downtown Caracas, forced into a vehicle and taken
incommunicado across the border in violation of international law.

Granda was a political refugee who had fled Colombia because of the
murderous repression that successive governments there have unleashed
against the left, the working class and the poor. He had lived in Venezuela
for several years and enjoyed dual citizenship.

The movement that he represented, the FARC, has existed in Colombia for
over 40 years. It has exerted control over large sections of the country
and, on various occasions, participated in negotiations with the
government. In the mid-1980s, it declared a truce and sought to enter
politics through a new party, the Union Patriotica. While the party gained
broad popular support, its candidates and members were subjected to
relentless repression, with some 5,000 of them--teachers, workers,
intellectuals--murdered or "disappeared" at the hands of government
security forces and right-wing death squads.

The Colombian government defended its cross-border kidnapping, declaring in
an official statement that it had "the right to free itself from the
nightmare of terrorism." It described its bribing of Venezuelan military
personnel as a "bounty," which it said was a "legitimate instrument of
state, which aids in the process of defeating terror."

US Ambassador to Colombia William Wood affirmed "100 percent support" for
the Colombian statement, declaring it of "transcendental importance, not
only for Colombia but for the struggle against terrorism in the Andean

The Colombian provocation has been accompanied by a series of denunciations
of the Venezuelan government of President Hugo Chavez by both US government
officials and influential sections of the US media. Most prominently,
Condoleezza Rice, Bush's secretary of state-designate, condemned the Chavez
government in the course of her nomination hearing before the US Senate
Foreign Relations Committee January 18.

"I think it's extremely unfortunate that the Chavez government has not been
constructive," declared Rice. "And we do have to be vigilant and to
demonstrate that we know the difficulties that that government is causing
for its neighbors, its close association with Fidel Castro in Cuba...and
those relationships are deeply concerning to us and to me."

She said the US government was "very concerned" about Chavez because he is
"a democratically elected leader who governs in an illiberal way." She
described his government as a "negative force" in the region, accusing it
of taking "very troubling" steps against the privately owned media and the
right-wing opposition in Venezuela.

Rice's menacing tone was in line with an editorial published by the
Washington Post just four days before the hearing, entitled "Venezuela's
'Revolution.'" It described the Chavez government's limited land reform
efforts as an "assault on private property" and "the latest step in what
has been a rapidly escalating 'revolution' by Venezuela's president that is
undermining the foundations of democracy and free enterprise in that
oil-producing country." It also cited a proposed arms deal between the
Venezuelan government and Russia. The editorial noted that in an earlier
period such developments would have sparked a US military intervention.

The Miami Herald published a column based on an interview with General
James Hill, the outgoing chief of the US Southern Command, which directs US
military operations throughout Latin America. Hill charged that Caracas was
"allowing the FARC to set up camps" in Venezuela and giving money to the
MAS, the Bolivian left-nationalist movement led by Congressman Evo
Morales--charges vehemently denied by both the Venezuelan government and
Morales. Hill described Chavez as having "all the potential for becoming a
destabilizing factor" and declared that the US government would have to
impose "consequences if he continues to meddle with violent groups."

Finally, the Wall Street Journal, whose editorial pages most closely
reflect the thinking within the right-wing layers that direct the affairs
of the Bush administration, published a column January 21 citing the
controversy over the Granda kidnapping. "President Bush has made it clear
that any government that gives safe haven to terrorists is a US enemy," it
said. "That would seem to require a more serious approach to whether
Venezuela is supporting terrorism in Colombia." It also cited the Moscow
arms proposal and added, "The US cannot ignore Venezuela's alliance with
the worst criminal organizations on the continent or its support of
aggression against a neighboring government."

The Venezuelan government of President Chavez has responded to the
kidnapping by withdrawing its ambassador to Colombia, freezing trade
relations with the neighboring country, and demanding that the Uribe
government issue an apology.

The confrontation with Colombia over the Granda kidnapping was the focus of
a mass demonstration in Caracas Sunday marking the 47th anniversary of the
1958 overthrow of Venezuelan military dictator Gen. Marcos Perez Jimenez.
The crowd carried banners reading, "Bush: Venezuela is Not Iraq" and
"Colombia, Stay Out of Venezuela." Thousands marched across the city from
the sprawling slums of eastern Caracas to the Miraflores presidential

In a speech from the palace balcony, Chavez mocked Rice's statements at the
Senate hearing, referring to the secretary of state-designate as
"Condolencia" and describing her as a "complete illiterate on what is
happening in Venezuela, the world and in Latin America."

"The most negative force that there could be for this world is North
American imperialism," said the Venezuelan president. "So if we are
classified from there as a negative force, we're all right."

Referring to last month's kidnapping as "one more assault by the US
government," Chavez added, "I am conscious of where this provocation comes
from. It comes from Washington, not Bogota."

The US State Department has attempted to fan the flames of confrontation
between Venezuela and Colombia, demanding that the Chavez government
respond to a list of alleged "terrorists" presented by the right-wing
Colombian regime. Venezuelan Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel described
the list as "irrelevant," noting that it conveniently ignored Colombian
drug traffickers and right-wing paramilitaries who had entered Venezuelan
territory. Nearly 130 heavily armed Colombian paramilitaries were
discovered in the country last year. They were collaborating with
Venezuelan rightists in a plot against the government.

The Venezuelan government further indicated that it would draw up its own
list of right-wing Venezuelan fugitives harbored by the Uribe government in
Colombia. Chief among them is Pedro Carmona, the former head of the
Venezuelan business federation, who played a key role in the abortive
US-backed coup that saw Chavez briefly deposed and imprisoned in April
2002. The coup attempt led to the deaths of some 60 Venezuelans. Senior
Venezuelan military officers involved in the coup are also hiding in
Colombia and continuing to plot against the Chavez government from there.

Venezuela's VTV television network this week carried an interview with a
recently retired Colombian army officer who testified that Carmona and the
Venezuelan military coup plotters had been allowed to use Colombian
military installations to hold meetings.

The Bush administration's use of the Granda kidnapping to attack Venezuela
is the clearest manifestation of the fraud and hypocrisy of the so-called
global war on terror. Out of the more than 40,000 civilian victims of
Colombia's four-decade-old civil war, more than 80 percent have been killed
by the military and its allied right-wing death squads. State terrorism has
been ruthlessly employed to defend the interests of the native oligarchy
and the multinational corporations with investments in Colombia.

Meanwhile, Washington has built up the machinery of state terrorism wielded
by the regime in Bogota, providing some $3 billion in military aid and
dispatching some 800 US military "advisers" and another 600 civilian
contractors to the country. This vast military program has bought the Bush
administration the unqualified support of Uribe, the only Latin American
head of state who supports the US intervention in Iraq.

Since Chavez was first elected in 1998, Washington has continuously sought
to undermine and topple his government. The Venezuelan president survived
the US-backed coup attempt of 2002 thanks to a mass outpouring against the
seizure of power. After repeated attempts to unseat him through a
presidential referendum, a vote was held on August 15 of last year, with
Chavez winning a landslide that was certified by international inspectors,
including former US president Jimmy Carter.

Now, it appears that the Bush administration is attempting to paint the
Venezuelan government as a state sponsor of terrorism to prepare for
possible military aggression. US hostility to the Chavez government is
fueled by his anti-imperialist rhetoric and populist reforms. In 2001, the
government enacted a land reform law allowing for the redistribution of
unused or underutilized land, and it appears that it may now be taking the
first steps to meet the demands of landless squatters, who have occupied
some estates. According to the latest census figures, 60 percent of
Venezuela's land is owned by 1 percent of the population.

In addition, Washington opposes Venezuela's policy of supplying Cuba with
oil, thereby defying a US blockade designed to strangle the island nation's
economy and force the downfall of the Castro government. This issue looms
large among the right-wing ideologues in the Bush administration.

The most essential question in Venezuela, however, is the oil itself, which
is why it has joined such other major petroleum producers as Iraq and Iran
as a prime target in the "global war on terror." The South American country
currently exports approximately 1.2 million barrels of oil a day to the US.
This accounts for nearly 15 percent of American imports and more than half
of Venezuela's total production.

The Chavez government has taken steps both to exert greater control over
the country's oil wealth and diversify its markets. Rising oil prices,
meanwhile, have strengthened its political position and given it greater
leeway in placing demands on foreign oil companies, as well as in granting
concessions to the Venezuelan people.

Last October, Chavez suddenly announced that his government was raising
royalties paid by foreign companies pumping oil from the Orinoco fields
from 1 percent to 16.6 percent. ChevronTexaco was one of the companies most
affected. The government also recently announced that it is reviewing 33
operating agreements negotiated with foreign energy conglomerates in the
1990s to see if they still meet Venezuela's needs.

Meanwhile, Venezuela has negotiated a series of agreements with China,
which is aggressively seeking global energy supplies for its growing
economy. The deals grant Chinese oil companies preferential terms in the
development of oil and gas exploration and production in Venezuela. In
announcing the agreements, Chavez declared expanded relations with Beijing
represented the best means of ending "100 years of US domination" of
Venezuela's oil industry. Caracas has reportedly begun negotiations with
Panama over the opening of a pipeline to speed exports to China.

US imperialism will not willingly cede hegemony over the largest oil
reserves in Latin America. Behind the rhetoric about "democracy" and
"terrorism" lie the profit interests of the US oil conglomerates and
America's financial oligarchy.

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