[News] Big Oil, Big Ketchup and "The Assassination of Hugo Chavez"

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jan 10 14:17:41 EST 2013

    Big Oil, Big Ketchup and "The Assassination of Hugo Chavez"

Wednesday, 09 January 2013 09:58 By Greg Palast 
<http://truth-out.org/author/itemlist/user/44685>, Truthout | Op-Ed

/Greg Palast reviews the extraordinary career of Venezuelan President 
and Robin Hood figure Hugo Chavez, how he has cheated kidnap and 
assassination and may yet cheat death by maintaining his accomplishments./

Venezuelan President Chavez once asked me why the US elite wanted to 
kill him. My dear Hugo: It's the oil. And it's the Koch Brothers - and 
it's the ketchup.

[As a purgative for the crappola fed to Americans about Chavez, my 
foundation, The Palast Investigative Fund, is offering the film, /The 
Assassination of Hugo Chavez,/ as a free download here 
<http://www.gregpalast.com/chavezdownload/>. Based on my several 
meetings with Chavez, his kidnappers and his would-be assassins, it was 
filmed for BBC Television. DVDs also available.]

Reverend Pat Robertson said,

    /Hugo Chavez thinks we're trying to assassinate him. I think that we
    really ought to go ahead and do it./

It was 2005 and Robertson was channeling the frustration of George 
Bush's State Department. Despite Bush's providing intelligence, funds 
and even a note of congratulations to the crew who kidnapped Chavez 
(we'll get there), Hugo remained in office, re-elected and wildly popular.

But why the Bush regime's hate, hate, hate of the president of Venezuela?

Reverend Pat wasn't coy about the answer: /It's the oil./

    /This is a dangerous enemy to our South controlling a huge pool of oil./

A really /big/ pool of oil. Indeed, according to Guy Caruso, former 
chief of oil intelligence for the CIA, Venezuela holds a recoverable 
reserve of 1.36 trillion barrels, that is, a whole lot more than Saudi 

If we didn't kill Chavez, we'd have to do an "Iraq" on his nation. So 
the Reverend suggests,

    /We don't need another $200 billion war.... It's a whole lot easier
    to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it
    over with./

Chavez himself told me he was stunned by Bush's attacks: Chavez had been 
quite chummy with Bush Senior and with Bill Clinton.

So what happened to change Clinton's hugs-and-kisses policy to Bush's 
shoot-to-kill? Here's the answer you won't find in The New York Times:

Just after Bush's inauguration in 2001, Chavez's congress voted in a new 
"Law of Hydrocarbons." Henceforward, Exxon, British Petroleum, Shell Oil 
and Chevron would get to keep 70 percent of the sales revenues from the 
crude they sucked out of Venezuela. Not bad, considering the price of 
oil was rising toward $100 a barrel.

But to the oil companies, which had bitch-slapped Venezuela's prior 
government into giving them 84 percent of the sales price, a cut to 70 
percent was "no /bueno/." Worse, Venezuela had been charging a joke of a 
royalty - just 1 percent - on "heavy" crude from the Orinoco Basin. 
Chavez told Exxon and friends they'd now have to pay 16.6 percent.

Clearly, Chavez had to be taught a lesson about the etiquette of 
dealings with Big Oil.

On April 11, 2002, President Chavez was kidnapped at gunpoint and flown 
to an island prison in the Caribbean Sea. On April 12, Pedro Carmona, a 
business partner of the US oil companies and president of /Fedecamaras/, 
the nation's chamber of commerce, declared himself President of 
Venezuela - giving a whole new meaning to the term, "corporate takeover."

US Ambassador Charles Shapiro immediately rushed down from his hilltop 
embassy to have his picture taken grinning with the self-proclaimed 
"president" and the leaders of the coup d'état.

Bush's White House spokesman admitted that Chavez was, "democratically 
elected," but, he added, "Legitimacy is something that is conferred not 
by just the majority of voters." I see.

With an armed and angry citizenry marching on the presidential palace in 
Caracas ready to string up the coup plotters, Carmona - the Pretend 
President from Exxon - returned his captive, Chavez, back to his desk 
within 48 hours. (How? Get /The Assassination of Hugo Chavez/, the film 
that expands on my reports for BBC Television. It's free for the next 
few days here <http://www.gregpalast.com/chavezdownload/>, thanks to the 
generosity of donors to our foundation.)

Chavez had provoked the coup not just by clawing back some of the 
bloated royalties of the oil companies. It's what he did with that oil 
money that drove Venezuela's 1% to violence.

In Caracas, I ran into the reporter for a TV station whose owner is 
generally credited with plotting the coup against the president. While 
doing a publicity photo shoot, leaning back against a tree, showing her 
wide-open legs nearly up to where they met, the reporter pointed down 
the hill to the "ranchos," the slums above Caracas, where shacks, once 
made of cardboard and tin, where quickly transforming into homes of 
cinder blocks and cement.

"He [Chavez] gives them bread and bricks, so they vote for him, of 
course." She was disgusted by "them," the 80 percent of Venezuelans who 
are /negro e indio/ (black and Indian) - and poor. Chavez, himself 
/negro e indio,/ had, for the first time in Venezuela's history, shifted 
the oil wealth from the privileged class that called themselves 
"Spanish," to the dark-skinned masses.

While trolling around the poor housing blocks of Caracas, I ran into 
Arturo Quiran, a local merchant seaman, and no big fan of Chavez. But 
over a beer at his kitchen table, he told me,

    /Fifteen years ago under [then-President] Carlos Andrés Pérez, there
    was a lot of oil money in Venezuela. The 'oil boom' we called it.
    Here in Venezuela there was a lot of money, but we didn't see it./

But then came Hugo Chavez and now the poor in his neighborhood, "get 
medical attention, free operations, x-rays, medicines; education also," 
he said. "People who never knew how to write, now know how to sign their 
own papers."

Chavez's Robin Hood thing, shifting oil money from the rich to the poor, 
would have been grudgingly tolerated by the US. But Chavez, who told me, 
"We are no longer an oil colony," went further - too much further, in 
the eyes of the American corporate elite.

Venezuela had landless citizens by the millions - and unused land by the 
millions of acres tied up, untilled, on which a tiny elite of plantation 
owners squatted. Chavez's congress passed a law in 2001 requiring 
untilled land to be sold to the landless. It was a program long promised 
by Venezuela's politicians at the urging of John F. Kennedy as part of 
his "Alliance for Progress."

Plantation owner Heinz Corporation didn't like that one bit. In 
retaliation, Heinz closed its ketchup plant in the state of Maturin and 
fired all the workers. Chavez seized the Heinz plant and put the workers 
back on the job. Chavez didn't realize that he'd just squeezed the 
tomatoes of America's powerful Heinz family and Mrs. Heinz' husband, 
Sen. John Kerry (now, Obama's nominee for US Secretary of State).

Or, knowing Chavez as I do, he didn't give a damn.

Chavez could survive the ketchup coup, the Exxon "presidency," even his 
taking back a piece of the windfall of oil company profits, but he 
dangerously tried the patience of America's least-forgiving 
billionaires: the Koch Brothers.

How? Well, that's another story for another day. [Watch this space. Or 
read about it in the book, Billionaires & Ballot Bandits 

Elected presidents who annoy Big Oil have ended up in exile - or 
coffins: Mossadegh of Iran after he nationalized BP's fields (1953), 
Elchibey, president of Azerbaijan, after he refused demands of BP for 
his Caspian fields (1993), President Alfredo Palacio of Ecuador after he 
terminated Occidental's drilling concession (2005).

"It's a chess game, Mr. Palast," Chavez told me. He was showing me a 
very long and very sharp sword once owned by Simon Bolivar, the Great 
Liberator. "And I am," Chavez said, "a /very/ good chess player."

In the film /The Seventh Seal/, a medieval knight bets his life on a 
game of chess with the Grim Reaper. Death cheats, of course, and takes 
the knight. No mortal can indefinitely outplay Death who, this week, 
Chavez must know, will checkmate the new Bolivar of Venezuela.

But in one last move, the Bolivarian grandmaster plays a brilliant 
endgame, naming Vice-President Nicolas Maduro, as good and decent a man 
as they come, as heir to the fight for those in the "ranchos." The 1% of 
Venezuela, planning on Chavez's death to return them the power and 
riches they couldn't win in an election, are livid with the choice of 

Chavez sent Maduro to meet me in my downtown New York office back in 
2004. In our run-down detective digs on Second Avenue, Maduro and I 
traded information on assassination plots and oil policy.

Even then, Chavez was carefully preparing for the day when Venezuela's 
/negros e indios/ would lose their king - but still stay in the game.

Class war on a chessboard. Even in death, I wouldn't bet against Hugo 

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