The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
By Les Blough, Editor
Feb 18, 2005, 17:24

"The voice of the people is the voice of God"

- Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias,
President of The Bolivarian
Republic of Venezuela

Yesterday, I returned from my first visit to The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

I touched the revolution and its current runs through the people with such vibrancy that one cannot escape the life that emanates from its center.

My observations and interviews of many people shall serve as a basis for this series on Venezuela: Touching the Revolution. This article will be my first effort in describing the democratic government of Venezuela, the threats to their democracy, the glorious land and the beauty and power of the Venezuelan people. At this juncture, allow me to only say that I was totally captivated by the warmth of these Latin American friends. I was centered by their humanity, deeply impressed with their intelligence and understanding of international relations, and overwhelmed by the magnificance that is Venezuela. In the midst of these powerful dynamics, my visit informed me about US-Venezuelan relations in ways that reach far beneath and beyond my years of reading U.S. foreign policy in Latin America.

Conventional Arms Threat Reduction Act (CATRA)

Last night, after returning from Venezuela, I read with new comprehension when I reviewed new U.S. legislation sponsored by Richard Lugar, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington. Washington is calling the legislation the Conventional Arms Threat Reduction Act (CATRA). The new act would create an office in the U.S. State Department for the purpose of eliminating small arms around the globe and particularly in Latin America. This ambitious move in Washington is clearly conceived - at least in part - as a response to Venezuela's recent arms purchase from Russia and other Venezuelan foreign policy.

A Deadly Game

Marcela Sanchez, writing for the Washington Post, is one member of the corporate media who is playing "running back" for the quarterback - Lugar. It's not a new play - only the revision of an old one. Lugar fades as though he still has the ball, but has already handed off to Ms. Sanchez who cuts down-field toward Venezuelan territory with CATRA tucked deceptively under her arm. But there are bloody designs behind Lugar's play and the stakes for the entire western hemisphere are very, very high.

On February 17, 2005, Ms. Sanchez dutifully wrote, Disarming Latin America (also en espanol) on behalf of the U.S. government's new intrusion into the domestic affairs of The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. She lays the foundation for her argument by attempting to justify Lugar's design on Venezuela's domestic affairs with this:

"Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar, who helped write the 1991 law that has since deactivated more than 6,500 nuclear warheads from the Soviet arsenal, is turning his attention to stockpiles of conventional weapons around the world."

The design that underlies this play is transparent even to the casual reader: The U.S. cannot make any credible claim that Venezuela has "weapons of mass destruction" as it did in Iraq, so it is beginning to weave a new lie. The new deception is that conventional weapons now comprise the threat to the U.S. and to "others". Sanchez continues:

"Lugar is sponsoring legislation known as the Conventional Arms Threat Reduction Act (CATRA) that would establish a separate State Department office with funding 'commensurate with the risk posed by these weapons' to lead 'an accelerated global effort' to eliminate them."

Eliminate them? Eliminate conventional weapons world wide? Why is "the Lugar" suddenly launching this new offensive? If he is to believed, his conscience has apparently - and suddenly - developed a new compassion for brown people who have been killed by handguns and rifles in Latin America ... and he has a woman named "Marcela Sanchez" to carry the ball to readers of the Washington Post. Ms. Sanchez explains:

"It [eliminating conventional weapons] couldn't be timelier for Latin America. Nowhere else are these weapons more lethal than in Latin America and the Caribbean. The number of firearm homicides in the region is 'five times higher than the world average' ..."

Why Latin America?

Incredibly, Mr. Lugar expresses this new concern for the people of Latin America while leading the slaughter on the people of Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. But it appears that the Iraqi resistance has been teaching the Bush regime a few lessons about guerilla warfare - lessons learned at a cost of over 10,000 thousand U.S. soldiers wounded and more than 1,300 killed by conventional weapons in Iraq - 2 years after Bush declared victory.

It is not difficult to see that Lugar and his team of thugs have finally begun to learn a few things about guerrilla warfare. But why the sudden concern about conventional arms in Latin America? Why is the most powerful nation on earth so threatened by this Latin American country? There are a number of reasons - Reasons that are as clear as they are simple:

  • The eyes of the world are watching the social development, economic growth and the power of the successful democracy in The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela - and once people have tasted real democracy, they never turn back. For 40 years the corrupt regimes in Venezuela had kept 80% of the people in abject poverty. Under Chavez, poverty is still quite evident, particularly in the barrios. But life is getting better. My soon-to-be-published interviews with people living in the barrios will show that to be the case. When you are with them, they tell you so and you can see it in their faces. Cheap labor has always been the darling of the empire's capitalists and the Venezuelan people are saying "No longer!"

  • President Hugo Chavez Frias is considering Venezuela's options for selling oil to countries other than the United States. (I believe the terms are "free enterprise" and "market economy").

  • In sweetheart deals with previous corrupt Venezuelan regimes, U.S. oil companies had been stripping the Venezuelan people of their oil for decades while paying little to nothing in royalties. That has changed.

    In November, 2004, Chavez raised the tax on several multibillion-dollar oil ventures in the southeast Orinoco belt to 16.6 percent from the earlier level of 0 percent to 1 percent. In late November, 2004, in the eastern oil port of Puerto La Cruz, Chavez stated:

"Today, we are starting the second phase of the true nationalization of PDVSA and of Venezuela's oil, aiming for full petroleum sovereignty."

  • President Chavez is transforming Venezuela from a country, heavily dependent on imports from the U.S. for decades - into an independent nation with a developing manufacturing base that promises a future of vibrant international trade. This transformation includes land reform to develop Venezuelan agriculture on massive tracts of land that have been illegally held dormant by the very wealthy while Venezuelans have had to import food from other countries, to a large extent from the U.S.

  • The U.S. has failed miserably at its attempts to bring down the democratic government of Venezuela. The U.S. "captains of industry" and oligarchs in Washington have never learned how to fail with grace, regardless of the numbers of failures they have under their belt.

    • In the embarrassing coup attempt that failed in 2002.

    • In several attempts to assassinate President Chavez.

    • In the recent referendum to unseat President Chavez.

    • In failing to deceive the 80% of Venezuelans who elected Chavez, despite the fact that 98% of the private media in Venezuela is controlled by the US-backed opposition.

    • On December 2, 2002, the US-backed executives and managers of Venezuela's state oil company, Petr√≥leos de Venezuela (PDVSA) went on strike, shutting down Venezuela's oil industry in an ill-advised tactic to bring down the Chavez government. When they went on strike they sabotaged the industry by destroying essential documents, computers and software. The people who worked in the industry, however, learned how to repair the damage and restore the flow of oil and took over PDVSA. 18,000 managers were fired for their role in the strike in February, 2003.

  • Venezuela serves as a model for revolution from plutocracy to democracy for other Latin American countries and around the world.

  • The Bolivarian government in Venezuela is rapidly educating the people at all socio-economic levels and an educated population is always a threat to those who govern through the deception and manipulation of a state-controlled, corporate media.

  • The Venezuelan people have been empowered and true freedom and real democracy runs through their society with a spiritual electricity that is palpable. In my series, Touching the Revolution, I will introduce a Spanish word that has no English equivalent to describe the current that flows through Venezuelan society. The spirit of revolution to better things presents a threat to the few who would control the many.

  • Finally, Venezuelans' fierce defense of their own sovereignty, their impeccable record of respect for the national sovereignty of other nations and their absolute demand for the right to self-determination - these all are a direct threat to the Richard Lugars of this world whose job, first and foremost, is to protect corporate profits.

All of these conditions confront and offend the beast of the US-Led Global Corporate Empire and no other nation on the planet is doing it more effectively than this Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

The Venezuelan Arms Purchase from Russia

Recently, the Chavez administration worked out an arms-purchase with Russia. In her Washington Post article, Marcela Sanchez describes the purchase this way:

"Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's latest oil-financed shopping spree makes CATRA even more urgent. The enigmatic president purchased 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles and other military equipment from the Russian government. The transaction was perfectly legal and Venezuelan officials promised that those weapons would be delivered only to Venezuelan armed forces."

Note the rhetoric ... "latest oil-financed shopping spree" ... "The enigmatic president ..." ... "assault rifles" ...

The fact is that Venezuela purchased 100,000 rifles and about 40 helicopters from Russia in the recent transaction. Sanchez calls these conventional weapons "assault rifles" - trying to depict the Chavez military as aggressive. Why not call them what they are - defense rifles. When have we ever heard the corporate media describe the $10 billion the U.S. generously gives to Israel for it's ongoing genocide in Palestine as "a shopping spree" by the powerful Washington-based Israeli Lobby? When have we ever heard the Washington Post describe George Walker Bush as "an enigmatic president"?

Earlier this week while visiting Venezuela, I was discussing the US-backed Plan Colombia with a 78 year old woman who sells watches from the little shop she owns in Caracas. I asked her if she fears an invasion by the United States to steal their oil. With a comfortable smile, she replied, "We will shortly receive a big shipment of guns from Russia. We will fight. We will defend our country." I asked her for permission to use her name when I publish the interview later in my series, Touching the Revolution. She squared her shoulders behind her retail counter and replied proudly and with courage, "Yes, please do. The military is now with us - the people ... and with President Chavez, we are no longer afraid."

In discussing the arms purchase from Russia, Marcela Sanchez admits that this transaction was "perfectly legal and Venezuelan officials promised that those weapons would be delivered only to Venezuelan armed forces." But she goes on to argue:

"But in a country with an army of 34,000 and a national guard of 23,000, the question is what will happen with the other 40,000-plus Russian rifles and the weapons they will replace. Chavez says he is planning to arm citizens to resist an eventual U.S. invasion. Others fear the weapons will find their way into the hands of Colombian rebel groups."

What Ms. Sanchez conveniently fails to mention is that Venezuela has far more trained Military Reserves than her 34,000 standing army and 23,000 National Guard. During my visit to Venezuela, I had another meeting with a 58 year old man who is a community leader in a small town. He works with one of Venezuela's many Bolivarian Circles where proceeds from the sale of oil are funneled into communities across the country for health clinics, high school and university education, housing and other provisions guaranteed to Venezuelan citizens in the Chavez-drafted Venezuelan Constitution. This gentle man obviously has an impressive depth of detailed knowledge about Venezuelan history and the current and past Venezuelan military. When I asked him about the strength of the Venezuelan military he told me that in addition to their active military, Venezuela has about 180,000 Reserves. Is Ms. Sanchez of the opinion that Army Reserves are to defend their country without arms? Are the U.S. reserves now fighting in Iraq without arms?

Sanchez continues to carry the ball for Lugar-the-quarterback:

"Others fear the weapons will find their way into the hands of Colombian rebel groups. Chavez attempted to placate such concerns this week by telling Colombian President Alvaro Uribe that he does not support "any terrorist act whatsoever.'' But Chavez is ambiguous about which Colombian irregular groups he considers terrorists."

President Uribe met with President Chavez during my visit this week. After a gross violation of Venezuela's national sovereignty by Colombia a few weeks ago in the Granda Affair, Chavez suspended diplomatic and economic relations with Colombia. This week the two countries repaired their differences without any help from the United States government which has been heavily involved in creating conflict between the two nations.

President Chavez is Anything but Ambiguous about Terrorism

If Ms. Sanchez thinks that Hugo Chavez Frias is "ambiguous" about the identity of terrorists, she hasn't been listening. President Chavez is not at all ambiguous about terrorists or terrorism. When asked about Washington's suggestion that the arms purchased from Russia would be passed on to "terrorists", President Chavez had this to say:

"One has to ask whether there was transparency in the invasion of Iraq. The world knows President Bush lied openly about Iraq having chemical weapons ... They keep on bombing cities, killing children. They have become a terrorist state."

Of one thing Marcela Sanchez and the Washington Post can be certain: President Hugo Chavez Frias is not "ambiguous" about the identities of the real terrorists. It is Marcela Sanchez, the Washington Post and Richard Lugar who appear to be confused about the true meaning of terrorism.

President Chavez, the Historian

President Chavez is spiritually, intellectually and morally connected to Simon Bolivar, the great revolutionary leader who liberated Venezuela from Spanish rule in the 19th century. He is not only a truly democratic leader and brilliant military strategist. He is also an informed historian. As such, he has also learned a great deal about U.S. interference in the domestic affairs of Latin American countries.

The U.S. wars against other Latin American countries are certainly not lost on him. For example, in his lifetime, he observed the armed death squads, funded by Washington to crush democratic movements in El Salvador and Guatamala in the 1980s. What could be more fresh in his mind than the kidnapping of democratically-elected President Jean- Bertrand Aristide in Haiti by U.S. marines last year? With a delegation of 12, a personal friend of mine visited high-ranking members of Aristide's democratically-elected administration in a squalid prison in Port-au-Prince where they remain today. Former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune is imprisoned with them by the new US-backed regime. Of course President Chavez and his administration are fully aware.

What could possibly be more informing about the morality and ruthlessness of U.S. foreign policy than the ongoing U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine?

But Chavez' knowledge of U.S. meddling and state-sponsored terrorism in Latin America goes way back to earlier U.S. violations of national sovereignty and oppression in Latin America. He has surely read the words of retired Major General Smedley Butler, a veteran of the United States Marine Corps. Butler delivered the words in his famous speech - I Was a Gangster for Capitalism - delivered in 1933 and published in Common Sense in 1935:

"I spent thirty-three years and four months in active service in the country's most agile military force, the Marines. I served in all ranks from second Lieutenant to Major General. And during that period I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.

"Thus I helped make Mexico, and especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenue in. I helped in the raping of half-a-dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers and Co. in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras "right" for American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested."

President Chavez himself has felt the knife of U.S. imperialism

President Chavez not only understands this history of U.S. terrorism in Latin America. He has also experienced the brunt of US-sponsored terrorism himself - in his own country, since becoming elected as Venezuela's president. The handful of wealthy opposition members in Venezuela lost control of their plutocracy when Chavez was elected by 80% of the people in 1998. Since then, they and their U.S. partners have been unrelenting in their attempts to subvert Venezuelan democracy and the rule of law. But their movement is dying on the vine as the Chavez Administration continues to successfully build Venezulan society and infrastructure. In their US-funded coup attempt in 2002, they failed miserably when the people brought their president back from U.S. imprisonment in the Caribbean.

Last year, the opposition's attempt to bring down Chavez by a referendum was once again, soundly defeated by the people. The US-backed opposition has publicly called for his assassination from their Miami havens and at least 2 attempts to assassinate him have failed. Last year, they bombed the car of Danilo Anderson and killed him. Anderson was one of the chief prosecutors in the Chavez government who was prosecuting the criminals who attempted the 2002 coup. This small band of very wealthy opposition members have been and continue to be funded by the U.S. through the cynically-named "National Endowment for Democracy" (NED). Roy Carson, Editor of VHeadline and I broke the news that they are also funded by another organization with a cynical name: "The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace" (CEIP), based in Washington D.C.

Hugo Chavez Frias, Committed to Democracy, Eschues Violence

During my visit in Venezuela the people told me over and over again, "This is a nonviolent revolution, not a bloody one." They have learned- well from their president.

  • Despite all these attempts to destroy the Chavez government, there were no executions of those who carried out their misguided 2002 coup. When he could have wiped out the opposition he did not do so.

  • Despite all of this, President Chavez continues to defend the right of free speech of the private media, totally controlled by the opposition - even as they blast the Venezuelan people with their anti-Chavez propaganda 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.

  • Despite all of this, President Chavez is "winning the peace" in Venezuela and has never resorted to violence, even when under threat of losing his government and his life. When he was returned to the Miraflores Presidential Palace after being taken to the Caribbean prison in a US-registered plane, he spoke calmly to millions of Venezuelans who crowded the streets and demanded his return. He called on the people for "calm" and told them to return to their homes.

President Hugo Chavez Frias

During my life-changing visit to The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, I visited IVIC, a scientific research center located on about 3,000 acres of beautiful rain forest on the top of a mountain. The work and training at IVIC are comparable to that of U.S. institutions like M.I.T. and Stanford University. The president and vice president graciously ... generously ... set time aside for my visit and invited me to speak to an assembly of Venezuelan research scientists, faculty, students and program directors. I also spent time with and visited ordinary folks like myself on the streets of the beautiful, modern city of Caracas, with other people like myself in small towns and barrios. In a series of forthcoming articles, I will publish interviews I conducted with people from a cross section of Venezuelan society. They speak very well for themselves and require noone to speak for them. I will also attempt to describe some of my observations of the land, the infrastructure and the signs of economic growth and development that has been taking place since President Chavez has come into office. To do so will be a challenge because even the best-chosen words are simply inadequate compared to the experience of sitting in Altamira Plaza or in a home in the barrio with folks who are so very happy to share their country with visiting guests.

Venezuelans are among the most informed people on earth

If the Venezuelan people clarified anything for me during my visit it is this: They are the most informed people I have ever met anywhere in my 61 years of life in the United States and travel abroad.

Not only is the brilliant Chavez ahead of the U.S. imperialist curve. The people at IVIC are excellent scientists - yes - but they are also well-schooled by the deadly history of U.S. "intervention" in Latin America and are fully aware of U.S. designs on their country today.

In the barrios, the poorest of Venezuela's poor are now gaining access for the first time in Venezuelan history to the universities through the state-funded "Missions". I saw them filling the many new Internet cafes in the barrios where many of them were not able to read a newspaper a decade ago. They are fully informed about the CIA and its Plan Colombia and about the U.S. funding of the opposition through Washington-based, NED and the CEIP. Most important, they carry a little book with them - Constitución de Venezuela (1999), drafted after Hugo Chavez came into his own, as president. They quoted passages from it to me like from a bible. They know the rights guaranteed to them as Venezuelan citizens. (You can read an unauthorized translation in English at - Venezuelan Constitution)

Venezuela's industrious young people are at the forefront, taking control of their lives and their country. I've never witnessed a generation to compare with them.

The Venezuelan people are fully informed and will never again be deceived by the likes of Richard Lugar, the Washington Post and writers like Marcela Sanchez. They read Quarterback Lugar's play for "Disarming Latin America" before he ever called it in the corporate-government huddle. They knew the story before it was published in the Washington Post.

It can happen here, in the United States.

The next installment in this series is scheduled for publication on February 28, 2005: Touching the Revolution: Magnificent, Modern Venezuela

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