Wednesday, March 16, 2005

"Containing" Chávez

"Another World Is Possible" has been a popular slogan of the global justice movement. What does it mean to actually build "another world," though, going beyond simply affirming the possibility of an alternative to capitalism? Hugo Chávez Frias's answer is that "[w]e must reclaim socialism," a new type of socialism that grows organically out of "popular organisations already constructed as part of the struggle to create 'participatory democracy'":
Chavez, whose government has led a process known as the Bolivarian revolution aiming to eradicate poverty, made it clear in the WSF speech that he stood for "democratic socialism", differentiating that from the model existing in the Soviet Union. He stated: "We must reclaim socialism . . . but a new type of socialism, a humanist one, which puts humans and not machines or the state ahead of everything."

On February 25, addressing the 4th International Conference on Social Debt in Caracas, Chavez re-emphasised the point. He declared "if not capitalism, then what? I have no doubt, it's socialism", according to Pascal Fletcher's account for Reuters, which Fletcher titled: "Defying the US, Chavez embraces socialism".

Then, two days later, came the Hello President program, where Chavez said: "I am convinced that the way to build a new and better world is not capitalism. Capitalism leads us straight to hell".

In a March 1 article or the Hands Off Venezuela website that discussed the television program, Jorge Martin claims that Chavez has urged the start of an ideological discussion about socialism amongst those supporting the Bolivarian revolution, including Chavez’s own Movement for a Fifth Republic.

Chavez's presidency is based on popular support and mobilisation. Pro-Chavez forces have won nine national elections in the last six years, including a referendum on whether or not to recall Chavez from the presidency.

A key part of the Bolivarian revolution has been organising the poor majority into institutions of power so they can directly control their lives. Chavez argued that the "tools for building socialism" were these popular organisations already constructed as part of the struggle to create "participatory democracy". (Stuart Munckton, "Venezuela: President Agitates for Socialist Revolution," Green Left Weekly, March 9, 2005)
Chávez's declaration came at the same time as the land reform in Venezuela, which had concentrated on distributing public land to the landless, began to take on the landed estates:
Venezuela’s National Land Institute announced the impending redistribution of five ranches on Saturday, in a controversial settlement dealing with both private and public land. The five ranches are, El Carcote, Piñero, Coco, Borges, and Hacienda Sanz. This could mean the redistribution of private land titles for the first time since the land reform law was passed in November, 2001.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

According to the Land Law, only underutilized or idle land is subject to expropriation. So far the reform has focused on public land, giving private land owners a grace period to put their land to use.

In the event that private land-owners fail to make their land productive, the law states that high-quality private land over 100 hectares (roughly 250 acres) or low-quality land over 5,000 hectares (12,355 acres) can be expropriated—with the government compensating the owners at market price.

On January 10, 2005 President Chávez launched a new campaign to speed up the land reform. Since the land reform was passed in 2001, 2.2 million hectares (4,940,000 acres) publicly held land has been re-distributed. Under the new campaign, the “war against the landed estates [latifundistas],” underutilized private property will also be targeted. (Jonah Gindin, "Venezuela’s Land Institute Recovers Public Land for Redistribution,", March 14, 2005)
Washington wasted no time announcing "a policy to 'contain' Hugo Chávez," reported on the front page of the Financial Times (in the USA edition on March 14, 2005):
Senior US administration officials are working on a policy to "contain" Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan president, and what they allege is his drive to "subvert" Latin America's least stable states.

A strategy aimed at fencing in the government of the world's fifth-largest oil exporter is being prepared at the request of President George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state, senior US officials say. The move signals a renewed interest by the administration in a region that has been relatively neglected in recent years.

Roger Pardo-Maurer, deputy assistant secretary for western hemisphere affairs at the US Department of Defense, said the Venezuela policy was being developed because Mr Chávez was employing a "hyena strategy" in the region.

"Chávez is a problem because he is clearly using his oil money and influence to introduce his conflictive style into the politics of other countries," Mr Pardo-Maurer said in an interview with the Financial Times.

"He's picking on the countries whose social fabric is the weakest," he added. "In some cases it's downright subversion."

Mr Chávez, whose government has enjoyed bumper export revenues during his six years in office thanks to high oil prices, has denied that he is aiding insurgent groups in countries such as Bolivia, Colombia and Peru. But a tougher stance from the US appears to be in the offing, a move that is likely to worsen strained bilateral relations.

The policy shift in Washington, which a US military officer said is at an early stage but is centred on the goal of "containment", could also have implications for the world oil market.

Mr Chávez has threatened to suspend oil shipments to the US if it attempts to oust him. He and Fidel Castro, the Cuban president, have alleged, without offering proof, that the Bush administration was plotting to assassinate the Venezuelan leader, an allegation that US officials have dismissed as "wild".

Suggestions that Mr Chávez backs subversive groups surface frequently, although so far also with scant evidence. Colombian officials close to President Alvaro Uribe say Venezuela is giving sanctuary to Colombian guerrillas, deemed "terrorists" by the US and Europe.

US officials say Mr Chávez financed Evo Morales, the Bolivian indigenous leader whose followers last week unsuccessfully tried to force President Carlos Mesa's resignation. In Peru allegations emerged suggesting that Mr Chávez financed a rogue army officer who tried to incite a rebellion against President Alejandro Toledo in December.

Mr Chávez has dismissed such claims as fabrications designed to undermine his attempts to foster greater political and economic integration in Latin America.

Mr Pardo-Maurer said Washington has run out of patience: "We have reached the end of the road of the current approach." (Andy Webb-Vidal, "Bush Orders Policy to 'Contain' Chávez," March 13, 2005)
On the second page in the same issue, another article by Webb-Vidal cites "General Bantz Craddock, the commander-in-chief of the US Southern Command" expressing "concern" about Venezuela's weapons procurement program -- "ranging from 50 latest-generation Mig-29 warplanes to dozens of helicopter gunships, 100,000 Kalashnikov automatic rifles and a fleet of naval vessels" -- and insinuates that Caracas may "export instability " to other Latin American nations ("Venezuela Restocks Its Arsenal," March 14 2005).

Look beneath Washington's feverish rhetoric of the "war on terror" -- "Chávez backs subversives and buys Russian weapons for them!" -- and observe what's happening in Venezuela, Latin America, and the world carefully. You can see that what Washington really objects to is not only Venezuela's domestic policy of empowering the poor socially and economically -- the program that cannot but eventually impinge upon class interests of the rich -- but also its international policy of breaking Venezuela's traditional dependence on military, political, and economic ties with the United States by building new relations with Russia, Iran, and China among others and by playing a leadership role in integrating Latin America and moving it to the left: "the growing center-left ideological tilt among Latin American states is symptomatic of a growing movement towards a continental alliance and a political stance markedly different from that being fielded by the U.S." (Seth R. DeLong/Council on Hemispheric Affairs, "Venezuela and the Latin American New Left: To Washington’s Chagrin, Chávez’s Influence Continues to Spread Throughout the Continent," March 8, 2005). The new left in Latin America practice "a 'soft' neoliberalism" at home (DeLong, March 8, 2005), but Latin America becoming "a regional EU-like bloc" (DeLong, March 8, 2005) -- breaking with the Washington Consensus and maintaining friendly diplomatic stances toward old and new socialist leaders like Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez, pushed by local social forces to the left of the center-left parties in power -- is certainly a challenge to Washington's hegemony.

Washington's aggressive words are backed up by military maneuvers to put pressures on Venezuela:
Venezuela’s Armed Forces are closely watching the unannounced presence of U.S. military vessels near the Caribbean island of Curacao, which was detected early Monday [February 28, 2005].

The announcement was made early Monday by Venezuelan Navy commander Armando Laguna, during an interview with state TV channel Venezolana de Television. Laguna said that the Venezuelan Navy detected several foreign vessels 75 kilometers northeast of the Paraguaná Peninsula in western Venezuela.

According to Laguna, the presence of U.S. military ships near Venezuela is part of their "routine maneuvers", and told people not to be alarmed. However, Laguna assured that the United States did not announce the presence "as they traditionally have been doing it."

The image of a U.S. military ship anchored off the coast of Curacao was captured by an amateur photographer and widely distributed by Venezuelan alternative news media. Credit: Jean -

(Cleto Sojo, "U.S. Military Presence near Venezuela Raises Concerns,", March 1, 2005)
The coup and the lockout failed, the referendum vindicated Chávez, high oil prices have boosted the Venezuelan economy, and Washington, overstretched by the Iraq War, lacks troops to invade Venezuela. What, then, might Washington's "containment" policy consist of?

1 comment:

maps said...

I agree that the US and the opposition are in a weaker position that they have ever been vis a vis Chavez - the legal road to defeating him has disappeared in the wake of the recall referendum loss and then the municipal and federal elections which pro-Chavez
candidates swept.

But the US is not without options. They seem in recent months to have attempted to foment tensions between Colombia and Venezuela, and it would not be hard to believe that they are involved in the campaign of terror which the radical wing of the opposition - the ones who rejected the referendum result as a fraud - has waged. Cross-border raids by Colombian paramilitaries, attacks on the peasantry by landlords' gangs, the assasination of Danil Rodriguez, who was tasked with investigating the 2002 coup - all of these acts have an ominous ring. Hence the need to extend the revolution and destroy the basis of counter-revolution: