Regime Change in Venezuela?

September 25, 2007

The Bush administration’s regime change policies are creating, or exacerbating, instability in an increasing number of countries around the globe. In the Middle East, the United States is currently bogged down in quagmires in Afghanistan and Iraq where anarchy rather than democracy are the order of the day. Closer to home in the Caribbean, a coup d’état has left the Bush White House presiding over chaos in Haiti. Many are now asking if Venezuela could be next on the Bush hit list.

In actuality, President Hugo Chávez’s government has been on the Bush administration’s regime change list for years, it just hasn’t been the target of direct U.S. military intervention. In early April, the latest criticism of Chávez by the Bush administration came from US Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega when he stated that Venezuela was in crisis because of “Chávez’s increasingly antidemocratic actions.” Noriega failed to mention how U.S. policies have destabilized the country.

As in Haiti, Venezuelan opposition groups sympathetic to U.S. foreign policy goals continue to receive funding from the United States. The National Endowment for Democracy (NED)—funded by the U.S. Congress with taxpayer dollars—continued its long history of undermining democracy by providing close to $1 million to Venezuelan opposition groups in the months prior to the failed April 2002 coup. Last year, the NED gave $53,400 to the Venezuelan organization Súmate, which exists for the sole purpose of campaigning for the referendum drive intended to oust Chávez. The NED also gave $116,000 to the Venezuelan Workers Confederation, which organized a work stoppage in an attempt to paralyze Venezuela’s economy and force Chávez to resign.

Much to the chagrin of the Bush administration, Chávez has exhibited a willingness—even an eagerness—to criticize U.S. foreign policy, often verbalizing what many other leaders likely think, but dare not say. The Venezuelan president’s oil policies and his friendly relationship with Fidel Castro also irk Bush and his former cold warriors. After assuming office, Chávez’s revitalization of OPEC led to global oil prices not dipping below $22 a barrel, compared to $11 a barrel when he was elected in 1998. A far cry from current prices—$37 in early April.

Growing public anger in the United States over the dramatic rise in gasoline prices during an election year may lead Bush to intensify his attempts at provoking regime change in the oil-rich South American country. An ABC World News Tonight segment broadcast in March laid blame on Venezuela for the high cost of gasoline. Sitting in his massive SUV, an overweight Texan who drives 40 miles each way to work everyday said he is “really angry” at having to pay such high prices for gasoline. Instead of asking why he doesn’t move closer to work or buy a more fuel-efficient vehicle, the ABC reporter focused on OPEC production quotas and political unrest in Venezuela as two of the principal causes of this Texan’s economic inconvenience.

Also in March, an editorial published in the Miami Herald and Baltimore Sun noted, “One reason why oil costs may not relax this summer: Venezuela, the United States’ No. 4 offshore oil vendor, experienced a crippling oil strike in 2002 and is undergoing new unrest and protests against its erratic president, Hugo Chávez.” While a front page New York Times article said, “Crude oil prices, the most important factor in the price of gasoline, are expected to remain high, perhaps to climb still higher, as concern grows over the possibility of disruptions in the oil industry of Venezuela.” The Times also noted “signs of renewed assertiveness in OPEC,” in which the “Venezuelans, among the largest OPEC producers, have been an outspoken supporter of high prices.” Meanwhile, the mainstream media has focused little attention on the skyrocketing profits of U.S. oil companies as a result of gasoline price increases over the past year. ChevronTexaco, for example, recently reported that it earned more profit in the fourth quarter of 2003 than in all of 2002, while ExxonMobil’s 2003 earnings moved the company up to second place on Forbes’ annual Fortune 500 list.

Will the intensification of the Bush administration’s regime change policies in Venezuela result in the Venezuelan people enduring the same degree of disorder currently reigning over Afghanistan, Iraq and Haiti? Probably not, but the global policies of the Bush White House have made it abundantly clear that the installation of friendly regimes takes priority over stability and democracy.

NOTE: In the print version of this article, Noriega's comment was erroneously attributed to "U.S. Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez" (Alvarez is actually the Venezuelan ambassador to the U.S.). NACLA apologizes for the error.

Garry Leech is interim editor of NACLA Report on the Americas and author of the book Killing Peace: Colombia’s Conflict and the Failure of U.S. Intervention (INOTA, 2002).


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