Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s charismatic and tremendously popular President, has appeared frequently in the headlines of the world’s press over the past few weeks, as his democratic and anti-imperialist stance becomes ever stronger and the resultant imperialist hatred of him becomes ever more vitriolic. Such is the current level of enmity felt in US ruling circles against Chavez that a prominent Bush ally, televangelist Pat Robertson, felt fit to suggest on television that the US intelligence forces should assassinate Chavez, as a cheaper and more effective way of securing a steady supply of Venezuelan oil than a full-scale war of the type being waged in Iraq. Whilst the US administration did officially distance themselves from these comments, claiming that they were the “private views of Mr Robertson”, they certainly did not denounce them, nor did they even attempt to deny that the assassination of Chavez was a course of action upon which they might one day embark.
As far as the US ruling class is concerned, Chavez poses a very real threat to their interests.
Venezuelan oil being used to generate an anti-imperialist bloc
Venezuela has the largest known oil reserves outside of the Middle East, and is currently the world’s fifth leading exporter of oil. Such oil wealth in the modern oil-fuelled economy gives Venezuela a considerable amount of political muscle in comparison to many less well-endowed third world countries. Unlike the sycophantic yes-men of imperialism who are the ‘rulers’ of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, the Chavez administration is increasingly proving willing to use its oil muscle for the benefit of the people of its country and, furthermore, to strengthen the forces of anti-imperialism worldwide. Chavez has forged extremely close links with Fidel Castro (in itself a cause of intense worry for the US), and Venezuela has been providing Cuba with oil supplies to the tune of 90,000 barrels per day, on extremely favourable terms. Meanwhile, Cuba’s support has been essential in Venezuela’s public health programmes (of which more later). According to The Guardian of 25 August, “The two men [Castro and Chavez] meet regularly, talk constantly on the telephone, and have formed a close political and military alliance. Venezuela has deployed more than 20,000 Cuban doctors in its shanty-towns, and Cuba is the grateful recipient of cheap Venezuelan oil, replacing the subsidised oil it once used to receive from the Soviet Union. This, in the eyes of the US government, would itself be a heinous crime that would put Chavez at the top of its list for removal.”
Castro has also been an encouragement to Venezuela in its ‘Petrocaribe’ initiative – a multi-lateral energy co-operation scheme led by Venezuela that has been signed by 14 Caribbean nations – the aim of which is to supply oil to Caribbean countries at an affordable cost. Under the terms of its deal with Venezuela, Jamaica, for example, will pay just $40 per barrel of oil, as compared to a market rate of over $60. Meanwhile, Chavez has stated that the US can expect no respite from the oil market, and predicts that the barrel price will reach $100 by 2012 (see The Guardian, 25 August 2005). “Jamaica will be afforded an initial grace period of two years for repayment and part of the oil purchases can be repaid with Jamaican goods and services. The agreement also allows for the modernisation of Petrojam, the state-owned refinery, as well as the establishment of a fund for socio-economic programmes.” (Caribbean Media Corporation news agency, 25 August 2005). Phillip Paulwell, Commerce, Science and Technology Minister for Jamaica, characterised the deal as “a tremendously soft loan” (cit. ibid).
Chavez, standing alongside Castro at the first ever graduation ceremony at the Latin American School of Medicine, in Havana’s Karl Marx Theatre on 20 August 2005, said with respect to the Petrocaribe initiative: “This is the only road to salvation for our people: true unity, political integration, and the social integration that you represent. The integration of our economies, production, and energy is the dream of our liberators. Let us repeat today in this heroic city of Havana, in this heroic Island, in the heroic Republic of Cuba. Let us repeat with Jose Marti that the time has come for our second independence: Onward to victory forever! Fatherland or death!”
Venezuela is striking up similar deals with South American countries such as Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil and Peru. Venezuelan Ambassador to the US, Bernardo Alvarez, stated that: “We are using energy as a way of promoting real integration of the continent” (cit. ‘Robertson’s rant is no joke’, Workers World, 25 August 2005). In September, the Venezuelan state oil firm (PDVSA) is expected to start sending shipments of crude oil to Ecuador.
The trend is not confined to South America and the Caribbean. The Venezuelan state-run news agency (the Bolivarian News Agency (ABN)) announced in late August that an agreement has been reached between Venezuela and China whereby Venezuela will provide for 15-20% of China’s oil imports, amounting to over 300,000 barrels a day over the coming years.
The Venezuelan government’s motivation in striking up these relationships is very clear: on the one hand, it is reducing its reliance on the US – an increasingly antagonistic political enemy – as a market for Venezuelan oil; on the other, it is using its vast oil resources to promote the economic independence of third world countries and reduce their reliance on suffocating deals imposed on them by the US. Both of these aims are entirely deserving of the progressive world’s support; both aims are a source of considerable discomfort to the US ruling class and its representatives.
The threat of reduced oil supply
It is now widely understood that the imperialist countries are in a desperate bid to secure what little is left of the world’s oil, and that reliable sources of oil are running out fast. The chances of extracting a significant amount of oil from Iraq – which contains the world’s second largest known oil reserves – are being literally blown out of the water by the force of the heroic Iraqi resistance. That being the case, the US is very keen that those countries which supply its oil needs continue to do so, and at a higher rate than ever. Venezuela exports about 1.3 million barrels a day to the US. However, at a speech to the recent World Festival of Youth and Students in Caracas, Chavez stated that, if the US maintained its aggressive stance towards Venezuela, these supplies, “instead of going to the United States, could go elsewhere … the US market is not indispensable” (BBC News Online, 15 August 2005) Venezuelan Energy & Petroleum Minister, Rafael Ramirez, has stated in the past that, if the US steps up its aggression against Venezuela, Venezuela is prepared and ready to suspend supplies.
Whilst the US market may no longer be indispensable to Venezuela, the Venezuelan supply of oil to the US certainly is indispensable. A cessation in supplies from one of its primary sources of oil could potentially have a massively adverse effect on the US economy.
A dangerous example to South America
Richard Gott, writing in The Guardian of 25 August, points out that Chavez “is a frequent visitor to the capitals of Latin America, and he is widely perceived as the leader of the group of left-leaning presidents recently elected in Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay, as well as the inspiration of the radicalised indigenous movements now clamouring at the gates of power in Bolivia and Ecuador. There is another touch of the 19th century here, for Chavez is a follower and promoter of the ideas and career of Simon Bolivar, the Venezuelan leader who brought the philosophy of the European Enlightenment and the French Revolution to Latin America, and liberated much of the continent from Spanish rule. Chavez has labelled his movement the “Bolivarian Revolution”, and he hopes that his political ideas will spread throughout the continent.”
On top of their international role, the domestic social and economic programme being adopted by the Venezuelan government is increasingly becoming an inspiration to the masses across the continent of South America, who have for decades looked on in admiration, envy, pride and enthusiasm at their contemporaries in Cuba, who hold their destiny in their own hands, who refuse to bow down to the hegemony of the United States, and who are able to provide a decent standard of living to all, whilst so many South Americans, even those in apparently ‘richer’ countries, sink lower and lower into the shanty town existence which characterises so much of the continent.
30 percent of Venezuelan oil profits are used to fund community programmes; literacy has reached 96% (compare this with that of some of the countries which have been most thoroughly raped by imperialism: 17% in Niger, 25% in Burkina Faso, 27% in Mali, 41% in Bangladesh); numerous programmes have been implemented to subsidise education, housing, health care and food; idle land is being redistributed to poor peasants (‘Venezuelan envoy tells of social gains’, Workers World, 6 August 2005).
The racism that for so long has plagued Venezuela (the rich are almost exclusively white) is being wiped out. In the words of one indignant wealthy Venezuelan: “Oh, there was no problem with racism before Chavez. You know, it used to be a sign of affection to call somebody el negro. If you had a slow member of your family, that’s what you would say. But now, since Chavez, people have begun to think it is racist!” (cited in ‘Venezuela: revolutionaries and a country on the edge’, Johann Hari, The Independent, 25 August)
Cuba is assisting Venezuela with a large scale operation aimed at restoring the sight of poor people who have been blind for decades. The two countries are now planning to extend this programme to the rest of South America and the Caribbean:
“Venezuela and Cuba are cooperating together in one of the most exciting programmes ever implemented: to return or preserve the sight of more than six million people in Latin America and the Caribbean. Of course, I am sure that just as before, President Chavez will increase this goal.
“Conditions have been created in Cuba, and are being developed in Venezuela, to diagnose, operate on or cure 25,000 people from the Caribbean, 100,000 from Cuba, 100,000 from Venezuela and 120,000 from South and Central America each year.
“As a matter of fact, this programme is already underway in 14 of the 24 ophthalmologic institutions that will become operational in our country by the end of this year. They have been equipped with the most advanced world-class technology available. Our country is now performing 1,500 eye surgeries per day.
“This year we have reached the figure of 50,000 Venezuelans from the Inside the Barrio Mission who have undergone eye surgery as from the middle of January up until today, August 20. In less than a month 1,093 people from the Caribbean have received the same treatment, by virtue of the Agreements signed at the Venezuelan state of Anzoategui, on June 30 last.
“It is important to note that every year, more than four and a half million people from Latin America and the Caribbean require this service, but do not receive it due to conditions of poverty, and more than half a million each year lose their sight, often without ever having been examined by a doctor.” (Fidel Castro, speech at medical school graduation, BBC Monitoring Service – United Kingdom; Aug 24, 2005)
All of this is serving to establish Venezuela as a beacon for the masses of South America. The United States is absolutely livid that Venezuela has joined Cuba on the front line against imperialist influence in South America.
US Strategy / Venezuelan counter-strategy
The US ruling class finds itself, like Odysseus passing between Scylla and Charybdis (Scylla was a monster on the cliffs and Charydbis was a dangerous whirlpool), between a rock and a hard place. It would dearly love to ‘take out’ Chavez; it would dearly love to stage a coup; it would dearly love to install a compliant little fascist dictatorship which would keep the peasants in line, guarantee uninterrupted supply of oil and promise to be a relentless bastion of reaction in South America. However, such a course of action is not easy, as was proven three years ago, when a US-backed coup attempted to remove Chavez from power, and when the Venezuelan people took to the streets in their millions to demand his return. The US have supported every means of undermining Chavez that they can think of – employer-backed ‘strikes’ (ie. lockouts), economic destabilisation, funding of spurious opposition parties, etc. As is routine for the US, they have also had their so-called Drug Enforcement Agency officers in Venezuela carrying out surveillance work (these were recently expelled from Venezuela).
The central problem for the US is that, whilst it desperately wants to remove Chavez from power, it knows full well that a coup would unleash a civil war which would shut off oil supplies for a considerable amount of time, without any hope that any replacement for Chavez would serve its interests better. All it is able to do is continue quietly funding subversion and spreading black propaganda, in the vain hope that this will have the desired effect.
Meanwhile, we are very glad to note that the Venezuelan government is taking Venezuela’s defence seriously. 100,000 AK-47s have recently been purchased from Russia for Venezuela’s army, fuelling speculation that Venezuela is gearing up for a civil defence of its sovereignty. As John Catalinotto, writing in Workers World of 11 August, put it: “These are weapons for a people’s army that can become a guerrilla resistance in case there is an invasion by an army with superior arms and technology. This is what the Pentagon, to its dismay, found out in Iraq.” Russian news agency ITAR-TASS noted that Venezuelan defence experts had recently purchased helicopters and small arms from Russia. Chinese radar systems have been purchased for use by Venezuela’s armed forces. According to an AFX Europe report of 25 August, the Venezuelan navy is planning to purchase three submarines (having received offers from Germany, France, Italy and Russia), as part of “a multi-year plan to modernise its armed forces, raising concerns in the US and Colombia”.
The experience of Chile is a bitter reminder of the lengths to which imperialism will go to get rid of an opponent on its doorstep. We hope that Venezuela will succeed in building a sufficient military deterrent to imperialist attack, and we are confident that the masses of Venezuela will fight with all their energy to defend their sovereignty and all that they have gained over the past few years. All revolutionaries should make it their duty to support the role that is being played by Chavez and the Venezuelan government, and to expose the role being played by imperialism in Venezuela and in South America.
 We understand that a Report from CPGB-ML delegates to the 16th World Festival of Youth and Students in Caracas will be in the next issue of