Skip to comments.Hugo Chavez - Venezuela
Posted on 04/14/2002 4:01:40 AM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife
LINKS to Hugo Chavez's "government" June 2001 - March 2002
I'm keeping track of Hugoland formally known as Venezuela. Please LINK any stories or add what you wish to this thread. The above LINK takes you to past articles posted before the new FR format. Below I'll add what I've catalogued since that LINK no longer could take posts.
(March 1, 2002)-- Venezuela's strongman faces widespread calls to step down
By Phil Gunson | Special to The Christian Science Monitor
[Full Text] CARACAS, VENEZUELA - The man who won Venezuelan hearts three years ago as a strongman who could deliver a better life to the masses is now facing them in the streets.
More than 20,000 people turned out this week calling for the resignation of President Hugo Chávez, while some 2,000 supporters marched in a rival demonstration of support. The demonstrations come after months of building discontent with a president who has managed to alienate the labor class, the media, business groups, the church, political parties, and the military.
Four military leaders have publicly called for his resignation.
In November, Chávez introduced 49 "revolutionary" decrees. The package of laws - affecting everything from land rights and fisheries to the oil industry - unified virtually the whole of organized society in a nationwide business and labor stoppage that paralyzed the country on Dec. 10.
The protests this week have a note of irony, because they started out as a commemoration called by President Chávez. In his eyes, Feb. 27 is a milestone of his so-called revolution - "the date on which the people awoke" in 1989. That is when thousands of rioters and looters took to the streets in protest of an IMF-backed austerity plan, in which the government hiked gas prices.
In what became known as the caracazo, or noisy protest, thousands of rioters and looters were met by Venezuelan military forces, and hundreds were killed. Three years later, Chávez and his military co-conspirators failed in an attempt to overthrow the government responsible for the massacre, that of President Carlos Andres Perez. Chávez was jailed for two years.
"But the elements that brought about the caracazo are still present in Venezuela," says lawyer Liliana Ortega, who for 13 years has led the fight for justice on behalf of the victims' relatives. "Poverty, corruption, impunity ... some of them are perhaps even more deeply ingrained than before."
Chávez's supporters consist of an inchoate mass of street traders, the unemployed, and those whom the old system had marginalized. This, to Chávez, is el pueblo - the people.
"But we are 'the people' too," protests teacher Luis Leonet. "We're not oligarchs like he says. The oligarchs are people like Chávez, people with power."
On Wednesday, Leonet joined a march led by the main labor confederation, the CTV, to protest what unions say is a series of antilabor measures, including one of the 49 decrees dealing with public-sector workers.
Chávez won't talk to the CTV, whose leaders, he says, are corrupt and illegitimate. So he refuses to negotiate the annual renewal of collective contracts with the confederation, holding up deals on pay and conditions for hundreds of thousands of union members like Leonet.
Across town on Wednesday, a progovernment march sought to demonstrate that the president's popularity was as high as ever.
"For the popular classes, Chávez is an idol," says marcher Pedro Gutierrez.
Pollster Luis Vicente Leon, of the Datanalisis organization, warns that marches are no measure of relative popularity. "There is a lot of discontent among ... the really poor," Leon says, adding that so far the protests are mainly among the middle class.
But the middle class can be a dangerous enemy. It includes the bulk of the armed forces, and the management of the state oil company, PDVSA.
This month, four uniformed officers, ranging from a National Guard captain to a rear-admiral and an Air Force general, called on the president to resign, while repudiating the idea of a military coup of Chávez, himself a former Army lieutenant-colonel.
But senior "institutionalist" officers "are under severe pressure from lower ranks frustrated at the lack of impact" that these acts have had, a source close to military dissidents says. In other words, a coup cannot be ruled out, although the United States publicly denounces the idea.
Meanwhile, the president's imposition of a new board of directors on PDVSA this week sparked a virtual uprising by the company's senior management. In an unprecedented public statement, managers said the government was pushing the company "to the verge of operational and financial collapse" by imposing political, rather than commercial, criteria.
The political opposition remains relatively weak and divided. But in the view of many analysts, a president who offends both the military and the oil industry is asking for trouble. In the bars and restaurants of Caracas, the debate is no longer over whether Chávez will finish his term, which has nearly five years to run. It is when and how he will go - and what comes next. [End]
The door-to-door poll, which was conducted by the two U.S. firms on behalf of Radio Caracas Television, questioned 1,000 adults nationwide between July 14-20. It had a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points. The results come less than two weeks after a local poll found more than two-thirds of those surveyed would oust the embattled president. Both polls raised the hopes of opposition leaders trying to organize a recall referendum.
Venezuela's Constitution allows citizens to petition for a referendum halfway into a president's six-year-term. In the case of Chavez, that would be Aug. 19. Opposition groups agreed Tuesday to unite their efforts to request the referendum on Chavez's rule and establish a mechanism to choose a single candidate for a future election. The president's opponents want to hold the referendum later this year.
Opponents of the president say his policies have harmed the economy and they accuse him of trying to eliminate checks on his power. Chavez counters that he is trying to free the country from a corrupt political system that ignored the needs of the country's impoverished majority. [End]
.. "Our Republican values are all about the birth of Latin America. ... We are reinforcing the elements of cooperation, solidarity and participation," said Ortayza, who was once head of the state security police under the Chavez administration.
But as in Cuba, the Venezuelan students will read at the end of the course a letter of thanks to Chavez.
Government officials say the most promising students in the program will be rewarded with land titles, scholarships, trips to Cuba and even a library with 25 classic books, including works by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, Cuban Nicolas Guillen, Cuban liberation hero Jose Marti and American authors Ernest Hemingway and Jack London.
But the program has riled Venezuelan educators who see politics and not literacy behind the government initiative.
"Cuban has nothing to teach us about literacy programs," said teacher Leonardo Carvajal. "They are selling us worthless trinkets in exchange for 53,000 barrels of oil a day." ***
.. Dutrow also would push national socialist issues as mayor, including bringing home all troops stationed abroad and ending American "occupation" of Iraq, creating jobs for everybody, allowing illegal immigrants to obtain drivers licenses, defending women's access to abortion and re-establishing U.S. relations with Cuba.***
Some Wall Street competitors who asked not to be identified criticized CSFB for what they described as a conflict of interest. But CSFB bankers denied a conflict, noting they disclosed the holding in the prospectus.
Michael Schoen, CSFB's managing director of Latin American debt capital, said Thursday, "The reality is Venezuela has borrowed 7-year money at 53/8% with cash flow savings of $1.4 billion over four years. It doesn't get much better than that." Venezuela's total foreign and domestic debt is about $30 billion.
Frank Lopez, CSFB's managing director of Latin American investment banking, said, "Venezuela has faced a difficult debt-payment schedule since 1998-1999. We've been working closely with the administration whoever's been the minister of finance to come up with creative solutions to their external debt."
Lopez said the time for such a deal was right due to a recent improvement in Venezuela's cash-flow resulting from increased domestic oil production and prices, and relative political calm.
But the deal was attractive to Chavez's opponents because the bonds were priced in U.S. dollars at the official exchange rate of 1,600 Venezuelan bolivars at a time when the country's black-market rate is closer to 3,000 bolivars.
Even if Venezuela's currency were to be devalued, the bondholders would be protected.
That doesn't provide Chavez's predominantly poor supporters with much succor. But it does give Chavez time to consolidate his political position before the referendum and continue his populist reforms.
Fred Jaspersen, director of the Institute of International Finance's Latin American Department in Washington, says, "The fact the deal was done strengthens his position.***
"'We are no longer terrorists, we are now guerrillas,' they told us. 'We are not going to kill you like before,"' Salazar said. Two days later he was mourning his brother Uldarico, blown up by the notorious Maoist rebels a few miles away.
The Shining Path, or Sendero Luminoso in Spanish, is slowly regrouping after lying dormant for much of the past decade since the capture of its leader. The government relaxed its guard after its success against the group and became preoccupied with other problems, giving rebels an opening.
As the rebels regather, Peru's poor farmers are trying to make a comeback with their own call to arms.***
The government initially said anyone caught changing money illegally would be fined 10 times the amount, but the increasing demand for dollars made the government back off and accept the black market trade.
''It's a real nasty situation,'' said Antonio Herrera, vice president of the Venezuelan American Chamber of Commerce here. ``It's thoroughly a mess.''
Herrera said that the Venezuelan government has so far distributed some $1 billion under exchange controls but that it takes $1.2 billion a month to bankroll the nation's import-dependent economy. The central bank, however, acknowledges there are some $19 billion in reserves, up from $13.9 billion in late January.
The upshot, Herrera said, is that businesses can't afford to pay so much more for goods, so they cut back on production and staff. ''The people who get socked are the ones who are laid off,'' he said.
Consumer prices here have increased about 15 percent but do not reflect retailers' increased costs, analyst José Antonio Gil said. Prices can only go so high in a nation where real salaries dropped 24 percent last year.
The finance ministry has said it is considering levying a tax on foreign-currency trading, in exchange for a relaxation of the controls, but will not lift the controls completely.
''Every day, the flow of dollars is more efficient and at a higher amount,'' Latin American Bank Association President Ignacio Salvatierra was quoted as saying in a government statement last week.
Carlos, the money changer, said that although he has heard of black-market deals in the millions, most of his clients are not business owners in a crunch but rather ordinary Venezuelans desperate to protect their savings.***
Gen. Richard Myers, when asked Tuesday about allegations that Venezuela is permissive with Colombian rebels crossing into its territory, said, "It's not helpful when countries don't fully support the anti-terrorism fight. "And I think there's more to learn with respect to Venezuela, and we're going to have to continue to explore that." Venezuelan Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel called Myers' remarks "irresponsible" and said Myers "believed false information" regarding allegations that President Hugo Chavez has allowed Colombian guerrillas to use Venezuelan territory as a safe haven. ***
Since the naming of the members of this college by the National Assembly requires a qualified majority of 75% of the deputies, the government has not been able to impose their unconditional supporters as members and have been obliged to try to compromise with the opposition. As they were not successful and, as they were in favor of postponing the decision indefinitely for the reasons explained above, three months went by without the naming of the college.
This forced the Supreme Tribunal of Justice to intervene and declare their intention to name the college, a move that is contemplated in the Constitution. At this moment the government cried foul and has threatened the Supreme Tribunal with over-ruling them if they go ahead and do that. In short, a coup
As the days for the naming of the college by the Supreme Tribunal grow near, the political atmosphere becomes tenser. More Venezuelans now believe that Chavez will not surrender power peacefully, although he kept claiming all the time that the referendum was the proper way to go.
One has to ask: Why does Chavez want to keep the Presidency when he is not able to solve any of the growing national problems?
Why should he keep the pretense of a revolution when it has become apparent that the overwhelming majority of the population does not want to follow that path?***
Tuesday was the midpoint of Chavez's six-year term, the first day under which Venezuela's Constitution allows a recall vote. The recall is the third try by Chavez opponents to oust him, after a failed coup and a general strike, which hurt the country's crucial oil exports but did not topple the president. Venezuela is the third-largest oil exporter to the United States.
Opposition politicians, labor unions and business groups hoped to put an end to more than a year of turmoil with the recall vote after agreeing in May to use only legal means of trying to oust the president. Under the Constitution, opponents must collect valid signatures from 20 percent of voters to authorize a recall. "Obtaining those votes is not utopia, it is a reality," said Enrique Mendoza, a provincial governor and an opposition leader who aspires to replace Chavez. [End]
"This shows the opposition is still thinking about a coup and destabilization," Chavez told a news conference in Buenos Aires. He believed it would be "very difficult" for a referendum to be held this year. Chavez's sharp criticism of the referendum initiative heralded renewed political feuding in Venezuela, the world's No. 5 oil exporter, which has been shaken for more than a year by conflict between Chavez and his foes.
Waving national flags and blowing horns and whistles, several hundred thousand foes of the populist president packed central Caracas Wednesday in the biggest anti-government demonstration since a general strike in December and January. ***
Then along came Mr. Chavez, a former army colonel and leader of an unsuccessful 1992 coup that converted him into an imprisoned criminal and heroic "champion of the poor." A foolish President Rafael Caldera granted Mr. Chavez a presidential pardon, and Mr. Chavez ran for president on a moderate platform promising sweeping reforms and a healthy house-cleaning of government corruption. This won him wide support from the poor and disarmed the fears of the more wealthy, who hoped Mr. Chavez would deliver on his promises. Mr. Chavez won the presidency with the support of just 35 percent of the electorate.
Soon afterward, the trouble began. Mr. Chavez established friendships with the most radical leaders in the world, beginning with Cuba's Fidel Castro, but also including Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, Iraq's Saddam Hussein (whom he called "My brother"), North Korea's Kim Yong-Il and the Palestinian Yasser Arafat, among others. Mr. Chavez celebrated the September 11 attacks in the United States, and reportedly gave money to the Taliban and al Qaeda. He has supported terrorist Carlos the Jackal, and established close ties with Colombia's narco-terrorists (ELA and the FARC), permitting them to operate, train and rest in Venezuelan territory.
Recently, Venezuela's permissiveness if not outright support for terror groups inspired U.S. Army Gen. Richard Boyer to compare Venezuela with Syria. The next day, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said "the government of the United States and the people of Venezuela have a differing view of democracy than does President Chavez." Taken together, these comments are a clear shot across the bow of Mr. Chavez. Mr. Chavez's anti-democratic behavior and support of terror groups is earning him an associate membership in the "axis of evil." ***
Are U.S. officials right to fear a return of political hard-liners in Central America?
Probably not. A regional ''nightmare scenario'' is unlikely, even if it is a fact that the pro-free market governments that have ruled Central America for the past decade have mostly failed to improve living standards, and a majority of voters seem to be longing for change.
First, while their parties are leading in the polls or are the best organized in their respective countries, neither Guatemala's Ríos Montt, nor El Salvador's Handal, nor Nicaragua's Ortega is an attractive candidate. ***
It has. But Mr Chavez may not have bargained that the rows of lettuce, cucumber and mint now thriving amidst the traffic and high-rises of downtown Caracas would also produce a harvest of controversy.
The controversy has arisen because many of the advisers assisting with the gardening programme are Cubans. And Mr Chavez's opponents, who accuse him of desiring to convert Venezuela into a communist dictatorship similar to that led by his friend, Cuban leader Fidel Castro, suspect that the Cubans are here to do more than teach farming. ***
The ruling Thursday by the First Administrative Court rekindled a fierce debate in Venezuela about growing cooperation between President Hugo Chavez's government and communist Cuba.
Accepting an appeal by the Venezuelan Medical Federation, the court decided that 417 Cuban doctors working in Caracas' Libertador district under a bilateral cooperation program were practicing illegally and should be replaced by local doctors.
Calling the decision "grotesque," Health Minister Maria Urbaneja said the government would appeal. She told a news conference the Cuban doctors would stay in Venezuela and their numbers would be increased. ***
More than a year of bitter political conflict has sharply divided Venezuela over Chavez's populist rule and left the economy of the world's No. 5 oil exporter in tatters. After failing to topple Chavez with a recent two-month oil strike, Venezuela's opposition alliance on Wednesday handed in more than 3 million signatures demanding a vote on the president's ouster. The government has challenged their validity.
Venezuela's constitution allows for such a referendum halfway through a president's term. Chavez, who was first elected in 1998, re-elected in 2000 and survived a coup last year, reached that point on Aug. 19. But the possible vote faces a host of legal hurdles and the opposition fears Chavez will block it. Venezuela's Supreme Court is set to name a new National Electoral Council next week which will decide whether the opposition signatures are valid.
A former paratrooper who led a failed coup six years before his election victory, Chavez has promised to reverse years of corruption and neglect with land reform, housing and cheap credits for the poor. Recent polls show his popularity has slipped to around 30 percent as the country's crisis has deepened. But for Jose Reyes, taking part in Saturday's government rally, Chavez still represents a chance for change. "This government works for the benefit of the people. No one had done that before," said Reyes, who received government financial aid for his small shower manufacturing business.
Still, Venezuela is mired in its worst recession in years, unemployment and inflation are in double digits and a fourth of the country's 23 million people live in extreme poverty. Chavez says he is battling opposition leaders and business elites plotting to overthrow him and scuttle his social reforms. But his foes blame him for the economic decay and brand him a dictator bent on shaping Venezuela into a Cuban-style communist state. [End]
"The leaders of the FARC and the ELN have agreed to join military forces against the government of Uribe. We will now carry out nationwide joint military operations," a rebel involved in the negotiations said in the mountains of eastern Colombia. The accord came as Uribe, a close ally in the U.S. war on terror, conducts peace talks with right-wing paramilitary outlaws who have targeted rebels in a war that claims the lives of thousands every year. ***
Chavez, speaking during his weekly television show, said a consensus within the court broke down after some judges were pressured by opposition members to appoint a biased panel to the National Electoral Council, or CNE. "I am sure that the Supreme Court will defeat the conspiration campaign ... to try to get a CNE named that is subordinate to that gross oligarchy," Chavez said. He blamed the opposition-aligned commercial television channels for attacking independent candidates and trying to manipulate the court's decision-making process.
Chavez opponents have turned in 2.7 million signatures demanding a referendum on ending Chavez's tumultuous presidency. Venezuela's constitution allows citizens to demand a referendum halfway into a president's term. Chavez just passed the midpoint of his six-year term.
The Supreme Court gave itself 10 days to decide on CNE members after four months of discussions in the National Assembly proved fruitless. An announcement could be made Monday, a court spokeswoman said. [End]
The appointment of the five-member council, unveiled by the court late Monday, had been held up for months by a deadlock in the legislative National Assembly between the pro-Chávez majority and the opposition.
''We are confident this is the best decision,'' Chávez said Tuesday as he called on all sides to respect the court decision. ``Without a good referee with a good whistle, the game cannot be concluded.''
As recently as two weeks ago, members of Chávez's Fifth Republic Movement were threatening a boycott of the Supreme Court's decision to intervene in the appointment. ''No [electoral council] appointed by the Supreme Court will have the confidence of the people,'' Nicolás Maduro, a leading pro-Chávez congressman, said then.
The change of heart appeared to reflect assurances by the court that the composition of the council would not favor the opposition.
But the government nevertheless scheduled a parliamentary debate Monday on a controversial bill to reform the Supreme Court. Pro-Chávez members of the assembly had previously threatened to use the bill as a means of keeping the Supreme Court judges in line.
In any event, the key fifth member of the electoral board -- a chairman who will have the tie-breaking vote between two avowedly pro-government members and two from the opposition -- is to be Judge Francisco Carrasquero, a moderate who supports Chávez.
The appointment of the electoral board -- which begins its work today -- removes the biggest obstacle to a recall referendum. [End]
Relations between Bogota and Caracas have been strained periodically over accusations by the Colombian military that Chavez is letting FARC rebels use Venezuela as a staging ground for attacks. In February, Colombia's interior minister accused Chavez of meeting "frequently" with FARC rebels, but was publicly reprimanded by Uribe after Venezuela threatened to break off diplomatic relations. Chavez, who has criticized Colombia's U.S.-backed "Plan Colombia" offensive against drug-traffickers and guerrillas, denies he is collaborating with the guerrillas, who are described as "terrorists" by Washington.
"Last week I told Chavez: 'President, stop worrying so much about Colombia's security policies. Tell the FARC that if they are bored with our policies, they can negotiate with me in five minutes'," Uribe told a university audience in Bogota. Colombian media have alleged that Manuel "Sureshot" Marulanda, the top FARC commander, has been hiding in neighboring Venezuela since the Colombian government broke off peace talks with the rebel group in February 2002.
Uribe, a close U.S. ally in the war on drugs who took office in August 2002, has launched an offensive against the 17,000-strong FARC, which originated 39 years ago in a peasant uprising. He has said he will only negotiate peace with rebels if they agree to a cease-fire. On Sunday, FARC guerrillas fired assault rifles as Uribe's helicopter flew into a village in northern Colombia. [End]
Rangel notes that the two groups have tried unsuccessfully to work together before. The rebels once comprised the now-defunct "Simon Bolivar Guerrilla Group" that failed to broker peace with the government in 1991 and 1992.
Since then, they have operated on largely separate tracks and even fought against each other for power and recognition from the government as the dominant guerrilla force.
The FARC was founded in 1964 to establish Marxism in Colombia. It has at least 70 fronts that roam up to 60 percent of the country, mainly to the plains east and south of the Andes.
Although it was originally created to promote social justice, during the 1990s it became heavily involved in the drug trade. Along with taxing coca, the FARC earns its income from kidnappings and extortion.
The ELN was also founded in 1964, by a group of radical students and Spanish priests trained in Cuba. It has been losing power and numbers in recent years, but has been responsible for mass kidnappings and the abduction of two Los Angeles Times journalists in January.
It largely focuses on attacking infrastructure, such as oil pipelines and electrical towers. Earlier this year, the ELN condemned the February bombing of a nightclub in Bogotá, which killed dozens.***
The rebel army, known by its Spanish initials FARC, wants to swap the men, whom it calls "gringo CIA agents" it has taken as "prisoners of war," for guerrillas held in Colombian government prisons. The FARC said its fighters shot the plane down, a charge denied by the United States and Colombian military, although a Reuters reporter at the crash site saw about 10 bullet holes in the right wing. ***
"What they have done is absolutely insignificant given the gravity of the problem," Chavez said, blaming globalization and failed neoliberal economic policies. "Neoliberalism has been defeated," Chavez proclaimed to audience applause. "Now we're going to bury it, starting this century."
Chavez and Castro are strong political allies and close friends. Chavez thanked the Cuban leader for technological assistance that he said helped sharply reduce Venezuela's illiteracy rates. Chavez contends that an "oligarchy" bent on ousting a democratically elected leader has sabotaged his efforts to fight for the poor.
The 13 heads of state and government from Africa and the Caribbean attending the U.N. conference also included the presidents of Zimbabwe, Gambia, Burkina Faso, Mali and Namibia and the prime ministers of Lesotho, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Many of the Africa presidents in attendance hail from countries whose independence struggles were aided by Cuba in the 1980s and 1990s.
"Coming to Cuba is to come to a country where there are true friends of Africa," Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe said. Mugabe is the target of widespread international criticism. Zimbabwe was suspended for a year from the decision-making councils of the Commonwealth of Britain and its former terrorities because of concerns about human rights and disputed presidential elections Mugabe narrowly won last year.***
In a statement posted on its Web site late Monday, the court said that the ruling released to reporters was fraudulent, different from the one it actually approved. The Supreme Court said it was investigating the incident and did not disclose the real ruling was or explain how it had been altered. The ruling described as a forgery said Venezuela's Constitution made clear a president cannot seek re-election immediately after losing a recall referendum. ***
``Everyone is hurting,'' said Nelson Wada, manager at men's clothing store Norton and Wilson in Caracas. Sales at the store have dropped 50 percent this year, Wada said, without specifying what they were. ``We're holding on but a lot of the stores here have gone out of business. It's grim.''
Restrictions on dollar purchases set by the government in January amid a two-month nationwide strike have prevented businesses from importing parts, reducing production. The government implemented the limits because the strike, which was aimed at forcing President Hugo Chavez from office, slashed production of oil, the country's main source of dollars.
A Bloomberg survey of five economists had forecast a second quarter decline of 13 percent.
Venezuela's construction industry shrank 50.7 percent in the second quarter, the central bank reported. The retail industry contracted 17.4 percent, while manufacturing declined 14.3 percent. Venezuela's recession is the worst since the central bank began keeping records in the 1950s.
The oil industry, which accounts for about a third of the $80 billion economy, contracted 2.9 percent, the central bank said. The public part of the industry, centered at state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA, shrank 7 percent, while the private oil industry rebounded 46 percent. ***
"What they have done is absolutely insignificant given the gravity of the problem. Neo-liberalism is dead. Now we're going to bury it, starting this century," Chavez warned.
However, according to Steve Johnson, senior policy analyst for Latin America at the Heritage Foundation, "Chavez himself has no record to run on, his presidency so far has been a disaster." Johnson told CNSNews.com that Venezuela's economy was being led "down the toilet" by Chavez.
"A lot of the decrees [Chavez] has enacted -- to be able to confiscate private property, to limit foreign exchange, to quell freedom of expression -- are the kinds of things that would turn a normal economy into a failed economy," Johnson said.
He accused Chavez of driving both the workforce and investors out of the country, making it difficult for the private sector to support the state. "In terms of liberalism being something that's failed, it looks like in every sense of the word, it's just the opposite," Johnson said of the U.S.-led, market-based, global economy.
The American economy is the most developed in the world, operated by one of the most liberal governments, Johnson said. He referred to remarks by Chavez and Castro as "populist left-wing rhetoric" that was "basically a smokescreen for the belief in an old style feudal system."
"[America's is] the only economy that seems to be able to sustain so many other countries that are not liberal with massive amounts of aid, not just directly but through contributions to international and national organizations," Johnson said.
He cited the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund as examples of U.S.-funded aid organizations, both frequent targets of anti-globalization supporters including the International Action Center (IAC), directed by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark.
A spokeswoman for the IAC came to Chavez' defense Tuesday.
"I think that 90 percent of the environmental movement would agree with President Chavez's remarks when it comes to the state of affairs, when it comes to those issues," Teresa Gutierrez, IAC co-director, told CNSNews.com . "Many scientists have come out more and more now, saying that global warming is in fact dangerous and the whole emissions issue and how the U.S. government isn't going along with that." ***
Populist Chavez, whose anti-capitalist rhetoric often targets the U.S., cautioned Washington against meddling after ambassador Charles Shapiro held talks with the National Electoral Council that is considering an opposition petition for the referendum. "This is a sovereign nation, ambassador, and you must respect this country and your government must respect this country," Chavez said during his regular Sunday television program.
"What prerogative does Ambassador Shapiro have to visit them, and what's worse, to visit them before the national authorities, before representatives of the National Assembly?" Shapiro, who the government has rebuked several times before, drew criticism from two ministers after holding a news conference at the council's headquarters Wednesday and offering U.S. technical assistance for the poll if requested. ***
That began changing with the rise of Chávez, a charismatic populist who has given Venezuela's poor majority an unmistakable sense of involvement. Chávez has made activism a centerpiece of his government by promoting self-help organizations like the "Bolivarian circles" neighborhood groups, which played a key role in sweeping Chávez back to power in April 2002, just 48 hours after a military coup ousted him.
Yet the activism also has ominous aspects. While the circles are intended to repair streets, tutor children, and assist the disabled, some red-bereted, motorcycle-riding members have also gained a reputation for violence. And while most see Venezuelans' new activism as a healthy development, protest marches and demonstrations have repeatedly turned violent, resulting in dozens of politically related deaths over the past two years.
In contrast to historical voter apathy, because of the possible referendum on Chávez, Venezuelans stood in line past midnight to fill out their forms at a voter-registration deadline. The referendum became constitutionally possible after the Aug. 19 midway point of his term. Chávez opponents have collected more than 2 million signatures to qualify the referendum for the ballot, but Chávez disputes the petition's legitimacy. The issue is now in the hands of the National Electoral Commission, who will decide by Sept. 20 whether the signatures are legitimate and set a date for a vote if they are.
Now, even some of Chávez's bitterest opponents hope this is one Chávez-inspired change that lasts. "I have always believed that every bad thing produces some good," says Xiomara Montes at the pro-recall meeting. "The good thing about this government is that it has made us wake up."***
The 10-page special investigation was presented May 16 to Colombian Attorney General Luis Camilo Osorio Isaza. Copies are also with the Foreign and Defense ministries.
"We were inside Colombian territory when two fighter planes and four helicopters coming in from Venezuela flew over our position to shoot up paras trying to surround us," said FARC defector Juan Bautista Ramirez Lopez in the 10-page testimony. He said the Venezuelan warplanes bombed a nearby airstrip and strafed local farms with machine-gun fire.
Ramirez's account was corroborated by more than a dozen local residents along the border region of Hoya del Catatumbo, whose homes and vehicles were damaged in the air attacks. A farmer, Juan Gutierrez Rincon, said he saw four helicopters with Venezuelan air force markings firing at the ground around him and two fighter planes flying over his home to drop bombs on targets less than 1.2 miles away where heavy fighting was taking place. His testimony also appeared in the report.
Ballistic tests, cited in the report, showed that bullet holes on the roofs of several homes were caused by air-to-ground fire.
"Incursions by Venezuelan military aircraft have contributed to a growing displacement of farmers and other local residents who have been forced to flee the area," concluded the confidential government report.
"Aside from allowing Colombian guerrilla bases on their territory, the Venezuelan armed forces support the incursions and combat operations against paramilitary groups," the report further stated.
Ramirez said the Venezuelan gunships were providing air cover for his group to break out of an encirclement along Rio Oro, which marks the frontier with Colombia. Paramilitary units were maneuvering to capture Ruben Zamora, a key FARC leader, who is the guerrilla organization's financial director, according to the defector's testimony. ***
The petition was thrown out because the signatures were gathered before the midpoint of Chavez's term, an election rule violation, said National Elections Council President Francisco Carrasquero. The council is considered an impartial body by rival political groups.
Thousands of Chavez supporters outside the council headquarters cheered and pumped their fists upon learning of the decision. Dozens of National Guardsmen surrounded the building to keep order.
The decision dampened opposition chances of holding a vote by the end of the year. Many Chavez supporters believe that such a vote could now be put off indefinitely. ***
Flores told reporters that Article 72 of the constitution, which establishes the recall referendum, ''makes it clear that there can only be one request'' for such a vote. The government argues that Article 72 says that ''no more than one recall petition can be submitted'' during any given term of office, thus blocking a second petition.***
And, he added: ``It is a sad fact that Chile has taken the path to communism with only little more than a third of the nation approving this choice, but it is an immutable fact.''
Three years later, on Sept. 11, 1973, Allende was overthrown in a remarkably surgical military coup. Despite elaborate plans to train, arm and equip a clandestine militia, and to ring Santiago itself with fortified factories, the fighting on the llth took fewer than 200 lives on both sides.
In the aftermath, another journalist -- the talented British writer, David Holden -- wrote ``Salvador Allende died a lucky man. In life, he was a failure. Both his policies and his country were shattered long before the end. But in death, he achieved success beyond his dreams. Instantly canonized as the Western world's newest left-wing martyr, he became overnight the most potent cult figure since his old friend, Che Guevara
The MST, swelled by Brazil's army of jobless urban and rural poor, has turned to land invasions to force Lula to honor his word. They have staged 117 land grabs in the first half of 2003 compared to 103 in all of 2002, according to the government. MST tactics of invading farmland and torching ranch houses, have left Lula open to widespread criticism in the media and from opposition parties that he has lost control of his allies and failed to create jobs to help them.
Founded in 1984, the MST mixes Marxism with Catholic liberation theology -- a blend of religious teachings and calls for social justice -- and promises its 1.5 million members a chance to own land if they work for it and join the movement.
The MST now has 150,000 families living in squatter camps that it runs while waiting for the government to expropriate and redistribute unused land. Lula promised to settle 60,000 families in 2003. During the first seven months of the year he has settled only 2,534, according to the government. That compares to 43,000 families settled in 2002 during the last year of the previous centrist government of President Cardoso.
With Lula failing to deliver on his promises he is not in a strong position to condemn the landless' fight and he now faces loud demands for a tougher stance. Despite Lula's election vows to bring robust economic growth and provide jobs, jobless numbers are growing since he took office in January prompting Lula to replace economic deliverables with land invasions.
The MST leadership has increased its activity with repeated public calls for a Cuban and Soviet inspired revolution. Meanwhile, Brazils Agrarian Reform Minister Miguel Rosetto, a self-defined Trotskyite, has aggressively defended the MSTs behavior from growing criticism from middle class and business leaders.
Brazilian ranchers form militias to protect their land
The MSTs national leader, João Pedro Stedile, was recently recorded by a journalist describing the landless movements activists as our army and calling for it to finish with the 27,000 ranchers and landowners facing the 23-million people involved in the fight in the countryside (luta camponesa). That is the dispute. We wont sleep until we do away with them. In response, ranchers in fertile southern regions such as Sao Paulo states Pontal do Paranapanema are forming militias to protect their property from invasion by landless farm workers, and police fear the tension could explode into armed conflict. Landowners are stepping up pressure on the Lula government to move against the protests to little avail. ***
Many Colombians support Mr. Uribe, whose approval rating is 65 percent, because of his reputation as an uncompromising wartime president determined to win
Colombia's 39-year conflict. But his legislation, backed by the Bush administration, faces serious objections from even his allies. It is Mr. Uribe's first significant political challenge since taking office 13 months ago.
The proposed law would allow militiamen from the Self-Defense Forces of Colombia to avoid jail for widespread human rights abuses that include the mass killings of thousands of villagers and the assassination of two presidential candidates. The group's leaders, several already convicted in absentia for murder, would instead be compelled to admit their crimes and make symbolic acts of contrition, compensating victims by providing community services, turning in their land and paying fines.
In exchange, the militia - a private, antiguerrilla army financed through cocaine trafficking and donations from wealthy Colombians - would make peace.
Mr. Uribe, known as a tireless pragmatist, says the plan will deactivate a brutal confederation of regional factions with 13,000 armed fighters, saving lives and giving two leftist guerrilla groups that continue to wage war an incentive to negotiate since they, too, could be covered by the proposed law.***
The intimate collaboration between "social movements" (particularly the MST) with the PT government, and vice versa, has led to one of the most important and grave denunciations ever to be published by the press.
In an article in the newspaper O Estado de São Paulo titled "O Plano R" [The R Plan], Denis Lerrer Rosenfield, professor at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul and a former PT member, shows that a concerted plan is being implemented by the PT government and MST, the leading "social movement."
According to Mr. Rosenfield, the tandem tactic is nothing new, as it was used by communist parties in many countries to seize power.
He affirms that Lula would never have won the elections if he had shown an intention to subvert democracy.
However, once the elections were over, the government began to show the profound affinities between the president in power (and his party) and the MST.
"It seems, however, that we have now entered a new phase in this process, in which MST no longer needs to play the election games of distancing itself from the government while acting in concert with it. The distancing, albeit cosmetic, is manifested by disobedience to democratic rules. We have seen an increase in 'pre-revolutionary' actions that grow in intensity and pick different targets. . . .
The working in concert with the PT takes place through tolerance - rather than encouragement - of these revolutionary actions" (7/28/2003).
The Lula da Silva government thus deepens yet more the profound ambiguity that has characterized it from the beginning: while repeatedly affirming it no longer adheres to many theories and practices of the left, its ideology and praxis remain basically unaltered.
In an interview given in Caracas alongside Hugo Chavez, Lula went to the point of saying that he never liked to be labeled as a leftist.
Many commentators took that statement with a rather large grain of salt. They pointed out that Lula and Chavez - old buddies of Fidel Castro - actually are the left in South America, as they try to create an alternative to the so-called neoconservative model.
An editorial in the Folha de S. Paulo noted that Lula has had a leftist career influenced by the kind of politicized Catholicism that strongly marked the PT - a clear allusion to Liberation Theology, so influential in Lula's career and in the present administration.***
From a specially prepared classroom at Miraflores Palace, the former paratrooper and schoolteacher's son lectured teen-age and adult students from an impoverished Caracas neighborhood on the importance of reading and writing.
"Reading helps us to interpret the world," the populist president said, before taking a roll-call of his students, writing words on the blackboard for them to read, and drilling them in punctuation and spelling.
Infuriating midday television viewers across the South American nation, his government interrupted all normal television and radio programming for more than two hours to broadcast the presidential literacy class live.
Venezuela's telecommunications laws allow the president to do this at his discretion. But critics of Chavez, who accuse him of ruling like a dictator, say he frequently abuses this right to make marathon propaganda broadcasts.
The class was organized to promote a government campaign to eradicate illiteracy in the world's No. 5 oil exporter. The campaign was launched two months ago with textbooks, videos and educators provided by Cuba's Communist government.
These are extreme signs of a country in chaos, without law, without government, in anomie (social instability resulting from a breakdown of standards and values). But there are many others. Every day private land is invaded, urban buildings occupied by organized groups, companies taken over by workers with the backing of members of the armed force or government officers. This is taking place in broad daylight, under the very noses of the institutions which should protect the citizen, but are watching in silence. No reader can truly measure the magnitude of the crime being committed in Venezuela today unless s/he were here. Since many are not, here I am telling them.
When I was a kid, I watched old western movies in which, sometimes, the "sheriff" of a town was a criminal in disguise ... just maneuvering to "take over" the town. I have the perception that a similar situation applies to Venezuela today. There is a group in government, disguised as democrats, trying to take over the country in the name of a revolution based on dead ideologies. They have many of the country's institutions under their control and exercise a rule of terror to "persuade" those who dissent from their views.
Today even the most basic civic rights are threatened with extinction. I have mentioned before how some 500 hours of compulsory TV and radio hookups have been imposed on us by a megalomaniac President, so that he can tell us about his daughter's turtle, about his new grandson or about his childhood in Barinas ... or, he can extol the virtues of Fidel Castro, or the need to eliminate the rich. The matters of real national interest ... the economic and social problems which are overwhelming us are never dealt with. These hookups are a tool of social exclusion, as the man uses them to breed hate among the members of our society.
No institution in Venezuela stands up and challenges this parade of inanities. As impunity becomes total, the President becomes more and more violent and starts threatening all dissenters with armed responses. Like a train jumping tracks the violent President has become an object of destruction.
The only obstacle between this runaway object of destruction and the intended target: Venezuelan society, is a referendum. Only a civilized vote by the Venezuelan population stands in the way to total destruction.***
Besides the United Nations in New York, the left-wing Venezuelan leader had been planning to visit the Organization of American States in Washington and the oil industry city of Houston in a Sept 25-29 trip.
"He's not going to either Washington or the U.N ... he prefers to concentrate on affairs at home," one government source, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters.
The sources offered no further explanation for the trip cancellation by the populist president, who has traveled widely and enjoys lecturing foreign audiences about his "Bolivarian Revolution" in the world's No. 5 oil exporter. ***
"In defense of our country's democracy and sovereignty, the government has decided to end this relationship," Ramirez said. He declined to identify the oil traders in the alleged conspiracy. The Dominican Republic was getting about half of its oil from Venezuela. Now it will have to seek it elsewhere on less preferential terms.***
We are deepening the already significant ties with traditional partners in North America and Europe, but also seek to widen and diversify our international presence. Our relations with China and the Russian Federation have revealed unexpected complementarities.
We are proud to be the country with the second largest population of African descent in the world. In November, I will be traveling to five countries in Southern Africa to foster economic, political, social and cultural cooperation. With the same goal in mind, we will also host a summit meeting between South American countries and the Member States of the Arab League. With India and South Africa we have established a trilateral forum for political consultations and joint projects.***
Kuwait is "very worried" about the 14 percent decline in prices so far this month, but its oil minister, Sheik Ahmed Fahd al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, joined several other OPEC delegates in calling for the group to leave output unchanged for now.
Al-Sabah said he believed Iraq would be allowed to attend Wednesday's formal meeting as a full member because Venezuela was the only one demurring.
Wednesday's OPEC meeting is at the group's Vienna headquarters.
OPEC secretary-general Alvaro Silva predicted that OPEC, which supplies about a third of the world's crude, would hold its output ceiling steady at 25.4 million barrels a day for the rest of the year. Some members, including Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, have expressed a similar view.
"I think we have to continue with the same production that we have now" and monitor the oil market closely in coming months, al-Sabah said upon his arrival at a hotel in the Austrian capital. December would be "a good time" to reassess supply and demand for crude, he said.
United Arab Emirates' Oil Minister Obaid Al-Nasseri, speaking earlier, said there appeared to be "no big reason" for OPEC to adjust its output at this meeting.
Earlier fears that Iraq might quickly restore its prewar output and glut the market with crude have all but disappeared. Sabotage of Iraq's oil pipelines continues to crimp its exports, and with Iraq's recovery taking much longer than expected, several OPEC members have said the group should continue pumping at current levels leading into the peak winter heating oil season.
Given the large number of oil ministers who have already stated a preference for not changing output, a decision by OPEC to do anything different would be "irresponsible," said Yasser Elguindi of Medley Global Advisors, a New York-based consultancy. "It would take something dramatic at this point for them to change their position, and the market would not appreciate it," Elguindi said.
OPEC's benchmark crude price stood at $24.82, the lowest since May 8. Despite falling, prices remain within OPEC's target $22-$28 price range.
Iraq hasn't attended an OPEC meeting since Saddam's defeat. It hasn't participated in OPEC quota agreements since the United Nations imposed sanctions in 1990 to punish Baghdad for invading Kuwait. ***