Three Cheers for Hugo Chavez

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To: Website Fans, Browsers, Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Why Hugo Won

There’s been lots of ink spilled on the recall election of President
Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, but most of it that I’ve seen in the major
media gave little indication why we should have expected his victorious
outcome in Sunday’s voting. Yes he’s a lefty, but what have the
right-wing political leaders of Latin America done for their economies
in recent years? All Chavez needs is a little more supply-side advice
on macro-economics and Venezuela could boom, even with lower oil
prices. Greg Palast, who covers Venezuela for the BBC’s “Newsnight,"
got his arms around the relevant issues in this
analytical piece
that appeared in the London Guardian

are excerpts:

Dick Cheney, Hugo Chavez and Bill Clinton’s Band
Why Venezuela has Voted Again for Their ‘Negro e Indio’ President

There’s so much BS and baloney thrown around about Venezuela that
I may be violating some rule of US journalism by providing some
facts. Let’s begin with this: 77% of Venezuela’s farmland is owned
by 3% of the population, the ‘hacendados.’

I met one of these farmlords in Caracas at an anti-Chavez protest
march. Oddest demonstration I’ve ever seen: frosted blondes in high
heels clutching designer bags, screeching, “Chavez – dic-ta-dor!”
The plantation owner griped about the “socialismo” of Chavez, then
jumped into his Jaguar convertible.

That week, Chavez himself handed me a copy of the “socialist” manifesto
that so rattled the man in the Jag. It was a new law passed by Venezuela’s
Congress which gave land to the landless. The Chavez law transferred
only fields from the giant haciendas which had been left unused
and abandoned.

This land reform, by the way, was promoted to Venezuela in the 1960s
by that Lefty radical, John F. Kennedy. Venezuela’s dictator of
the time agreed to hand out land, but forgot to give peasants title
to their property.

But Chavez won’t forget, because the mirror reminds him. What the
affable president sees in his reflection, beyond the ribbons of
office, is a “negro e indio” – a “Black and Indian” man, dark
as a cola nut, same as the landless and, until now, the hopeless.
For the first time in Venezuela’s history, the 80% Black-Indian
population elected a man with skin darker than the man in the Jaguar.

So why, with a huge majority of the electorate behind him, twice
in elections and today with a nearly two-to-one landslide victory
in a recall referendum, is Hugo Chavez in hot water with our democracy-promoting
White House?

Maybe it’s the oil. Lots of it. Chavez sits atop a reserve of crude
that rivals Iraq’s. And it’s not his presidency of Venezuela that
drives the White House bananas, it was his presidency of the Organization
of Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC. While in control of the
OPEC secretariat, Chavez cut a deal with our maximum leader of the
time, Bill Clinton, on the price of oil. It was a ‘Goldilocks’ plan.
The price would not be too low, not too high; just right, kept between
$20 and $30 a barrel.

But Dick Cheney does not like Clinton nor Chavez nor their band…
And what seems to have gotten our Veep’s knickers in a twist is
not the price of oil, but who keeps the loot from the current band-busting
spurt in prices. Chavez had his Congress pass another oil law, the
“Law of Hydrocarbons,” which changes the split. Right now, the oil
majors – like PhillipsConoco – keep 84% of the proceeds of the sale
of Venezuela oil; the nation gets only 16%.

Chavez wanted to double his Treasury’s take to 30%. And for good
reason. Landless, hungry peasants have, over decades, drifted into
Caracas and other cities, building million-person ghettos of cardboard
shacks and open sewers. Chavez promised to do something about that.

And he did. “Chavez gives them bread and bricks,” one Venezuelan
TV reporter told me. The blonde TV newscaster, in the middle of
a publicity shoot, said the words “pan y ladrillos” with disdain,
making it clear that she never touched bricks and certainly never
waited in a bread line.

But to feed and house the darker folk in those bread and brick lines,
Chavez would need funds, and the 16% slice of the oil pie wouldn’t
do it. So the President of Venezuela demanded 30%, leaving Big Oil
only 70%. Suddenly, Bill Clinton’s ally in Caracas became Mr. Cheney’s
– and therefore, Mr. Bush’s – enemy.

So began the Bush-Cheney campaign to “Floridate” the will of the
Venezuela electorate. It didn’t matter that Chavez had twice won
election. Winning most of the votes, said a White House spokesman,
did not make Chavez’ government “legitimate.” Hmmm. Secret contracts
were awarded by our Homeland Security spooks to steal official Venezuela
voter lists. Cash passed discreetly from the US taxpayer, via the
so-called ‘Endowment for Democracy,’ to the Chavez-haters running
today’s “recall” election.

A brilliant campaign of placing stories about Chavez’ supposed unpopularity
and “dictatorial” manner seized US news and op-ed pages, ranging
from the San Francisco Chronicle to the New York Times…

But some facts just can’t be smothered in propaganda ink. While
George Bush can appoint the government of Iraq and call it “sovereign,”
the government of Venezuela is appointed by its people. And the
fact is that most people in this slum-choked land don’t drive Jaguars
or have their hair tinted in Miami. Most look in the mirror and
see someone “negro e indio,” as dark as their President Hugo.

The official CIA handbook on Venezuela says that half the nation’s
farmers own only 1% of the land. They are the lucky ones, as more
peasants owned nothing. That is, until their man Chavez took office.
Even under Chavez, land redistribution remains more a promise than
an accomplishment. But today, the landless and homeless voted their
hopes, knowing that their man may not, against the armed axis of
local oligarchs and Dick Cheney, succeed for them. But they are
convinced he would never forget them.

And that’s a fact.

Palast’s reports from Venezuela for BBC Television’s Newsnight and
the Guardian papers of Britain earned a California State University
Journalism School “Project Censored” award for 2002. View
photos and Palast’s reports on Venezuela

18, 2004

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