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by Sean Marquis
Saturday, Dec. 22, 2001 at 10:13 PM
The Bush administration’s next target may just be Venezuela. President Hugo Chavez has been instrumental in the revival of OPEC, refuses the neoliberal economic policies pushed by Washington, raises taxes on multinational corporations, and redistributes land to poor peasants. In short: He has pursued the sort of policies that have always led the US to try to overthrow Latin American leaders in the past. The "War on Terrorism" may serve as the pretext.
"Terrorism" to get Venezuela's oil
By Sean Marquis
Dec. 5-- President George W. Bush's terror war has eyes for South America. The biggest reason: Venezuelan oil.
Figuring heavily into US energy policy is Venezuela, which supplies about 15% of US oil imports, the third largest supplier of oil to the US behind Canada and Saudi Arabia. Venezuela is the only Latin American member of the Arab-dominated Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
Venezuela exports 1.52 million barrels of oil to the US daily and has proven reserves of more than 76 billion barrels. Venezuela also has possibly hundreds of billions of barrels of harder to refine heavy oil, which is far more than proven reserves in the Middle East.
Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, has been instrumental in getting OPEC nations to institute production cuts to increase revenue.
Chavez's oil policy and his more recent stances on "free trade", have been causing tensions with Washington.
Chavez was also an early (and continued) opponent of Plan Colombia, a .3 billion, mostly military, anti-drug package to Colombia as part of the US "war on drugs".
Both right-wing and left-wing forces embroiled in Colombia's 40-year civil war, fund themselves through drug trafficking.
Drugs are not the only concern of Plan Colombia. In 1999, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the Clinton administration's anti-narcotics coordinator, argued that Plan Colombia was necessary to stabilize the region - partly because of Colombia's proximity to Venezuela and its oilfields.
Chavez has been in support of peace negotiations in Colombia, but pointedly against the military aspect of the US aid package, fearing a spread of the conflict to neighboring countries, including his own.
Chavez has also held several forums in Venezuela to discuss the pros and cons of Plan Colombia, even allowing members of Colombia's warring factions to address at least one such forum, much to the ire of Colombia and the US.
Three months ago, on Sept. 5, more fuel was added to the fire when Venezuelan defense minister Jose Vicente Rangel announced, after meeting with US ambassador to Venezuela Donna Hrinak, that his government will not renew a 50-year old bilateral military cooperation agreement with the US. Rangel said only that the 1951 agreement is out-of-date and that the Venezuelan government does not consider its renewal appropriate. Hrinak made no comments to the press.
At the meeting, Rangel and Hrinak also discussed a related matter: the Venezuelan government's request to the US military mission to vacate the offices which they have used for decades at the Venezuelan defense ministry headquarters at Fort Tiuna, as well as Navy and Air Force installations.
Fallout over FTAA
Last April Chavez, along with the heads of state of every nation in the western hemisphere - barring Cuba (which was not invited), signed on to the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) pact during the Summit of the Americas in Quebec.
The FTAA, if put into effect, would create the world's largest 'free trade zone'. It would encompass 34 nations of the western hemisphere, 800 million people and a potential market of between -19 trillion. From Alaska to Chile, labor, environmental and states' rights would all be subdued in favor of corporate rights.
Chavez though, signed with an asterisk next to his name (the only signatory to do so), denoting that though he agreed to the general goals of the pact, he had serious reservations about some of the specifics.
Since signing the FTAA pact, Chavez has been working in the last six months to create a South American trade zone, a "European Union of South America". He is convinced that the Andean Community of Venezuela, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil can gain negotiating muscle by putting their own regional economic integration ahead of the FTAA.
Venezuela insists, with Brazil, on strengthening the Mercosur trade agreement for a South American Common Market.
This trade bloc would then enter into FTAA negotiations as a group, giving them more bargaining power against heavyweights like the US and Canada. This is why Venezuela and Brazil would like to keep the start date of the FTAA at 2005 rather than 2003, as the US is pushing for.
Chavez is a proponent of such Third World unity to confront a unipolar world dominated by the United States.
In June, just three months after the Quebec Summit, President Chavez opened a summit of Andean nations by criticizing the proposed FTAA as a quick fix for the impoverished region.
Chavez warned that unless poor South American nations unite before joining the FTAA, they risk opening the door to multinational giants that will wipe out local businesses and eliminate jobs.
On Aug. 1 a debate was held in Venezuela's National Assembly, to discuss the FTAA.
Many speakers, echoing Chavez' doubts, presented the US-backed FTAA plan as a strategy by Washington to extend its economic and political dominance over Latin America. "It's nothing more than an attempt to destroy Latin America's integration efforts," said economist Francisco Mieres, adding the FTAA reflected what he called the "highly imperial policy" of President Bush.
Just the week before, Chavez repeated his view that Venezuelan entry to the FTAA was "an option, not a destiny."
As opposed to Colombia, there is no active conflict in Venezuela, no role the US currently plays. So one must be created. The first media rumblings that could link Venezuela to the US's "terror war" came quite early.
A warning signal went out in a Sept. 14 article by Inter-Press Service which said: "Venezuela
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