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by Steve Argue Wednesday, Apr. 17, 2002 at 5:14 PM

U.S. Hands Off Venezuela!



On April 14th President Hugo Chavez was returned to power by a day of militant protests and rebellion within the ranks of the military. One day earlier the Chavez's democratically elected government had been overthrown in a U.S. backed coup d'etates. Overthrowing that government and taking power for one day were the forces led by right-wing economist Pedro Carmona. While it was reported in the corporate media of the U.S. and Venezuela that Chavez had resigned his daughter refuted that claim on Cuban TV where she pleaded for legal help for her imprisoned father.

Army Commander Efrain Vasquez told reporters that Chavez is being held at the Fort Tiuna military facility where the military plans to keep him "for the moment... until we find a more appropriate detention site." Still the Bush administration would not characterize the coup for what it was stating: "That is not the word we are using. We do not think that is an accurate description of what happened."

The Bush administration went further in stating its support for the coup releasing a statement that repeated the lies being told by coup leader Pedro Carmona. The statement says: "Yesterday's events in Venezuela resulted in a transitional government until new elections can be held. Though details are still unclear, undemocratic actions committed or encouraged by the Chavez administration provoked yesterday's crisis in Venezuela."

Immediately after taking power the U.S. supported government of Carmona dissolved the elected National Assembly along with the Supreme Court, the national electoral commission, and the state governorships, and Carmona declared a formal suspension of the constitution. In addition Carmona shut down the only pro-Chavez television station, which is state owned. Democracy is of course a fictional word coming from the likes of Bush who see Chavez as a hindrance to U.S. corporate interests in South America.

The supposed undemocratic actions of Chavez started with a demonstration called by Carmona and others. The demonstration was organized primarily by wealthy businessmen and the corporate media to oppose Chavez's appointees to the state owned oil firm PDVSA. Some of the corrupt pro-business leaders of the unions also supported the demonstration.

Obviously Carmona thought there was a lot at stake in who runs the PDVSA. Carmona as a representative of groups promoting so called free trade in the America's is a proponent of privatization. One strategy often used to promote privatization is the appointment of managers in state firms that purposely mismanage the firm making privatization look attractive to some workers later down the road. This was the strategy that was used to push the privatization of the PEMEX oil firm in Mexico, but Chavez's firing and appointment of new managers at PDVSA may serve to block this strategy in Venezuela. Wealthy businessmen like Carmona are the biggest promoters of privatization because they stand to gain profits once those firms belong to them. Meanwhile services and finances for social programs are always hurt by privatization.

Every ten minutes the corporate media Venezuela ran adds promoting the demonstration against Chavez. A crowd of between 100 and 200 thousand people showed up. In Venezuela an eyewitness named Gregory Wilpert gives the following account of what happened:

"It was a successful march, peaceful, and without government interference of any kind, even though the march illegally blocked the entire freeway, which is Caracas main artery of transportation, for several hours.

"Supposedly at the spur of the moment, the organizers decided to re-route the march to Miraflores, the president's office building, so as to confront the pro-government demonstration, which was called in the last minute. About 5,000 Chavez-supporters had gathered there by the time the anti-government demonstrators got there. In-between the two demonstrations were the city police, under the control of the oppositional mayor of Caracas, and the National Guard, under control of the president. All sides claim that they were there peacefully and did not want to provoke anyone. I got there just when the opposition demonstration and the National Guard began fighting each other. Who started the fight, which involved mostly stones and tear gas, is, as is so often the case in such situations, nearly impossible to tell. A little later, shots were fired into the crowds and I clearly saw that there were three parties involved in the shooting, the city police, Chavez supporters, and snipers from buildings above. Again, who shot first has become a moot and probably impossible to resolve question. At least ten people were killed and nearly 100 wounded in this gun battle--almost all of them demonstrators.

"One of the Television stations managed to film one of the three sides in this battle and broadcast the footage over and over again, making it look like the only ones shooting were Chavez supporters from within the demonstration at people beyond the view of the camera. The media over and over again showed the footage of the Chavez supporters and implied that they were shooting at an unarmed crowd. As it turns out, and as will probably never be reported by the media, most of the dead are Chavez supporters. Also, as will probably never be told, the snipers were members of an extreme opposition party, known as Bandera Roja."

It was from these events that the opposition, the corporate media, and the Bush administration claim that Chavez armed the demonstrators and ordered them to fire on the opposition.

The inflammatory and untrue coverage in the corporate media caused Chavez to move in and temporarily shut down the stations in the name of public safety. Soon after the military arrested Chavez and placed Carmona in power.

In response to Carmona's coup d'etates riots and demonstrations broke out in the poor neighborhoods of Caracas on both April 13th and 14th. Police attacked and killed between 10 and 40 people. Later about 100,000 Chavez supporters surrounded the presidential palace. Police loyal to Carmona attacked the Chavez supporters outside the presidential palace with nine people reported dead in these incidents alone. Troops loyal to Chavez then took over the presidential palace. Chavez supporters also took over some of the corporate media. All of this was then a catalyst for rebellion among the troops across the country. As a result of the rebellion among their ranks the military commanders who first carried out the coup changed sides in order to not permanently loose their troops. Thus the rebellion brought Chavez back into power.

The rebellion of April 13th against the one-day presidency of Carmona has freed Chavez and reinstalled his presidency. Upon returning to the presidential palace Chavez greeted enthusiastic supporters saying, "Venezuela would not tolerate an autocracy."

Chavez has angered both U.S. imperialism and the wealthy of Venezuela through policies that help the poor and extend good relations to countries and forces that the U.S. government sees as enemies to U.S. corporate interests.

Chavez helped his poor country extract a better price for its oil on the world market through OPEC. In doing so he has been able to increase the government income through the PDVSA and spend money on some important projects that benefit the people. He also introduced a micro-credit program that helped the poor gain needed credit. In addition Chavez carried out a limited land reform for poor farmers and has also issued titles for self built homes in the barrios. His economic policies have helped bring unemployment down from 18% to 13% during his three years in power while steady raises in the minimum wage and salaries in public sector jobs have also helped increase the income of the working class.

One thing the wealthy capitalists of third world countries and their imperialist counterparts in organizations such as the IMF and the World Bank do not like is seeing money spent on the poor. Throughout the world the pressure of U.S. imperialism, both economic and military, has been pushing countries to cut spending on education and health care. Instead Chavez doubled investment in education putting over a million children into school for the first time and tripling literacy courses. Chavez has also been credited with bringing the infant mortality rate down from 21% to 17%.

In addition to angering U.S. imperialism by spending money on the people Chavez has also alienated imperialism through his internationalism. He condemned the U.S. war in Afghanistan. He also holds relations with countries abused by the United States such as Cuba, Iraq, and Libya. In addition Chavez supports the peasant insurgency against the U.S. backed death squad government of Colombia.

The fact that Chavez is carrying out these policies within the context of a capitalist economy severely limits how far the reforms can go and also keep his presidency in a very unstable state. Cuba, since its 1959 socialist revolution, has been able to provide free education up through university levels and virtually eradicate illiteracy, provide free health care, carry out a sweeping land reform, convert agriculture to organic farming techniques, and make sure that everyone is fed even in this face of a U.S. led economic embargo. This progress would not have been possible under a capitalist economy. Further more the revolution probably would have been overthrown by the economic power of the capitalists had their ownership of production not been taken away and used for the benefit of the people of Cuba.

The half steps taken by Chavez serve to anger the capitalists of both the United States and Venezuela without permanently neutralizing their power over the day-to-day workings of the economy and without neutralizing their power within the military inherited from the previous regime. Corporate control of the media, rather than nationalization or direct workers control, was a very important tool used by the capitalists in the attempt to overthrow of the Chavez government. Like all wealth the wealth of capitalist newspapers belong to the workers who created that wealth, not the capitalist blood suckers that have stolen that wealth. While a freer press than that of Cuba is possible and should exist in a socialist society, there is no reason to continue to allow the undemocratic control that the capitalists have over information. The present occupations of the corporate media could serve as a first step towards transferring the media and the entire economy into the hands of the people of Venezuela.

U.S. Hands Off Of Venezuela! U.S. Hands Off Hugo Chavez!

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