Various essays and extended pieces

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Venezuela using its oil to benefit Latin Americans 

ZNet Commentary
The Failure of Hugo-Bashing April 04, 2006 By Mark Weisbrot

It was yet another public relations coup for Venezuela: Vila Isabel, the samba
club sponsored mainly by the Venezuelan government, won the parade competition
in Rio de Janeiro's Carnaval last week. A float with a giant likeness of Simon
Bolivar, combined with thousands of ornately costumed participants parading
down the avenue, trumpeted the winning theme: Latin American unity.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice just last month called for "a united
front" against Venezuela, continuing a long-term policy of trying to isolate
the country. But Washington has been spitting into the wind. Venezuela's
influence in the hemisphere has continued to rise while the U.S. has succeeded
only in isolating itself more than at any time in at least half a century. It
might be worth asking why.

First, Venezuela is a democracy -- despite the best efforts of the Bush team to
use President Hugo Chavez's close relations with Cuba's Fidel Castro as
evidence to the contrary. Its elections are transparent and have been certified
by observers from the Organization of American States, the Carter Center and
the European Union. Freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly and of
association prevail, at least as compared with the rest of the hemisphere.

In fact, most of the media remains controlled by the opposition, which attacks
the government endlessly on major TV channels. It is the most vigorous and
partisan opposition media in the hemisphere, one that has not been censored
under Chavez.

Like all of Latin America, Venezuela has governance problems: a weak state,
limited rule of law, corruption and incompetent government. But no reputable
human rights organization has alleged that Venezuela under Chavez has
deteriorated with regard to civil liberties, human rights or democracy, as
compared with prior governments. Nor does the country compare unfavorably on
these criteria with its neighbors in the region. In Peru, the government has
shut down opposition TV stations; in Colombia, union organizers are murdered
with impunity.

> From a Latin American point of view, Venezuelans should have the right to
choose their own president -- even one who sometimes insults the American
president -- without interference from the United States. And Chavez's anger at
Washington, from Latin Americans'point of view, appears justified. U.S.
government documents released under our Freedom of Information Act indicate
that Washington not only supported but was involved in the military coup that
temporarily overthrew Venezuela's elected government in April 2002.Here in
Washington, there is a "Monty Python" attitude toward the coup: "Let's not
argue about who killed who." But in Latin America, a military coup against a
democratically elected government is still considered a serious crime. To top
it off, Washington continued to finance efforts to recall Chavez and, having
failed miserably, still regularly presents him as a threat to democracy in the

With oil at nearly $60 a barrel, Venezuela has used its windfall proceeds to
win friends in the hemisphere, providing low-cost financing for oil to
Caribbean nations. When Argentina needed loans so that it could say goodbye to
the International Monetary Fund, Venezuela committed $2.4 billion. Venezuela
bought $300 million in bonds from Ecuador. Washington has historically had
enormous influence over economic policy in Latin America through its control
over the major sources of credit, including the IMF, the World Bank and the
Inter-American Development Bank.Venezuela's role as a new "lender of last
resort" has reduced that influence.

Chavez's opposition to the "Washington consensus" on economic policy has fallen
on sympathetic ears in a region that -- since 1980 -- has suffered its worst
long- term economic failure in a century. Over the last 25 years, income per
person in Latin America has grown by a meager 10%, according to the IMF. This
compares with 82% from 1960 to 1980, before most of Washington's economic
reforms were adopted. And Venezuela's government has kept its promise to share
the oil wealth with the poor. The majority of the country now has access to
free healthcare and subsidized food, and education spending has increased

Meanwhile in the U.S., while Vila Isabel was winning the Rio Carnaval,
Connecticut became the eighth American state to participate in the program by
which Citgo Petroleum Corp. provides discounted heating oil for poor people.
Citgo is owned by the Venezuelan government. In the contest for the hearts and
minds of the hemisphere, Venezuela is clearly winning.

[Mark Weisbrot is co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research,
in Washington, DC.]

Center for Economic and Policy Research, 1611 Connecticut Ave, NW, Suite 400,
Washington, DC 20009Phone: (202) 293-5380, Fax: (202) 588-1356,Website:
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