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KING CHAVEZ
James Skinner

W
hen Jose Rodriguez Zapatero, General Secretary of the Spanish Socialist Party refused to stand up during the march past of the American troops carrying the ‘Stars and Stripes’ on ‘Columbus Day’ in Madrid a couple of years ago, he more or less signed his death warrant with the USA.

George Bush never forgave nor forgot. A few months later and after a tragic terrorist attack in Madrid, ZP as he is ‘affectionately’ known, won the Spanish general elections and became Prime Minister. As promised during his election campaign, his first move was to remove the Spanish troops from Iraq to the applause of Spanish society in general and dismay of the coalition forces in the Middle East. Again, George Bush did not forgive nor forget. To rub Bush’s nose in it even further, ZP has now gone and signed an arms deal with Venezuela that once again has irritated the Bush administration. Bush considers the President of Venezuela akin to a new up and coming Fidel Castro in the region and therefore a destabilising force in Latin America. So who is Chavez and what is going on south of the border?

When the oil crisis hit the world economies back in 1973 thanks to Iran’s decision to up the prices, Venezuela being an oil producer benefited enormously. Whilst petrol shortages and price hikes hit the pumps around the world, the Caracas bank accounts began to overflow. Venezuelans were literally rolling in it. The government made one mistake; it nationalised the oil industry. Then came the 1983-84 crash and Venezuela ran into trouble. The trade unions and their workforce saw their lavish lifestyle begin to dwindle, particularly in welfare spending. By 1989, with the economy sloshing around in the gutter, the newly elected president, Carlos Andres Perez rushed to the IMF for help. Too late! Social upheaval had set in with massive public demonstrations, general strikes and hundreds of people killed in street rioting. Now into the nineties, military coups began to take place. It opened the doors to the Chavez crusades.
A young uppish colonel Hugo Chavez tried in vain in 1992 to oust the president. He failed. Hundreds of people were killed and the impudent army officer ended up with a 2 year jail sentence. However, similar to Fidel Castro’s attempt from Sierra Madre in the late 1950’s to take over Cuba, Chavez gained the support of the peasant people of the country and the Venezuelan social revolution was set in motion.

Nevertheless, between 1993 and 1998 a sort of ‘musical chairs’ democratic process took place. Presidents were elected then jailed for corruption or embezzlement all the time feeding fuel into Chavez’s supporters who saw their idol as the saviour of the country. In 1998 he is elected president and although two years later a plot to assassinate him was revealed, Hugo Chavez managed to win another 6 years in office. By this time he had split the nation into haves and have-nots, yet thanks to the Iraq war, oil prices began to soar and Venezuela was back in the money. King Chavez, as he is now known had it made.

The Chavez revolution however, is going down the same road as the Peronist movement of the 1940’s in Argentina, Salvador Allende’s so called socialist reforms in Chile during the 1970’s and Mugabe's recent drive of expropriation of white landowners in Zimbabwe. In other words Chavez’s plan is to depose the rich agricultural farmers of their property and return the land to the poor peasant masses in a drive of social equality familiar in all communist textbooks. He is slowly disbanding the middle class entrepreneurs and imposing a Marxist regime that sooner or later will cause a lopsided economy based entirely on oil revenues.

Trouble is that, like Fidel Castro, he has started an anti-American campaign that is thriving on a daily basis and is threatening to spread throughout Latin America.

The climax came during the American summit held in Mar de Plata, a beach resort in southern Argentina in November, when the presidents of all American countries, including George Bush met to discuss the future of the FTAA, Free Trade Area of the Americas. There was a clear anti-USA feeling erupting just prior to the official ceremonies instigated primarily by Chavez’s vicious statements accusing the USA of imperialism and increasing poverty in the region. He actually held a rally in a football stadium together with Diego Maradona, an Argentine soccer icon who had seen better days, arousing a crowd of thousands to support his cause. Riots and US flag burning were the order of the day.

The Bush administration has got enough on its international plate without having to worry, yet again about the neighbours south of the border. With Islamic fundamentalist terrorism on the one hand, North Korea and the whole of the Middle East on the other, that last thing George needs is a resurrection of the ‘ghost’ of Che Guevarra instilling a new era of communist revolutionaries in Latin America. Ironically he has got Mexico on his side. During the same summit, President Fox and Chavez had a téte a téte over free trade to the extent that both countries ambassadors were recalled and diplomatic relations damn nearly broke off. Yet the other socialist do-gooders like Lula in Brazil and Kichner in Argentina tend to agree with Chavez’s rhetoric. They are more or less sitting on the fence to see what happens.

Chavez has now got such a grip on the country’s politics that he has more or less ridded its democratic system of all electoral freedom. This was apparent in recent parliamentary elections whereby only 25% of voters turned out to register their vote. The opposition parties boycotted the elections accusing the electoral body of bias. Despite the US calling for electoral reform, Chavez’s party, ‘Fifth Republic Movement’, automatically swept to victory with all 167 parliamentary seats.

But returning to the warm relationship between Chavez and Spain’s Zapatero, there is a sting in the tail.
Thanks to Chavez’s land reform, a group of Spanish immigrants from the Canary Islands that settled years ago as farmers in the Venezuelan state of Jaracuy are slowly being evicted from their lands by ‘poor’ Venezuelans. As a collective group (known as the ‘Canary Macutos’) they have brought their plight to the Spanish president and asked him to intercede. In fact most Spaniards living in Venezuela are now threatened with expropriation and the snowball has started to roll. Spain is embarrassed by the whole affair.

For once, George Bush is on the sideline thinking, ‘ZP, you sold the guy 1.5 billion Euros of warships and planes and now your own people are telling you that he’s a crook’. Condoleeza Rice must also be also smiling!’
© James Skinner. December 13th 2005.
jamesskinner@cemiga.es

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