And so it was in the early 1990s I first learned of the degree of suffering of common Venezuelans before Chavez was elected. (Yes, ELECTED….by a majority of the populace!) I learned this from my niece Vanessa, then 28. See her as a 13- year old in the 1976 photo (center), visiting Barbados from her native Trinidad. This was on the day of the Cubana Airlines Flt. 455 bombing off Barbados' southwest coast, a strike instigated by the CIA and Orlando Bosch with the assistance of the then "Washington ally", Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez. According to a secret CIA cable dated Oct. 14, 1976, intelligence sources in Venezuela relayed information about the Cubana Airlines bombing that tied in Bosch, who had been visiting Venezuela, and Posada, who then served as a senior officer in Venezuela’s intelligence agency, DISIP, to the bombing. (Note: The DISIP was mainly used by the rich thieves who governed Venezuela then to track all "enemies of the state" - mainly the most impoverished peasants yearning to breathe free, but also any Castro sympathizers.)
Anyway, on his arrival in Perez' oligarchic state, Bosch was met by Garcia and Posada, according to the CIA report. Later, a fundraising dinner was held in Bosch’s honor. As the report notes: “A few days following the fund-raising dinner, Posada was overheard to say that, ‘we are going to hit a Cuban airplane,’ and that ‘
As for Vanessa, after she’d taught classical piano to Venezuelans in the late 80s, she'd seen first hand the degree of depredation and the extent to which the Venezuelan poor were ground under, used and exploited by the governing class elites, plutocrats.
Living on the island of Trinidad, barely 7 miles off the Venezuelan coast, she’d probably always been drawn to at least temporarily live and work in the nearest South American nation. When I visited Trinidad in 1983, to participate in a CXC Physics Curriculum workshop at the Trinidad Hilton, she confided to me that – after graduating from the University of the West Indies with a degree in Computer Science - she wanted to travel to Venezuela to teach music, piano. She wanted to do this before becoming locked into the regular work-a-day world of computer programming. It was a wise choice, and it broadened her perspectives, apart from allowing her to see and live in another nation. (Her Spanish skills were excellent, by the way!)
But she wasn’t prepared for the abject poverty, people getting their food from restaurant leftovers tossed into garbage cans and many having to eat rats. She wasn’t ready for the social turmoil and unrest and how the small elite wealthy class lived off the toil of the laborers. She predicted as far back as 1991 that this couldn’t be sustained: the country would either tear itself apart in civil war or revolution, or a new leader would arrive to change the dynamic.
The latter occurred with the election of Hugo Chavez. Chavez unashamedly instituted a policy of wealth redistribution and nationalized foreign oil interests, exploiting the nation’s prime resource. Chavez wanted the bounty from that resource to elevate the quality of life for the poor. In many ways he resembled the democratically elected Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala who sought to nationalize the vast banana plantations of United Fruit – but who was overthrown in a U.S. engineered coup (“Operation Success”) in 1954. See also:
Chavez faced no similar threat from the Yanqui up north because he had a powerful military to support him, also control of the 4th largest oil reserves in the world (now exceeding that from Saudi Arabia).
How successful was Chavez in introducing a no-holds barred Socialism to the nation? Very! According to data compiled by the UK Guardian, Chavez’s first decade in office saw Venezuelan GDP more than double and both infant mortality and unemployment almost halved. Add to that data a remarkable graph from the World Bank that shows that under Chavez’s socialism, poverty in Venezuela plummeted (the Guardian reports that its “extreme poverty” rate fell from 23.4 percent in 1999 to 8.5 percent just a decade later). In all, that left the country with the third lowest poverty rate in Latin America. Additionally, college enrollment more than doubled, while millions of people obtained access to health care for the first time and the number of people eligible for public pensions has quadrupled.
Of course this had to upset the capitalist bastion and its propagandizers to the north, convinced as it was that socialism was a failure everywhere and inequality through Neoliberal capitalism was the answer! Hence the incessant bombardment via rhetoric to assail Chavez as one of the worst scumballs on the planet. (Ok, look, I'm not saying the guy was a saint by any means! But let’s get our heads cleared here! He never initiated a war that killed over 600,000 civilians like in Iraq, nor did he overthrow other leaders – like the U.S. has done in Iran (1953, with Mossadegh), in Guatemala (Arbenz in 1954), Allende in Chile in 1972, nor has he taken out innocent bystanders via ‘collateral damage’ with drone assaults. So, it’s kind of funny to see the pot calling the kettle black in terms of Amerikkan media nabobs and self-righteous howlers branding Chavez as a king of humans rights abuses!
But it’s deliberate! Any successful socialist as a leader, and his nation, simply can’t be tolerated by the Neoliberal Capitalist imps who want the whole world reduced to serfs for their perpetual exploitation. So their stock market shares can soar! On the other hand, if a country goes socialist and craters, the Neoliberal free marketeers laugh it off as a harmless and also forgettable cautionary tale about the perils of "statist" economics. (Or what JFK called dirigisme: the direction of the national economy by the government to protect public interests against private abuses via the dictator of the marketplace.)
By contrast, if a country goes socialist and its economy does what Venezuela’s did, it's no longer perceived as a laughing matter – and it is not so easy to write off or to ignore. It suddenly looks like a threat to the corporate capitalism, especially when said country has valuable oil resources that global powerhouses like the United States rely on. So why be amazed at the U.S. media buffoons who would attack Chavez as a "buffoon"? (By the way, Hugo's funniest shtick was his UN appearance in 2006, a day after Bush Jr., noting how the podium still "reeked of sulphur" since the "Devil" had been there. Funny, but spot on true since any Texas yahoo that launches a bogus was that kills 600,000 is a Devil - incarnate - unlike Mikey's fantasy devils)
Let’s face it, those of us who inveigh against the meme of Neoliberal supremacy are not treated kindly in this country. I myself have been called a “communist” more times than I can count. But I don’t give a shit. I see how Neoliberalism is destroying the nation I love and rendering its mainstream citizens as chattel (and often dumbed down sheep from the incessant PR blitz) and I am not prepared to just sit back and hold my tongue or keyboard. I see things like the roaring DOW and see the conquest of Main St. by the Neoliberal fat cat economy- the stock market soaring only because labor is cheap (too many still unemployed) and capital is counterposed against it. Oh, and it’s also fed by cheap money from the Fed. Meanwhile, impecunious seniors can't buy meds because they can't earn interest on safe investments like CDs, or money market accounts.
Other historical antagonists of the Neoliberal creed haven't been treated nicely either! From JFK (when he used the Alliance for Progress to extend low interest loans to Latin America) to Martin Luther King to Michael Moore to Oliver Stone to anyone else who dares question neoliberalism and economic imperialism. We’re all disparaged as commies, “America haters” or worse!
That verbal punishment is all about marginalization – the kind that avoids engaging on substance for fear of allowing the notion of socialism to even enter the conversation in the first place. Instead, the non-conformist is attacked and discredited with vapid invective and caricature, becoming a cartoon villain whose ideas, performance and record are ignored before they can be considered on the merits. He becomes, in other words, the Hugo Chavez we so often saw in American political ads.
Meanwhile, our own data and predictions show we are right and the Neoliberal vermin wrong. In the United States our poverty rate is skyrocketing, so we ask: Are there any lessons to be learned from Venezuela’s policies that so rapidly reduced poverty? (Yes! Redistribute wealth via much higher taxes from those that can afford gold plated toilets to those who can’t afford to buy veggies!)
And in a United States that has become more unequal than many Latin American nations, are there any constructive lessons to be learned from Chavez’s grand experiment with more aggressive redistribution?
Again yes! We must beat the tax cutters and spending cut mongers back! We must demand our Neoliberally compromised politicos fight for the rest of us instead of giving in to the Fascists. We must expose the shameless ploys of the Pete Petersons of the nation and their assorted tricks and covers - like'Fix the Debt' -- only there to fuck us all over. We might hope for a politician with Chavez' balls, but no, you won't find any in D.C. All the balls there were gobbled up by Wall Street, and Banksters' lobbyists long ago. Meanwhile, every day that fronts like “Fix the Debt” and other Pete Peterson efforts succeed at destroying Americans' faith in our own government, We The People lose. Maybe it’s time to take some pages from Hugo Chavez’ playbook to socialize this country before we’re all turned into serfs. (To learn more about Peterson and his campaign, and his millionaire CEO buddies, go to www.petersonPyramid.org )
Let me also add here that Chavez’ generosity – by way of a half billion dollars each year for home heating oil - has proven to be a godsend for tens of thousands of older, poorer Americans. For this Citgo and Citizens Energy is to be commended. So is Joe Kennedy for his role in expediting home heating oil distribution for indigent seniors and others, who’d freeze to death if the Neoliberal scum had their way. The scum who can afford to pompasett on their high moral horses when it’s convenient to do so.
But what’s really interesting to me is that American oil companies, with all their tens of billions of dollars in quarterly profits, refused to donate a drop of their oil to such a worthy cause. One of these assholes actually had the nerve (on ’60 Minutes’) to claim he “could never support a program that subsidized the few but undermined fuel prices for all Americans” . Translation: Let the oldsters freeze or starve if it means Hugo’s largesse can’t be appropriated by us and used to extend our manipulation of oil-gas prices even more!
Perhaps the most apropos take appeared in a comment on a New York Times forum:
“Shame on anyone who criticizes providing subsidized energy to the needy in our country. What is worse … the fact that our great, powerful nation can ‘live” with millions of marginalized citizens while taking a “rebate” from Chavez from funds that were earned by selling oil at a profit to us in the first place. Either no oil from Venezuela, period, OR stop the hypocrisy.”
Viva Commandante Chavez! Viva la revolucion! Viva el socialismo bolivriano!!