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May 2002 • Vol 2, No. 5 •

Naked Class Interests, Deceptions and Lies: US Imperialism, the New York Times, and Venezuela


By Bill Leumer and Ann Robertson

As the U.S. government recklessly pursues a foreign policy constructed entirely around U.S. corporate interests—whether it be for oil in the Middle East, Colombia, or Venezuela—it shamelessly cloaks its vicious and insatiable greed in entirely righteous and humanitarian garments, like a prostitute donning a nun’s habit. But during the past month, the disconnect between what the U.S. government says and the objective reality has diverged into such an unbridgeable gulf, one can only be amazed that journalists can deliver U.S. propaganda straight-faced.

It began with Bush’s demand that Israeli troops withdraw from the occupied territories “without delay.” Weeks later, with little signs of abatement of the invasion, Bush declared triumphantly that Ariel Sharon, the Prime Minister of Israel, “met the timetable.” No one has been able to make any correspondence between Bush’s declaration and “the facts on the ground.”

When Bush went on to describe Sharon—who had just directed a massacre in Jenin and who has rejected numerous peace initiatives in the Middle East—as a “man of peace,” he not only outraged hundreds of millions of people throughout the world, but he made George Orwell, author of “1984,” look amateurish at constructing double-speak.

Rather than highlighting the absurdity of these inanities, the U.S. media seem to regard them as some kind of arcane literary standard to emulate. So, for example, after the television networks funneled a steady stream of Israeli and U.S. imperialist propaganda to the American public for weeks at a time, with only short interruptions for an official Palestinian spokesperson, they paused to consider whether their perspective wasn’t tilting too much in the Palestinian direction. But after reading two e-mails from their viewers, expressing opposing opinions on the question, the networks thoughtfully concluded that they must have indeed been steering an objective course.

Fortunately, double-speak does not always triumph, and the recent tumultuous events in Venezuela left both the U.S. government and The New York Times eating their own twisted fabrications.


Capitalists strike, workers strike back!

On April 12, a large demonstration organized by the capitalist class swelled into the streets of Caracas to protest recent policies of Hugo Chavez, the President who had been democratically elected by a landslide. Gunfire erupted, although it is still not clear who initiated it, and a dozen people were killed.

In the midst of this melee, military officers stepped in, tried to force Chavez to resign, which he refused to do, held him in detention, and installed Pedro Carmona Estanga, the head of the country’s most powerful business association, as interim President. Carmona quickly annulled Chavez’s recent policies, dissolved the National Assembly, fired members of the Supreme Court, and repealed 49 economic laws that the National Assembly had passed the previous year—laws deeply resented by the Venezuelan capitalist class and their U.S. capitalist allies.

“Venezuelan society has reached a consensus to find a way forward, a way that necessitated a transitional government that guarantees the reestablishment of democracy, The New York Times quoted Carmona as declaring, without mentioning on what basis he claimed to have knowledge of such a consensus.

The Bush administration was quick to respond to the events by falsely announcing that Chavez had resigned. Employing what can only be described as a kind of inverted logic, Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesperson, insisted that “the Chavez government provoked the crisis” and that the illegal military coup was “a victory for democracy.”

Like a faithful dog plodding after its master The New York Times editorialized before the dust had settled: “With yesterday’s resignation of President Hugo Chavez, Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator. Mr. Chavez, a ruinous demagogue, stepped down after the military intervened and handed power to a respected business leader, Pedro Carmona” (April 13, 2002). [emphasis added] Keep in mind, by the way, that these editorial lap dogs are the people who filter the news to us.

Once again, however, the U.S. government and its lackeys in the media business were left standing alone. The coup was quickly condemned by the Organization of American States and even Vicente Fox, the President of Mexico, could not be lured into the same depth of hypocrisy that the American government cultivates.

But within a day, the American government got a lesson in how real democracy operates. The poor people of Caracas, who previously swept Chavez to power in the elections, flooded the streets with an even larger pro-Chavez demonstration, and the military, fearing the power of the masses, reinstated him. Then, as if to prove capitalist bureaucrats have no shame, Condoleeza Rice, one of the Bush cabinet’s spin doctors, demanded that Chavez “respect constitutional processes.”

Rumors were soon flying about U.S. governmental complicity in the coup attempt. The New York Times, for whatever it is worth, reported that “Administration officials vigorously denied today they had encouraged plotters or had any advance knowledge of plans to oust Mr. Chavez....” But, according to Newsweek, “The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is seeking classified cables and other documents detailing contacts between top U.S. officials and Venezuelans involved in the failed attempt to overthrow Chavez. Those contacts, Newsweek has learned, are more extensive than the White House has publicly acknowledged.”

Just in case the American public is not convinced by its government’s pious denial, the Pentagon announced that it would investigate itself to see if it engaged in any covert operations, a move that will surely lay to rest all suspicions. Employing the same approach, one might as well propose that Ariel Sharon be placed in charge of the investigation into Israeli atrocities in Jenin, and that Ken Lay be assigned to investigate Enron’s legal infractions.


Why the U.S. government attempted to oust Chavez

Although he lacks a firm foundation in the working class and is not a socialist, Chavez ran for office in 1998 on a populist-nationalist platform and was swept into office by the poor of Venezuela who have painfully witnessed the gap between them and the rich grow relentlessly wider. Chavez has felt compelled to respond to this support and has consequently championed various proposals that have benefited the disadvantaged of his country.

For example, a land law was passed that allowed the government to seize under-utilized land on estates covering at least 100,000 hectares (1 hectare equals 2.471 acres) and reallocate it to landless peasants. Another law stipulated that the sea within 500 meters of Venezuela’s coast would be protected by the state and reserved for small fishermen while large fishing trawlers would be prohibited. The “Hydrocarbons Law” almost doubled taxes for foreign companies investing in oil and gas while requiring that the Venezuelan state maintain a minimum of 51 percent stake in these companies.

While agreeing to privatize some state-owned companies, Chavez halted the attempt to privatize Petroleos de Venezuela, the state-owned oil company. Part of the income from this company was then diverted to public spending, which rose 42 percent, in areas such as education, health care, and housing.

Chavez, who has cultivated friendly relations with Fidel Castro, sells oil to Cuba at bargain prices. He has refused to allow Venezuela’s air space to be used to attack the guerrillas in Colombia where the U.S. is in the process of augmenting its anti-guerrilla role. And by maintaining a disciplined membership in OPEC and keeping oil production within specified limits, Chavez has kept American capitalism from driving the price of Venezuelan oil down so that U.S. importers share of the price of oil—after refining and otherwise processing it—would be higher.

“Washington,” explained The New York Times, “has a strong stake in Venezuela’s recovery. Caracas now provides 15 percent of American oil imports, and with sounder policies could provide more. A stable, democratic Venezuela could help anchor a troubled region where Colombia faces expanded guerrilla warfare, Peru is seeing a rebirth of terrorism and Argentina struggles with a devastating economic crisis.”

The stakes, in other words, are high. What happens in Venezuela can directly impact the course of events in neighboring countries. Placing a different spin on The New York Times fears, one could note that if the capitalists were to completely lose their grip on Venezuela, then working people throughout the region might be inspired to overthrow their own capitalist oppressors, to the horror of the U.S. government and The New York Times, and finally break the deadly grip of poverty that has been strangling the majority of the population throughout the region.

Chavez’s “Bolivarian revolution,” as he calls it, has reached an impasse. Chavez has cautiously retracted some of his recent measures that provoked the wrath of the Venezuelan capitalists and has been speaking in terms of reconciliation.

Nevertheless, the attempted coup and the spontaneous response by the masses is a reflection of the deep polarization of class forces. In order not to lose the anti-capitalist momentum that the Venezuelan masses have set in motion, the working class there must take immediate steps towards organizing and mobilizing its ranks. It must create its own political party aimed at the overthrow of capitalism and the creation of socialism. The workers of Argentina are already taking steps in this direction. Whoever succeeds first will spark the first real hope for an entire continent that capitalism and U.S. imperialism have condemned to devastating poverty for centuries.





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