Bush vs. Chavez
The Imperial President and the
by Roger Burback
ZNet, November 11, 2005
Bush's woes just keep piling up on him.
The summit of hemispheric leaders he attended in Argentina was
a total embarrassment, revealing the emperor has no clothes. Bush
did manage to avoid shaking hands with his main adversary at the
summit, Hugo Chavez. But the president of Venezuela stole the
show, drawing 35,000 to hear him speak at a packed stadium. In
Bush's only comment on the massive demonstrations against his
stay in Argentina, he lamely joked with the country's president,
Nestor Kirchner, "It's particularly not easy to host, perhaps,
Declaring "I will of course be polite"
in the presence of Chavez, Bush waited until he flew off to Brazil
to levy a savage attack on the leader of the Bolivarian Republic
of Venezuela: "Ensuring social justice for the Americas requires
choosing between two competing visions," he proclaimed at
a banquet. "One offers a vision of hope. It is founded on
representative government, integration in the world community,
and a faith in the transformative power of freedom in individual
livesthe other seeks to roll back the democratic progress...by
playing to fear, pitting neighbor against neighbor, and blaming
others for their own failures to provide for their people."
This Orwellian declaration upended the
realities of Chavez's Venezuela and Bush's America. Elected to
the presidency in 1998, Chavez received 56 percent of the vote,
while as the world knows Bush in the 2000 elections lost the popular
vote to his Democratic opponent.
During Chavez' seven years in office,
Venezuela has proved to be the most democratic government in the
recent history of the Americas. Eight elections or referendums
have taken place, including the election of a constituent assembly
to draft a new Bolivarian constitution that established the principles
for a participatory democracy. In each instance of voting, fifty-six
to sixty percent of the participants have supported Chavez or
his initiatives, including his reelection as president under the
new constitution in 2000. Bush it should be noted in his reelection
in 2004 received only 51% of the votes, the lowest for an incumbent
since Woodrow Wilson in 1916. No international observers have
uncovered fraud in any of the Venezuelan balloting, while in the
United States there are still serious questions about the fairness
and integrity of the 2000 and 2004 elections.
The Bush administration's most ignominious
assault on the new democratic spirit in Venezuela occurred with
a coup attempt in April 2002. After meeting with the coup conspirators
in Washington for months before hand, the United States was the
first and only government in the hemisphere to recognize the "golpistas"
headed by Pedro Carmona, the president of the Venezuelan business
association. Chavez was restored to power in 48 hours, thanks
to a massive popular demonstration combined with military support,
principally among junior officers and common soldiers.
As in the lead up to the Iraqi war, the
US media, including the liberal press, proved to be a conveyor
belt for the Bush line on Chavez. While the coup was in progress
the New York Times editorialized: "Venezuelan democracy is
no longer threatened by a would-be dictator." The Times,
also echoing the position of the Venezuelan elites, insisted that
Chavez was a "demagogue."
Demagoguery is apparently a label imposed
on any leader who attempts to mobilize and improve the lot of
the popular classes at the expense of the wealthy. In a country
of 25 million, illiteracy has been virtually eliminated as 1.4
million learned to read and write during the early years of Chavez'
tenure. Three million adult Venezuelans previously outside the
education system due to poverty enrolled in schooling programs.
When Chavez took office 80 percent of
the population was largely excluded from the benefits of an oil
rich economy. Few had access to even minimal health care. Today,
thanks in large part to an "oil for doctors" program
that has brought 20,000 Cuban doctors to Venezuela, seventy percent
of the population enjoys access to free health care. Malnutrition
and hunger have been eliminated as three-fifths of the population
now receives subsidized food via cooperatives, special food programs
and government distribution centers.
As to Bush's allegation that Chavez is
pitting "neighbor against neighbor," the President of
Venezuela proudly points to his efforts to foment cooperation
in the hemisphere while opposing "the frightening neo-liberal
globalization" embodied in Bush's call for a Free Trade Area
of the Americas. Chavez in August launched PetroCaribe, a program
providing Venezuelan oil to the countries of the Caribbean at
a 40 percent discount with long term loans at 1 percent interest.
In opposition to Bush's neo-liberal agenda, Chavez is calling
for the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas that would include
political as well as economic integration for South and Latin
The ultimate hypocrisy in Bush's proclamation
that he stands for improved international relations while Chavez
opposes "freedom in individual lives" came at Bush's
last stop in Panama. There in an effort to rebuff international
criticism of the secret U.S. prison system abroad used to detain
and torture alleged terrorism suspects, Bush stated he would continue
to "aggressively pursue" terror suspects and insisted
that "any activity we conduct" is "lawful."
Small wonder Chavez labels the Bush regime a "terrorist administration"
that is a "threat to humanity." Roger Burbach is director
of the Center for the Study of the Americas based in Berkeley,
CA. His most recent books are "The Pinochet Affair: State
Terrorism and Global Justice," and "Imperial Overstretch:
George W. Bush and the Hubris of Empire" (co-authored with
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