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Protest Outside the US Embassy (Grosvenor Sq, London) Monday 13th June 4-7pm

BUSH - GIVE UP THE TERRORISTS!

"America has a message for the nations of the world: If you harbor terrorists, you are terrorists. If you train or arm a terrorist, you are a terrorist. If you feed a terrorist or fund a terrorist, you're a terrorist, and you will be held accountable." George W. Bush, 21st November 2001


Cuban-Venezuelan Luis Posada is wanted for blowing up an airliner in 1976, killing 73 people. He was arrested last month in the US, which is refusing to hand him over to Venezuela, where he escaped from jail. His partner in crime, Orlando Bosch, was given a presidential pardon by Bush the Elder and now lives in Miami, where they have named a street after him.

In Colombia this year a total of seven US soldiers (including a colonel) have been arrested for, between them, selling ammunition to right-wing paramilitaries and attempting to smuggle cocaine into the US. Before the Colombian judiciary could blink, they were whisked out of the country to prevent further embarrassment and have not yet been charged with any crime.

Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada used to be President of Bolivia, before he ordered the massacre of peaceful protesters in 2003 and fled to Miami to escape the furious backlash. Bolivians want him tried for crimes against humanity, but that doesn't seem likely while he's protected by the US government, who immediately granted him political asylum.

Notice a pattern?

The problem for Bush is that these cases all reveal the ugly underside of US foreign policy in Latin America. Declassified FBI documents prove Posada was a CIA agent (specialising in explosives) while also freelancing for the Las Vegas mafia. After escaping Venezuelan jail in 1985 he worked for Oliver North supplying arms to the US-backed Contras in their war against the left-wing Sandinista government in Nicaragua. His terrorist career continues in Cuba (where he had been a policeman under the Batista dictatorship) with a string of hotel bombings during an international youth festival in 1997, resulting in several injuries and the death of an Italian tourist. In an interview with the New York Times the following year Posada practically boasted about this terrorism. He was part of the infamous Operation Condor, which co-ordinated right-wing military dicatorships in the region for the US government, and has tried to assassinate Castro at least twice: once in Caracas in 1971 (while head of DISIP, the Venezuelan political police) and again in 2000 in Panama, where he served four years in jail before being pardoned by the outgoing president (who now lives in Florida).

On Monday 13th June, there will be an immigration hearing in El Paso, Texas, to decide Posada's fate. The case has become a major headache for George Bush, as Posada is hailed as a hero amongst the rich right-wing Castro-hating Miami Cubans who form a key component of his (and especially his brother's) base of support. However, refusal to extradite Posada will clearly make a mockery of the whole "War on Terror". Posada is a 77-year-old man who has lead a lifetime of terrorism directed against progressive movements in Latin America. The embarrassing fact that this terror was in line with US foreign policy and supported by the US government doesn't make harbouring him any less hypocritical. Join the international outrage over these double-standards and protest outside the US embassy in London on this day from 4pm to 7pm. Music, food and an open-mic, with speakers from Hands Off Venezuela, Bolivia Solidarity Campaign, Colombia Solidarity Campaign and others. Pass it on!

www.handsoffvenezuela.org
www.colombiasolidarity.org.uk
www.boliviasc.org.uk

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If Washington refuses to extradite Cuban terrorist Luis Posada Carriles Venezuela could severe diplomatic ties between the two nations, said Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez yesterday.  “We can't rush things, but if the United States does not extradite [Posada] we will be forced to reconsider our diplomatic ties,” affirmed Chávez during his weekly Sunday television address Aló Presidente.

Last week Caracas invoked a 1922 US-Venezuela extradition treaty to request that the US deport Posada—who has dual Cuban-Venezuelan citizenship—to Venezuela to stand trial for masterminding the 1976 bombing of a civilian Cuban airliner that killed all 73 people on board.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez shows the audience documented evidence of Posada's terrorist activities and of the CIA's knowledge during last Sunday's "Alo Presidente."

Although Posada, a former CIA agent, illegally entered the US through the Mexican border in mid-March, US officials repeatedly denied that they were able to verify his whereabouts.  But Posada, a self-described “freedom fighter,” forced Washington's hand last week by holding a press conference outside Miami.  Shortly after Posada affirmed that he would "not denounce violence," he was arrested by US immigration officials.  Facing charges of illegal entry rather than terrorism, Posada is being detained in a federal detention center in El Paso, Texas without bail until his June 13th trial.

“If they don't extradite him in the time allowed in our agreement,” warned Chávez, “we will have to consider whether it's worth having an embassy there, and whether it's worth the United States having an embassy here.”

Until Chávez came to power in 1998, Venezuela and the US had a cozy relationship.  Posada and the CIA cooperated regularly in the oil-rich nation until Posada’s arrest in 1976 for the airplane bombing.  After he escaped from a Venezuelan prison in 1985, Posada surfaced in Central America where he worked with Oliver North’s illegal mission to supply the Contras with weapons in Nicaragua’s US-fueled civil war.

But with Chávez’s election, US-Venezuelan relations have gone from close to hostile. The Venezuelan government has aggressively pursued a path of sovereignty and social justice, fiercely attacking what Chávez describes as the US’ economic and political exploitation of Latin American countries.  For their part, the Bush administration refers to Chávez as a "negative force in the region" and a "democratically elected leader who governs in an illiberal way,”—just a few of the more vaguely-worded, recycled "concerns" about Chávez emitted by US spokespeople on an almost daily basis.

Chávez' statements on Sunday eluded that already poor bilateral relations might very well take a sharp turn for the worse if Washington decides to blatantly and hypocritically ignore its own "war on terror" rhetoric. After emphasizing that "now there is proof that the US protects terrorism because in there territory is one of the greatest terrorists in the history of America and of the world," Chávez put the option of taking the dispute to an international tribunal on the table.

Luis Posada Carriles is wanted in Venezuela and Cuba for his involvement in a 1976 bombing that killed 73. The US has so far refused Venezuela's extradition request.

"We have sufficient material to go to an international tribunal and accuse the US government of protecting a terrorist; we will go to the United Nations, we will invite all of the people to denounce this,” said Chávez.  “[This is] a government that invades a country using terrorism as an excuse, that attacks Iraq only to take out one man in that government…now they have him in prison and they publish a photo of him in his underwear.  At the US Army prison in Guantanamo Bay, “they have been so disrespectful to the Koran that they have provoked a dignified response from the Islamic people of the world," added the Venezuelan President.

Chávez went on to add that the Venezuelan government has evidence that Posada, along with his contacts in Venezuela and Central America, "participated in preparations for the April, 2002 coup" that abolished all democratic institutions in Venezuela before being reversed 48 hours later.

“It is difficult, very difficult, to maintain ties with a government that so shamelessly hides and protects international terrorism,” said Chávez.

The decision to charge Posada with illegal entry and ignore his resume of terrorist activities has enraged the majority of Venezuelans. Thousands of Venezuelans signed a petition in favor of the extradition request on Friday and then marched on Saturday in the squares of major cities in protest.

This observation has also been noted by several US politicians.

"While I'm glad that the Department of Homeland Security finally arrested Posada, it's amazing that he almost had to goad them into doing it," stated José Serrano (D-NY) adding that, "Here is a guy who has admitted to committing terrorist attacks who escaped justice by bribing his guards and hightailing it out of prison, and we're not willing to extradite him to face justice.  73 people died in that airliner, many of them children. How can we with any credibility ask other nations to help us out with our global struggle against terror when we won't cooperate with others' anti-terror proceedings? There is a two-way street here…Posada was a wanted man in Venezuela long before Hugo Chávez was elected President there.”

Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and a group of twenty legislators sent a letter to President Bush recommending that international laws be followed and Posada be turned over to Venezuela.  And in a letter to the US Congress, Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) called upon her colleagues to "uphold the principles we espouse, refrain from keeping double standards," and "extradite [Posada] to the governments with jurisdiction."  McKinney argued that "for the Department of Homeland Security to say it would not deport Posada to Cuba or Venezuela is counterproductive to our efforts in the War on Terror."

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Venezuela PdVSA president Rafael Ramírez talks to the National Assembly
According to PdVSA president Ramírez, 90% of the transnationals participating in operating agreements, have committed tax evasion, cheating the Venezuelan state out of $3 billion in taxes and $1 billion in royalties.
Credit: Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias (ABN

Venezuela’s Minister of Energy and Mines, Rafael Ramírez, appeared before the Venezuelan National Assembly today in order to expose the abuses committed by transnational corporations in Venezuela's oil sector and to inform the Venezuelan people that with the opening of the petroleum industry to foreign companies, during the 1990’s, "a true assault was carried out against Venezuelan petroleum."

Ramírez explained that over the course of the past decade and a half, foreign investment amounted to an assault "coordinated by international institutions of oil consuming nations and the large transnationals, who in complicity of the oligarchy and their political representatives conspired against the Venezuelan state, causing their subsequent economic and social crisis."

Ramírez, who is also the President of Venezuela's state owned petroleum company, PdVSA, offered his testimony before a Special Commission that has been formed to investigate the irregularities detected by the Ministry of Energy and Petroleum in the drawing up and the execution of service agreements.  These service agreements, signed between the former management of PdVSA and transnational oil companies, such as Chevron Texaco, Royal Dutch Shell, Total, and Repsol, were signed between 1992 and 1997, the years of years of the so-called "petroleum opening."

Currently transnational oil companies produce about 500,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd) via these service agreements and another 600,000 bpd of extra-heavy oil as part of joint ventures with PdVSA, in the Orinoco Oil Belt. According to the Ministry of Energy and Mines, PdVSA produces the remaining 2 million bpd, for a Venezuelan total of about 3.2 million bpd. However, analysts opposed to the government and its oil policy, contend that PdVSA produces only 1.4 million bpd or 600,000 less than the government claims.

In the course of renegotiating the 32 service agreements, it has come to light that, according to Ramírez, 90% of the transnationals have committed tax evasion, cheating the Venezuelan state out of $3 billion in taxes and $1 billion in royalties. “Some of these companies haven't paid taxes for years,” said Ramirez, adding, “They are mocking our laws. This is an unacceptable situation. We can't permit this.”

“As we will see, this is not about isolated or fortuitous incidents,” Ramírez assured, affirming that on the contrary, “this is a strategy that unfolded since the nationalization of PdVSA in 1976 and is oriented towards taking control over PdVSA for transnational interests.” Ramirez summarized the essence of the "well planned and designed," petroleum opening as a "Trojan Horse." 

In October of last year, the Chavez government announced that transnational oil companies that had service agreements with PdVSA that were signed in the 1990’s, must now be converted into joint ventures, in which foreign companies are limited to a 49% stake in any project, reserving the majority share for PdVSA. Also, in April of this year, the Venezuelan government raised the royalties that companies in the Orinoco Oil Belt must pay, from 1% to 16%. So far all oil companies operating in Venezuela, except for ExxonMobil, have accepted the new terms.

Ramírez asserted that "with the petroleum opening, the transnational capital tried to expropriate the handling and the sovereign use of our main natural resource: petroleum," converting it from a natural resource of the Venezuelan state into a natural resource at the disposal of the consumer countries of the world.

According to the PdVSA president, the collapse of Venezuela’s oil revenue in the 1990’s is attributable to earlier government efforts to sweep away state control over the oil industry.  “They were prepared to turn over our energy resources to transnational capital and to yield it to privatization and those who wanted to impose their version of globalization on Venezuela,” he said.

New attacks

In reference to the recent opposition media’s reporting of supposed problems in the oil industry, Ramírez testified that Venezuela's oil industry is now being attacked by the same people who initiated the economic sabotage of December 2002 to February 2003, which effectively shutdown the oil industry for that time and caused losses of over $14 billion. Ramirez said that the former oil industry managers are resisting the control Venezuela’s government is exerting over its own industry by engaging in a disinformation campaign. 

Ramírez requested that an investigation be carried out in order to determine who is responsible for undermining PdVSA's independence and recommended that the National Assembly adopt a firm and united position with respect to the scandal.

“The game is over with the 32 contracts and now the truth will be made known," said Ramirez. He left the revising of the 32 service agreements and the actions of the transnational companies in the hands of the National Assembly, stating that "this is an affair that the National Assembly must rule on and propose pertinent actions to take."  He also recommended that other state entities such as the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV) and Venezuela's tax agency Seniat should be involved in the evaluation. According to Ramirez, half of the 32 service agreements are money losing ventures for Venezuela, where PdVSA pays more to transnationals for oil production than it can recoup from the sales of that oil.

Ramirez also highlighted irregularities in the extra-heavy oil production joint ventures, saying that Sincor, which is a joint venture with France’s Total, has violated its contract repeatedly, exploiting a far larger area than it is supposed to. Currently there are five extra-heavy oil joint ventures, about which Ramirez said, “We have found irregularities in all.” The other four companies involved in the joint ventures are Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron, British Petroleum, and ConocoPhillips.

Ramirez also pointed out that Citgo Corp, the subsidiary of PdVSA operating in the United States, had overpaid taxes in that country, and that PdVSA would work to recuperate these taxes in accordance with the U.S.-Venezuelan Double Taxation Treaty.

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April 13th marked the third anniversary of the defeat of a coup against the democratically elected presidency of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. In honor of the event there were massive local celebrations and an international solidarity conference: “Encuentro Mundial de Solidaridad con la Revolution Bolivariana”. Solidarity activists came from over 20 countries. The majority were from other Latin American countries. Canada had a strong delegation. The delegation from the U.S was quite small; A few from California, a strong delegation from Boston, some from Florida and Chicago. It is not clear if this small turnout is due to lack of publicity or lack of awareness of the importance of the Venezuelan revolution in the U.S. Participants chose one of eight workshops: Agrarian reform, housing, worker management, citizen participation, alternative media, indigenous people, women or education. Each workshop was held in a different part of the country. There were also hundreds of Venezuelan activists participating in the conference who were able to use the conference for a discussion of their current challenges. The following observations are mainly a reflection of the citizen participation workshop which I attended.

The revolution that is unfolding in Venezuela today is the leading edge of a massive social and political shift to the left that is happening throughout Latin America from Chile right up through Mexico. The past decade of globalization (what they call “neoliberalism”) has brought increased poverty and economic decline throughout the region. The result has been a shift away from governments beholden to the free market towards leaders and parties representing the poor and working people who are the overwhelming majority.

This process has gone the furthest in Venezuela. In the early years of his presidency Chavez was a supporter of the “third way”, a reference to attempts to build an alternative to both the capitalist and the old Stalinist economic models. He and others in the leadership now speak openly and often about their conclusion that the capitalist model is a dead end (sometimes quoting the pope) with no future in Latin America and that socialism is the only road forward.

How this new direction towards socialism will unfold remains to be seen but there are some indications that it will be a dynamic new road that may be a model for all of the Americas. What is most often discussed is desire to build a socialist society marked by a massive increase in popular democratic involvement. The forms of this new democracy are still being worked out. There has been a massive increase in local community councils and cooperatives to address economic and social organization at the local level. The conference was a forum for activists throughout Latin America who are involved in similar efforts to increase democratic participation under more difficult circumstances.

Education is a primary weapon in raising the cultural and political awareness in the poorest communities. There is a literacy campaign along with a series of “missions” aimed at enabling people to return to school and finish high school. A whole new university; “Universidad Simon Bolivar” has been built to massively expand college opportunities for students who had no access to the privileged university system before the revolution.

Local democratic participation is woven through the new national constitution that was enacted in the wake of Chavez’s election in 1999. In order to get many new services a local community has to organize itself, discuss and vote on its priorities and often form local cooperatives to carry out the work. They speak openly about the limitations of classic representative democracy where one can only hope that an elected official remains honest and does the work for the people. As another local leader put it, “Sometimes laws are not the answer, we have to empower people”. This is in contrast to the historical culture of Venezuela that was marked by passive complaining and demanding the government do something for you.

Part of the impetus for this massive expansion of democratic institutions is the fact that when Chavez was elected in 1999 he did it with a weak newly created party called the MVR- Movement for the Fifth Republic. While popular, the party is underdeveloped. Some fear it is used by many to get elected or to get jobs. The old state apparatus, with thousands of functionaries used to the old ways of doing little is still intact and a major obstacle to social change. As one activist put it, “We have won the government but not the state”. Rather than a purge, the strategy has been to set up a parallel government that provides direct social services to the poor (social service “missions”, clinics, food distribution, schools, microcredits, etc.). Community councils that provide organization and representation down to the level of block committees are being set up to take over aspects of local administration. Through this process two very important things are taking place: Whole new layers of the population are learning what it means to be active empowered citizens and a new layer of leaders in the government and the economy is being trained.

In addition, there are now increasing efforts to turn major workplaces over to workers management. This effort began in some industries that had gone bankrupt (a major paper mill). It is now spreading to major state owned industries. In addition to nationalized oil the country has major aluminum, mining and iron ore industries owned by the state. These industries were run poorly and often corruptly even during the past 6 years of the Chavez presidency. A “revolution within the revolution” is now underway to eat away at the old corrupt modes of management and turn these industries into dynamic producers of wealth, jobs and resources that can profit the whole society. The road chosen has not been to simply choose better managers or better bureaucrats. In the major aluminum factory - Venalum there has been discussion, debate and elections to choose a new leadership of the plant from the ranks of the workers in the past month. The goal is for a workers management that will revive production, efficiency and integrity in the plant. Most importantly a new model of plant management and new layer of leadership from the shop floor has a chance to emerge. This process is complex, difficult and being done with few healthy precedents. There will be many mistakes along the way. The key is to have the time needed for such a major transformation to develop.

Che Guevara spoke often about the problems of a bureaucratically planned economy in the model of the old Soviet Union. He advocated the development of a conscious and politically active population. Through the conference discussion and in projects around Venezuela you can see this process unfolding. Often the major players are women. Chavez makes it a point to highlight the development of women as leaders when he speaks. The Venezuelans do not feel they are reinventing the wheel. They are openly looking to the experience of others for examples. When the mayor of the mountain city of Merida was discussing the multiple problems they were facing he stated “If we have a problem, it has probably been solved somewhere else in Latin America”. In his opening speech to the conference, Chavez called the Bolivarian revolution, “A humble daughter of the great revolutions of the world.” When talking of deeper cultural change you often heard of the need to change from a mentality of “me” to one of “we”.

The issue of how the leadership of this revolution is organized and how it is developing a coherent theory to lead is complex and challenging. It is clear that the role of Chavez is significant. His popularity is rising. His image is seen often. He has a regular 5 hour television variety show called “Alo Presidente” that is used to educate the country about the challenges and prospects of the political process.

This is not just a cult of personality around a strong man/caudillo in the model of Juan Peron. There are thousands of dedicated politically revolutionary activists who are advancing the ideas and organization of the revolution throughout all sectors of society (except the wealthy). The organizational forms are diverse. There are “Bolivarian Circles” which are loose groupings of activist with modest organizational success. There are activists in the missions doing community organizing day in and day out. There are students who have their organizations. There are two other left parties that support Chavez that do not appear to have much of a mass base. There are activists in the workplace, the best of which have built a whole new pro-revolutionary national union federation. So when one asks, where do people go for political organization and discussion, the answer is most often that they go to work organizing.

The opposition held a rally to commemorate the coup on April 13th. There were fewer than a thousand present. By all reports the opposition appears demoralized. They have played their strongest cards and lost. Chavez predicts they will attempt to distort next years’ election. For that reason he is campaigning for 10 million votes as a goal to gain a mandate to continue the revolution.

There are a number of features of the revolution in Venezuela that can work to enhance the potential for this revolution to survive both internally and against what will be rising pressure from the United States:

1) This is a deep thorough ongoing revolution that is in progress. This is not simply the election of another left populist government. There is a mobilization of a significant part of the population to fight for its class interest. It could be defined as a “Workers and Farmers Government”.

2) The Chavez leadership is a break from the models of Social Democracy and Stalinism that could set an example of a revolutionary direction for the rest of the continent. It is typical to see posters of Chavez flanked by Bolivar on one side and Che on the other. Because of the position of Venezuela geographically and economically Chavez can play a role in the region that is more significant that that of Fidel and the Cubans.

3) The presence of oil at such a price has resulted in the immediate rise in living standards. The size of the nationalized industries inherited by the revolution means that they have the economic base to fund social programs and build broader support for the revolution. This power allowed them to withstand a massive capitalist strike in 2002 (similar to the strike that sank Allende in Chile). The government can also set up parallel economic institutions that undercut the capitalists such as the state owned food stores.

4) This economic base means that there is the potential to buy time desperately needed to develop a new revolutionary layer of society capable of administration of the state. There is less of a need to prematurely nationalize industries or collectivize land that outpaces the ability of the new society to effectively build a new administration of the economy.

5) The defeat of the coup provided the opportunity to purge the army of a substantial amount of its counterrevolutionary currents. The fact that the army can now be expanded to defend the revolution and at the same time help in social and economic development makes this a radically different road than Chile where the army led the counterrevolution. Plans are to increase the reserves from 200,000 to 500,000.

6) This revolution is embedded in a rising tide of left political movement from Chile to the Rio Grande. This is its most powerful defense and major impediment to imperialist intervention as the Bush administration openly bemoans.

7) This revolution has happened without a bloodbath, without mass public executions, without the need for a repressive state that curbs civil liberties and with massive democratic election victories. This robs the opposition and the Bush administration of cannon fodder in the propaganda war against the revolution. Many spurious charges have and will be invented by the opposition of course.

8) There are sectors that want to push the revolution forward at a faster pace. This is true among farmers wanting land frustrated by the slow pace of land reform. It is true among workers in the fight for workers control in a variety of industries. But the frustration appears to be correctly focused on the obstacles of the old state apparatus and the rich. This avoids the problem of a rise of ultra-left pressure that can then provoke a crack down from the new state.

9) The popularity of Chavez within the unique history of the Venezuelan left appears to be a gravitational force for political unity that is holding down splits and sectarian battles that can hamper leadership development (as in Nicaragua).

10) The oil wealth is allowing Venezuela to do what Che advocated which is trade based on human need rather than the market. Chavez has signed a trade agreement favorable to Cuba. He is trading oil for pregnant cows with Argentina, etc. This along with efforts to build a Pan-American trading bloc is building a regional political and economic bulwark against future U.S. intervention.

11) For the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union a new model of socialism is emerging that has the potential to be an example and an inspiration for all of the Americas.

For further analysis of the Bolivarian revolution the Monthly Review articles by Marta Harnecker and others are excellent. Richard Gott’s “In the Shadow of the Liberator” is an extensive history of Chavez’s political development. He is soon to come out with a new history of the revolution. www.Venezuelanalysis.com  and www.Handsoffvenezuela.org provide current news and analysis from the perspective of defenders of the revolutionary process..

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On the eve of Condoleeza Rice's tour of Latin America, an extremely provocative article appeared yesterday in The New York Times. Under the title of "U.S. Considers Toughening Stance Toward Venezuela" and signed by Juan Forero, the article quotes a number of unnamed "American officials" basically saying that "the Bush administration is weighing a tougher approach, including funnelling more money to foundations and business and political groups opposed to his leftist government".

Forero claims in his article that a "multiagency task force in Washington has been working on shaping a new approach, one that high-ranking American policy makers say would most likely veer toward a harder line". The article quotes another unnamed American official as saying: "The conclusion that is increasingly being drawn in Washington is that a realistic, pragmatic relationship, in which we can agree to disagree on some issues but make progress on others, does not seem to be in the cards (...) We offered them a more pragmatic relationship, but obviously if they do not want it, we can move to a more confrontational approach."

Another "high-ranking Republican aide on Capitol Hill who works on Latin America policy" (also unnamed) explains: "What's happening here is they realize this thing is deteriorating rapidly and it's going to require some more attention (...) The current look-the-other-way policy is not working."

The truth of the matter, however, is that the US administration has always had a "tough" stance towards Venezuela. High-ranking United States officials met with Venezuelan opposition leaders in the weeks and days before the military coup that ousted Chavez for 47 hours on April 11, 2002. There is now hard evidence that the CIA knew that the coup was being plotted, and Washington was the first capital in the world to recognise the illegitimate government of Pedro Carmona which was installed by the coup.

The Bush administration supplied funds to opposition groups that organised the coup in 2002. It also funded the sabotage of the oil industry in December 2002 and January 2003, which cost the country's economy some 10,000 million dollars. It financed the attempt to remove Chavez through a recall referendum. It is difficult to see how Washington's stance towards the democratically elected government of Venezuela could actually get "tougher" - short of direct military intervention.

Since the beginning of this year the barrage of accusations against the Venezuelan government by US officials has certainly increased in volume and intensity. The US has actively tried to stop the sale of weapons to Venezuela by Spain, Brazil and Russia (after the US itself refused to supply spare parts for Venezuela's ageing fleet of F16s), and has accused Venezuela of being a "negative force in the region" (Condoleeza Rice). The US administration and media have stepped up a belligerent campaign against Venezuela.

The democratically elected government of Hugo Chavez has been accused of everything from linking up with North Korea, supplying arms to the Colombian FARC guerrillas and funding the "subversive" MAS in Bolivia, to forming an axis of evil with Cuba's Castro, starting an arms race in Latin America, and harbouring Al-Qaeda terrorists. A recent article in the National Review (which appeared on April 11, the day of the third anniversary of the coup in Venezuela), carried the title "Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez constitute an axis of evil". In this extremely belligerent article, Otto Reich, until recently Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, openly advocated a policy of "confronting" the "emerging axis of subversion".

There is no substance to any of these accusations, for which not the slightest shred of proof is offered. They are just meant to create an impression – the kind of impression that can be used to justify an act of aggression. As we learned long ago from Josef Goebbels, even the most blatant lie, if it is repeated often enough, is taken to be the truth. In the same way, the lie that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction was used as an excuse for the criminal invasion of Iraq. Everybody now knows that it was a lie, but at the time enough people believed it to permit a naked act of aggression to be presented as an act of national self-defence. Now history is being repeated.

When pressed for more details on the allegations about "Venezuelan shortcomings with respect to the counter narcotics issue", Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman for the US Department of State, on March 30th, could not think of anything coherent to say. He merely mumbled: "Not really. I'll look and see what we've said on the past, but off the top of my head I can't give you a detailed answer." On such flimsy “evidence” is the case for armed aggression against Venezuela being constructed in Washington.

There is no doubt that all these newspaper articles and statements do not appear just by chance. One has the feeling that they are part of an orchestrated propaganda campaign aimed not only at isolating Venezuela, but also at preparing US public opinion for more direct forms of intervention against the Bolivarian Revolution. The self-same methods were used in the past to justify US interventions against the Cuban Revolution, the Arbenz government in Guatemala, the government of Salvador Allende in Chile, and more recently in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Grenada and Haiti. The hired press pours out a stream of abuse and calumnies in order to soften up public opinion. Then the heavy squad moves in. In some circles, this is known as the “freedom of the press”.

Otto Reich would know about this. In the 1980s he was at the head of the State Department’s Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean (OPD). This was nothing less than a propaganda outfit, which amongst other tasks coordinated the planting of editorial articles in newspapers openly backing the Contras and attacking those who criticised Washington's support for the murderous cut-throat gangs of thugs of the Contras in Nicaragua. The Iran-Contra investigation found that Reich, a Cuban exile, had carried out "prohibited, covert propaganda” on behalf of the Contras (the full declassified record of Otto Reich while involved in the OPD can be found at http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB40/).

But let's go back to Juan Forero's article. The only "sources" he gives for this toughening of US policy towards Venezuela are all "unnamed officials". The day after the article was published in The New York Times, Washington issued a denial of its contents, but in fact it was a “denial” that denied nothing. He said "“those are not reports that reflect any reality in terms of decisions by the United States to change its policy.” So, in fact what he means is that there is no change in the US policy, which was already very confrontational before Forero was briefed by his famous “unnamed officials".

Forero's journalistic record in relation to Venezuela is at best shaky. On the day after the military coup in Venezuela he wrote an article for The New York Times which did not mention the word "coup" once and had the amazing headline "Venezuela Chief Forced to Resign; Civilian Installed". This sounds like a well-rehearsed pantomime and it works like this: Washington leaks some disinformation it would like published to a friendly journalist. The material is published but no sources are quoted. Once the "news" is already in the public domain and has been picked up by the major news agencies and outlets, then the State Department issues a "denial" which is not reported anywhere. The damage has already been done.

It is clear that the US administration is increasingly hostile towards the Bolivarian revolution, which is standing firm against US imperialism. George Bush is frustrated because all the attempts to smash it have failed. But the strategy of isolating Venezuela from other Latin American governments has also failed so far. Donald Rumsfeld's recent tour of the region was not at all successful in this respect. But these failures do not mean that Washington will abandon its aggressive stance towards Venezuela. On the contrary, it means that its aggression will be stepped up and acquire dangerous proportions if it is not halted by a massive movement of protest from below.

This renewed campaign against the Venezuelan revolution represents a serious threat, which the world labour movement will neglect at its peril. In all previous occasions in which this kind of language has been used, it has always been the preparation for military intervention. Such interventions do not necessarily take the form of an actual invasion. The fact that the US army is bogged down in an unwinnable war in Iraq makes this a problematical option at this stage. But the examples of Chile and Nicaragua indicate that there are other options: a dirty war of terrorism and subversion, the assassination of President Chavez, provocations leading to war with Colombia, which the Pentagon has already turned into an armed camp. These and many other weapons are at the disposal of Bush, Rumsfeld and Rice.

All the warnings are present. The only force that can defeat the planned aggression against the Venezuelan Revolution is the international Labour Movement and the workers and the youth of the United States. It is time to sound the alarm! Venezuela is in danger! It is imperative that the workers, trade unionists, youth and students, intellectuals and artists, black and white, should unite to organize a protest movement so powerful that George Bush and the right wing gang in the White House are compelled to think again.

Let us not wait until it is too late. Let us act now to forestall this act of naked aggression of a powerful imperialist state against a South American country that is fighting for its most elementary rights: the right to national self-determination, the right to live its life in peace and to determine its own future without foreign interference, the right to build a society based on the principles of freedom, justice and equality.

This is the real reason why the most reactionary circles in the USA wish to destroy the Venezuelan Revolution: because it sets an example to the millions of poor and exploited people in the whole of Latin America. Furthermore, this is the path that the Venezuelan people have democratically chosen. Chavez and his policies have been ratified in more than 7 electoral contests and referenda since he was first elected in 1998. This example is dangerous, not to the ordinary citizens of the United States, the workers and the poor, but to Wall Street, to the banks, the big corporations and the oil barons who are the real constituents of George W. Bush.

This right wing administration, which is trying to depict Venezuela as a “danger to peace” because it is purchasing some rifles from Russia, is spending a staggering $500,000 million on arms every year. It is spending at least $6,000 million every month on the occupation of Iraq while slashing public expenditure on pensions and Medicare.

Let us act now! Reproduce this article, translate it and pass it on to as many people as possible. Pass resolutions of protest in your local trade union branch. Organize pickets, lobbies, rallies and demonstrations. The Hands Off Venezuela Campaign is preparing a major initiative for the First of May. Contact us now and join our fight against these criminal actions of the imperialists.

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