Saturday, March 11, 2006

Bush at the Tipping Point - A Lawless and Incompetent Leadership By RALPH NADER

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, two top outlaws smashing our country's rule of law and democratic liberties, are testing the American people's resistance. Every day they are testing. Every day they think by flaunting the words, "war on terror", they can get Americans to concede more and more of what makes the United States a constitutionally-abiding government under the rule of law.

You know what? With not enough exceptions, they are right. Day by day, we're giving up what our forefathers fought to bequeath us since that famous Declaration of Independence of 1776. They were determined that people in this country would not be arrested without charges and jailed indefinitely, that they would not be tortured, or sent to be tortured in dictatorial regimes, or deprived of habeas corpus to take their incarceration to our courts of law, or be snooped on at the whim of the President and his deputies or that people in faraway lands would be destroyed in the tens of thousands due to a fabricated war-invasion-quagmire.

They instituted a constitution so that people would not be jailed without "probable cause", or be lied to about taking this country and its soldiers to war, or have shoved aside the checks and balances represented by American courts and the Congress. All these are being done by two pro-Vietnam war draft dodgers!

What does all this tell you about all of us out there in the great United States of America? A giant yawn of "who cares" by citizens, nearly two-thirds of whom now have turned against these two White House fabricators in poll after poll regarding the war, the surrender to Big Business, the gross incompetence in managing taxpayer dollars and the Katrina disaster.

But listen, the rumble of resistance and opposition is getting louder and not just from the increasing number of public demonstrations around the country.

A new Zogby poll reports that 72% of American soldiers serving in Iraq think the U.S. should get out within the next year, including 58% of the Marines! Three-quarters of National Guard and Reserve units support withdrawal within 6 months. Every month, more former high-ranking military officers, intelligence officials and diplomats are declaring their opposition to the war.

For a few examples of many: Retired four-star General, Joseph P. Hoar, who commanded the U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf after the 1991 war, described the Iraq war as "wrong from the beginning". Similar tough criticism has come from John Deutch, former head of the CIA, Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor to President Carter and Brent Scowcroft, national security advisor to the first President Bush.

Retired General William Odom, former head of the National Security Agency and security adviser to Ronald Reagan, wrote that the Iraq war "is serving the interests of Osama bin Laden, the Iranians, and is fomenting civil war in Iraq." He describes the Iraq war as "the most strategic foreign policy disaster in U.S. history."

More recently, internal memos of criticism or dissent, Inspector General reports from Defense the Justice Department, and former highly-positioned staff within the Bush Administration, like Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to Colin Powell, are taking apart the public relations sheen concocted by the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld triad.

Now comes the conservative American Bar Association--400,000 lawyers--whose House of Delegates has overwhelmingly approved a task force report accusing President Bush, in polite legal language, of violating both the Constitution and federal law. ABA President Michael S. Greco sent it to Mr. Bush with a cover letter dated February 13, 2006 (see for the full report).

The mass media, which has finally produced many exposes of the Bush war, ignored the significance of this condemnation by the nation's largest body of lawyers, written in part by attorneys who have served in the FBI, CIA and NSA. It should have been page one news.

There comes a tipping point, however, when the opposition of the establishment, the public opinion of the citizenry, the disgust of the soldiers--their spreading casualties, diseases and mental traumas - and the corruption of the large corporate contractors to whom much of the military's functions have been outsourced, all congeal and overcome the cowardliness of most members of Congress. Then a surge of Congressional followers and allies of Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), war veteran and leading voice against the Bush Iraq policies, will come to the forefront.

The illegal, disastrous (to both Iraqis and Americans) Iraq war is now almost three years of quagmire old. The chaos and bloodshed are worsening.

It is time to make the spring of 2006 the tipping point period for constitutionalism, justice and a sane foreign and national security policy. More yawns must turn into growls from outside Washington, DC. See http://www.DemocracyRising.US for more information.

Las embajadas de Estados Unidos tienen tropas de elite expertas en asalto, captura y asesinato de "terroristas"

Donald Rumsfeld está colocando grupos militares especializados en “operaciones especiales” en un número creciente de embajadas de EEUU “para recolectar inteligencia sobre terroristas en lugares inestables del mundo”, tales como América del Sur y otras latitudes. Las tropas de elite, entrenadas para eventuales misiones de asalto, captura y muerte, se denominan Elementos Militares de Enlace, o Military Liaison Elements (MLE) y están adscritas al nuevo Comando de Operaciones Especiales, o Special Operations Command (Socom). Así lo informaron los periodistas Thom Shanker y Scott Shane, en el New York Times del 8 de marzo.

El reportaje explica cómo el departamento de Defensa militariza las embajadas, invade las esferas del departamento de Estado, subordina bajo su mando a todas las agencias de espionaje, provoca malestar entre las más antiguas, como la CIA y el FBI, e incluso “somete” las facultades de John D. Negroponte, designado por Bush para dirigir la llamada “comunidad de inteligencia como un zar del espionaje estadounidense global, interno y externo.

Jerarcas del Pentágono y altos oficiales militares dijeron a los periodistas que la presencia de tropas de elite en las embajadas corona dos años de esfuerzos del secretario de Defensa Donald H. Rumsfeld por asignar a los militares un rol de inteligencia más activo en la guerra al terrorismo. Pero crece el malestar entre algunos jefes de las agencias de inteligencia más antiguas, como la CIA, que resienten una incursión provocativa en sus dominios.

Las fuentes consultadas por Shanker y Shane dijeron que ya se instalaron hasta dos grupos de tropas MLE-Socom por cada embajada de una docena de países de Africa, Asia Sur Oriental y Sudamérica. El Pentágono asegura que en estas regiones existen terroristas que planean ataques, obtienen dinero o consiguen refugio seguro. Su tarea consiste en recopilar información para apoyar la planificación de misiones de contra-terrorismo y colaborar con militares locales en la conducción de sus propias operaciones, dijeron los funcionarios.

El affaire Paraguay

Las nuevas tareas en las embajadas dan mayores responsabilidades al Comando de Operaciones Especiales -de “despliegue rápido”- establecido por George W. Bush en marzo de 2004 para asumir el liderazgo en las operaciones militares anti terroristas. Estas nuevas tareas darían al Socom un papel preponderante en la organización de todos los esfuerzos de inteligencia de EEUU.

El Socom responde directamente a Rumsfeld y, por tanto, no está bajo el control de John D. Negroponte, ungido por Bush en un nuevo cargo de zar global de la inteligencia nacional, con poderes para supervisar a todas las agencias de EEUU. Un episodio que ocurrió antes en Paraguay con un equipo MLE subrayó el peligro de entrenar soldados para misiones secretas sensibles de combate en el exterior, escribieron los periodistas del NYT.

El diario recordó que uno de estos grupos MLE -que por lo demás gozan de total impunidad en los países en que operan- hace dos años tuvo que ser sacado de Paraguay después que sus miembros desplegados en ese país mataron a un ladrón armado de pistola y atacaron un club al que arribaron en un taxi. Como disparar no tenía que ver con su misión de fachada, el episodio desconcertó a los jefes de la embajada de EEUU en Asunción… porque nadie les había informado que ese equipo estaba operando en el país, según los informantes del diario.

Un funcionario que estuvo involucrado en los eventos pero tiene prohibición de hablar, dijo que los soldados no funcionaban en la embajada sino afuera, en un hotel. Ahora, según los oficiales del Socom, no puede arribar ningún equipo sin la aprobación del embajador local, los grupos funcionan en las embajadas y se adiestra previamente a los soldados para evitar metidas de pata de alto perfil.

Desconfianza en tanto espionaje

Las pautas dictadas por Negroponte establecen que el jefe de la estación CIA de cada país es quien asigna a las embajadas la mayoría de las coordenadas de inteligencia. En casi todas las representaciones diplomáticas existen, además, agregados de Defensa y personal militar que trabaja con las fuerzas armadas locales e informa a la Agencia de Inteligencia de Defensa, del Pentágono. Pero el nuevo personal del Socom tiene un papel militar más directo: satisfacer las nuevas responsabilidades militares de contra terrorismo, dijeron los informantes del NYT.

Las fuerzas del Socom incluyen a “boinas verdes” y a “rangers” del Ejército, a equipos especiales e infantería de Marina y a grupos de la Fuerza Aérea que realizan misiones militares especializadas o más secretas. Sus habilidades se extienden desde golpes rápidos a reconocimientos de largo alcance en territorio hostil, entrenamiento militar y asistencia médica.

La creación de los Elementos Militares de Enlace y el rol más belicoso asignado al Comando de Operaciones Especiales parecen haber exacerbado la desorganización, e incluso la desconfianza, que asignan los críticos del Congreso y del mundo académico a los esfuerzos anti terroristas del gobierno Bush.

Los funcionarios que aceptaron comentar reservadamente estos cambios dijeron que la situación podría requerir que Bush y sus principales consejeros de seguridad nacional y de Defensa actuaran como árbitros, fijando límites y clarificando las aspiraciones de los militares y de las agencias de inteligencia.

Muchos funcionarios activos y retirados de la CIA consideran exagerados los propósitos del Socom. Un tal Mr. Brennan -citado por los cronistas del NYT-, que ahora es presidente de una empresa contratista de inteligencia de Virginia llamada Analysis Corporation, dijo que los 'intereses de EEUU estarían mucho mejor servidos' si las operaciones Socom fueran coordinadas estrechamente con el país anfitrión y el embajador.

Pero el mismo Brennan agregó: “Con certeza, los problemas de EEUU en el exterior aumentarán significativamente si la presencia prevista de Socom en las embajadas de EEUU es un esfuerzo por pavimentar el camino a operaciones militares estadounidenses unilaterales o de permitir que elementos del Pentágono enganchen en actividades de acción encubierta independientes de la CIA'.

Supremacía del Pentágono

El portavoz CIA Paul Gimigliano dio una respuesta mesurada al programa, pero acentuó la importancia del jefe de la estación de la agencia en cada país. 'Hay un montón de trabajo alrededor', dijo. Y añadió: 'Una clave del éxito es que las actividades de inteligencia en un país dado estén coordinadas, un proceso donde el jefe de la estación desempeñe el papel crucial'.

Un funcionario del departamento de Estado dijo el martes: 'No tenemos ningún acuerdo con DOD respecto a esto', usando las iniciales del Department of Defense (departamento -o ministerio- de Defensa). El funcionario del departamento de Estado dijo que el programa Elementos Militares de Enlace fue establecido para “preservar la autoridad' del embajador o del jefe de la embajada.

El Comando de Operaciones Especiales no ha hecho pública la misión de los Elementos Militares de Enlace y ha respondido a las preguntas sobre sus planes sólo después que fueron descritos por funcionarios de otras instancias del gobierno que se oponen el programa.

'El MLE juega un rol clave de enlace militar, coordinación y planeamiento inter-agencias en el país anfitrión', dijo Kenneth S. McGraw, un portavoz del Comando de Operaciones Especiales basado en Tampa, Florida. El personal de operaciones especiales trabaja 'con el embajador de EEUU y conocimiento del equipo del país para planear y coordinar actividades', agregó.

Los funcionarios involucrados con el programa que conversaron con los reporteros del NYT dijeron que sus metas son la inteligencia y la planificación, y no conducir misiones de combate. Un oficial militar resumió lacónicamente el trabajo pero aclaró no estar autorizado a discutirlo públicamente, aunque dijo que han desplegado más de 20 equipos y que los planes llaman a que el esfuerzo sea ampliado significativamente.

En un cambio importante del centro de gravedad de los militares, el Unified Command Plan (Plan de Comando Unificado) firmado por Bush en 2004 estableció que ahora el Comando de Operaciones Especiales 'liderará, planeará, sincronizará y dirigirá la ejecución de operaciones globales contra redes terroristas', además de sus asignaciones más tradicionales de entrenar, organizar y equipar fuerzas de Operaciones Especiales para misiones bajo el mando de los comandantes regionales.

Pasión por el asesinato

El general Bryan D. Brown, comandante del Socom, y su equipo produjeron recientemente una estrategia de contra terrorismo descrita en más de 600 páginas que en las próximas semanas será presentada a Rumsfeld para su aprobación final.

Según funcionarios civiles y militares que leyeron el documento o conocieron resúmenes, se disponen blancos, misiones y plazos específicos para acciones inmediatas y a largo plazo.

Las metas del documento fijan las condiciones dondequiera que los militares pudieran desear actuar en el futuro, crear áreas inhóspitas para los terroristas y procurar la clase de información que el Comando Especial de Operaciones podría necesitar para funcionar.

Los Elementos Militares de Enlace fueron concebidos para operar en naciones donde no hay presencia masiva de militares estadounidenses y, en particular, donde EEUU no está en guerra. Así, los MLE pueden no necesitarse en puntos notoriamente calientes, como los países del Oriente Medio en que existen despliegues militares estadounidenses masivos.

Durante sus recientes viajes al exterior, el general Brown intentó explicar el programa a los funcionarios CIA y FBI basados en las embajadas. Tras largas conversaciones, logró adoctrinarlos como consejeros políticos asignados al departamento de Estado a tiempo completo, señalaron los periodistas del NYT.

Durante el verano pasado, Socom también llevó a cabo una conferencia en Tampa, Florida, para adoctrinar a los comandantes de Operaciones Especiales de otras naciones, seguida por una sesión en octubre en que el personal de las embajadas extranjeras de Washington fue instruido en la gama ideológica del contra terrorismo.

Un ex miembro del equipo de Operaciones Especiales que conversó con los periodistas Shanker y Shane dijo que el truco para hacer trabajar el programa consiste en navegar las rivalidades burocráticas dentro de las embajadas y detrás de las jefaturas de comando. 'Todo lo que usted tiene que hacer es lograr que todos, el embajador, el jefe de estación [CIA] y el Socom, piensen que usted está trabajando precisamente para ellos', dijo, bajo la condición de anonimato porque no está autorizado a discutir estos temas en público.

“Encuentre y mate”

Lee H. Hamilton, quien se desempeñó como vice presidente de la Comisión Nacional de los Ataques Terroristas del 11 de septiembre, dijo que los conflictos entre la CIA y las operaciones paramilitares excesivas del departamento de Defensa han ocurrido periódicamente por décadas, y que la comisión del 11/9 recomendó que el departamento de Defensa entregue el liderazgo de la responsabilidad de tal actividad.

También dijo que el programa planteó una óptica diferente a las embajadas. 'Si usted tiene dos o tres individuos del DOD que vagan alrededor de un país, ciertamente podrían causar algunos problemas', dijo Hamilton. 'Precisamente, se plantea la cuestión de quién está a cargo de la recolección de inteligencia'.

La guerra fría presentó a los militares blancos fáciles de hallar pero difíciles de matar, como una división armada soviética. La cruzada estadounidense anti terrorismo presenta blancos que son duros de encontrar pero relativamente fáciles de matar, como un líder de Al Qaeda.

El general Brown y el Comando de Operaciones Especiales ahora trabajan según un concepto que se ha convertido en el lema más nuevo del Pentágono: 'encuentre, controle, mate y siga”, o sea, localizar líderes terroristas, seguirlos con precisión, capturarlos o matarlos y, después, usar la información recopilada para planear otra operación.

'Los militares somos grandes en controlar y acabar con el enemigo, y en explotar cualquier base de operaciones que tomemos', dijo un comandante de Operaciones Especiales a condición de guardar su anonimato, porque no está autorizado a discutir estos temas en público. 'Sólo ‘hallar’ la pieza sigue siendo un arte primitivo. Socom no puede matar ni capturar a los malos a menos que la gente de Intel [inteligencia] pueda encontrarlos y, precisamente, eso no está ocurriendo'.

'El departamento de Defensa es muy impaciente en intensificar su participación en actividades de contra terrorismo y ha puesto sus ojos en responsabilidades operacionales tradicionales de la CIA y las autoridades', dijo Juan O. Brennan, oficial con 25 años en la CIA que dirigió el Centro Nacional de Contra Terrorismo hasta su retiro el año pasado. 'Absoluta y desafortunadamente, se está erosionando constantemente el importante rol de liderazgo de la CIA en muchas de estas áreas, y en un futuro muy cercano, la militarización actual de muchas funciones de inteligencia de la nación y las responsabilidades serán vistas como un gran error'.

* Ernesto Carmona, periodista y escritor chileno

Venezuela expresses alarm: FBI terror agents question recognized US academic

10 de marzo de 2006


The Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela today expressed its alarm at a report published by New America Media stating that FBI agents had questioned a recognized U.S. academic on his relations with Venezuela, if he had ever been asked to speak in Venezuela's favor, and on links between Venezuela and terrorism.

Two agents from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) visited Miguel Tinker-Salas, a widely respected professor at Pomona College in Claremont, California, on Tuesday, March 7.

He was questioned for 20 minutes on a number of issues related to Venezuela. Several of Professor Tinker-Salas’ students were also questioned, and the agents took note of cartoons displayed on his door. Tinker-Salas, who was born in Venezuela and identifies himself as a critic of U.S. foreign policy, noted in the published report that he considered the questions an attempt "to intimidate and silence" him.

The Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela considers this incident a violation of the freedoms of expression, thought and academic inquiry, and views the move as a desperate attempt to link Venezuela to terrorism. The Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela also believes this incident draws comparisons to the Cold War, when academics and activists were regularly questioned and intimidated by government officials for their political views.

The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is a pluralistic, free and sovereign country, one that maintains relations with academics of all political leanings.

The Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela recently helped Michael Shifter, Vice President of the Inter-American Dialogue, professor at Georgetown University, and critic of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, in setting up meetings with high government officials, including the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs for North America, the president of the National Assembly and the country's vice president, and did so with in respecting his academic activities and inquiries.

Venezuela condemns the actions taken by the FBI agents, expresses its solidarity with the academic community in the United States, calls upon U.S. authorities to provide an explanation for this incident and their policy towards Venezuela, and demands respect for our sovereignty.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Venezuela in Washington’s Sights by Salim Lamrani*

Since early 2006, US officials have increased their verbal attacks against Venezuela. US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld compared President Hugo Chavez to Hitler in an insult that is not an isolated action and which was made following Pat Robertson’s calls to assassinate the Venezuelan President. In the face of the left-oriented shift of Latin America’s politics, the Bush administration seems to be determined to block the re-election of the Bolivarian president. It looks like the design of the FTAA, the dream of the White House, will only be a reality over the ashes of a Bolivarian counter-model that they need to destroy.

Washington’s hostile policy towards the government of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez gains increasingly worrying momentum. In a recent document, the Pentagon called the “resurgence of authoritarian and populist movement in some countries like Venezuela [a] source of political and economic instability”. Such a statement is even more worrying, since the US Defence Department hardly ever cites countries in its strategic study (Quarterly Defence Review), published every four years; that department only limits itself to address general tendencies [1].

Some days before, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, had compared Hugo Chavez to Hitler before Washington’s National Press Club: “In Venezuela, we have Chavez, who possesses lots of money that stem from oil. He was legally elected, as Hitler was. Then, he has consolidated his power and is now working along Fidel Castro, Mister Morales and others ”, he said. [2]. “We have seen how some populist leaders have attracted the people in those countries, as well as elections such as that of Evo Morales in Bolivia, which are clearly worrying” he concluded [3].

Venezuela’s response was not long awaited. Vice-president José Vicente Rangel strongly condemned Rumsfeld aggressive statements: “We are not willing to passively accept that our government […] be attacked with impunity by people who are fully disqualified from the political, moral and ethical points of view, as the gang of the US Hitler, George Bush ” [4].

In the same direction, the director of intelligence services John Negroponte, accused Venezuela of “launching a militant foreign policy in Latin America, which includes the supply of oil at preferential prices in exchange for allies”. At the same time, he stigmatized the international TV channel Telesur, whose role is that of breaking the CNN supremacy in the continent. He told a senate committee that “Venezuela is the main challenge to security in the hemisphere” and that Washington’s priority is to block at any price the re-election of Hugo Chavez in December, 2006. At last, he threatened Bolivia, which “continues to give ambiguous signs about its intentions” [5].

“The militant foreign policy” advocated by John Negroponte refers to Venezuela’s solidarity cooperation, which allows many poor nations in the region to purchase fuel at preferential tariffs. The Prime Minister of Grenada, Keith Mitchell, signed an energy cooperation agreement with President Hugo Chávez, which stipulates the supply of 1,000 barrels of oil daily with a 50 percent discount over the market price. Venezuela has also send a group of military and civil engineers to Grenada in order to repair schools damaged by hurricanes. The integration model promoted by the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), fully contrary to the ultra-liberal and destruction-oriented Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), has strongly irritated the White House [6].

In the face of open threats by the Bush administration, Venezuela has decided to reinforce its defence capacity by purchasing fighter aircrafts in Spain. But, Washington has prohibited the José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to sell Venezuela the military equipment, outfitted with US technology, since the total sale calculated in 2 billion dollars could “contribute to the destabilization of Latin America”, according to Sean McCormack, spokesperson of the US State Department [7]. Also in that same direction, Brazil rejected the US prohibition by stating that it would proceed to sell 20 planes to Venezuela [8].

According to Washington, the sale of weapons to Venezuela would imply the risk of regional destabilization. McCormark explains that the “concerns focus on what we consider an exaggerated militarization of Venezuela” [9].
Meanwhile, the US company Lockheed Martin has just released several F-16 planes to Chile and it expects to send another eight of those planes to that country this year. Chile now possesses the most modern aircraft fleet in Latin America with that posing no inconvenience for the Bush administration, which is only obsessed about the progressive reforms undertaken by Caracas [10].

Along with the significant purchase of necessary weapons for the defence of his nation (100,000 infantry guns and 15 helicopters purchased in Russia), President Chávez has decided to create an army with one million volunteers in order to face and eventual US military invasion of Venezuela. The Bolivarian government has decided to follow the Cuban example in terms of its preparation for war. “Why did the gringos invade half of the world except Cuba? In Cuba all the people [are ready] and trained to defend each corner of their national territory and the Cuban Revolution”, said Chávez [11].

The United States have also launched a campaign of espionage and promotion of internal subversion by using its embassy in Caracas, with the aim of destabilizing the country, which has increasingly experienced social advancements achieved by the Chávez government. “Some low-ranking officers used to provide the Pentagon with information”, said the Venezuelan Vice-president. US military attaché John Correa, who had made contact with those officers to conspire against Venezuelan authorities, was expelled from the country [12]. As to the Venezuelan military, they were all tried for having cooperated with a foreign power [13].

In retaliation, Washington declared Jenny Figueredo Frias, head of the cabinet of Venezuelan ambassador to Washington Bernardo Alvarez, person non grata and, at the same time, admitted that it was an arbitrary measure: “This decision is in response to the expelling by Venezuela of Commander John Correa, naval attaché at the US embassy in Caracas”, said the spokesperson of the US State Department [14].

Tony Blair, a loyal and unconditional ally of the Bush administration proved his full subordination to Washington during a weekly session of the British Parliament. Labor party parliamentarian Colin Burgon faced the Prime Minister: “I am sure that your share the satisfaction many labor party lawmakers feel about the left-oriented shift of Latin America [with the coming to power of ] governments that fight for the interests of the majority and not for the interests of a minority”. Later, he asked Blair: “Would you agree that it would be bad for us to admit that our policy towards those countries, especially nations like Venezuela, be drawn up by the rightist republican agenda of the US government?” [15].

In a surprising way, Anthony Blair replied: “Up to certain extent”, in an attempt to justify his statement by affirming that it was “important that the Venezuelan government should understand that if it wants the respect of the international community, it must abide by the rules of the international community”. Evidently, we have to understand that “international community” here means “the United States”, whose “rules” must be enforced with no discussion at all. For Prime Minister Blair, the sovereignty of Britain ends where US interests begin [16].

Washington’s concern is currently based on Hugo Chávez, since he symbolizes Latin America’s political renovation by using national resources in the benefit of less favoured social classes. The Venezuelan government has just approved an impressing salary increase for public officials, which ranges from + 34 percent to + 61,8 percent and that stands for a 47 percent average increase. The Venezuelan government also raised minimum salaries for private employees up to 15 percent. Since the year 2000, the minimum salary in Venezuela has been raised each year from 20 to 30 percent. All the population has been benefited with incomes stemming from the country’s economic growth, which went up to 9,4 percent in 2005 [17].
In contrast, in France, the fifth World power with a highly praised social model, the salaries of public officials was only raised by 1 percent in 2005. Private sector wages registered a 0,6 percent increase in real terms (2,8 pecent increase minus 2,2 percent inflation). “21st Century socialism”, promoted by President Chávez is not to be applied soon in France, where the government has undertaken a merciless anti-social policy since 2002 [18].
In the same way, one billion bolivares (Venezuelan currency) was destined to the “Barrio Adentro III” mission, a government-led free-of-charge and universal medical program. The money will allow the purchase of 30,932 medical equipment (ambulances and others). The fund, which stems from an oil surplus, is directly invested in the social sector [19].
The only-of-its-kind public health system developed in Venezuela thanks, among other factors to the assistance given by 15,000 Cuban doctors, has allowed for 163 million medical consultations; that is, 8 consultations per person. The “Barrio Adentro I” mission has saved 31,186 lives thanks to the setting up of 1,012 popular medical offices in the poorest regions, which will be joined by another 20, 359 similar facilities. The “Barrio Adentro II” mission has created 100 integral diagnosis centers, which provide comprehensive medical assistance; while another 500 similar centres are being built throughout the country. At last, with the implementation of the “Miracle Mission” led by Cuba, more than 176,000 Venezuelans who had lost their sight as a consequence of cataracts, were submitted to free-of-charge eye surgery by Cuban specialists [20].

Unemployment has continue to decrease in Venezuela from 13,2 percent in June 2005 down to 11,4 percent in December that year. The efficient government policy has allowed 367,199 people to find a job [21].

UNESCO recognized the outstanding social achievements of the Bolivarian Revolution by awarding President Hugo Chávez the José Martí International Prize. The distinction stresses the efforts made by Chávez in favour of Latin American and Caribbean unity, as well as the preservation of regional identities, traditions and cultures [22]. In effect, Venezuela provides its neighbors with oil at preferential tariffs, as well as some US zones, such as Vermont, Maine and Rhode Island. Inhabitants of those regions, abadonmed by the Bush administration, will be able to purchase fuel at 40-percent subsidized tariffs by Venezuela’s Citgo subsidiary. “That will translate into the saving of some million dollars for the people of Vermont”, said Erin Campbell, spokesman of Vermont [23].

On February 6, the Bush administration released its budget project for 2007, which includes significant increase in funds for the defence, internal security and foreign affairs. The US defence budget surpasses all records with a total of 439,3 billion dollars; that translates into a 6,9-percent rise respect to last year. At the same time, the budgets dedicated to health, justice, education and other sectors were drastically decreased. For instance, 141 social programs will undergo reductions or be interrupted. A 65-billion-dollar reduction is expected to affect the Medicare program, which provides medical attention to the elderly or physically impaired people. Pensions are also be deeply affected. Two contrary models of society face each other, the one in Caracas and the other in Washington. In the first the wellbeing of the population is at the center of the national program, while in the other, the development of the military industrial complex continues to be the absolute prioritiy [24].

While the Bush administration is willing to do just anything in order to avoid a new electoral victory by Hugo Chávez on December 3, 2006, Venezuela continues to implement reforms aimed at further improving the standard of living of the population. Its prestige in the continent is proportionally direct to the twilight of US influence in the region. The reason for that is quite simple: while Venezuela has destined 28 billion dollars in terms of external assistance for its neighbors for a seven-year term—an annual average of 3,6 billion dollars—, the United States has announced a massive decrease of its contribution for the year 2007, with a 28,5-percent fall in the assistance for the development of Latin America and the Caribbean, a 10-percent fall in medical assistance and an 11-pecent decrease of its financial contribution to the Organization of American States (OAS). Messages also opposed each other in this area: Caracas contributes 3,6 billion dollars annually as part of its assistance for Latin America, while Washington expects to decrease its 1,2 billion-dollar economic support [25].

The Bolivarian government successfully challenges the neo-liberal doctrine, which is unsustainable in social, economic and political terms and that explains the anger of the White House. Despite several aggressions and threats coming from the U.S., President Chávez launched signs of opening to Washington by saying: “If they change that attitude, we will respond in the same way. Everything can be improved […] if they show respect for our sovereignty, respect for our decisions”. However, is not very probable that reason and dialog lie in the heart of the belligerent Bush administration [26].

Salim Lamrani
French researcher at the University of Sorbonne, specialised in the US-Cuba relations.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Iraqi Chickens Come Home To Roost

The rulers of the United States seem to make the same mistakes, every time. They empowered the Pakistani government, which created the Taliban that took over Afghanistan, and provided a haven for Osama bin Ladin. That same government's nuclear scientist, Mr. Khan, then proceeded to spread the technology of proliferation around the globe.

George Bush thanked the military dictator of Pakistan for slapping Mr. Khan on the wrist. Meanwhile, Mr. Khan's genies are out of the bottle, and liable to wind up in one of our ports, in a cargo container, some day. It's just a matter of time.

The greedy gluttons of the Republican Party have brought that time much closer, through another unholy alliance, with the government of the United Arab Emirates. It was that government that acted as a go-between with the Taliban for the United States. They did Washington's bidding, and are still doing it in the Middle East. So they are to be rewarded with a contract to handle all those cargo containers coming through U.S. ports. Even Republicans can't stomach that, but their greed is much stronger than their racism. The connections between the United Arab Emirates and the United States are ties of rich men. They have the logic of money, not ideology, or even of race.

And now we see the wholesale spread of fratricide in Iraq, promulgated by the Shi'ite militias that the United States installed as the military and police rulers of the country. What did they think the Shi'ites would do, once armed by the Americans? Apparently, these Americans don't think too well. They always make the same mistakes, and then blame the rest of the world for their stupidity.

I suppose it is, overall, a good thing that the Iraq venture is coming apart at the seams, although one cannot revel in the killings of hundreds in the fiasco that the United States has created. But it is amazing that these Americans, who set such diabolical forces in motion with billions of our tax dollars, always claim to have been victimized. Now, they want to demonize the Arabs of the Emirates, who were their great friends in the disaster that became Afghanistan. Will they finally turn on the Pakistanis – who have the only Islamic nuclear bomb? Have they changed their minds about the Shi'ites, whom they hated when the Ayatollahs took over Iran, but then armed against the Sunnis in Iraq – which has led to the holocaust sweeping that country?

It is clear that madmen are in command of the world's only superpower. What is worse, is that these madmen are rather stupid. They fund the Taliban, and support the fragile military regime in Pakistan, and wind up arming the Shi'ites in Iraq, while at the same time planning to attack the Shi'ite regime in neighboring Iran. What a bunch of idiots. But very dangerous idiots.

Bush, Chavez, and Hitler by Jacob G. Hornberger

U.S. officials become angry and indignant when someone compares the Bush administration’s policies to those of the Hitler regime. Even government officials at the local level get upset over the comparison, as reflected by the public schoolteacher who is under investigation for comparing Bush’s policies to those of Hitler in his classroom.

Ironically, however, the anger and indignation felt by U.S. officials when someone compares Bush’s policies to those of Hitler does not stop U.S. officials from comparing foreign leaders to Hitler.

The most recent example was when Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld compared Venezuela’s democratically elected president, Hugo Chavez, to Hitler, saying, “He’s a person who was elected legally — just as Hitler was elected legally — and then consolidated power and now is, of course, working closely with Fidel Castro and Morales and others.”

When Rumsfeld compares Chavez to Hitler, he’s obviously not suggesting that Chavez is setting up deaths camps to commit another Holocaust. He’s simply saying that Chavez, like Hitler, is “consolidating power” and working closely with foreign rulers who, like Chavez, refuse to submit to the dictates of the U.S. Empire.

Consider Fidel Castro. The beef that U.S. officials have with Castro is not that he has imposed a communist/socialist order in Cuba. After all, U.S. officials fully support the types of socialist programs that Castro has put into place, such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public schooling, income taxation, gun control, drug laws, occupational licensure, and equalization of income. U.S. officials even have no problems repatriating Cuban refugees back into Castro’s communism.

Their primary beef with Castro is that he simply has always refused to become a member of the U.S. Empire and thereby do the bidding of U.S. officials, like his predecessor Fulgencio Batista did. If Castro had done that, U.S. officials would no more complain about what he did inside Cuba than they complain about what their unelected military dictator in Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, does inside his country. Musharraf, of course, became a full-fledged, fully paid member of the U.S. Empire after 9/11, eagerly accepting hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. foreign aid and presumably abandoning his deeply held, pre-9/11 commitment to the Taliban.

It’s the same thing with Bolivia’s newly elected president Evo Morales, to whom Rumsfeld was referring when he compared Chavez to Hitler. The immediate beef that U.S. officials have with Morales is that he’s going “independent” by threatening to end the war on drugs in Bolivia, a war that has torn not only Bolivia apart but also Colombia, Mexico, and many other Latin American nations. The problem, however, is that U.S. federal officials need this war — their budgets depend on it and their jobs depend on it. In fact, for some government officials, both at the state and federal level, their bribes depend on it. Thus, despite the fact that the drug war has totally failed to accomplish its objective — the elimination of drugs and drug abuse in the United States — as a recent official U.S. government report reflects, U.S. officials demand that foreign regimes continue waging it. That’s one reason they’re upset with Morales — he’s not buying into the drug-war nonsense. And so they’re expressing their displeasure with Morales by suggesting that he is now associating with “Hitler.”

Ironically, even as Rumsfeld calls Chavez “Hitler” for consolidating power, no one can deny that ever since 9/11, Bush has done everything he can to “consolidate power,” as evidenced by the USA PATRIOT Act, the unconstitutional assumption of power to declare war, the illegal attack and war of aggression on a country that had never attacked the United States, the illegal spying on Americans by recording their telephone conversations without a judicially issued warrant, the jailing and punishment of Americans without due process of law, illegal kidnapping and “rendition” of prisoners to foreign regimes for the purposes of torture, and of course the illegal torture, sex abuse, rape, and murder of detainees by U.S. forces.

Unfortunately, when U.S. officials such as Rumsfeld compare Chavez to Hitler for “consolidating power,” their own arrogance and hubris prevent them from seeing that President Bush has been doing the exact same thing ever since 9/11 — and arguably to a much greater extent than Chavez — “consolidating power.” While they have no hesitancy in placing the label of “Hitler” on foreign leaders for doing so, U.S. officials scratch their heads in befuddlement when foreigners place the label of “hypocrites” upon them.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. Send him email.

Bolivia to write new constitution

Bolivian President Evo Morales has signed a law convening a special assembly to rewrite the constitution.
Mr Morales said Bolivia would be refounded, with indigenous peoples playing the role that they had been denied for hundreds of years.

Mr Morales also signed a law calling a referendum on greater regional autonomy, which will be held on 2 July.

He was elected in December 2005, pledging to reform the constitution and give more power to indigenous peoples.

Economic reform?

The assembly is expected to spend up to a year drawing up a new constitution before it is put to a referendum.

The 255-strong group, which will have a quota of women members, is also scheduled to be elected on 2 July.

Sessions are to be held in the city of Sucre.

Correspondents say the document is likely to increase indigenous rights and state control of the Bolivian economy.

Mr Morales has said the free-market model does not work in Bolivia, and the partial privatisation of basic services and natural resources should be reversed.

He called on Bolivians to take part in the country's reforms.

The July referendum is aimed at decentralising power in Bolivia. In the past, governors were appointed by the president, not by popular vote.

Global Gathering - The Social Forum of the Americas

The planning committee of the World Social Forum (WSF) 2005 decided that 2006 would be a year of "polycentric" (decentralized) meetings around the world. Gatherings were to be held in Africa, South America, Pakistan, and Thailand. Michael Albert and I, representing Z, attended the Social Forum of the Americas in Caracas from January 24-29, 2006—he was there to speak at a few of the sessions, I was there to film several events.

The World Social Forum—with the theme "another world is possible" --was first held in January 2001 as an alternative to the World Economic Forum, which is sponsored by such global capitalist institutions as the World Bank and the IMF. Since 2001, the WSF has been attended each year by close to 100,000 progressives who come to participate in "an open meeting place where social movements, networks, NGOs, and other civil society organizations opposed to neoliberalism and a world dominated by capital or by any form of imperialism come together to pursue their thinking, to debate ideas democratically, to formulate proposals, share their experiences freely, and network for effective action" (from the WSF Charter).

Approximately 80,000 were registered for the event in Caracas— with the largest delegations coming from Venezuela, Brazil, and Colombia. The six day event began with a wild ride from the airport over roads through mist-covered mountains surrounding Caracas. A key bridge was out on the main road so what was usually a thirty minute trip took anywhere from an hour and a half to five hours. We made it to the downtown Hilton Hotel where we were staying in just over two hair-raising hours. At the hotel, the lobby was filled with arrivals checking in and reuniting with old friends. We ran into friends from prior Social Forums, many of whom now write for Z, as well as a few graduates from Z Media Institute.

The first day began with a 4:00 PM march of tens of thousands through the streets of Caracas. The march is an especially important event because the sessions are held in many different venues, often spread across the host city, so the march is almost the only chance to get a sense of the size and mood of the participants. The Caracas march was lively and noisy. It was also anti-Bush (as were most of the sessions). The banners were mainly from organizations, unions, and left parties and reflected those groups’ particular issues and cultural clothing and colors, lending diversity to the event. However, it would be nice one day to see some unifying positive slogans, beyond "another world is possible."

The next five days were filled with a total of 2,000 sessions that began at 8:30 AM and continued until 9:00 PM. Activities by topic were:

Power, politics, and struggles for social emancipation: 493
Imperial strategies and peoples’ resistance: 314
Alternatives to the predatory model of civilization: 272
Diversities, identities, and worldviews in movement: 132
Work, exploitation, and reproduction of life: 183
Communication, culture, and education: 389
A quick survey of the 20 or so panels being held at the Hilton indicated that attendance was generally fewer than 100 people per session. We figured that number was pretty much the case at the 20 or so other venues. We did hear of sessions with a few thousand, but they were rare. While the numbers seemed small to us, relative to some of the sessions at the World Social Forums in Porto Alegre, Brazil and Mumbai, India, we observed a great deal of enthusiasm among the majority of attendees.

Meanwhile hundreds of participants were wandering halls and streets, enjoying just being there and talking with like-minded people. Interestingly, this distribution between sessions, private meetings, and just hanging out is reflected in a survey taken at the WSF 2005, which showed that 49.8 percent of participants in the Social Forum movement were there to exchange experiences with other participants; 47.8 percent wanted to contribute to a better society; 42.4 percent came for democratic debate; and 20.6 percent came to formulate proposals for alternatives to the neoliberal model.

On the morning of the fourth day, word of mouth indicated that Hugo Chavez was going to speak that evening, even though the program listed him as apearing two days later. We were hustled onto a bus of "important guests" for a 30-minute ride to an indoor stadium. There we were split into more "important guests" who were taken to a room to wait for a quick meeting with Chavez and the "less important guests" (us) who were taken to a special section on the stadium floor.

For the next three hours, we filmed the crowd in the stadium as they cheered, drummed, chanted, and danced. Finally, there was some entertainment, followed by the arrival on stage of the "more important guests" (including Che Guevara's daughter and Cindy Sheehan). After some additional security checks, Chavez arrived.

While the hierarchical "important guest" business was annoying, Hugo Chavez was impressive. He spoke to the crowd as if chatting with old friends. He boldly urged solidarity with Cuba, which, until Chavez, had been isolated--even condemned--by Latin Americans, right and left.

He quoted and/or referred to Marx, Rosa Luxemburg, and Noam Chomsky, among others (we're told he's a avid reader). It was amusing to compare his reading material with what we imagined our president’s was. He made a hopeful and inspiring case for a unified Latin America--a Bolivarian Revolution--that could serve as a progressive model throughout the world, as well as a challenge to U.S. domination.

He revealed that he had met with a few of the WSF organizers behind the scenes (some of whom were onstage). In that meeting he had told them that it was fine to have discussions, but if the Forum didn't result in conclusions and actions, then it was a waste of time.

The debate between those who want to keep the WSF a forum and those who want it to move toward a global movement organization with common goals and strategies has been going on since 2003. Answers to the aforementioned questionnaire are revealing in this respect. When asked where they considered themselves on the political map, 60.1 percent thought of themselves as left, 19.8 percent were center-left, 4.5 percent were center, 0.6 percent center right, and 1.6 percent was right (13.4 percent had no opinion).

When asked what process should be used for building "the other possible world," 90.4 percent said the road should include "strengthening the mobilization of civil society on a global, continental, national, and local level"; 72.3 percent said the path should include “the democratization of governments”; 59.3 percent said it should include direct action; 59.2 percent said it should include "the democratization of multilateral organizations (UN, WTO, World Bank, IMF)"; and 13.5 percent believed it should include "direct action with the use of force."

The direction the WSF should take is a difficult issue, but it's not clear why organizing a movement and continuing a forum structure can’t both be done. We've suggested in these pages that a portion of the WSF could be dedicated to discussion and decision-making leading to the founding of a movement organization or network that could aggressively promote common visions and values for "another world."

Regardless of what happens, it is extremely important for activists from the U.S. to become part of this growing global left. It would show the rest of the world that there is a left in the U.S. that is resisting the empire from within. It would remind those of us who feel isolated, and often discouraged, that there are other people in the world who want a revolution in values and institutions.

THE TRUTH ABOUT SEPTEMBER 11 - Must we wait for Bush to fall?

Must we wait for Bush to fall?
• New revelations incriminate the U.S. government in the tragic events that cost thousands of lives in New York


EXACTLY what happened on September 11, 2001 in New York is still is a mystery. Investigators say that they are just waiting for the Bush administration to fall to demand the declassification of documents that would reveal the truth about what happened that day.

For many, indications and criminal evidence are already sufficiently overwhelming regarding the complicity of the U.S. administration in the events of that fateful day, when endless hours of broadcasts on U.S. television networks showed, one million times, an image that engraved itself on humanity’s memory as the Twin Towers collapsed in flames after being hit by two planes, as well as the official version of those events.

Since then, the world has been informed of what some experts are calling a fraud, because they are stating that the Twin Towers were destroyed by the U.S. administration itself to justify its current wars.

Just a few days after the dreadful event, some writers dared to hint that they did not believe the official information. They based themselves on flagrant facts; for example, the collapse of the World Trade Center occurring just as if it were a controlled demolition, referred to by highly experienced specialists.

Seasoned journalists began investigating along those same lines in order to confirm that today’s world history is built on an enormous shady deal.

In February 2002 it was announced that the Pentagon had decided to enter the media business. From then on the Office of Strategic Influence (OSI), discreetly created after September 11, placed news items and other material supporting U.S. interests in the international media in order to create a favorable atmosphere for U.S. military operations and to counteract opposing views, such as the one that the attacks on New York on September 11, 2001 and on London on July 7, 2005 were to be simulated ones¼

It also refuted a documentary by British director Adam Curtis titled The Power of Nightmares, an entry in the Cannes Film Festival, in which he affirms that the nightmare of international terrorism known as Al Qaeda does not exist. According to the documentary, it is just another invention of the United States, which manufactures such horrors to justify its interventions and interests.

Or to influence voters, as was the case a few days before the U.S. presidential elections, when surprise TV reports disclosed a statement by Bin Laden threatening to attack the United States. When referring to the video broadcast four days before the November 2, 2004 elections, Bush confessed that the Al Qaeda leader “didn’t mean to” but had helped him to win.

In addition, U.S. investigator Michael C. Ruppert pointed to Vice President Dick Cheney as the top suspect in the September 11 attacks.

Meanwhile, in a series of conferences on Sept. 11 organized in Europe’s main capitals, U.S. journalists and writers affirmed the Bush administration’s responsibility for organizing the attacks, with an outcome that has enabled the stabilization of an exceptional regime in that country.

According to Andreas von Bulow, former German minister of defense and head of intelligence, in a revelation that has passed by unnoticed, the Sept. 11 attacks were the product of an undercover CIA operation, with immediate destruction of the evidence left at the sites of the events.

It is also claimed that the attack on the World Trade Center was anticipated by arms manufacturers, who are constantly asking for more money for their military budgets. According to analysts at the Rand Corporation in the United States, the Sept. 11 events were unimaginable, and constitute a revolution in terrorist acts, thus justifying the allocation of unlimited funds to combat terrorism. However, they themselves had analyzed in detail the unimaginable. Six months before the attacks, there was discussion at a U.S. Air Force Academy on the possibility of an air attack on the Twin Towers.


In addition, Stanley Hilton, who was head of the team of former U.S. presidential candidate Bob Dole, accused the U.S. government of having been involved in the attacks. Hilton said that a group of high-ranking military officers affirm that members of the government were involved in the attacks.

He believes that Bush ordered the attack with the complicity of Cheney, Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, and the director of the CIA.

Alex Jones, a U.S. journalist, interviewed Hilton, a lawyer, who represents the majority of the families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, who are suing the government for $ 7 billion. Today, according to a survey by Zogby, half of New York’s residents believe the government was involved in the events.

Another argument of Hilton’s – for which he says he has evidence – is that the plane hijackers were FBI and CIA double agents who infiltrated different Islamic groups resident in the United States. He also affirms that when the U.S. population witnessed Bush’s indifference on television when the New York attacks were being explained to him, it was because the president already knew what was planned for that day.

Maneuvers by World Trade Center owners before and after the attack on the Twin Towers are similarly suspicious. Seven weeks before the attacks, Larry Abraham Silverstein, backed by a large number of investors, signed a 99-year leasing contract on those buildings. The names of those very wise investors remain a secret; seven weeks after that action, they cashed in on the colossal insurance of $3.5 billion.

Let’s say that the tragedy was not what those investigators are claiming. If that is the case, it turns out that for almost a decade, more than 200 countries, headed by the United States and the United Kingdom, have been at the mercy of one single organization that acts throughout the planet at its whim, without all of the arsenals and repressive agencies of those countries being sufficient to overcome that sinister terrorist monopoly. The most astute and efficient terrorist organization in the world in humanity’s entire history is supposedly in hiding in the Islamic Third World...

And to force it out of its lair, the United States and Britain have launched two wars in Middle Eastern countries and are threatening others. But four years later, after hundreds of thousands of deaths and the extraction of millions of barrels of oil, neither of them have any idea of the whereabouts of its main ringleader, Osama Bin Laden, who has not even shaven off his beard to give them the slip.

They don’t even know where the “second-in-command” is after he disappeared into the Afghan mountains on a motorcycle.

Goebbels, the Nazi, used to say that if lies are repeated often enough, they become the truth. He was right, but only for a short while. In 1930 and post-1930, they could be sustained for quite some while; but the current very bombardment of information means they don’t last as long.

At the very moment that the attacks took place, people who tuned into CNN might well have thought they were watching a movie when the first plane crashed. When they saw the second one, they realized that it was not a movie, and heard the announcer say off-air, very excited, that at least 50,000 people were probably in the buildings at the time. Perhaps someone remembers that. That was followed by pandemonium, shouting, etc.

When the total number of dead was given, the announcer’s quote sounded very concise. How did it drop from 50,000 to 5,000, and subsequently to the final count of 3,500? What happened to the other 42,500 people? The next day, on a Spanish-language radio station, Latin American residents of New York who worked at the Twin Towers were interviewed by Uruguayan and Argentine journalists, and told them why they had not gone to work that day. Their explanations were suspiciously identical: “My boss called and said not to come in;” “I work at such-and-such a company and they told me the day before not to go in on the 11;” “a coworker called to say that he had received instructions not to go in.”

Suspiciously, almost all the deaths were of maintenance and cleaning personnel. That detail alone led to the thinking that there was a cat in the bag, and later, further evidence emerged after exhaustive studies. History is full of versions aimed at preparing the terrain for an invasion; later, it was learned that the police and firefighters were banned from making statements about the events of Sept. 11.

Meanwhile, the U.S. people are living in a cloud of ignorance, and a half century will have to go by before other generations find out about the secrets kept locked away in safes by the masterminds of the crime.

Challenging the mighty dollar - If major nations trade on Iran's oil bourse, it may start a 'dollar flight' effect By Ramin Davoodi

Challenging the mighty dollar

If major nations trade on Iran's oil bourse, it may start a 'dollar flight' effect

By Ramin Davoodi

It's becoming increasingly obvious that there is a looming crisis brewing over Iran. The true 'whys' and 'what's' of the issue, however, are clouded to the American public due to our modern press and to the nature of the underlying stakes involved.

What people read is that there is a growing threat of a nuclear Iran that will threaten the safety of the West. Yet, that's essentially all that is said or written on the issue. However, to critically thinking people who turn to the internet and to foreign press for their news, the brewing crisis most likely has to do with intricate issues involving our incessant dependencies, not just on oil for our transportation and industrial needs, but more importantly for the means by which our modern economic system operates in the US, UK and much of the rest of the industrialized western world (strong hint: It's not a truly "free market").

You see, control over global oil trading and pricing standards essentially underwrites the sanctity of the US dollar as a fiat (i.e. government mandated) currency for trade and investments. Were anything to threaten that delicate arrangement between control over oil pricing in particular, and our economic system in general, then there would be tectonic shifts in global finance to the detriment of the banks and energy companies that essentially dictate the means and mores of modern US-dominated geopolitics, trade and wealth creation around the world.

I use the term "detriment" because of the conspicuously Himalayan-sized US trade and fiscal deficits that are not being reconciled by our government with the nations of the world that lend their savings to the US. Meanwhile, these nations are simultaneously being forced to buy and sell oil using our weakening dollar. Something's gotta give.

Those that sense this issue is either a bit too simplistic, archaic or even far-fetched should consider that the only two oil trading systems in the world right now -- the International Petroleum Exchange (IPE) in London and the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) -- are owned by large global banks based in either the US or UK (Goldman Sachs, et al.).

It should come as no coincidence that the ownership of the oil exchanges that set the West Texas Intermediate (in the US) and the North Sea Brent Crude (in the UK) oil markers -- two markers which, in turn, determine the price of oil per barrel globally -- is in the hands of Wall Street's largest investment banks.

What does all of this have to do with Iran?

In 2004, Iran decided to do what Iraq did before it -- start the process of eventually selling its oil and natural gas in euros instead of the globally mandated US dollar. Yet, Iran is 'one-upping' Iraq by starting its own energy exchange, labeled the Iran Oil Bourse, which would rival the aforementioned exchanges in London and New York.

[It's interesting to note here that, in a particularly instructive scene in the movie "Syriana", the Saudi Prince Nasir played by Alexander Liddig retorts to Matt Damon's character 'Bryan' that, indeed, Nasir wishes to set up his own national oil exchange, along with other progressive steps necessary to improve the infrastructure of his nation. Prince Nasir's fate in the film is also understandable, in light of such ambitious yet noble yearnings.]

This oil bourse is set to float in Tehran in March 2006. Although scoffed at as wildly implausible by market analysts in the US and UK, the bourse has also been seen as potentially very lucrative for investors and nations' central banks that wish to diversify their currency holdings and energy trading reserves away from the US dollar. Upon prudent observation, and on par, the input of the latter crew outweigh the scoffings of the former (just do a Google search using the words "oil", "Iran", "bourse" and for extra kicks, "NYMEX").

Were nations such as China, Russia, India, Germany, Venezuela, Brazil and even Saudi Arabia to consider participating in trades on this bourse in Iran, it may start a 'dollar flight' effect that the US Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, and said select investment banks would have trouble ceasing or reversing under already agreed upon trading schemes that were set in the mid-1970s (see the new book, "Petrodollar Warfare" by William Clark for the well researched history).

Basically, our global economic system is so overleveraged, profligate and tightly wound up, that something as seemingly obscure as an energy exchange starting in Tehran can potentially unravel the whole, intricate Monetarist Ponzi Scheme (regrets to Milton Friedman, but 'the gig is up', so to speak.).

And apparently, rather than approach the issue through much-needed negotiations with other industrialized nations so as to provide a fiscal soft landing for the dollar's debts while allowing for development in certain poorer countries, our government is apparently choosing to go to war instead.

Again. Not just any war, mind you, but with a nation of near-70 million nationalistic people who we've alienated for over a generation already. A people who claim, at least in public, to want to perform the change away from oil-as-prime-energy dependence that alternative energy gurus push so heavily in the West.

Some articles that announce, speculate and outright fret about the likelihoods of such a scenario are provided below:

-- "Trading oil in euros – does it matter?", by Cóilín Nunan
-- "Iran: the next war", John Pilger
-- "Petrodollar Warfare: Dollars, Euros and the Upcoming Iranian Oil Bourse", by William Clark
-- "The Proposed Iranian Oil Bourse", by Krassimir Petrov

"Still", people claim, "that doesn't change the fact that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons." One certainly shouldn't trust the Iranian government's word on why they seek to procure nuclear technology, yet a rationalist and realist would sense that, if a major oil exporting nation wishes to launch an oil bourse that could be deemed as threatening to the US/UK-backed energy status quo, then that nation would also seek to adequately arm itself against inevitable attempts at regime change.

"Yes, but the mullahs want to wipe Israel off the map". In light of the already preexisting nuclear power inherent in Israel, Pakistan, Russia, India and obviously the US (which surrounds Iran with military bases), it doesn't make all that much sense that Iran would want nukes just so that it can conduct a first strike against another nation.

Iran's mullahs may be hardliners, but they're not suicidal, considering the riches Iran sits on. That would contradict the logic of deterrence, just as our government's building up of further tactical nuclear weapons, and recent shipping of hundreds of such "bunker busters" to Israel, contradicts the logic of anti-proliferation that Iran and others are apparently supposed to abide by. Please.

Lately, former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter and other pundits have claimed that a likely scenario will go like this: The US or Israel will attack Iran's nuclear targets, Iran will retaliate by: 1) attacking Israel, and/or 2) trying to take out key oil production areas in the Gulf, and/or 3) Iranians will blitz across the Iraqi border. Upon such retaliation, the US will then drop a nuclear weapon on Iran to halt any further aggression; as such an act did against Japan 61 years ago. [See: "Ex-U .N. inspector: Iran’s next"]

If this is the extent, more or less, of Washington's war gaming, we're in trouble, because it assumes that Russia and China, two juggernauts that are heavily invested in Iran's energy and security sectors, will not respond viscerally to prevent Iran's oil and gas from being taken from them by the US, UK and Israel. China could also use a growing quagmire with Iran as an alleyway chance to finally 'annex' Taiwan once and for all (Russia and China were conducting joint military exercises last year very close to Taiwan).

Other nations, sensing a growing nuclear catastrophe, could dump the US dollar altogether as the Federal Reserve and Treasury print currency by the metric tonnes out of thin air to feed the frenzy (which may already be in the works, as the Fed will cease revealing the M3 aggregate money figure in, of all months, March 2006.). Oil would surpass $200/barrel in the US, gold would break $1000/troy ounce and martial law would be declared in multiple nations.

All because our government refuses to renegotiate the terms under which energy commodities are priced and traded around the world, despite the clear urgency for monetary and fiscal reform.

One has to ask oneself, in an apt yet still eerie paraphrase of Bud Fox's poignant question posed to Gordon Gekko in the movie "Wall Street":

How many wars will be enough?

Shock And Awe; The sequel By Mike Whitney

The Bush administration has unilaterally repealed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) by demanding that Iran cease all uranium enrichment. This action overturns the central principle of the treaty which provides states with the “inalienable right” (NPT phrase) to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. Two years of intrusive inspections by the UN watchdog agency (IAEA) have not produced “any evidence of nuclear weapons programs” or any diversion of nuclear material. Nevertheless, the US insists that Iran be deprived of the same right that is afforded to every other signatory of the NPT.

What gives Washington the right to rescind an internationally-recognized treaty?

White House press secretary Scott McClellan summarized the administration’s view saying, “We’ve made it clear as have many in the international community that the regime must suspend all enrichment activity. It cannot be allowed to pursue enrichment in any capacity on any scale that would allow the regime to develop technologies needed to develop nuclear weapons.”

McClellan’s comments are a clear violation of the letter and spirit of the treaty which is not intended to arbitrarily deprive any member of the advantages of nuclear technology. The administration’s brazen declaration puts the onus on the 35-member board of the IAEA to reject their demands. Unfortunately, most of them are already cowed by the bullying tactics of the US.

This tells us that the system is broken and cannot be expected to provide solutions to this or any of the other pressing issues that face the world community. The “superpower model” of governance allows one party to quash agreements on global warming, nuclear proliferation, chemical-biological weapons and anything else that isn’t in its narrow, subjective interests.

Will the member states cave in on these species-threatening issues too, simply to please Washington?

The Iran Daily; 3-7-06

A last minute compromise by Iran’s foreign-minister left IAEA-chief Muhammad ElBaradei believing that a negotiated settlement to the nuclear standoff was possible.

“I am still very much hopeful that that in the next week or so an agreement can be reached,” said ElBaradei.

The administration crushed all hope of a settlement immediately.

The US State Department dismissed Iran’s concessions and pushed for a quick referral to the UN Security Council.


What’s the hurry? Is the administration looking for solutions or are Pentagon-planners operating on a tight timeline?

Iran’s last minute compromise put Condi Rice into a frenzy; firing off a panicky phone call to ElBaradei saying, “The United States cannot support this.”

Support what? Negotiation? Deliberation? Peace?

ElBaradei had merely suggested that “the standoff with Iran could be resolved in a week or so”. (NY Times) He was optimistic that a deal with Russia to enrich uranium outside of Iran would allay American fears of a hidden nuclear weapons program.

Is that what made Condi so anxious?

The US reaction is instructive in many ways, and seems to indicate that Bush and Co. may have scheduled hostilities for later this month.

Certainly, the propaganda-campaign is already in full-swing with Condi, McClellan, Rumsfeld, Bolton, and Cheney all blasting-away at Iran in the last 48 hours.

The media smokescreen has obscured Iran’s attempts at "confidence-building" by agreeing to forgo all “industrial scale” enrichment for two years even though it is allowed under the terms of the NPT.

The strategy now is to divert attention from Iran’s 'generous offer' and ratchet up the demagoguery to full-throttle.

In the meantime, the State Dept has been busy moving the goalposts to ensure that Iran will reject its final offer.

Right after ElBaradei expressed optimism about finding a solution, Undersecretary of State, Nicholas Burns, pulled the rug out from under him saying, “The United States will not support any halfway measures. That means full suspension of all nuclear activities, and a return to negotiations on that basis.”

“Full suspension”? What right does the US have to ask for full suspension?

This was the first time that US officials admitted they were repealing the NPT and brushing aside the counsel of the IAEA. Burns remarks confirm that the administration is bent on torpedoing the process.

But how will Burns and Condi derail ElBaradei’s efforts for peace?

Well, for starters, the State Dept will have to make outrageous, unilateral demands that are so extreme that Iran will never agree to them. That way, the media can say that Iran is “defying the international community” and forcing a referral to the Security Council.

The administration will insist that Iran agree to a moratorium on the production of enriched uranium, comply with additional “unspecified” protocols, and allow for “transparency measures” to accommodate future inspections.

Sound familiar?”

These are the same conditions that were placed on Saddam. Iran knows that the US will use these “transparency measures” to ferret through every inch of the country; rummaging through armories, military bases, palaces, barracks, private residences; anywhere that might annoy, provoke, humiliate or harass the current regime.

Then, after months of microscopically-combing through every inch of Iranian sovereign territory, the flummoxed administration will invent some shaky pretext for invasion.

True or false?

Yesterday’s ham-fisted maneuverings reveal the administration’s true objectives. Bush would like to conceal his attack on Iran behind a mask of international legitimacy. But even without Security Council approval the plan will move forward. The current showdown has nothing to do with “noncompliance” or imaginary nuclear weapons programs. It has everything to do with consolidating the vast resources of the Caspian Basin under the Stars and Stripes and fending off future threats to America’s global domination.

Look for Shock-and-Awe "the sequel" sometime in late March.

See Dick Loot - By Dahr Jamail

Halliburton and its subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR) have been making hay in the burning Iraqi sun for years now. It is, of course, no coincidence that the man sitting as vice president played a key role with his influence in obtaining the lion's share of contracts in Iraq for the company he was CEO of prior to his self-appointed position. Yet none of this is news.

What is news, however, is that the ties that bind Cheney to Halliburton also link him to groups with even broader interests in the Middle East, which are causing civilians on the ground there, as well as in the US, to pay the price.

Cheney had much more at stake than pure altruism in making sure Halliburton/KBR obtained so many no-bid contracts in occupied Iraq. Despite his claims of not having any financial ties to Halliburton, the fact is that in both 2001 and 2002 he earned twice as much from a deferred salary from his "old" company as when he was CEO.

But that wasn't the beginning. When Cheney was US Secretary of Defense in the early 1990's under Big Bush, Halliburton was awarded the job of studying, then implementing, the privatization of routine army functions such as cleaning and cooking meals.

Following this study, when Cheney was finished with his job at the Pentagon, he scored the job as CEO of Halliburton, which he held until nominating himself for the position of Little Bush's running mate in 2000. Remember, it was Cheney who was given the task of finding a running mate for Bush. After searching far and wide across the US, Cheney ended up generously offering his own services for the job.

As if Cheney didn't already have enough conflicts of interest, it is important to note that he assisted in founding the neo-conservative think tank, the "Project for the New American Century (PNAC)," whose goal is to "promote American global leadership," which entails acquiring Iraqi oil. Complimenting this, Cheney was also part of the board of advisers to the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) along with John Bolton, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz (all PNAC members) before becoming vice president. JINSA, self-described as a "nonsectarian educational organization," does things like nominate John Bolton for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize and works to "explain the role Israel can ... play in bolstering ... the link between American defense policy and the security of Israel."

Their Mission Statement adds, "The inherent instability in the region [Middle East] caused primarily by inter-Arab rivalries and the secular/religious split in many Muslim societies leaves the future of the region in doubt. Israel, with its technological capabilities and shared system of values, has a key role to play as a US ally in the region," which happens to be quite similar to the stated goals of the PNAC for the region, but I digress.

By the end of 2002, Cheney owned at least 433,000 unexercised Halliburton stock options worth over $10 million. And that was before the invasion of Iraq, when the games really began.

In March 2003, the month the invasion began, Halliburton was awarded a no-bid contract worth $7 billion from the Pentagon. The blatant awarding of this "reconstruction" contract to Halliburton even led Representative Henry Waxman to comment, "The administration's approach to the reconstruction of Iraq is fundamentally flawed. It's a boondoggle that's enriching private contractors."

Of course the invasion and occupation of Iraq aren't only about oil.

Remember, it was Cheney himself who, at a VFW convention in August 2002, said "Many of us are convinced that Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon. Just how soon, we cannot really gauge."

Cheney then, solely in the interests of protecting the American and Iraqi people of course, made sure the US would go into Iraq and take care of that nuclear trouble-maker Saddam Hussein.

Just to be safe, Halliburton was paid $40 million for providing housing and transportation for teams searching for non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. For with each contract Halliburton is and was awarded, Cheney's bank account grows.

The one place where there were remnants of a nuclear program in Iraq, albeit over 20 years before the 2003 US invasion, was the Osirak Nuclear Research Facility on the outskirts of Baghdad. US-made Israeli warplanes bombed it back on June 7, 1981, and when I visited the place in January 2004, all I found were empty warehouses which the American military wasn't concerned about enough to prevent from being looted.

Villagers in nearby al-Tuwetha, ignorant of radioactive waste stored in old drums, looted them in the chaos following the invasion and had been using them as water containers - thus irradiating the entire village.

One example of what it looks like on the ground in Iraq when Halliburton fails to fulfill its contractual obligations is the life of Adel Mhomoud. The 44-year-old beekeeper in al-Tuwetha told me, "I have cancer, and I know I'm dying. My white blood cell count is 14,000, and I don't have enough red blood cells. We are all sick; our joints ache, my hips are killing me, and my blood is bad. But nobody will help us here."

Certainly not Halliburton.

Cheney, who received no less than five military deferments during the Vietnam War despite being a supporter of that war (Sound familiar?), had shamelessly told the veterans at the VFW, "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us."

So that was the door Cheney took to bring Iraq his Halliburton.

And of course, once through that door, Halliburton promptly went to work.

Aside from the aforementioned awarding of no-bid contracts worth billions of US taxpayer dollars, as early as December 2003, the US Army found out Halliburton was overcharging the government $61 million for fuel transportation and $67 million for food services in Iraq. I remember being in Baghdad when this occurred - seeing the enormously long gas lines at petrol stations whilst knowing Halliburton, not only failing to provide Iraqis with their own petrol, was even charging the US taxpayer three dollars per gallon for fuel that local companies could have imported for under one dollar.

But that was barely the beginning.

Let's take a brief glance at some of the more recent Halliburton/KBR rogueries:

27 February 2006 - US Army decides to reimburse KBR nearly all of its disputed costs on a $2.41 billion no-bid contract to deliver fuel and repair equipment in Iraq, despite Pentagon auditors identifying over $250 million in charges as "potentially" excessive.

17 February 2006 - KBR executive hired to fly cargo into Iraq pleads guilty to inflating invoices by $1.14 million to cover fraudulent "war risk surcharges."

6 February 2006 - KBR employee in Iraq, speaking on condition of anonymity, says "We pay our locals [in Iraq] $5 to $16 dollars a day and you can see where [KBR] put it down [on the military requisition] as $60 a day." Military requisitions reveal KBR to be paying between $5-$16 per day in wages to third world laborers in Iraq whilst billing US taxpayers between $50-$80 per day.

30 January 2006 - Bush administration settles dispute between Pentagon and Halliburton by agreeing to pay company $199 million in disputed gasoline charges in Iraq. To date KBR has been awarded nearly $16 billion in total revenue from Iraq contracts.

23 January 2006 - Halliburton fails to alert American troops and civilian contractors at US base in Ramadi that their water was contaminated. Despite allegations which came from Halliburton's own water quality experts, the company denies there was a contamination problem.

27 December 2005 - KBR, linked to human trafficking-related concerns via its work in Iraq (such as forced prostitution and labor), Halliburton benefits from Defense Department's refusal to adopt policy barring human trafficking.

1 December 2005 - UPI reports KBR workers in Iraq ("third country" nationals) found to be paid as little as 50 cents an hour.

5 November 2005 - UN auditing board finds that US should repay Iraqi government $208 million from Iraqi oil revenue for fraudulent contracting work.
Then there is how these "policies" Halliburton is following in Iraq affect US soldiers and contractors, including its own employees.

With contracts in Iraq now worth up to $18 billion, there is nothing stopping Halliburton from abusing the lack of oversight and obvious conflict of interest between their free reign and their ties to the vice president.

An example of this is Jim Spiri, who was hired by Halliburton/KBR in January 2004 to work as a logistics coordinator. Sent to Camp Anaconda in Balad, Iraq, he worked the flight line handling passenger movements, as Spiri had 20 years of aviation experience.

"During my time there, I assisted nightly with medevac [medical evacuations] operations and was highly respected among all military medical folks," he told me this week. "I had a good name throughout the theatre."

But problems were immediately apparent to him.

"I witnessed much alcohol abuse, in an environment where alcohol is strictly prohibited. I made note of this and reported it to my superiors, who actually were the ones abusing the system. It was obvious that the fox was guarding the hen house, so to speak."

He told me his entire flight line operation was "run in a gang-like manner" and "the work was never done in an efficient manner." Instead, according to Spiri, the motto was, "Do as little as possible for as much as you can, for as long as you can."

On February 5th of this year, while working the night shift which he had for the last two years, Spiri witnessed something that made the thought of continuing to work for KBR intolerable.

After watching a fallen soldier loaded onto a plane without the proper ceremony of honor, Spiri told me he "wrote an account of what I experienced that night." After this, "It was published, and ... all hell broke loose about 36 hours later."

Spiri was fired by KBR after writing an article detailing the event and criticizing Halliburton's policies in Iraq.

Now he wants to shine light on how KBR operates in Iraq. "What they don't want to let out is the type of workers they have over there, that it's the largest gravy train operation, it's the largest welfare system I've ever seen in my life. It's pathetic," Spiri said in a recent interview while adding that over half the people KBR employed in Iraq were "grossly under-qualified and highly over-paid."

His work entailed three people, but by the time he left there were 10 people on his team, most of whom "sat around listening to their iPods and DVD players."

Yet firing an employee for raising awareness about corruption and his questioning of policy is minor compared to the treatment of Iraqis meted out by the company.

When I was in Amman last May, I met Ahlam al-Hassan, a young Iraqi woman who had worked for KBR in Diwaniyah.

Two gunshots by assailants who attacked her for collaborating with occupation forces left her blind, and her former employers would not return her calls or requests for assistance.

For her three months of work for KBR she was paid $475, having taken the job to support her family. "My two bosses at KBR, Mr. Jeff and Mr. Mark, were very good and gentle with me," she explained to me in Jordan, "They told me it wasn't dangerous to work for them." But after spending months in hospitals for what happened to her on her way to work, "After this, they have made no attempts to contact me."

Note that on May 31, 2004, an Army Corps of Engineers email revealed that Cheney's office "coordinated" Halliburton's multi-billion dollar Iraq contract. Cheney, like most common criminals, denied having anything to do with the no-bid contract.

More recently, on January 26th of this year, Halliburton announced that its 2005 profits were the "Best in our 86-year history," as all six of its divisions posted record results. Halliburton stock price doubled in the last year, and Dick Cheney's tax returns indicate that he earned $194,862 from his Halliburton stock in just the last year.

Loot Dick, Loot!

Is that clear enough?

All of this begs the question: Do you approve of your tax dollars being used in this fashion?

If not, then what are you willing to do about it?

Dahr Jamail is an independent journalist who spent over 8 months reporting from occupied Iraq. He presented evidence of US war crimes in Iraq at the International Commission of Inquiry on Crimes against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration in New York City this January. He writes regularly for, Inter Press Service, Asia Times, TomDispatch, and maintains his own website

Life in a stronghold of the "Bolivarian Revolution"

Lara, Venezuela- Rito Martinez a former guerilla fighter with flowing white hair and a long white beard stands in the town square of Sanare, a small mountain village. Sanare is located in the state of Lara, a state which lies roughly 200 miles southwest of Caracas, Venezuela's capital. Inspired by the revolution in Cuba Martinez along with thousands of other fighters in the 1960s took to the surrounding mountainside. In response the Venezuelan government pursued these fighters imprisoning or "disappearing" thousands of guerillas and their sympathizers. For 9 years Martinez was held captive in what he describes as "a rodent infested tunnel with prison cages." Today the sons and daughters of Martinez’s generation carry forth their left wing legacy and earn Lara the reputation of being called the 'most revolutionary state in the country.'

By utilizing oil money the Chavez government has implemented massive social welfare programs which have in turn caused an explosion of grass roots political activity. This process taken as a whole is referred to simultaneously as 'the revolutionary process,' 'the Bolivarian process,' or 'the process of change.' It is here in Lara, perhaps more so than anywhere else in the country, that 'the process of change' has made such dramatic strides. Lara therefore provides a glimpse as to how this process works and where it is taking Venezuela.

The Failure of Hugo-Bashing

IT WAS YET ANOTHER public relations coup for Venezuela: Vila Isabel, the samba club sponsored mainly by the Venezuelan government, won the parade competition in Rio de Janeiro's Carnaval last week. A float with a giant likeness of Simon Bolivar, combined with thousands of ornately costumed participants parading down the avenue, trumpeted the winning theme: Latin American unity.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice just last month called for "a united front" against Venezuela, continuing a long-term policy of trying to isolate the country. But Washington has been spitting into the wind. Venezuela's influence in the hemisphere has continued to rise while the U.S. has succeeded only in isolating itself more than at any time in at least half a century. It might be worth asking why.

First, Venezuela is a democracy — despite the best efforts of the Bush team to use President Hugo Chavez's close relations with Cuba's Fidel Castro as evidence to the contrary. Its elections are transparent and have been certified by observers from the Organization of American States, the Carter Center and the European Union. Freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly and of association prevail, at least as compared with the rest of the hemisphere.

In fact, most of the media remains controlled by the opposition, which attacks the government endlessly on all the major TV channels. It is the most vigorous and partisan opposition media in the hemisphere, one that has not been censored under Chavez.

Like all of Latin America, Venezuela has governance problems: a weak state, limited rule of law, corruption and incompetent government. But no reputable human rights organization has alleged that Venezuela under Chavez has deteriorated with regard to civil liberties, human rights or democracy, as compared with prior governments. Nor does the country compare unfavorably on these criteria with its neighbors in the region. In Peru, the government has shut down opposition TV stations; in Colombia, union organizers are murdered with impunity.

From a Latin American point of view, Venezuelans should have the right to choose their own president — even one who sometimes insults the American president — without interference from the United States. And Chavez's anger at Washington, from Latin Americans' point of view, appears justified. U.S. government documents released under our Freedom of Information Act indicate that Washington not only supported but was involved in the military coup that temporarily overthrew Venezuela's elected government in April 2002. Here in Washington, there is a "Monty Python" attitude toward the coup: "Let's not argue about who killed who." But in Latin America, a military coup against a democratically elected government is still considered a serious crime. To top it off, Washington continued to finance efforts to recall Chavez and, having failed miserably, still regularly presents him as a threat to democracy in the region.

With oil at nearly $60 a barrel, Venezuela has used its windfall proceeds to win friends in the hemisphere, providing low-cost financing for oil to Caribbean nations. When Argentina needed loans so that it could say goodbye to the International Monetary Fund, Venezuela committed $2.4 billion. Venezuela bought $300 million in bonds from Ecuador. Washington has historically had enormous influence over economic policy in Latin America through its control over the major sources of credit, including the IMF, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. Venezuela's role as a new "lender of last resort" has reduced that influence.

Chavez's opposition to the "Washington consensus" on economic policy has fallen on sympathetic ears in a region that — since 1980 — has suffered its worst long-term economic failure in a century. Over the last 25 years, income per person in Latin America has grown by a meager 10%, according to the IMF. This compares with 82% from 1960 to 1980, before most of Washington's economic reforms were adopted. And Venezuela's government has kept its promise to share the oil wealth with the poor. The majority of the country now has access to free healthcare and subsidized food, and education spending has increased substantially.

Meanwhile in the U.S., while Vila Isabel was winning the Rio Carnaval, Connecticut became the eighth American state to participate in the program by which Citgo Petroleum Corp. provides discounted heating oil for poor people. Citgo is owned by the Venezuelan government. In the contest for the hearts and minds of the hemisphere, Venezuela is clearly winning.

Original source / relevant link:
Los Angeles Times