I was sorry to see the always entertaining Huge Chavez passed away yesterday - Greg Palast has an article pointing out why Chavez (like so many developing world leaders before him) was so disliked by the West - he wanted a greater share of revenue from local oil extraction - Vaya con Dios, Hugo Chàvez, mi Amigo.
Reverend Pat Robertson said, "Hugo Chavez thinks we're trying to assassinate him. I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it."Crikey's Guy Rundle has a straightforward left wing view of the late Hugo - Chavez dies and the West hates some more.
It was 2005 and Robertson was channeling the frustration of George Bush's State Department.
Despite Bush's providing intelligence, funds and even a note of congratulations to the crew who kidnapped Chavez (we'll get there), Hugo remained in office, reelected and wildly popular.
But why the Bush regime's hate, hate, HATE of the President of Venezuela?
Reverend Pat wasn't coy about the answer: It's the oil.
"This is a dangerous enemy to our South controlling a huge pool of oil."
A really BIG pool of oil. Indeed, according to Guy Caruso, former chief of oil intelligence for the CIA, Venezuela hold a recoverable reserve of 1.36 trillion barrels, that is, a whole lot more than Saudi Arabia.
If we didn't kill Chavez, we'd have to do an "Iraq" on his nation. So the Reverend suggests,
"We don't need another $200 billion war….It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with."
Chavez himself told me he was stunned by Bush's attacks: Chavez had been quite chummy with Bush Senior and with Bill Clinton.
So what made Chavez suddenly "a dangerous enemy"? Here's the answer you won't find in The New York Times:
Just after Bush's inauguration in 2001, Chavez' congress voted in a new "Law of Hydrocarbons." Henceforth, Exxon, British Petroleum, Shell Oil and Chevron would get to keep 70% of the sales revenues from the crude they sucked out of Venezuela. Not bad, considering the price of oil was rising toward $100 a barrel.
But to the oil companies, which had bitch-slapped Venezeula's prior government into giving them 84% of the sales price, a cut to 70% was "no bueno." Worse, Venezuela had been charging a joke of a royalty – just one percent – on "heavy" crude from the Orinoco Basin. Chavez told Exxon and friends they'd now have to pay 16.6%.
Clearly, Chavez had to be taught a lesson about the etiquette of dealings with Big Oil.
Hugo Chavez was a friend to the poor, in Venezuela and abroad. But the Western media all but ignored that in their demonisation of the Venezuelan president.
Last year, landing in South America just as Hugo Chavez departed it — for treatment in Cuba — your correspondent wrote an overview of the Chavez era, its achievements and shortcomings, and the sheer hatred it drew from a Western media, with few exceptions.
One story seemed to summarise it all. In 2005, the governors of Maine and New Hampshire sought help from eight oil companies to provide heating fuel for the poor. The Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina had driven oil prices sky high, and the poor in northern states had to choose between food, rent and heating.
Seven of the oil companies were US-owned; they all refused. The only one that responded was PVDSA, the Venezuelan state-owned oil company. When the provision of cheap heating oil for more than 100,000 families was revealed, the press focused not on the bizarre reversal whereby a Third-World country was subsidising a First-World one — but whether this was propaganda drive by Chavez. It was the height of the neo-liberal triumphalist era, only starting to fray at that very moment. The poor, at home or abroad, simply did not exist, save as a pretext for a “populism” whose rationale no one could remember.
That approach long ago became the template for dealing with Chavez’s Venezuela. What was at the centre of Chavez’s program for better and otherwise — the immediate alleviation of poverty — became the one thing that was never spoken of. The UK Telegraph’s ready-to-roll obit — online today as news broke of his death — says it all:
“Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela who has died aged 58, was a shrewd demagogue and combined brash but intoxicating rhetorical gifts with a free-spending of oil revenues to turn himself into a leading figure on the world stage.”
The obit manages to give a fairly even-handed account of the years leading up to Chavez’s election in the late ’90s — how the poor watched, for decades, as the country’s burgeoning oil revenue failed to trickle down to them. Here’s the space The Telegraph gives a decade of social programs:
There then follows a long paragraph, stuffed with statistics, about the rise in crime in Venezuela. But 15 years of social programs? Not a word, not a figure. With a few exceptions, such as Al Jazeera, that has been the general condition throughout. The statistics were easy enough to find, since they came from the World Bank: poverty cut from 60% down to 25%, extreme poverty — regular hunger, malnutrition and lack of shelter — down from 30+% to 6%, millions getting regular medical care for the first time, subsidised staple food, land reform and much more.
The endless repetition of the one Chavez story in the Western media, the “populist” leader “much loved” in the slums, etc, but with a controversial record on democracy and a “worrying” tendency to pal up with dictators, etc. The very obtuseness of such insta-stories was based on the First-World/Third-World disjuncture that prompted Chavez’s election in the first place: the con job of global neoliberalism, the promise, after the collapse of communism, that playing by the rules of a market-based global system, other countries could join the First World club.
In Latin America, and perhaps more broadly, Chavez was the turning-point — the moment at which a popular process delayed by a century of US imperial dominance was restarted, and it was possible to imagine that poverty and underdevelopment could be really addressed. Chavez’s early victory, and Venezuelan oil money, went out to the whole continent, making it possible for Left victories in Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and elsewhere. They were joined by Lula’s separate victory in Brazil, and by the end of the decade, Right-wing pro-US governments were in the minority.
Whatever happens, Chavez has happened. Business as usual was suspended across a continent. A whole generation of a whole class of Venezualans had the opportunity for the fundamental things of life — food, shelter and the most basic medicines. Even in the US, the heating oil program continues, now into its eighth year. If it was deployed purely in the interest of propaganda, it was a pretty poor effort — since it now extends to the poor in 25 states of the US without much being made of it. As the West goes into a so-called “quadruple dip” recession, with another crash on the way, it may turn out that Latin America, with its movements of power and its re-assertion of the possibility of change, is a vanguard of things to come, rather than the long tail.
If so, that will be Chavez’s legacy.