Sunday, October 23, 2005

U.S. Must Stop Attacking Chávez

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Posted on Mon, Oct. 17, 2005

U.S. Must Stop Attacking Chávez

The political tug-of-war between the United States and Venezuela is no mere diplomatic feud. Instead, it is an outright campaign to discredit, vilify and undermine the democratically elected leader of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez.

Relations between the two nations have been strained for some time.

Chávez accused the White House of supporting the 2002 coup against him. Only 48 hours later, Chávez returned to power, in the wake of massive public demonstrations in Venezuela against the coup and in support of his government.

In the last year, high-ranking U.S. officials -- including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and CIA Director Porter Goss -- have hurled insults at Chávez.

And the Rev. Pat Robertson, a supporter of the Bush administration, didn't help matters in August when he made incendiary comments calling for the slaying of Chávez.

On Oct. 9, Robertson was again on a rant. On the CNN show ''Late Edition,'' he went so far as to claim that the United States ''could face a nuclear attack from Venezuela,'' and accused Chávez of sending ''either $1 million or $1.2 million in cash'' to Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Robertson never supported his assertions with any sources. His remarks against Chávez seem aimed at justifying further U.S. political and diplomatic attacks against Venezuela.

Chávez is anathema to U.S. conservatives because he has opposed Bush's war in Iraq, as well as trade agreements that favor U.S. multinationals.

But Chávez is helping his own people.

Since he came to power, one million newly educated Venezuelan citizens have learned to read for the first time through the government's literacy campaign. The country implemented free healthcare that is now available to 80 percent of the population. And there are subsidized food markets that offer staples bellow market price to the poor.

Chávez is also trying to bring economic prosperity to the entire region by sharing the bounty of his oil revenue. Venezuela is the fifth-largest oil exporter in the world, and he is selling it to other Latin American countries well below market rates.

What's more, Chávez has held eight elections, referendums and plebiscites over the past years. He is Venezuela's duly elected, popular leader.

If we are to have any international credibility as defenders of democracy, our government needs to stop siding with violent, military dictators in the overthrow of democratically elected presidents -- like the overthrow of presidents Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954 and Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973.

The U.S. government would do well to keep its hands off.

Ana Pérez is director of the Latin American Program at Global Exchange, an international human-rights group in San Francisco .


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