Bill Totten's Weblog

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Chavez's Policies to Eradicate Poverty

by Bill Totten

Nihonkai Shimbun & Osaka Nichinichi Shimbun (June 15 2006)

(I've written a weekly column for two Japanese newspapers for the past several years. Patrick Heaton prepared this English version from the Japanese original.)

Latin America is in the process of change. In previous centuries the region, which used to be called America's backyard, included Texas and portions of the US southwest as well as Mexico. It underwent invasions by the United States after the colonial powers of Spain and Portugal had been expelled. Although Latin America has been under varying levels of US control for decades, that is no longer true today.

Changing Geopolitics

US hegemony, as well as globalization, could not have happened without cheap, plentiful oil. It is impossible to sustain the current situation, where the US, a country with a mere five percent of the world's population, consumes 25% of the world's entire energy resources. It is inevitable that geopolitics will change. One of the factors making it possible in recent years for Latin American nations to try to escape US domination is a growing recognition that there is a limit to oil and other natural resources.

Venezuela is the fifth largest oil-producing nation in the world; oil is responsible for eighty percent of its total exports. According to a recent newspaper article, because of a change of policy by Venezuela's government toward national ownership of oil resources, foreign oil-drilling companies are demanding revision of contracts or are starting to withdraw from the country.

Not surprisingly, many in the US find Latin America's anti-US stance repugnant. Pat Robertson, a religious broadcaster and close friend of President Bush, even suggested on television last year that President Chavez is a madman who should be assassinated. As a well-known figure in the United States, Robertson's opinion does carry some weight.

President Chavez was elected by the Venezuelan people in a democratic election. Since coming into office, he has been providing free health care to his fellow citizens, and has turned his back on the previous national policies of privatization. Chavez's policy changes have angered the United States. US Secretary of Defense Rumsfield has even likened President Chavez to Hitler. The US is now trying to expand its propaganda effort in a desperate attempt to isolate Venezuela from the world community.

Failing US Propaganda

Until recently US propaganda about Latin America has largely been successful. A 2005 film documentary, "Our Brand is Crisis", explains how this propaganda has worked. The documentary provides a behind-the-scenes look at the 2002 Bolivian presidential campaign of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada. According to the documentary, the strategy of the US election consultants who were brought in to bolster the failing campaign of the pro-globalization candidate was to create a sense of crisis among the country's citizens and then to claim that the only individual who could solve the problems was a leader of experience: Lozada. But neither the American consultants nor Lozada had answers to the crippling poverty and unemployment that gripped Bolivia.

The US strategy was to create a certain image. The premise underlying that strategy was not that Lozada, previously voted out of office because of incompetence, would offer constructive policies to increase his appeal to the people, but that he could be made to appear enlightened and competent if the smear campaign against the opposition were effective enough.

The documentary offers an informative look at US-style propaganda methods. It is well worth seeing when it becomes available for viewing in your area.

Speaking of political models, recently whenever I point out situations like the above, or praise aspects of Venezuelan, Cuban or other societies, I immediately receive anonymous emails calling me anti-American or communist or demanding that I leave the country. But what such attacks fail to address is that I clearly state I do not believe that the social systems of Russia, North Korea, China or other nations are perfect or ideal, or that we should use those systems as our models. My purpose in discussing their accomplishments and methods is to raise the issue of whether blindly following American-style capitalism, globalization, and market economics has made Japan better as a nation, or has made Japanese happier as individuals.

Of course it is difficult to define happiness. One criterion might be a high standard of living that frees people from daily toil so they can enjoy their lives. Although the advance of civilization has raised the standard of living in industrialized nations, if we look at worldwide trends we can see that the gap between rich and poor is widening, and that this growing disparity of wealth is found even in developed countries.

Venezuela's President Chavez stands out as someone who has been successfully implementing laws to counter these trends. He has developed agricultural villages, nationalized the country's natural resources, promoted small-scale industries favoring the working class in poor neighborhoods as a way to improve the lives of the majority of Venezuelans - the country's poor - even if this means slowing national economic development. In short, he is trying to address the problems resulting from the disparity of wealth in his country.

In contrast, the US is conducting a smear campaign against the Venezuelan administration by warning that Chavez is strengthening ties with Iran and Cuba, countries the US considers to be supporters of terrorism. The US administration, through State Department Spokesman John McCormick, is also claiming that Venezuela has ties with left-wing guerilla revolutionaries and people's liberation armies in Columbia. I believe, however, that we should look at the facts and not be swayed by US propaganda.

The reality is that for many years profits from Venezuela's oil production were effectively under the control of wealthy US energy corporations, and a percentage of that wealth went into the hands of a few US-supported lackeys in Venezuela. This changed under President Chavez. His policies are ensuring that a significant portion of the profits from Venezuelan oil fields are going toward reducing poverty, a first in Venezuelan history. Chavez has used some of the money to build schools to teach the formerly illiterate, poor citizens of his country to read, a policy that has made the Venezuelan president even more reviled by the wealthy.

The Western media will probably continue disparaging Chavez (for instance, the latest propaganda attacks claim that he is helping Iran to develop nuclear weapons), and they will sneer at his attempts to eradicate poverty. I advise all to ignore such propaganda. It cannot obscure the fact that it is the United States - not Venezuela - that attacked Iraq, and it is the United States that continues to sow suffering and disharmony by its policies and by its use of depleted uranium weapons in the implementation of those failed policies.

Bill Totten


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