Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Chavez vs King Abdullah: The Perfect Example of US Hypocrisy


The Bush Administration has went to great pains to paint Venezuela's Hugo Chavez as an extremist; and in Bush's words a "killer" and a "madman." At the same time Bush is meeting with Saudi King Abdullah - the leader of one of the world's most repressive regimes, and handing over $20 billion in military aid to the Gulf countries. Desperate to ensure that the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council continue to tow the US line in its hostility against Iran, no amount of sophisticated weaponry is too small. Although, like the US is losing its imperialist grip on Latin America (the IMF, the World Bank and the Free Trade Area of the Americas are being replaced by indigenous institutions), the GCC states are also rejecting US demands for a regional boycott of Iran - it's no coincidence that Bush visited Saudi Arabia - just months after Ahmadinijad made his third visit.

It's troubling how transparent and philosophically bankrupt the Bush Administration's foreign policy has become. Any government advocating for policies that don't allow the market free-reign are automatically labeled extremist threats. But it seems BUsh and his cronies are increasingly alone in their estimations. Chavez, on his platform of "21st Century Socialism" was re-elected in 2006 with 63% of the vote. A 2006 poll reported that 57% of Venezuelans were happy with the state of their democracy. An Associated Press poll of US citizens at the same time found less than 30% of respondents happy with the direction of their country.

Regardless of its PR value, Venezuela's donation of oil to low-income families in the Northeast US to heat their homes throughout the cold winter is the type of policy the Bush Administration should be pursuing - rather than shipping billions of dollars of subsidized weapons to the Middle East.

Chavez respects election results - in Saudi Arabia the only elections are municipal ones - so you can choose your local auditor and dog-catcher.

Chavez (along with the leaders of Costa Rica, Argentina and Uruguay) has also pledged never to send students from his country to the notorious School of the Americas (re-named the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) that trained Latin American military and policemen in torture techniques to maintain the free-market regimes of Pinochet, Argentina's military junta and Uruguay's right-wing government during the 60s and 70s.

Here's why Chavez may be such a threat to the US: the Venezuelan government's efforts to protect against the ravages of an unadulterated free-market are reversing the policies that made Latin America a US-corporate fiefdom under Pinochet and his ilk. Perhaps US citizens will one day realize that their own government is failing to implement some of the basic regulations that would prevent corporations from exploiting them:

"In Venezuela, Chavez has made co-ops a top political priority, giving them first refusal on government contracts and offering them economic incentives to trade with one another. By 2006 there were roughly 100,000 co-operatives in the country employing more than 700,000 workers. Chavez's many critics have derided these initiatives as handouts and unfair subsidies, of course. Yet in an era when Haliburton treats the US government as its personal ATM for six years, withdraws upwards of $20 billion in Iraq contracts alone, refuses to hire local workers either on the US Gulf Coast or in Iraq, then expresses its gratitude to US taxpayers by moving its corporate headquarters to Dubai (with all the attendant tax and legal benefits), Chavez's direct subsidies to regular people look significantly less radical." (Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine, pg 455).

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