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Does Hugo Chavez have a lesson for Canada?
Date: Thursday, September 08 2005
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Does Hugo Chavez have a lesson for Canada?

>by Jerry West

September 7, 2005

Hugo Chavez is the popular president of Venezuela. In 2002, the United States supported a military coup to remove him. It failed. In 2004, Venezuela held a referendum on Chavez's presidency. In an election monitored by and certified as fair by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Chavez won an overwhelming vote of confidence from the Venezuelan people.

Recently, Reuters reported that a bipartisan delegation of U.S. legislators met Condoleezza Rice before she became secretary of state to urge her to reach out to Chavez. Rice refused saying, “We just don't like him.”

Late last month, TV evangelist Pat Robertson called for Chavez's assassination. Chavez claims that Robertson's view represents that of the U.S. right- wing élite, and given the muted condemnation of Robertson's statement from the White House, and Rice's earlier statement, one can safely assume that in fact the current U.S. administration does share Robertson's view.

One must wonder what would have happened to an ordinary opponent of President Bush had they called for the assassination of Tony Blair or Queen Elizabeth. No doubt the Patriot Act would have been used to disappear them into a black hole where, like a number of others, they would be held in isolation in violation of basic principles of the U.S. Constitution.

So, why don't the Bush Administration and the right-wing extremists and religious fanatics in the U.S. like Hugo Chavez? Venezuela, after all, supplies the U.S. with 12 per cent of its imported oil and sits on top of the eighth largest known oil field in the world.

Oil is the problem — not that Venezuela has it, but what Hugo Chavez does with it. Rather than gratuitously fatten the profit margins of the international oil companies, the Venezuelan government under Chavez extracts higher taxes and fees from those companies, and plows that money back into the people of Venezuela. He facilitates the formation of grassroots organizations and worker cooperatives amongst Venezuela's poor.


He has increased the minimum wage from about $25 per week to about $40 per week, and raised personal income taxes up to a rate of 10-15 per cent. He has established food programs to feed the poor and traded oil to Cuba for doctors and teachers who provide free health care to the poor and enhanced educational opportunities. He has used oil wealth to increase public works in order to provide more jobs for Venezuelans.

Imagine, using national resources to improve the national society and raise living standards for the poorest citizens. Imagine increasing access to education, health care and affordable food. It flies in the face of modern, corporate capitalism and the demand for ever lower costs for resources and labour.

And, as far as the U.S. and its corporate sponsors are concerned, it sets a bad example for the rest of Latin America. Imagine if Chavez's programs of redirecting wealth to the people of the countries where it is produced rather than letting it be sucked out by foreign investors should catch on. That is the other part of the problem.

Chavez has named his political and social philosophy Bolivarianism and is pursuing a Bolivarian Revolution, not just for Venezuela but for most of South America. The name comes from that of Simon Bolivar who liberated what are now Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Columbia and Venezuela from Spain in the early 19th Century. In this century Chavez is providing support to populist movements in neighbouring countries, a move clearly designed to spread his Bolivarian philosophy throughout the South American continent.

He is making oil deals with Brazil and Argentina and advocating Latin American military and trade alliances to challenge the power of the U.S. in the region. Venezuela, too, is the major partner in a Latin American satellite television network, Telesur, along with Argentina, Cuba and Uruguay, which will provide a counter point to the messages broadcast to South America by U.S. networks like CNN.

Chavez is plainly becoming a regional leader in an area long dominated by U.S. influence and interference. Like Simon Bolivar before him, who challenged the rule of the Spanish, Chavez has become a challenge in the region to the power of the United States.

Perhaps Hugo Chavez has a lesson for Canada. Like Venezuela, Canada is a major petroleum producer. Maybe Canada should be increasing its national revenue from that resource and directing it to improved social security. Like Latin America, Canada is getting the dirty end of the stick in its trade relations with the U.S. Perhaps Canada should be making a greater effort to diversify its trading patterns with less reliance on U.S. markets.

And, like Latin America Canada might want to start looking to increase its security alliances with nations other than the U.S. in order to insulate itself more from the power and influence of a country whose policies are veering away from those acceptable to most Canadians.

Jerry West is the editor of The Record, an independent, progressive newspaper published every other Wednesday in Gold River, British Columbia. His columns regularly appear in rabble.ca.

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