Dick Cheney, Hugo Chavez and Bill Clinton's Band
DICK CHENEY, HUGO CHAVEZ AND BILL CLINTON'S BAND
Why Venezuela has Voted Again for Their 'Negro e Indio' President - Monday Aug.
16, 2004 - by Greg Palast
There's so much BS and baloney thrown around about Venezuela that I may be
violating some rule of US journalism by providing some facts. Let's begin
with this: 77% of Venezuela's farmland is owned by 3% of the population, the
I met one of these farmlords in Caracas at an anti-Chavez protest march.
Oddest demonstration I've ever seen: frosted blondes in high heels clutching
designer bags, screeching, "Chavez - dic-ta-dor!" The plantation owner
griped about the "socialismo" of Chavez, then jumped into his Jaguar
That week, Chavez himself handed me a copy of the "socialist" manifesto that
so rattled the man in the Jag. It was a new law passed by Venezuela's
Congress which gave land to the landless. The Chavez law transferred only
fields from the giant haciendas which had been left unused and abandoned.
This land reform, by the way, was promoted to Venezuela in the 1960s by that
Lefty radical, John F. Kennedy. Venezuela's dictator of the time agreed to
hand out land, but forgot to give peasants title to their property.
But Chavez won't forget, because the mirror reminds him. What the affable
president sees in his reflection, beyond the ribbons of office, is a "negro
e indio" -- a "Black and Indian" man, dark as a cola nut, same as the
landless and, until now, the hopeless. For the first time in Venezuela's
history, the 80% Black-Indian population elected a man with skin darker than
the man in the Jaguar.
So why, with a huge majority of the electorate behind him, twice in
elections and today in a referendum, is Hugo Chavez in hot water with our
democracy-promoting White House?
Maybe it's the oil. Lots of it. Chavez sits atop a reserve of crude that
rivals Iraq's. And it's not his presidency of Venezuela that drives the
White House bananas, it was his presidency of the Organization of Petroleum
Exporting Countries, OPEC. While in control of the OPEC secretariat, Chavez
cut a deal with our maximum leader of the time, Bill Clinton, on the price
of oil. It was a 'Goldilocks' plan. The price would not be too low, not too
high; just right, kept between $20 and $30 a barrel.
But Dick Cheney does not like Clinton nor Chavez nor their band. To him, the
oil industry's (and Saudi Arabia's) freedom to set oil prices is as sacred
as freedom of speech is to the ACLU. I got this info, by the way, from three
top oil industry lobbyists.
Why should Chavez worry about what Dick thinks? Because, said one of the oil
men, the Veep in his bunker, not the pretzel-chewer in the White House,
"runs energy policy in the United States." And what seems to have gotten our
Veep's knickers in a twist is not the price of oil, but who keeps the loot
from the current band-busting spurt in prices. Chavez had his Congress pass
another oil law, the "Law of Hydrocarbons," which changes the split. Right
now, the oil majors - like PhillipsConoco - keep 84% of the proceeds of the
sale of Venezuela oil; the nation gets only 16%.
Chavez wanted to double his Treasury's take to 30%. And for good reason.
Landless, hungry peasants have, over decades, drifted into Caracas and other
cities, building million-person ghettos of cardboard shacks and open sewers.
Chavez promised to do something about that.
And he did. "Chavez gives them bread and bricks," one Venezuelan TV reporter
told me. The blonde TV newscaster, in the middle of a publicity shoot, said
the words "pan y ladrillos" with disdain, making it clear that she never
touched bricks and certainly never waited in a bread line. But to feed and
house the darker folk in those bread and brick lines, Chavez would need
funds, and the 16% slice of the oil pie wouldn't do it. So the President of
Venezuela demanded 30%, leaving Big Oil only 70%. Suddenly, Bill Clinton's
ally in Caracas became Mr. Cheney's -- and therefore, Mr. Bush's -- enemy.
So began the Bush-Cheney campaign to "Floridate" the will of the Venezuela
electorate. It didn't matter that Chavez had twice won election. Winning
most of the votes, said a White House spokesman, did not make Chavez'
government "legitimate." Hmmm. Secret contracts were awarded by our Homeland
Security spooks to steal official Venezuela voter lists. Cash passed
discreetly from the US taxpayer, via the so-called 'Endowment for
Democracy,' to the Chavez-haters running today's "recall" election.
A brilliant campaign of placing stories about Chavez' supposed unpopularity
and "dictatorial" manner seized US news and op-ed pages, ranging from the
San Francisco Chronicle to the New York Times.
But some facts just can't be smothered in propaganda ink. While George Bush
can appoint the government of Iraq and call it "sovereign," the government
of Venezuela is appointed by its people. And the fact is that most people in
this slum-choked land don't drive Jaguars or have their hair tinted in
Miami. Most look in the mirror and see someone "negro e indio," as dark as
their President Hugo.
The official CIA handbook on Venezuela says that half the nation's farmers
own only 1% of the land. They are the lucky ones, as more peasants owned
nothing. That is, until their man Chavez took office. Even under Chavez,
land redistribution remains more a promise than an accomplishment. But
today, the landless and homeless voted their hopes, knowing that their man
may not, against the armed axis of local oligarchs and Dick Cheney, succeed
for them. But they are convinced he will never forget them.
And that's a fact.
Greg Palast's reports from Venezuela for BBC Television's Newsnight and the
Guardian papers of Britain earned a California State University Journalism
School "Project Censored" award for 2002. View photos and Palast's reports
on Venezuela at www.GregPalast.com.