The only real surprise is that it took this long.
On Thursday, February 2, the U.S. government’s senior hawk, Donald Rumsfeld, stooped to the Hitler ‘analogy’ in a show of his administration’s increasing desperation at the consolidation of the Bolivarian Revolution and the rise of the Left in Latin America. The Secretary of Defense delivered the clumsy slur against the (repeatedly) democratically elected president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez:
"We've got Chavez in Venezuela with a lot of oil money. He's a person who was elected legally, just as Adolf Hitler was elected legally, and then consolidated power, and now is, of course, working closely with Fidel Castro and Mr. [Evo] Morales and others. It concerns me (1)."
Not to be outdone, his even more irrational fellow right-wing septuagenarian renewed his call for the United States to assassinate Chavez. This time using Fox News as his pulpit, Robertson added a half-hearted caveat to the death wish: "not now, but one day". The evangelist closed his comments with a racist boast, "until that [earlier] comment everybody thought Chavez was a fellow having to do with table grapes in California". To close the segment, co-host Sean Hannity concluded with this statement, agreeing with the thrust of Robertson’s inciteful remarks:
"I think one thing we could say is, the world would be better off without him where he is, because he is a danger to the United States." (See the full interview transcript to believe it at MediaMatters.org).
It would be gratuitous to dwell on the absurdity of Rumsfeld’s flailing and Robertson’s fatwa. The more important point is to highlight the real political developments underlying the hysteria. There are a number of key aspects to Venezuela’s political and social revolution that are currently haunting not only that South American country’s economic elites, but their superiors in Washington, D.C. as well.
First, the Bolivarian Revolution is more entrenched politically and more strident ideologically than ever; Chavez has had his mandate confirmed on a number of occasions since his initial 1998 election, and is all but guaranteed a huge victory in the December 2006 presidential elections. A great number of social programs and investments, fuelled by high oil prices, are bringing tangible improvements to the poor majority in the country. In addition to this redistribution of wealth, increased political participation and grassroots organizing is pushing forward for a more radical transformation of society. And Chavez, especially in the past year, has been every more urgently calling for this process to lead to the development of ‘socialism for the 21st century’.
Another extremely threatening consequence of the Bolivarian Revolution, from the point of view of imperial interests, is the way that its message is resonating across Latin America. The December 2005 landslide election of Evo Morales in Bolivia was just the most spectacular example of the recent trend in the region. Morales – also, by implication, ludicrously tarred with the Hitler brush in Rumsfeld’s remarks – came to power after years of revolt by Bolivia’s indigenous peoples and working class.
The Venezuelan experience stands as both an inspiration to social movements across Latin America and as a standard to which populist and Left leaders can be held accountable, as they inevitably face pressure from national elites and the transnational interests of capital.
Finally, Hugo Chavez has been hitting the United States government hard of late on the home front. This might even be the hardest pill to swallow for Rumsfeld, Bush, Cheney et al. In September, for instance, the Venezuelan government’s offer of aid was held up – and Cuba’s offer of hundreds of doctors was ignored outright -- while the U.S. government failed to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. In subsequent months, Venezuela announced that CITGO – a wholly owned subsidiary of the country’s PDVSA national oil company – would begin providing discounted heating oil to disadvantaged households in the United States. Last month, for instance, Venezuela agreed to give upwards of $5 million worth of heating oil to low-income, homeless and Native people in – of all places – the state of Maine (2). In this and other initiatives, Chavez is turning international solidarity on its head, and intervening on the side of the ‘other America’ within the United States.
The new internationalism of the Bolivarian Revolution is not the kind of ‘globalization’ that the progenitors of that euphemism for neo-liberal capitalism had in mind.
As if providing all that essential energy and disaster relief to so many citizens of the United States wasn’t enough of a poke in the eye to the government in Washington, last week Hugo Chavez played host to the woman who has led the resurgence of the U.S. anti-war movement. Cindy Sheehan was among the honoured guests at the World Social Forum, held in Caracas January 24-29.
Along with over 60 000 participants, Sheehan resolved, among other things, to build huge rallies on March 18 of this year, the third anniversary of Bush’s illegal invasion of Iraq. The Venezuelan president urged people in the United States and around the world to bring down the U.S. Empire, even offering a little career advice to Sheehan, the world’s most famous activist against the Iraq war: "He said, ‘why don’t [you] run for president?’" (3)
And that, as much as anything, explains the murderous fury and ridiculous slander of Pat Robertson and Donald Rumsfeld alike.
Derrick O’Keefe is co-editor of Seven Oaks (www.SevenOaksMag.com).
(1) February 3, 2005, ‘Tit for tat: U.S. and Venezuela trade expulsions and slurs’, CBC.ca.
(2) January 11, 2006, ‘Maine, Venezuela reach oil deal’, Portland Press Herald.
(3) January 30, 2006, ‘Chavez backs Sheehan in new Bush protest’, CNN.com.