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Can Hugo Chavez Beat The Devil?

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After Venezuela's Hugo Chavez told the United Nations he could smell the sulphur in the chamber where President Bush spoke the previous day, some angry Bostonians wanted to pull down the big CITGO neon sign in Kenmore Square, since CITGO oil is pumped in Chavez Country. The loquacious Chavez had the temerity to compare President Bush with the devil, which virtually all in Congress refuse to do even though they can smell more than sulphur rising from the stinking bonfires of Iraq that Mr. Bush keeps stoking with his pitchfork.

It never ceases to amaze how foreigners can grasp what a leader like Bush is all about when the leader's own followers can't see it. American radio audiences back in the Thirties that heard excerpts of Hitler's rants knew Der Fuhrer was nuts but Hitler's German audiences were ecstatic, possibly because Hitler was telling them what they wanted to hear. They thought Hitler was sane and his oratorical flourishes the outcry of a mesmerizing orator. Millions of people the world over, including the UN Secretary-General and the Pope of Rome, shouted that Bush's planned invasion of Iraq was illegal but Americans bought into Bush's lie Saddam Hussein had WMD and rationalized an invasion that set an innocent nation afire. The world at large could see it, but not Mr. and Mrs. America. Apparently, the Bushidos were telling Americans what they wanted to hear, that they had to knock off Saddam Hussein before he reduced their proud cities to piles of irradiated rubble. Just as Germans roared approval when Hitler recounted how they got screwed at the post-World War One peace conference at Versailles, Congress went nuts over the idea Hussein had WMD, which Vice-President Dick Cheney assured them he had "for a certainty."

Chavez, just re-elected to his third term with a hefty 63% majority, has now decided to twist the Yankee devil's capitalist tail by threatening to nationalize several key Venezuelan industries. He couldn't provoke a bigger outcry in Washington than if he had ordered his marketing staff to laminate his smiling photo on all CITGO credit cards and pass out bumper strips at his gas stations reading, "Buy CITGO! Beat the Devil!" Like him or not, Chavez shows courage as well as calculation. Every Latin schoolboy knows the ugly history of U.S. intervention whenever and wherever some Hispanic leader took over, or threatened to take over, a company listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Socialist Salvador Allende was murdered in Chile with the connivance of President Nixon and Henry Kissinger; Ronald Reagan dispatched the Contras to slaughter innocent Nicaraguans; Jack Kennedy okayed the Bay of Pigs assault on Cuba, ad nauseum. To order your own country to conduct its economic affairs in a manner not previously sanctioned by the White House is to risk signing your own death warrant.

A proponent of "21st-century socialism," Chavez wants to put electric and telecommunications companies at the service of the state, rather than at the service of their shareholders. The Associated Press reported January 12th, Chavez "is disposed to pay fair market prices...that would make these 'nationalizations' much less radical than initially feared and not all that unusual in Latin America." White House press secretary Tony Snow claimed nationalization "has a long and inglorious history of failure around the world," a declaration that overlooks the success right here at home of Halliburton Corp., whose sales and profits have soared dramatically since it became a Frankenstein creature of the military-industrial complex and no longer has to bother with competitive bidding to secure multi-billion dollar contracts for disemboweling Iraq. Most of the other principal corporate piggies at the Pentagon trough are also gorging themselves on non-bid delicacies subsidized by the very taxpayers who voted to elect Free Market Bush.

In point of fact, though, nationalization of basic industries has worked in a number of countries, including Chile, Brazil and Colombia, where state-run oil is the norm, AP says. "A 2004 World Bank study that looked at 181 state-run utilities in 15 Latin American and Caribbean countries that were privatized in the 1990s--- in fixed telecommunications, electricity and water distribution and sewers --- found that on the whole, labor productivity, efficiency and quality of service improved, especially in telecoms" although water and sewers "tended to be problematic." By contraxt, when Argentina's Carlos Menem, a bullish privatizer, sold off scores of firms during his 1989-99 presidency, "the selloffs helped modernize the country, yet critics complained the fortunes reaped were later squandered or illegally pocketed and that many buyers failed to make needed investments. Similar complains tagged sweeping privatizations in Peru and Boliva."

Given the fact President Bush is as busy in Iraq as a wretch up to his neck in quicksand grasping to crawl out, Chavez can probably nationalize CANTV and the other entities he has in mind without having the CIA come after him the way it pounced on Che Guevera when he tried to foment a revolution in Bolivia. Chavez does not use force and violence like Guevera or nationalize without compensation like Castro. It's a fair question to inquire if any leader anywhere in the world is safe from American meddling if he or she adopts a Socialist economic system, or even a mixed economy system that does not totally embrace Free Enterprise Capitalist Economic Principles, also known in some quarters inhabited by the poor and exploited consumers of the earth by the acronym FECES. If Socialism is such an awful idea why not allow the Chavez's of the world make their own mistakes and, as they are discredited, leave it up to their publics to remove them? Indeed, if Tony Snow thinks State-run enterprises are so dreadful, why doesn't he threaten the mayors of American cities who operate thousands of public electric, waterworks, and sewerage utilities?

I am no economist and make no argument for or against capitalism or socialism. This scribble is only to remind the U.S. has an arrogant history of crushing governments whose elected leaders want to advance their societies by establishing their own economic agendas. Both Afghanistan and Iraq refused to allow U.S.-backed consortiums to lay oil pipleines across their territory and both got invaded for it, (in case you didn't know those wars have more to do with o-i-l than d-e-m-o-c-r-a-c-y.) Chavez's declaration of "Socialism or Death" is widely understood by the ordinary people of Latin America, where leaders risk the latter if they adopt the former. Now the world watches to see if the populist Mr. Chavez can indeed "beat the devil."


(Sherwood Ross is a Florida-based reporter who recently obtained a CITGO credit card and says his Japanese-made car can run as well on CITGO as on Exxon.)
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Sherwood Ross worked as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News and contributed a regular "Workplace" column for Reuters. He has contributed to national magazines and hosted a talk show on WOL, Washington, D.C. In the Sixties he was active as public (more...)
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