(MintPress) — As the Bolivarian movement grabs hold in South America, the battle between the White House and Latin America’s anti-capitalist movement is intensifying.
Venezuela is alleged to be preparing a 1 million-man-strong guerrilla army capable of withstanding a U.S. invasion — a move that has threatened interests in the West who see it as a symbolic and aggressive gesture toward the U.S., yet not-so-far-fetched for some within Latin America, who have a long history of battles against Western occupation.
Rep. Maria Corina Machado, former presidential candidate, leaked the information to El Universal Newspaper after receiving a copy of the plan, one which details the threat of a 2013 U.S. invasion.
While it may seem to be a move by a Western perceived paranoid president, it wouldn’t be the first time President Hugo Chavez had to defend himself from a U.S.-sponsored overhaul. And it certainly wouldn’t be an unprecedented move by the U.S., which has a long history of occupation and the implementation of dictators in Latin American countries. Since 1980 alone, the U.S. has intervened 10 times, by way of supporting coups to overthrow governments, in one way or another.
So, is Chavez paranoid, or is he looking to history as a guide to defend his turf?
In July, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney issued a statement, just in time for the 201st anniversary of Venezuela’s independence, one which carried an underlying tone of tension, and one that could be seen as perpetuating an ongoing threat on behalf of the U.S.
“Hugo Chavez is leading a movement in Venezuela and throughout Latin America that seeks to undermine freedom, diminish prosperity and expand tyranny,” he said. “Today is a day to reaffirm our commitment to defending democracy and to stand with those in Venezuela and elsewhere who bravely speak out for the rights of their countrymen.”
Such harsh words aren’t new for Chavez, who is a vocal critic of the U.S., commonly referring to it as a world empire and criticizing the impacts of American capitalism in South America.
Human Rights Watch, a leading human rights organization, has also recently issued somewhat of a warning against Chavez and the country, claiming the president has concentrated too much power in the executive branch and has placed too many restrictions on media outlets, criminalizing the “disrespect” of public officials.
A history of occupation
In 2002, Chavez found himself fighting for his democratically elected presidential seat.
After winning his first election in 1998, the former army soldier rose to power, touting an anti-capitalist agenda and promising to use the country’s rich oil reserves to fund social programs for the middle class and poor.
When it comes to oil, Venezuela has its fair share, with the fifth largest reserve in the world. A move to nationalize the system would take power away from oil companies who stood to gain, and who cater to Western markets.
While the move did put money back into Venezuela’s social programs, sanctions by Western nations, particularly the U.S., have hurt the country’s oil program. In 2002, prior to the coup that overthrew Chavez, oil workers went on strike. When the oil industry went down, many within society went with them.
In the immediate lead-up to the coup, media reports showed a clashing population of anti-Chavez dissidents and Chavez supporters, in most cases blaming Chavez supporters for lethal shots fired. But this was a story contested by some, who claim the Chavez supporters were fighting back against gunfire.
It was from this group of dissidents that domestic coup leaders were formed, along with the guidance of the U.S., according to documents released in 2004.
The U.S. complies with what the records show — intelligence officials, including President George W. Bush had knowledge of a plan to overthrow Chavez, and the U.S. met with domestic plot leaders. In the brief period of time Chavez was ousted, the U.S. applauded the overthrow of the government, calling Chavez’s eviction a resignation and fully embracing the new president, Pedro Carmona Estanga, who rejected the anti-capitalist agenda.
The short-lived 47-hour coup accomplished quite a bit in its time — it threw out the National Assembly and the Supreme Court and Chavez was arrested. But it wasn’t long before the show was over.
Thousands of people hit the streets in protest of the overthrow, demanding that the leader they elected be rightfully placed back in command. The documentary, “South of the Border,” shows footage of people in the street, claiming the coup was an attack on their democracy, calling for Chavez to be president, once again. The pressure was too much, and Estanga resigned. Chavez resumed control in his elected position.
In 2004, declassified intelligence documents showed that the CIA at least knew about the coup of 2002 and that the Bush Administration had direct knowledge of the plot. That’s contrary to what was said, however, following the overthrow of Chavez. During that time, President George W. Bush administration pointed fingers at Chavez.
The documents, as reported in 2004 by the New York Times, detailed a plot to “exploit unrest stemming from opposition demonstrations slated for later this month.” Bernardo Alvarez, the Venezuelan ambassador to Washington at the time, told the Times his perspective of the coup.
“What comes to my attention is that the opposition would take advantage after generating violence, as the CIA documents show. And that after that the White House would accuse the Venezuelan government of what the opposition is actually responsible for,” he told the newspaper.
Following the coup, the Chicago Tribune reported that the overthrow of Chavez represented the overthrow of the most stable democracy in South America, one rich in oil and controlled by the state.
The entire situation fueled the flames of Chavez’s accusations that the U.S. opposed his rule, claiming it threatened the American corporatocracy structure in Latin America. It validated his paranoia and drew an even greater divide between Chavez and the White House.
Other Latin America coups
In 1989, the U.S. made headlines for assisting in a coup against Panama’s leader Manuel Antonio Noriega — and failed. Panama troops loyal to Noriega fought off the attempts, succeeding in their efforts.
The White House’s history with Noriega was anything but pleasant, as he had been indicted in Florida on allegations of drug-related and racketeering charges by federal grand juries. In response, the U.S. refused to pay Panama Canal fees and froze all funds from Panama that rested in U.S. accounts.
According to a 1988 article in the Sun Sentinel, the U.S. actions “created a cash shortage” and “forced Panama to stop paying its 130,000 public employees.” The actions were seen as an attempt to force Noriega out of office. As a result, public employees began to strike and protests broke out, fueling the fire needed for an overthrow of the government. However, loyal troops fought back, overpowering protesters.
More recently, in 2004, House leaders called for an investigation into the Bush administration’s alleged involvement in the 2004 Coup d’Etat in Haiti that overthrew democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Barbara Lee, a democrat from California. The bill, H.R. 331, had 12 co-sponsors, yet failed to make it out of committee.
Bolivarian movement — who benefits?
Stories like this go back throughout history, and with a new Bolivarian movement unofficially led by Chavez spreading throughout Latin America, the threat to foreign corporation operation in the area is threatened.
The Bolivarian movement includes a way of governing and managing natural resources that gives it back to the people, through social programs. It’s a move away from capitalism and even further toward socialism. It takes the U.S. and other Western forces out of the picture. As Chavez told film director Oliver Stone in the documentary, “South of the Border,” it allows South America to govern itself, without interference from Western forces.
What’s to be seen now is how Latin America will handle this. In Argentina, for example, President Cristina Fernández De Kirchner has taken back a portion of control of the country’s oil system, formerly operated and owned by Spanish company, YPF — a move that angered the Spanish and sent a warning to the rest of the world that Latin America intends to control its own resources and use the proceeds from such to fuel a socialist form of government, whether the West likes it or not.
Having a 1-million man guerilla army trained and ready doesn’t hurt, either. While pushing forward with policies contrary to the aims of the White House, regardless of president, it seems now Venezuela is preparing the next step in its Bolivarian movement of self governance — creating an army that will allow it to go on, without outside interruption. Given the history of interventions by U.S. forces, Chavez’s move may stem more from a historical perspective than anything else.