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 'hacendados.'
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 convertible.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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."
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%.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
that's a fact.
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.
Posted: August 23, 2004