Obama increases war threat against Venezuela

By Marcus Pabian

“We do not want war, we hate it. But we must prepare for it”, explained Venezuela’s socialist President Hugo Chavez on August 16 in response to plans to increase numbers of US bases around his country, which has confirmed the continuation of US threats of aggression from the Bush to the Obama administrations.

News leaked in July of negotiations to lease another seven Colombian military bases to the US, in addition to the three existing ones. In August, Colombian officials revealed that the package included three air bases (Malambo, Palanquero and Meta); two army bases (Larandia and Tolemaida); and two naval bases (Bahia Malaga and Cartagena). The US currently has about 250 military personnel in Colombia. Under the new bases deal, this will rise to 800 troops and 600 “civilian” military contractors.

On September 18, the US military ended its presence at Ecuador’s Manta base following the refusal by leftist President Rafeal Correa to renew the US military’s 10-year lease of the base, which provided for sea, land and air operations. But with the new bases in Colombia, the US military will have 20 bases in Latin America that could be used as staging posts for military operations against Venezuela. The other 10 US bases include the Comalapa base in El Salvador, Soto Cano in Honduras, the Liberia base in Costa Rica, the Iquitos and Nanay bases in Peru, the Mariscal Estigarribia base in Paraguay, Guantanamo in Cuba, the Vieques base in Puerto Rico, the Reina Beatriz base in Aruba, and the Hatos base in Curacao.

Washington claims the new bases are serving the fight against “narco-terrorism” and the “war on drugs”, but this is a thin cover for its military encirclement of Venezuela’s socialist revolution. Ever since the Chavez leadership sought to gain control of Venezuelan oil resources from US companies and Venezuelan capitalists and redirect Venezuela’s oil export revenue to meeting the needs of Venezuela’s working people, Washington has sought to overthrow the Chavez government.

In April 2002, Washington gave covert support to the military coup that ousted the Chavez government, sparking an insurrection of workers and soldiers that destroyed the control of the pro-capitalist military high command over the ranks of the armed forces. As a result of the April 13, 2002 insurrection, a new working people’s state power was created which was then able to take control of the oil industry and use its resources to create an economy oriented to social need rather than capitalist business profits. As a result, there have been massive social changes in Venezuela, including large declines in poverty.

For several decades now, the Washington-imposed neoliberal “free market” agenda has deepened poverty across Latin America by forcing poor countries to privatise state assets, import US products at the expense of developing the local economy and accede to the exploitation of their natural resources by US and other First World corporations. Venezuela’s socialist revolution has raised the expectations of millions of working people across Latin America that real social change is possible. This threatens US corporate interests across Latin America, especially as the Chavez leadership has united with the 50-year-old anti-capitalist revolution in Cuba to promote socialism as an alternative to Latin America’s US-dominated, poverty-ridden capitalist societies.

Following the defeat of the April 2002 coup against Chavez, the US government’s Agency for International Aid has provided US$50 million to 520 anti-Chavez groups and NGOs, and the US corporate media have accelerated their campaign to vilify Chavez presenting him as a “dictator”, despite his having repeatedly won majority support in internationally monitored elections contested by the US-backed pro-capitalist opposition.

‘Threat to US national security’

In February last year, General Mike McConnell, the US Director of National Intelligence, issued his “annual threat assessment”, classifying Venezuela as the “principal threat against the US in the [western] hemisphere”. A February 2008 report on “Present Threats to National Security” by the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency also classified Venezuela as a “national security threat” to the US. Then in June 2008, Jorge Ramos, the senior news anchor for the US Spanish-language Univision Network, the fifth most watched US TV network, reported that in a recent interview, then US presidential candidate Barrack Obama had told him: “When we start ending the war in Iraq, we can refocus our attention ... in Latin America.” When Ramos asked Obama, “And what about Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez? Is he a threat to US national security and to the rest of the continent?”, Obama replied: “I do think that he is a threat, but I think he is a manageable threat.”

A month later, the Bush administration reactivated the US Navy’s Fourth Fleet, disbanded in 1950, to patrol the Caribbean, claiming it was part of the fight against “narco-terrorism”. In March 2008, Bush had claimed, without any evidence, that the Chavez government was supporting Colombian “narco-terrorists”. This pretext for the US military build–up against Venezuela has been continued by the Obama administration.

On July 21 this year the US Government Accountability Office published a report claiming the Chavez government tolerates drug trafficking, attempting to further justify it as target of the US “war on drugs”. Venezuela has been repeatedly classified as non-compliant with the US “war on drugs” since the Chavez government stopped cooperating with the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in 2005, claiming the agency was engaged in spying in support of Venezuela’s pro-capitalist political opposition.

Despite being classified as “non-compliant”, since its break with the DEA the Chavez government has ranked as a top seizer of cocaine four years running, according to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The UNODC’s 2008 World Report on Drug Seizures ranks Venezuela as having the world’s fourth highest interdiction rate. Overall, the interdiction of drug cargoes and arrests of large-scale dealers increased over 60% without the cooperation of the DEA, according to Venezuelan interior and justice minister Tareck El Aissami.

US wars and drugs production

In a September 22 Venezuelanalysis.com website article on “The Myths and Realities of the Struggle Against Drugs in Venezuela”, Romain Migus wrote: “According to the UN, 50% of the cocaine available in US territory enters by the Pacific coast and 38% arrives by going along the coast of the countries of Central America. In other words, 88% of the cocaine that arrives in the United States doesn’t pass, according to the UN, through Venezuela. If Hugo Chavez and Venezuela don’t facilitate international drug trafficking ... can we say the same for the United States?

“The World Drug Report by the UN for the year 2008 recalls some illuminating figures. The world’s largest producer of cocaine is Colombia, with 61% of global production; the largest opium producer in the world is Afghanistan, which accounts for 92.5% of production. Those two countries have a massive presence of the U.S. military on their territories, the first in the framework of Plan Colombia; the second due to the military occupation ‘Enduring Freedom’. The UN report demonstrates that, despite the US military occupation, the results with regard to the anti-drug struggle are catastrophic in both countries. In the case of Colombia, cocaine production has practically not fallen even with ten years of technical and military aid from the United States through Plan Colombia. In the case of Afghanistan, the production of opium increased, according to the UN, by 141% since the presence of military troops and the DEA in the country. So, who is the facilitator?”

With its military bogged down in highly unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Washington is neither in a political or military position to launch a large-scale military attack on Venezuela in the near future. However, the build-up of US forces around Venezuela indicates Washington’s intention to eventually undertake military action against the Venezuelan socialist revolution. As Mark Vorpahl, a Portland Central America Solidarity Committee activist, observed in a September 22 article posted on the Venezuelanalysis.com website, “The US military buildup on Colombian bases is not so large as to expect a full-scale war with Venezuela immediately. Most likely, this buildup will be used initially for smaller scale terrorist acts and other covert activities aimed at Venezuela and countries in Latin America aligned with President Chavez. Such an approach can rapidly escalate, however. The US could quickly find itself massively invested in a direct war with Venezuela or, at least, a costly war in which the Colombian military, fattened by U.S. tax dollars and ‘military advisors’, fights as a proxy army against Venezuela.”

To defend the Venezuelan revolution, the Chavez government has continuously eroded the remaining influence of the capitalist opposition within the military and police forces, beginning with the forcible retirement of all those in the military who supported the April 2002 coup. The May 30 New York Times reported that up to 800 military officers have been demoted for their opposition to the socialist orientation of the government.

The police force, which participated in the 2002 coup, is also being displaced by a new national police force to be trained at a special university being set up by the Chavez government. This force will also be complemented by a community police force overseen by the grassroots community councils. The new police model is the result of two years of community discussion. According to Pablo Fernández Blanco from the Venezuelan human rights organisation Red de Apoyo por la Justicia y la Paz (Support Network for Peace and Justice), it “produced a police model that adheres to the criteria, principles, and guidelines of human rights … the model is characterized by a democratic and civil conception of what a modern police force should be.” Some police stations in states like Miranda, that are under opposition governors, have also been taken over by the Bolivarian National Guard.

On September 13, Chavez announced that his government is also spending $2.2 billion purchasing tanks, missiles and air defence equipment from Russia. Tens of thousands of civilians and soldiers have also taken part in joint military exercises to defend against an invasion. Pointing out that the US may use its military build-up in Colombia to start “a war in South America”, Chavez said on August 9: “I call on the people and the armed forces, let’s go, ready for combat!” He added: “An aggression against Venezuela will be met not only by Venezuela; various countries would take up arms. It is clear to me that a great anti-imperialistic movement would rise up on these lands.”