New US Fourth Fleet threatens Venezuela's revolution

By Marcus Pabian

On July 1 the US Fourth Fleet, operating in the Caribbean and off the coast of South America, was been re-activated in a desperate attempt by the US rulers to reassert control over a region in which working people in rebellion against US corporate domination. The fleet, dismantled in 1950, will be an armada with more warships and warplanes than most of the 30 countries it will surround.

The officially announced purpose for reactivating the fleet, according to an April 28 Pentagon press release, is to give the US Navy the military assets in the region to “conduct varying missions including a range of contingency operations, counter narcoterrorism, and theater security cooperation (TSC) activities... as well as humanitarian assistance and in-country partnerships.”

However, the real purpose is to give the US president, the US military’s “commander-in-chief”, the military assets to counter Venezuela’s socialist revolution. This became clear on February 5 when, three weeks after US Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, head of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, declared the reactivation of the Fourth Fleet “a great idea”, General Mike McConnell, the US Director of National Intelligence, issued his “annual threat assessment”. He classified Venezuela as the “principal threat against the US in the [western] hemisphere”.

While US President George Bush and Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain are still focussed on “winning” Washington’s failed five-year-long war on oil-rich Iraq, which has significantly degraded the fighting capacity of the US Army, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has begun voicing the concerns of a growing section of the US capitalist rulers of the need to counter the “threat” from Venezuela.

In an article in the June 16 Philadelphia Inquirer, 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, 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.”

But the only threat that Hugo Chavez poses is the example the socialist revolution he is leading provides to working people about how to effect meaningful social change. The Venezuelan revolution has dramatically improved living conditions for the country’s poor, becoming a beacon of hope to many of Latin America’s poor and their struggle to break away from being pillaged by US corporate capitalism.

For several decades now, a Washington-imposed neoliberal “free market” recipe has deepened poverty across South America by forcing poor countries to privatise state assets, import US products at the expense of developing the local economy and taking their natural resources at cheap prices. According to Osvaldo Martinez, Director of the Economic Research Center in Cuba, over 4000 public companies providing goods and services were sold to transnational corporations in the last three decades of US-imposed neoliberal privatisation.

The Venezuelan revolution

When Chavez was first elected Venezuela’s president in 1998, Washington tried to work with his government even though Chavez had promised to create “a transition from a neoliberal model to a humanist self-government — a more democratic model that would resolve the basic needs of the people”. The first major showdown with US imperialism came in 2001, when the Chavez government tried to take control of the oil resources of Venezuela to meet the needs of its poor majority.

In November 2001 Chavez enacted 49 new laws, which included a hydrocarbons law that would reverse the privatisation plan for the state-owned oil company, PDVSA, the largest company in Latin America, giving the Chavez government a 51% controlling stake in all joint projects with foreign corporations and a 30% rate of royalties from all private oil companies.

Following the announcement of the 49 laws, the political spokespeople for Venezuela’s capitalist oligarchy declared them to be a threat to private property. Indeed, retaking control of PDVSA to meet the needs of working people and the poor created an open class struggle to determine who held political power in Venezuela. It put Chavez in direct opposition to the interests of the pro-privatisation management of PDVSA, other Venezuelan capitalists, the US oil corporations and the US government.

The Bush administration responded by holding a two-day joint meeting in November 2001 of the National Security Council, the Pentagon and the State Department on US policy towards “the problem of Venezuela”. The outcome was a US-backed military coup against Chavez, taking him hostage, on April 11, 2002. But in response a mass uprising by working people and soldiers defeated the coup in three days, bringing Chavez back to power.

The defeat of the coup through the mass revolutionary action of soldiers and the urban poor changed the class character of the Venezuela’s government and the armed forces, the two new core institutions of state power. The Chavez government no longer rested just on national elections and the hierarchy of the armed forces (which had historically been used against working people), but on the mass mobilisation of working people and soldiers in a conflict over which class would control PDVSA.

The coup split the Venezuelan armed forces in two. With the defeat of the coup the military officers supporting the alliance of Venezuelan capitalists and US imperialism was exposed and routed from the armed forces, placing the armed forces under the control of officers loyal to Chavez’s working people’s government and its anti-capitalist agenda.

Social gains

The Chavez government took full control of PDVSA in early 2003, after mobilising soldiers and production workers to defeat the oil bosses’ December 2002 lock-out. With PDVSA reoriented to serve the needs of working people rather than the Venezuelan capitalist oligarchy and its US corporate allies, spending on social programs was increased from US$40 million in 1998 to $13.3 billion in 2006. Major social missions were launched within the country, across Latin America, the US and even London to help poor people.

Venezuela’s social missions have eradicated illiteracy, doubled the number of people enrolled in schools and universities, provided subsidised food to 13 million people, built safe public housing, created more public transport, started to repair the environment, focussed special attention on disabled and homeless people and restored the eyesight of 4500 poor people from other Latin American countries. Socialist Cuba has played a major role in the free health program — mission Barrio Adentro — by sending some 20,000 health professionals to Venezuela to staff clinics built in poor neighbourhoods across the country.

These tangible social gains from the socialist revolution are all the more impressive because they are increasingly being organised by hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan people, and coordinated by new grassroots communal councils which now number at least 26,000. This example shows the potential of a socialist revolution to solve social problems by organising the working people themselves to take control of the resources of the country and harness them for their needs.

US imperialism’s subjugation of Latin America to unfair trade agreements has also been frustrated by the Chavez government’s launching of new trade agreements that focus on mutual development, solidarity and cooperation. One form that this alternative has taken is the Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America (ALBA) which has forged international agreements based on solidarity. It officially began in December 2004. Since then, Venezuela has signed 15 agreements with 18 countries. Another form it has taken is PetroCaribe, also begun in 2004. Since then 14 Carribean island-nations have signed on and receive Venezuelan oil on favourable terms, showing that there is an alternative to Washington’s pro-profit “free trade” agenda.

In 2003-04 the US government poured millions of dollars into funding an opposition campaign to hold a referendum that would recall Chavez from office. Following the defeat of this referendum in August 2004, when 59% of voters rejected Chavez’s recall, Washington began a concerted public campaign to gradually discredit the Chavez government. In January 2005 US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared Venezuela a “negative force” in Latin America.

Undermining US domination

Four months later another US attack on Chavez was scuttled at the summit of the Organisation of American States, when the US candidate for OAS secretary-general, Mexico’s Luis Ernesto Derbez, was defeated by Chile’s Jose Miguel Insulza with the support of Venezuela and other left-leaning governments. In November 2005 came an even bigger defeat for the US rulers, when their major economic project for Latin America, the Free Trade Area of the Americas, was rejected at the Fourth Summit of the Americas, held in Mar del Plata, Argentina.

In March 2006 Bush hypocritically claimed Chavez was “undermining democracy” and trying to “destabilise” the region. But only US imperialist domination is being destabilised in Latin America. At an energy summit in February 2007, convened by Chavez in Porlamar on the Venezuelan island of Margarita, 12 countries declared their intention to create the Union of South American Nations, aimed at integrating their energy resources to promote social and economic development and eradicate poverty.
US domination has often been organised through the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank loaning poor countries money with conditions that demand the neoliberal recipe of privatisation and the opening up of their economies to US corporate investments. Chavez has led a campaign to create a Bank of the South that he says can help break those chains of dependence and underdevelopment. In December 2007, the Bank of the South was launched in the Argentinean capital Buenos Aires, when Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela signed its founding charter.

The US Fourth Fleet was originally created in 1943 to combat a campaign by German submarines in World War II to control the oil produced by Venezuela. Now, it will be used to intimidate the Venezuelan people from controlling that same oil. US naval war games have already been conducted just off the coast of Venezuela, involving US military bases established in May 1999 on the Dutch islands of Curacao and Aruba which lie near Venezuela’s oil-rich Lake Maracaibo.

The reactivated fleet is based at Mayport, Florida and is commanded by Rear Admiral Joseph Kernan, previously chief of the Naval Special Warfare Command. The centrepiece of the fleet will be the USS George Washington, one of the US Navy’s 10 Nimitz-class aircraft carriers. As Cuba’s Fidel Castro pointed out on May 4, this 333-metre long, $6 billion war machine, powered by nuclear reactors and typically equipped with 90 warplanes, will threaten Latin American with war and terror.

However, the US war machine — accounting for 45% of total military spending across the world — will meet fierce resistance in Venezuela. In early June, following the US announcement of its war fleet, 40,000 people across Venezuela — military personnel, military reserves, community council members, community media workers, and civilians — conducted invasion resistance exercises in Operation Socialist Fatherland 2008. Chief Guaicaipuro Radio of Resistance — named after a famous indigenous resistance leader who fought against Spanish colonialism — was launched to coordinate people in defence operations. Chavez announced that training for a “creative and flexible” war of resistance would be reactivated.

[Marcus Pabian is an activists in the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network and a member of the Revolutionary Socialist Party.]