Eva Golinger

As predicted, the United States has launched an aggressive campaign towards
Venezuela, kicking off the New Year. In the course of just a few weeks,
strong signs of incoming Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s antagonistic
foreign policy have been filtered into the mass media in both nations.

A relatively soft-toned visit by three U.S. Senators, Bill Nelson (D-FL),
Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) to Venezuela on January
10, 2004 that produced reconciliatory statements by both nations appears to
have provoked a backlash by the U.S. Department of State. Despite the
presence of the U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela, William Brownfield, in
meetings with the three Senators and Venezuela’s President, Hugo Chávez, as
well as other high-level government officials, during which agreements were
reached to “begin a new relationship and not dwell on the past”, a rush of
declarations affirming just the opposite were made public days later.

On January 11, Ambassador Brownfield made headlines in Venezuela during a
visit to the site of destruction from torrential flooding that occurred
back in 1999. He declared that the U.S. Government will always “support the
people of Venezuela” and assured assistance in case of any future natural
disasters. He announced the donation of $33,000 in USAID funding for a
local day care center, a mere fraction of the more than $15 million given by
USAID to the political opposition in Venezuela over the past few years to
overthrow President Chávez. But Brownfield’s appeasing disposition was
clearly directed at Venezuelans and not their government. Just a day later,
the “good cop, bad cop” game the U.S. Government has been playing with
Venezuela became evident. Former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela, Charles
Shapiro, accredited shortly before the coup in April 2002 and remaining,
through rocky relations, until August 2004, published an Opinion article in
Miami’s Spanish newspaper, El Nuevo Herald, justifying U.S. intervention in

Shapiro, now the Adjunct Vice Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs of
the Department of State, affirmed the U.S. Government’s commitment to
continue financing Venezuela’s opposition movement to President Chávez,
referring to coup leaders and illegal strike instigators as “Venezuelans
seeking to protect their democratic rights”. The U.S. Government has
funneled more than $20 million to opposition organizations and parties
since 2001, through its two financing entities, the National Endowment for
Democracy and United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Continuing with the media campaign, on January 13, Senator Richard Lugar,
head of the international relations committee of the U.S. Senate, made
public a letter sent in November 2004 to the U.S. Government Accountability
Office expressing profound worry over an eventual disruption in oil supply
from Venezuela. Lugar affirmed that the Department of State no longer
considers Venezuela a reliable supplier of oil due to “political
instability” that threatens oil production. No mention was made of the fact
that the U.S. Government has been the prime instigator of such “political

That same day, the Financial Times published an article criticizing the new
land reform law in Venezuela, warning that Chávez is “consolidating power”
and presents a growing “authoritarian” threat to the region. Human Rights
Watch also released its Annual Report that Thursday, declaring in a press
conference that the Venezuelan Government presents “grave threats” to
rights of freedom of expression and association, based on its criticism of the new
media responsibility law and the reforms made to the penal code during
The Human Rights Watch report also claimed that Chávez and his party were
attempting to curb independence in the judiciary by passing a law
increasing the number of Supreme Court Justices from 20 to 32. The law was passed by a democratic majority in the National Assembly in absolute accordance with Venezuelan law.

On January 14, the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal both published
Editorials calling for a more aggressive policy against Venezuela from the
Bush Administration. The Washington Post Editorial, “Venezuela’s
Revolution”, referred to Chávez as a “disciple of Cuban President Fidel
Castro”, arch-enemy of the U.S. Government, and claimed his administration
was seeking to actively tighten its relations with Iran, Libya, Russia and
China, insinuating the development of a new “axis of evil”. The Post also
accused Chávez of spending more than $5 billion on arms in Russia and of
giving sanctuary to a Colombian FARC terrorist. A Washington Times article
that Friday went further to claim that Bush administration officials
declared Washington was implementing a “tougher policy” towards Venezuela
due to President Chávez’s alleged “rejection” of moves to improve bilateral
relations. Furthermore, the Times article declared that the Bush
Administration was “targeting friendly countries to reassess their
relations with Mr. Chávez and to speak up against his authoritarian and
anti-democratic rule.”

Such statements, though made unofficially and anonymously, were
substantiated during Condoleeza Rice’s confirmation hearings for Secretary
of State the following week. But beforehand, on that same January 14, State
Department spokesman Richard Boucher made clear that the U.S. had “profound
concerns about the undemocratic and detrimental policies of President
Chávez and his government.” Though no substance was given to such “concerns”,
Boucher made clear that the State Department did not consider a government
“democratic” merely because it has won nine transparent elections with a
landslide majority, or has implemented policies favoring the vast majority
of neglected citizens, delegated state resources to effective education and
healthcare programs or has pledged to do everything possible to reduce
poverty and economic disparity. Boucher erroneously stated that the U.S.
“always speaks out in favor of democracy in this hemisphere” when in fact
the U.S. was the only government in the region to publicly applaud the coup
d’etat against President Chávez in April 2002.

During that same week, a crisis erupted between Venezuela and Colombia over
the illegal capture of a Colombian FARC leader on Venezuelan territory.
Instead of consulting with the Venezuelan authorities, Colombian violated
Venezuela’s sovereignty by bribing officials and conducting clandestine
operations enabling the kidnapping of Rodrigo Granda, known as the FARC
Chancellor, during December 2004. Once the facts were made public about the
Colombian Government’s bribery of Venezuelan officials to facilitate the
capture of Granda, without passing through diplomatic channels, a rupture
between the two countries occurred. Instead of letting the two neighboring
nations mediate their own crisis, the U.S. immediately intervened and took
sides. U.S. Ambassador to Colombia, William Wood, declared on January 15
that the U.S. Government supported the position of Colombia “100%”. It
became quite clear at that moment that the U.S. Government was a major
player in the South American crisis. No other nation made any such
pronouncements or expressed a preference for “sides.”

By January 18, Condoleeza Rice had made clear during her confirmation
hearings that Venezuela was a “major threat to the region” particularly due
to its “growing friendship with Cuba.” During her hearings, Rice claimed
that Chávez was a “negative force” for the region and made clear that the
U.S. “cannot remain indifferent to what Venezuela is doing beyond its
borders”, referring primarily to Venezuela’s trade relations with Cuba and
its relations with progressive movements throughout the continent.

But if things weren’t clear enough by then, they became even more evident
on January 24, when State Department spokesman Adam Ereli confirmed the U.S.
Government’s participation in Colombian operations to capture FARC
“terrorists” on Venezuelan soil. Though Ereli later “clarified” the U.S.
Government’s involvement in the Granda affair, by stating that it had no
role in the actual capture of the FARC leader, though it “shared
information” about such individuals, it also demanded that the Venezuelan
government “take a serious position” against such “terrorist groups” and
act on information provided by the Colombian government regarding the presence
of other FARC and ELN members on Venezuelan territory.

So, as the month of January culminates, it becomes clear that 2005 has
embarked with hostility and aggression between Venezuela, the U.S. and
Colombia. As if the Venezuela-Colombia affair weren’t tense enough, the
U.S. has entered the game and thrown acid on the fire, agitating the crisis.
Many worry that the U.S. agenda focuses on an expansion of Plan Colombia into
Venezuela territory, “justified” by the alleged presence of FARC and ELN
“terrorists” on Venezuelan soil. But Venezuelans and their Government have
made quite clear their position. On Sunday January 23, a mega-march filled
Caracas streets, in defense of Venezuela’s sovereignty and condemning
international intervention. Though the U.S. has invested another $6 million
in “democratic intervention” during 2005, the majority of Venezuelans have
made clear that they will not accept any interference from uninvited
international bodies or foreign governments, the U.S. principal amongst
those who have illegally intervened in internal Venezuelan affairs.

As Venezuela intelligently negotiates oil contracts and business with other
nations beyond the U.S., Venezuelans must be clear that Bush’s
“interventionist” policies are focused sharply on the major oil-exporting
nation. Chávez has been a thorn in the side of the U.S. government since
the beginning of his presidency in 1999. Under Bush, things have only worsened.

Now that Iraq has proved a failure, Bush must not lose his closest major
oil supplier at any cost. The exploitation of the conflict with Colombia may be
the Bush Administration’s next 9/11-esque excuse to launch a major
aggression against Venezuela. What is most evident is that the U.S. is
heavily invested in Venezuela and not willing to let up - despite the cost.
Venezuelans, at the same time, are not about to surrender to the northern,
“imperialist” power. The year 2005 could prove to be the toughest yet for
Venezuela-U.S. relations.