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Venezuela: Its Deja Vu All Over Again

Don't let another Chile happen
ITS DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN

Those of us who were around for the US backed elimination of Salvadore Allende and his popular government in Chile cannot but have a haunting feeling as we watch what is happening today in Venezuela where the pressure continues to be ratcheted up on President Hugo Chavez. In recent months, Chavez has fought with the private sector, labor unions, a fragmented opposition and the Roman Catholic Church. In the past few months, retired military officers have stepped up their criticism of Chavez.

The timing of current and recent events fit only too well the "Chili model." For example, on Monday, hundreds of middle class citizens protested Chavez's celebration of the 10th anniversary of his attempted coup against then-President Carlos Andres Perez. On Tuesday CIA Director George Tenet railed against Chavez at a congressional hearing. Also on Tuesday US Secretary of State Colin Powell questioned Chavez' commitment to democracy, the war on terrorism and criticized his visits to "strange countries". Powell said, "We have been concerned with some of the actions of Venezuelan President Chavez and his understanding of what a democratic system is all about. We have also gone to some of our friends in the region to suggest to President Chavez that there are perhaps better ways to ... deal with the challenges his country is facing." Powell's assistant, Carl Ford, added there were signs that Venezuela was supporting Colombia's guerrillas which the Administration has already deemed to be "terrorist organizations." Yesterday, Air Force Colonel Pedro Luis Soto called on the President to step down declaring his government to be undemocratic and oppressive. While Soto claimed to be speaking for a majority of officers and soldiers (this was firmly denied by Armed Forces Chief Gen. Lucas Rincon). It is also not a likely coincidence that the Colonol's speech although unscheduled and at a not particularly high profile seminar on the media just happened to be televised live by several TV stations. Nor can it be a complete coincidence that next week a delegation from the Organization of American States is coming to Venezuela to examine "first hand" Chavez's "persecution" of journalists and "attacks" on press freedom.

Since winning election in 1998, Chavez has introduced revolutionary policies to help the poor, including redistribution of land and increased state intervention in Latin America's fourth-largest economy. He rejects unbridled free-market policies which are favored by the United States. In Caracas, Venezuela's Foreign Minister Luis Alfonso Davila defended Chavez's foreign policy, saying it was "sovereign, independent and autonomous" and did not require the approval or authorization of other governments. "Although we respect the opinion of any other country about what may or may not be correct, we exercise a coherent foreign policy which basically seeks to satisfy the interests of our nation," Davila added in a statement released to reporters. Defense Minister Jose Vicente Rangel said Venezuela was not providing support to any Latin American rebel group and called terrorism an "aberration against humanity." In partial response to the slow-coup a large crowd of Chavez supporters gathered earlier this week outside the Presidential palace to back the populist leader and his self-proclaimed "revolution' in favor of the poor in Venezuela.
Sources: BBC, Times of India, New York Transfer News, CNN, Reuters, AFP

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