Noam Chomsky: US Threats To Venezuela
21 October 2006
At an October 6 public meeting in Boston, US dissident intellectual Noam Chomsky gave the following remarks on the threat posed to the radical governments of Venezuela and Bolivia by Washington in response to an audience member’s question.
We know that the US did support a military coup, which briefly overthrew [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chavez [in 2002] and the US had to back down when he was restored quickly, and also had to back down in the face of a very angry reaction in Latin America. In almost all of Latin America, there was a very angry reaction. They take democracy there more seriously then we do here.
Right after trying to overthrow the government by force, the US immediately turned to subversion, supporting anti-Chavez groups. That’s described in the press, the way it’s described is, the US is supporting pro-democracy groups, which are opposed to President Chavez.
Notice it’s true by definition that if you oppose the president, you are pro-democracy. It’s completely irrelevant that according to the best polls (Latin America has very good polling agencies which take regular polls on these issues around the continent) support for democracy has been declining — not for democracy but for the democratic governments — has been declining through Latin America, for a pretty good reason: the governments have been associated with neoliberal programs which undermine democracy — IMF [International Monetary Fund], treasury department programs … There are exceptions, and the major exception by far is Venezuela.
Since 1998, when Chavez was elected, support for the elected government has been rising very fast. It’s now by far the highest in Latin America. He has won several elections that have been recognised to be free and fair, he has won numerous referendums, but he is a “dictator”, a tin-pot dictator, which is proven by the fact that our Dear Leader said so. And, since we are voluntary North Koreans, when the Dear Leader says it, it’s true. So therefore, he’s a dictator, and if you carry out subversion to overthrow him, that’s pro-democracy by definition …
We might ask ourselves how we would react if Iran, say, had just supported a military coup that overthrew the government in the United States and when they have to back off from that, immediately turned to supporting pro-democracy groups in the United States that are opposed to the government. Would we give them ice cream and candy?
Well in dictatorial Venezuela, they let them keep functioning. In fact, [they] even let the newspapers [that supported] the coup keep functioning …
[T]he US has had two major weapons for controlling Latin America for a long time. One of them is economic controls, the other is military force. They have both been used continually. Both of them are weakening and it’s a very serious problem for US planners.
The economic — for the first time in its history since the Spanish colonisation — Latin America is beginning to get its act together. It’s moving towards some degree of independence, even some degree of integration.
The Latin American countries have been very separate from one another through their histories, they have a huge gap between the very rich and the huge massive poor, so when we are talking about the countries, we are talking about the rich elites. The rich elites have been oriented towards Europe and North America, not their own citizens, not each other. So that capital flight goes to Zurich, or London, or New York — the second home is in the Riviera, the children study in Cambridge or something like that. That’s the way it’s been, with very little interaction, and it’s changing.
First of all there are major popular movements, like in Bolivia. They had a democratic election of the kind we can’t even dream of. I mean if there was any honest newspaper coverage in this country, we would be ashamed at the comparison between their election and ours.
I won’t go through it, but with a little thought you can quickly figure it out, because there is mass popular participation, and the people know what they are voting for, and they pick somebody from their own ranks and their major issues and so on. It’s unimaginable here, where elections are about at the level of marketing toothpaste on television, literally.
There are mass popular movements all over and they have begun to integrate to some extent for the first time.
The military weapon has been weakened. The last effort of the US had to back off very quickly, in 2002 in Venezuela. The kinds of governments the US is now supporting [in other Latin American countries] — forced to support — are the kinds it would have been trying to overthrow not very long ago, because of this shift.
The economic weapon is weakening enormously. They are throwing out the IMF. The IMF means the US Treasury Department. Argentina, it was the poster boy of the IMF, you know, following all the rules and so on. It went into a hideous economic crash. They managed to get out of it, but only by radically violating IMF rules, and they are now, as the president put it, “ridding themselves of the IMF” and paying off their debt with the help of Venezuela. Venezuela bought up a lot of their debt. The same is happening in Brazil. The same is going to happen in Bolivia.
In general, the economic measures are weakening, the military measures are no longer what they were. The US is deeply concerned about it, undoubtedly. We shouldn’t think that the US has abandoned the military effort. On the contrary, the number of US personnel — military personnel — in Latin America is probably as high as it’s ever been.
The number of the Latin American officers being trained by the US is going up very sharply. By now, for the first time (it never happened during the Cold War) US military aid is higher than the sum of economic and social aid from key federal agencies — that’s a shift. There are more air bases all over the place.
Keep your eyes on Ecuador, there’s an election coming up in about a week, the likely winner, [Rafael] Correa, is an interesting person. He was recently asked what he would do with the big Manta US airbase in Ecuador and his answer was, well he’d allow it to stay if the United States agreed to have an Ecuadorian airbase in Miami.
But these are the things that are going on. There’s a call for an Indian Nation for the first time. The indigenous — in some states like Bolivia — majority is actually entering the political arena for the first time in 500 years, electing its own candidates. These are major changes, but the US is certainly not giving up on it.
The military training has been shifted. Its official focus now is on what’s called radical populism and street gangs. Well, you know what radical populism means, like the priests organising peasants or anyone who gets out of line. So yeah, it’s serious. What will they do?
Governments have what are called security interests; they have to protect the national security. If any of you have ever spent any time reading declassified documents, you know what that means. I’ve spent a lot of time reading them and it’s true, there is defence of the government against its enemy, that prime enemy.
Its prime enemy is the domestic population. That’s true of every government I know. So if you read the declassified documents, you find that most of them are protecting the government from its own population. Not much has to do with anything you might call security interests … So we don’t know what they are planning because we have to be protected from knowing what the government is planning. So we have to speculate.
If you want my speculation, based on no information except what I would be doing if I was sitting in the Pentagon planning office and told to figure out a way to overthrow the governments of Bolivia, Venezuela, and Iran, in fact. The idea that immediately comes to mind, so I assume they are working on it, is to support secessionist movements, which is conceivable if you look at the geography and the places where the oil is …
In Venezuela, the oil is in Zulia province, which is where the opposition candidate [in the presidential election] is coming from, right on the border of Colombia (one of the only states [in Latin America] where the US has a firm military presence). It’s a rich province, pretty anti-Chavez, and it happens to be where most of the oil is, and in fact there is rumour of a Zulia independence movement, which, if they can carry it off, the US could then intervene to protect against the “dictator”. That’s Venezuela.
In Bolivia, the major gas resources are in the lowlands, the eastern lowlands, which is a mostly European, not indigenous, opposed to the government, rich area, near Paraguay (one of the other countries where the US has military bases), so you can imagine the same project going on …
[Abridged from Venezuelanalysis.com. Transcribed by Michael Fox.]