Tuesday, November 04, 2003

A Miami Herald article from Oppenheimer on Chavez agressivity towards the US

Posted on Thu, Oct. 30, 2003

Chávez steps up criticism of U.S.

CARACAS - Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, a leftist firebrand who
is facing demands at home for a recall referendum, appears to be
doing his best to pick a fight with Washington.
He has hinted that the U.S. ambassador in Caracas is gay and branded
Bush administration officials as ''imbeciles'' and ''criminals,''
while his minions accused the CIA of trying to destabilize the
Venezuelan political analysts differ as to whether Chávez is seeking
to bolster his chances in the recall referendum by playing the
nationalist card, or is looking for excuses to push his ''Bolivarian
Revolution'' further to the left.
Bush administration officials have largely avoided responding to
Chávez' jabs, saying they don't want to fall into any provocations
by Chávez and turn an internal political problem into a
U.S.-Venezuelan problem.
''We want to stop the microphone diplomacy,'' Roger Noriega,
assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, told
The Herald on Wednesday.
Some Washington insiders speculate that there is an even greater
desire to avoid antagonizing Chávez at the Pentagon, where the top
priority is averting any diversions from Iraq, assuring the
continued flow of Venezuelan oil to the United States -- the United
States depends on Venezuela for more than 13 percent of its oil
imports -- and maintaining good relations with the Venezuelan
Chávez's leftist policies have long put him on a collision course
with U.S. policies in the region. Whether it is the Free Trade Area
of the Americas, U.S. military aid to neighboring Colombia or
relations with Cuba, his government is at odds with the U.S.
Recently, however, he has stepped up his attacks on Washington with
the approach of Nov. 28-Dec. 1, when his opposition will be
collecting signatures seeking a recall referendum on his populist
He noted that U.S. Ambassador Charles Shapiro had kissed a male
guest at a recent embassy function and said, ''How strange,'' in
what virtually all Venezuelans perceived as calling him a
He has repeatedly accused the CIA of seeking to destabilize his
government -- but offered no evidence -- and warned Washington to
stop meddling in Venezuelan affairs.
Just last week, pro-Chávez lawmakers made public a video they said
showed U.S. secret agents training dissident military officers and
municipal police in ''terrorist'' tactics. The U.S. Embassy said it
showed agents of the Miami-based Wackenhut security company in a
training session and denied any CIA wrongdoing.
''Mr. Bush,'' Chávez said in an Oct. 5 speech, ``deal with the
problems of the United States, which are plenty, because Venezuela's
problems belong to Venezuela.''
In the same speech, he referred to objections by Washington and
others to his government's confiscation of microwave transmission
equipment from the opposition TV news channel Globovisión.
''They behave like imbeciles,'' he said, ''because without knowing
what's really going on, they start issuing communiqués and saying
the Chávez government is violating I don't know what.'' He went on
to say that those critics were ``criminals, because they're
protecting criminals -- and he who protects a criminal ends up being
a criminal.''
Two weeks earlier he claimed that business owners who took part in a
two-month-long strike against his government early this year were
paid by the CIA.
''It's the same thing that happened in Chile under Salvador
Allende,'' he said.
The CIA assertion has since been repeated by pro-Chávez legislators
and even Vice President José Vicente Rangel, all of whom allege that
a series of recent bomb attacks inside military installations was
carried out by the CIA. They offered no evidence.
''What [Chávez] is looking for,'' argues Felipe Mujica, president of
the opposition Movement to Socialism, ``is for [U.S. officials] to
attack him, so that he is left on his own and can do whatever he
Chávez even appears to be preparing for a Cuba-styled U.S. embargo
and in recent months has repeatedly stressed the need for ``food
When the anti-government strike threatened food distribution, he set
up an embryonic government-run food import system, using Cuba as the
''If his regime could survive that way,'' said Elsa Cardozo, a
university professor of international relations, ``he wouldn't care.
He's shown no concern for the fact that the private sector is on the
verge of collapse.''
Under all the leftist theories of foreign policy that Chávez has
studied and now holds, political analyst and Chávez biographer
Alberto Garrido said, ``the final confrontation was always with the
United States.''
But Garrido believes Chávez may feel he's not yet ready for a
showdown, so he is nibbling around the edges of misbehavior in order
to lay the groundwork for an eventual break.
''He's playing on the U.S. weakness, which is oil,'' he said.
Herald staff writer Andres Oppenheimer reported from Miami and
special correspondent Phil Gunson from Caracas.