Tuesday, August 10, 2004
Will The Gang That Fixed Florida Fix the
Vote in Caracas this Sunday?
by Greg Palast
Hugo Chavez drives George Bush crazy. Maybe
it's jealousy: Unlike Mr. Bush, Chavez, in Venezuela, won his Presidency
by a majority of the vote.
Or maybe it's the oil: Venezuela sits atop
a reserve rivaling Iraq's. And Hugo thinks the US and British oil
companies that pump the crude ought to pay more than a 16% royalty
to his nation for the stuff. Hey, sixteen percent isn't even acceptable
as a tip at a New York diner.
Whatever it is, OUR President has decided
that THEIR president has to go. This is none too easy given that
Chavez is backed by Venezuela's poor. And the US oil industry, joined
with local oligarchs, has made sure a vast majority of Venezuelans
Therefore, Chavez is expected to win this
coming Sunday's recall vote. That is, if the elections are free
They won't be. Some months ago, a little
birdie faxed to me what appeared to be confidential pages from a
contract between John Ashcroft's Justice Department and a company
called ChoicePoint, Inc., of Atlanta. The deal is part of the War
Justice offered up to $67 million, of our
taxpayer money, to ChoicePoint in a no-bid deal, for computer profiles
with private information on every citizen of half a dozen nations.
The choice of which nation's citizens to spy on caught my eye. While
the September 11th highjackers came from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon
and the Arab Emirates, ChoicePoint's menu offered records on Venezuelans,
Brazilians, Nicaraguans, Mexicans and Argentines. How odd. Had the
CIA uncovered a Latin plot to sneak suicide tango dancers across
the border with exploding enchiladas?
What do these nations have in common besides
a lack of involvement in the September 11th attacks? Coincidentally,
each is in the throes of major electoral contests in which the leading
candidates -- presidents Lula Ignacio da Silva of Brazil, Nestor
Kirschner of Argentina, Mexico City mayor Andres Lopez Obrador and
Venezuela's Chavez -- have the nerve to challenge the globalization
demands of George W. Bush.
The last time ChoicePoint sold voter files
to our government it was to help Governor Jeb Bush locate and purge
felons on Florida voter rolls. Turns out ChoicePoint's felons were
merely Democrats guilty only of V.W.B., Voting While Black. That
little 'error' cost Al Gore the White House.
It looks like the Bush Administration is
taking the Florida show for a tour south of the border.
However, when Mexico discovered ChoicePoint
had its citizen files, the nation threatened company executives
with criminal charges. ChoicePoint protested its innocence and offered
to destroy the files of any nation that requests it.
But ChoicePoint, apparently, presented no
such offer to the government of Venezuela's Chavez.
In Caracas, I showed Congressman Nicolas
Maduro the ChoicePoint-Ashcroft agreement. Maduro, a leader of Chavez'
political party, was unaware that his nation's citizen files were
for sale to U.S. intelligence. But he understood their value to
If the lists somehow fell into the hands
of the Venezuelan opposition, it could immeasurably help their computer-aided
drive to recall and remove Chavez. A ChoicePoint flak said the Bush
administration told the company they haven't used the lists that
way. The PR man didn't say if the Bush spooks laughed when they
Our team located a $53,000 payment from
our government to Chavez' recall organizers, who claim to be armed
with computer lists of the registered. How did they get those lists?
The fix that was practiced in Florida, with ChoicePoint's help,
deliberate or not, appears to be retooled for Venezuela, then Brazil,
Mexico and who knows where else.
Here's what it comes down to: The Justice
Department averts it's gaze from Saudi Arabia but shoplifts voter
records in Venezuela. So it's only fair to ask: Is Mr. Bush fighting
a war on terror -- or a war on democracy?
Greg Palast is author of the New York Times bestseller, 'The Best
Democracy Money Can Buy.' This commentary is based on 'Tango Terrorists,'
in the new chapter of the book's Expanded Election Edition (Penguin
2004). For Palast's reports on Venezuela for the Guardian of Britain
and his exclusive interview for BBC Television with President Hugo
Chavez, go to www.GregPalast.com
Venezuela: So this is what self-determination
July 26, 2004
"Right now, Pdvsa is not a mercantile
entity," said Antonio Szabó, a former executive at Pdvsa
who left long before Mr. Chávez came to power and who is
now chief executive of Stone Bond Technologies, a Houston software
and energy consulting firm. "Right now, it's an instrument
of the Venezuelan government."
Pdvsa is Petroleo de Venezuela, that country's state-run oil company.
The article run by the NY Times linked below marks a sudden about-face
in the media coverage of Venezuela.
It is easy to read between the lines and
see why President Hugo Chavez represents the worst nightmare of
the United States and the global corporate imperialists. A 'developing
nation' taking control of its own resources? Ending sweetheart deals
with multinational giants? Plowing profits back into infrastructure
and 'social revolution,' in effect using American and European oil
investment dollars to bring prosperity to Venezuelans? Soliciting
cooperation from multinationals on its own terms?? A majority partner
in deals with Chevron and such? No more bowing and scraping before
anybody who knocks at the door?
What is so funny about this article is the
incredulous tone of corporate onlookers:
"Even at companies like Total that are moving toward a deal,
executives describe tough negotiations that leave them wondering
how committed Pdvsa really is to expanding the role of private companies.
"We are proposing to invest in a $4
billion project immediately, and we agree to work in terms of the
new law," said Jean-Marie Guillermou of Total's Venezuela operations.
"Normally, a country would want to jump on this. They don't
do it. Why?"
No more winks and briefcases of cash exchanged among 'good friends'?
No more license to wreck the environment in exchange for a few well-placed
dollars? Say it ain't so.
"The company that has emerged from the ashes of the strike
that ended in February 2003 is nothing like the button-down, corporate-style
company that in the 1990's was often the No. 1 provider of foreign
oil to the United States.
Gone is the by-the-book giant, which had
$42 billion in sales, according to filings with the Securities and
Exchange Commission last October. Gone is the multinational whose
managers once proudly compared Pdvsa to Exxon Mobil. Gone, too,
are 18,000 experienced executives and managers who were fired for
their role in the strike.
So is the autonomy the company once wielded,
replaced by a highly centralized management controlled by the Ministry
of Energy and Mines…"
So this is what nationalization looks like? Turns out it's not a
communist plot. Nope, Pdvsa is playing ball with capitalist big
boys, on their terms yes, but more importantly, on their own. Using
corporate profits for what corporations for the most part falsely
claim they are used for: to improve people's lives. Venezuela plans
to use $36 billion worth of carefully-chosen foreign investment
to double Venezuela's oil production by 2009.
"But while Pdvsa's talk of foreign investment and ramped-up
production is welcome in the boardrooms of the world's biggest oil
companies, in recent months much of the new earnings have been siphoned
from exploration and production projects that some energy analysts
say Pdvsa needs to recover fully from the strike. Instead, the windfall
is financing a social revolution long promised by President Hugo
Chávez's 5-year-old government to extricate the country from
its malaise and ease life for the poor, an effort that had been
hobbled by the strike and a 2002 coup that temporarily ousted the
It is amusing that the corporate boardrooms are fretting about the
fact that Pvdsa and Venezuela are more concerned with the health
of their country than with ever-increasing bottom-lines. It is not
seemly, apparently, for an oil giant not to grow and grow and grow
as fast as possible. It is simply not done, you know. The tone of
paternal concern is unmistakable. 'Consternation' and 'raised eyebrows.'
To say the least I am sure.
"The government recently announced
that $2 billion in Pdvsa revenue would bypass the central bank and
form a special development fund to pay for public projects like
a hydroelectric plant and a new state airline. Another $1.7 billion
- taken from Pdvsa's $5 billion capitalization budget - is going
to social programs, Rafael Ramírez, the minister of energy
and mines, announced.
And with the Aug. 15 recall referendum that
could end Mr. Chávez's presidency drawing ever nearer, the
spending spree - on everything from housing to railroads, health
clinics and literacy programs - is an increasingly important, and
successful, tool for solidifying support for Mr. Chávez.
Recent polls show he could squeak to victory."
Ah, now here is the reason for this sudden change in tone from the
Times. Despite the best efforts and the limitless resources of the
most powerful country in the world to cause maximum mischief, Chavez
is the man who just will not die, literally or figuratively. The
media has condemned Venezuela for its anti-democratic attempts to
deal with the 'opposition,' a US-backed movement of disgruntled
rich people who are furious that their gravy-train has derailed.
This is a glaring example of how the US uses the terms 'human rights'
and 'democracy' as a bludgeon. Chavez is expected to stand by and
grant unlimited license to what amounts to a US invasion force.
We really have to redefine what we mean by foreign incursions. Why
shouldn't sovereign governments have the right to resist by any
means necessary bald-faced attempts to overthrow their elected governments?
The 2002 coup and the US-orchestrated 'general strike' were not
enough? This 'kinder gentler' face of US interventionism isn't fooling
anybody in South America.
Now that it looks like Chavez is going to
survive this attempt too, and considering Venezuela is sitting on
an oil field bigger than Saudi Arabia's, people have apparently
resigned themselves to making nice until they figure out another
way to get rid of him. It was so much easier back in the Allende
days to just kill the trouble-maker. The fact that they haven't
been able to do anything this simple up to now indicates the broad
base of support for Hugo Chavez.
I trust the nations of West Africa, with
the world's largest untapped oil reserve, are looking carefully
at Venezuela as a reasonable model for breaking the back of Western
corporate hegemony. With a smile and a shake. The key is leaders
who will resist the call of corruption.
NYT link: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/24/business/worldbusiness/24venez.html