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 remain poor.

Therefore, Chavez is expected to win this coming Sunday's recall vote. That is, if the elections are free and fair.

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 on Terror.

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 make mischief.

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 said it.

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


Venezuela: So this is what self-determination looks like

By Rootsie
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 firebrand leader."
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: