- "I've known Hugo Chavez for years, let me tell you
that man knows a diablo when he sees one." -- Greg Palast
- You'd think George Bush would get down on his knees and
kiss Hugo Chavez's behind. Not only has Chavez delivered cheap oil to the
Bronx and other poor communities in the United States. And not only did
he offer to bring aid to the victims of Katrina. In my interview with the
president of Venezuela on March 28, he made Bush the following astonishing
offer: Chavez would drop the price of oil to $50 a barrel, "not too
high, a fair price," he said -- a third less than the $75 a barrel
for oil recently posted on the spot market. That would bring down the price
at the pump by about a buck, from $3 to $2 a gallon.
- But our President has basically told Chavez to take his
cheaper oil and stick it up his pipeline. Before I explain why Bush has
done so, let me explain why Chavez has the power to pull it off -- and
the method in the seeming madness of his "take-my-oil-please!"
- Venezuela, Chavez told me, has more oil than Saudi Arabia.
A nutty boast? Not by a long shot. In fact, his surprising claim comes
from a most surprising source: the U.S. Department of Energy. In an internal
report, the DOE estimates that Venezuela has five times the Saudis' reserves.
However, most of Venezuela's mega-horde of crude is in the More...form
of "extra-heavy" oil -- liquid asphalt -- which is ghastly expensive
to pull up and refine. Oil has to sell above $30 a barrel to make the investment
in extra-heavy oil worthwhile. A big dip in oil's price -- and, after all,
oil cost only $18 a barrel six years ago -- would bankrupt heavy-oil investors.
Hence Chavez's offer: Drop the price to $50 -- and keep it there. That
would guarantee Venezuela's investment in heavy oil.
- But the ascendance of Venezuela within OPEC necessarily
means the decline of the power of the House of Saud. And the Bush family
wouldn't like that one bit. It comes down to "petro-dollars."
When George W. ferried then-Crown Prince (now King) Abdullah of Saudi Arabia
around the Crawford ranch in a golf cart it wasn't because America needs
Arabian oil. The Saudis will always sell us their petroleum. What Bush
needs is Saudi petro-dollars. Saudi Arabia has, over the past three decades,
kindly recycled the cash sucked from the wallets of American SUV owners
and sent much of the loot right back to New York to buy U.S. Treasury bills
and other U.S. assets.
- The Gulf potentates understand that in return for lending
the U.S. Treasury the cash to fund George Bush's $2 trillion rise in the
nation's debt, they receive protection in return. They lend us petro-dollars,
we lend them the 82nd Airborne.
- Chavez would put an end to all that. He'll sell us oil
relatively cheaply -- but intends to keep the petro-dollars in Latin America.
Recently, Chavez withdrew $20 billion from the U.S. Federal Reserve and,
at the same time, lent or committed a like sum to Argentina, Ecuador, and
other Latin American nations.
- Chavez, notes The Wall Street Journal, has become a "tropical
IMF." And indeed, as the Venezuelan president told me, he wants to
abolish the Washington-based International Monetary Fund, with its brutal
free-market diktats, and replace it with an "International Humanitarian
Fund," an IHF, or more accurately, an International Hugo Fund. In
addition, Chavez wants OPEC to officially recognize Venezuela as the cartel's
reserve leader, which neither the Saudis nor Bush will take kindly to.
- Politically, Venezuela is torn in two. Chavez's "Bolivarian
Revolution," a close replica of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal-a progressive
income tax, public works, social security, cheap electricity -- makes him
wildly popular with the poor. And most Venezuelans are poor. His critics,
a four-centuries' old white elite, unused to sharing oil wealth, portray
him as a Castro-hugging anti-Christ.
- Chavez's government, which used to brush off these critics,
has turned aggressive on them. I challenged Chavez several times over charges
brought against Sumate, his main opposition group. The two founders of
the nongovernmental organization, which led the recall campaign against
Chavez, face eight years in prison for taking money from the Bush Administration
and the International Republican [Party] Institute. No nation permits foreign
funding of political campaigns, but the charges (no one is in jail) seem
like a heavy hammer to use on the minor infractions of these pathetic gadflies.
- Bush's reaction to Chavez has been a mix of hostility
and provocation. Washington supported the coup attempt against Chavez in
2002, and Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld have repeatedly denounced
him. The revised National Security Strategy of the United States of America,
released in March, says, "In Venezuela, a demagogue awash in oil money
is undermining democracy and seeking to destabilize the region."
- So when the Reverend Pat Robertson, a Bush ally, told
his faithful in August 2005 that Chavez has to go, it was not unreasonable
to assume that he was articulating an Administration wish. "If he
thinks we're trying to assassinate him," Robertson said, "I think
that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than
starting a war . . . and I don't think any oil shipments will stop."
- There are only two ways to defeat the rise of Chavez
as the New Abdullah of the Americas. First, the unattractive option: Cut
the price of oil below $30 a barrel. That would make Chavez's crude worthless.
Or, option two: Kill him.
- Q: Your opponents are saying that you are beginning a
slow-motion dictatorship. Is that what we are seeing?
- Hugo Chavez: They have been saying that for a long time.
When they're short of ideas, any excuse will do as a vehicle for lies.
That is totally false. I would like to invite the citizens of Great Britain
and the citizens of the U.S. and the citizens of the world to come here
and walk freely through the streets of Venezuela, to talk to anyone they
want, to watch television, to read the papers. We are building a true democracy,
with human rights for everyone, social rights, education, health care,
pensions, social security, and jobs.
- Q: Some of your opponents are being charged with the
crime of taking money from George Bush. Will you send them to jail?
- Chavez: It's not up to me to decide that. We have the
institutions that do that. These people have admitted they have received
money from the government of the United States. It's up to the prosecutors
to decide what to do, but the truth is that we can't allow the U.S. to
finance the destabilization of our country. What would happen if we financed
somebody in the U.S. to destabilize the government of George Bush? They
would go to prison, certainly.
- Q: How do you respond to Bush's charge that you are destabilizing
the region and interfering in the elections of other Latin American countries?
- Chavez: Mr. Bush is an illegitimate President. In Florida,
his brother Jeb deleted many black voters from the electoral registers.
So this President is the result of a fraud. Not only that, he is also currently
applying a dictatorship in the U.S. People can be put in jail without being
charged. They tap phones without court orders. They check what books people
take out of public libraries. They arrested Cindy Sheehan because of a
T-shirt she was wearing demanding the return of the troops from Iraq. They
abuse blacks and Latinos. And if we are going to talk about meddling in
other countries, then the U.S. is the champion of meddling in other people's
affairs. They invaded Guatemala, they overthrew Salvador Allende, invaded
Panama and the Dominican Republic. They were involved in the coup d'etat
in Argentina thirty years ago.
- Q: Is the U.S. interfering in your elections here?
- Chavez: They have interfered for 200 years. They have
tried to prevent us from winning the elections, they supported the coup
d'etat, they gave millions of dollars to the coup plotters, they supported
the media, newspapers, outlaw movements, military intervention, and espionage.
But here the empire is finished, and I believe that before the end of this
century, it will be finished in the rest of the world. We will see the
burial of the empire of the eagle.
- Q: You don't interfere in the elections of other nations
in Latin America?
- Chavez: Absolutely not. I concern myself with Venezuela.
However, what's going on now is that some rightwing movements are transforming
me into a pawn in the domestic politics of their countries, by making statements
that are groundless. About candidates like Morales [of Bolivia], for example.
They said I financed the candidacy of President Lula [of Brazil], which
is totally false. They said I financed the candidacy of Kirchner [of Argentina],
which is totally false. In Mexico, recently, the rightwing party has used
my image for its own profit. What's happened is that in Latin America there
is a turn to the left. Latin Americans have gotten tired of the Washington
consensus -- a neoliberalism that has aggravated misery and poverty.
- Q: You have spent millions of dollars of your nation's
oil wealth throughout Latin America. Are you really helping these other
nations or are you simply buying political support for your regime?
- Chavez: We are brothers and sisters. That's one of the
reasons for the wrath of the empire. You know that Venezuela has the biggest
oil reserves in the world. And the biggest gas reserves in this hemisphere,
the eighth in the world. Up until seven years ago, Venezuela was a U.S.
oil colony. All of our oil was going up to the north, and the gas was being
used by the U.S. and not by us. Now we are diversifying. Our oil is helping
the poor. We are selling to the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, some Central
American countries, Uruguay, Argentina.
- Q: And the Bronx?
- Chavez: In the Bronx it is a donation. In all the cases
I just mentioned before, it is trade. However, it's not free trade, just
fair commerce. We also have an international humanitarian fund as a result
of oil revenues.
- Q: Why did George Bush turn down your help for New Orleans
after the hurricane?
- Chavez: You should ask him, but from the very beginning
of the terrible disaster of Katrina, our people in the U.S., like the president
of CITGO, went to New Orleans to rescue people. We were in close contact
by phone with Jesse Jackson. We hired buses. We got food and water. We
tried to protect them; they are our brothers and sisters. Doesn't matter
if they are African, Asian, Cuban, whatever.
- Q: Are you replacing the World Bank and the International
Monetary Fund as "Daddy Big Bucks"?
- Chavez: I do wish that the IMF and the World Bank would
- Q: And it would be the Bank of Hugo?
- Chavez: No. The International Humanitarian Bank. We are
just creating an alternative way to conduct financial exchange. It is based
on cooperation. For example, we send oil to Uruguay for their refinery
and they are paying us with cows.
- Q: Milk for oil.
- Chavez: That's right. Milk for oil. The Argentineans
also pay us with cows. And they give us medical equipment to combat cancer.
It's a transfer of technology. We also exchange oil for software technology.
Uruguay is one of the biggest producers of software. We are breaking with
the neoliberal model. We do not believe in free trade. We believe in fair
trade and exchange, not competition but cooperation. I'm not giving away
oil for free. Just using oil, first to benefit our people, to relieve poverty.
For a hundred years we have been one of the largest oil-producing countries
in the world but with a 60 percent poverty rate and now we are canceling
the historical debt.
- Q: Speaking of the free market, you've demanded back
taxes from U.S. oil companies. You have eliminated contracts for North
American, British, and European oil companies. Are you trying to slice
out the British and American oil companies from Venezuela?
- Chavez: No, we don't want them to go, and I don't think
they want to leave the country, either. We need each other. It's simply
that we have recovered our oil sovereignty. They didn't pay taxes. They
didn't pay royalties. They didn't give an account of their actions to the
government. They had more land than had previously been established in
the contracts. They didn't comply with the agreed technology exchange.
They polluted the environment and didn't pay anything towards the cleanup.
They now have to comply with the law.
- Q: You've said that you imagine the price of oil rising
to $100 dollars per barrel. Are you going to use your new oil wealth to
squeeze the planet?
- Chavez: No, no. We have no intention of squeezing anyone.
Now, we have been squeezed and very hard. Five hundred years of squeezing
us and stifling us, the people of the South. I do believe that demand is
increasing and supply is dropping and the large reservoirs are running
out. But it's not our fault. In the future, there must be an agreement
between the large consumers and the large producers.
- Q: What happens when the oil money runs out, what happens
when the price of oil falls as it always does? Will the
- Bolivarian revolution of Hugo Chavez simply collapse
because there's no money to pay for the big free ride?
- Chavez: I don't think it will collapse, in the unlikely
case of oil running out today. The revolution will survive. It does not
rely solely on oil for its survival. There is a national will, there is
a national idea, a national project. However, we are today implementing
a strategic program called the Oil Sowing Plan: using oil wealth so Venezuela
can become an agricultural country, a tourist destination, an industrialized
country with a diversified economy. We are investing billions of dollars
in the infrastructure: power generators using thermal energy, a large railway,
roads, highways, new towns, new universities, new schools, recuperating
land, building tractors, and giving loans to farmers. One day we won't
have any more oil, but that will be in the twenty-second century. Venezuela
has oil for another 200 years.
- Q: But the revolution can come to an end if there's another
coup and it succeeds. Do you believe Bush is still trying to overthrow
- Chavez: He would like to, but what you want is one thing,
and what you cannot really obtain is another.
- Watch my recent exclusive BBC interview with President
- Read the article here
- Also watch my LinkTV Chavez Special "Finding Bolivar's
- "Finding Bolivar's Heir" (Large File)
- "Finding Bolivar's Heir" (Small File)
- Greg Palast is the author of the just-released New York
Times bestseller, "ARMED MADHOUSE: Who's Afraid of Osama Wolf?, China
Floats Bush Sinks, the Scheme to Steal '08, No Child's Behind Left and
other Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Class War" from which
this is adapted. Go to www.GregPalast.com.