The Bush administration, which has demonstrated an appalling disregard for the rule of law and the welfare of its own people, is viciously attacking Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez, a populist leader who is using his nation's immense oil wealth to improve the lives of his people and his neighbors – including many Americans.
ISLA MARGARITA, Venezuela – The ongoing war of words being waged between the Bush administration and Venezuela 's President Hugo Chávez was in full swing as I traveled from Miami to Caracas , the capital of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela .
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made the outrageous comparison of Hugo Chávez with Adolf Hitler in what The Washington Post reported as having been "an especially ugly week in the hostile relationship" between the Bush administration and the increasingly popular Chávez.
The week started with Venezuela expelling a U.S. naval attaché on charges of spying, which led to the expulsion of a senior Venezuelan diplomat from Washington , and ended with the U.S. blocking a deal in which Venezuela was to buy coastal patrol boats from Spain . While Spain had initially said it would replace the U.S.-made components on the boats with French-made parts, by the end of the week Spain had suddenly cancelled the lucrative contract with no explanation provided.
Rumsfeld, who serves under a president who was, in fact, not elected by the people, made a rather odd comment comparing two legally elected leaders: "Chávez was elected legally, just as Adolf Hitler was elected legally," Rumsfeld said, "And then consolidated his power." The "populist leadership" of Chávez, which appeals to "masses of people," Rumsfeld said, is "worrisome" to the Bush administration.
After a week in Venezuela , however, I have yet to meet a Venezuelan who has expressed any worries or concerns about the populist reforms initiated by Chávez. The Venezuelans and foreigners I have met have nothing but praise for the wide-ranging improvements Chávez has brought to the people. They talk frequently of the improved public hospitals and schools where medical treatment and education are now provided free of charge.
Venezuelans often ask if I am American. When I tell them that I am they seem pleased and go out of their way to be helpful. I am writing from Playa El Yaque on the south coast of Isla Margarita , where American windsurfers in 1984 first discovered ideal sailing conditions with consistent strong winds and smooth seas. Since then it has become an international haven attracting windsurfers and kite-surfers from all over the world.
Driving through Caracas in a large American-made car from the 1980's, the taxi driver told me that Venezuela 's cheap gasoline was "a gift" from Chávez. A gallon of gas costs less than 280 Bolivars, the equivalent of about 12 U.S. cents, and it costs less than $2 to fill the tank. Likewise, Venezuela provides subsidized oil and gas to dozens of nations throughout the Caribbean Basin and Latin America .
"Chávez is making friends while Bush is earning enmity," was the title of Andres Oppenheimer's article in The Miami Herald on February 9. "You don't have to be a genius to figure out why Washington is losing influence in Latin America ," Oppenheimer wrote. "While Chávez is making headlines with vows to give about $3.7 billion a year to his neighbors, the Bush administration wants to cut back its estimated $1.2 billion in U.S. foreign aid to the region."
Hundreds of thousands of poor Americans in five Northeastern states have been on the receiving end of Venezuela 's generosity. This winter alone, hundreds of thousands of low-income Americans from Pennsylvania and New York to Maine and Vermont have received more than 25 million gallons of subsidized heating oil for their homes.
Late last year as oil prices spiked, a dozen U.S. senators asked 10 major oil companies to donate a portion of their record profits to help the poor. As USA Today reported, "Only Citgo [a subsidiary of Venezuela 's state-owned oil company] responded, dispatching tankers to housing projects in New York and Massachusetts in what Felix Rodriguez, the company president and chief executive, called a purely 'humanitarian' gesture.
"Rodriguez said that Chávez had ordered the giveaway so poor Americans wouldn't have to choose between food and heat."
But rather than showing appreciation, the USA Today article by David J. Lynch carried a photo of motorists pumping gas at a Citgo gas station with the alarming caption, "Chávez could destroy the U.S. economy in 90 days, an energy banker said."
"What if Chávez closed Citgo's refineries?" the CIA-linked newspaper asked?
"He'd only have to do that for 90 days, and he'd destroy our economy," Matthew Simmons, "a prominent energy investment banker," told Lynch. "He actually has our livelihood in his hands," Simmons said.
"At the high point of oil and gas prices, a dozen U.S. senators of both parties appealed to oil companies' 'sense of corporate citizenship' to help less fortunate Americans get through the winter in the face of cuts in federal assistance," Fadi Kabboul of the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington wrote to USA Today in response to the Lynch article. "Citgo did its part. No other oil company has done so. It makes the criticism in the article seem petty."
So why is the Bush administration so hostile to Chávez? Why is a government that shares its oil wealth with its people and neighbors considered a threat? Why is the foreign leader who was first to offer help to the hurricane ravaged Gulf Coast viewed as harboring evil intentions by the controlled media and the federal government whose own response to the dire plight of its citizens has been called "late, uncertain and ineffective," by Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine)?
The answer to these questions is obvious. Venezuela , the world's fifth-largest oil exporter with the largest proven reserves outside of the Mideast , has long been considered by the "big oil" companies as America 's own privately-run gas station. Chávez, however, has put an end to foreign control and plundering of Venezuela 's oil resources and the immense profits they generate. One does not have to look far to see that, over the decades, very little of this nation's oil wealth has trickled down to the average Venezuelan.
Venezuela is particularly strong in refining capacity. As I rode past the sprawling refinery outside of Puerto de la Cruz, I was amazed at the size of Venezuela 's second largest refinery, which covers thousands of acres. Venezuela 's largest refinery, the Paraguana Refining Center is five times larger with a capacity of nearly 1 million barrels per day.
Venezuela also owns a 50 percent equity interest in the Hovensa refinery on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which has a capacity of 500,000 barrels per day, and it leases the huge Emmastad refinery on the nearby island of Curacao . Over decades, most of the products produced at these refineries have been exported to the U.S.
The Bush administration and the "big oil" money behind it are clearly displeased with the change in ownership, the nationalization of Venezuela 's oil fields, which Chávez brought about. These plutocrats are now engaged in an international political and propaganda campaign to malign the popular leader who has stood up to their global tyranny.
New Year's Day 2006 saw the return of Venezuelan state control over 32 privately operated oil fields. Venezuelan oil minister Rafael Ramirez said the state successfully completed "the recovery" of the 32 fields whose control had been ceded to private hands in the 1990s under concessions allowing companies to independently pump oil under contract.
In 2001, Venezuela passed a law requiring oil production to be carried out by companies majority-owned by the government. The deadline for converting the privately-owned operating agreements into joint ventures in which the state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA), would hold the controlling stake was Dec. 31.
While other oil companies went along with the conversions, Exxon Mobil Corp. of Irving , Texas , resisted the contract changes, the Associated Press reported on Jan. 4. The conversions to joint ventures with PDVSA "will significantly reduce the oil companies' share of profits and control over operations and could also undermine the value of their Venezuelan assets," AP reported.
enezuela 's stake could be as much as 90 percent in the new ventures. The amount of investment made by the private companies in the fields will determine the amount of control they have, Ramirez said.
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