That evil Chavecito. He’s out to undo all the good work the IMF’s faithful servants did in days of yore (she said, dripping with heavy sarcasm)…
President Hugo Chavez has pledged to nationalize key Venezuelan companies, as part of plans to transform the country into a full socialist state.
Mr Chavez said he wanted to see major Venezuelan power and telecoms companies come under state control.
He also called for an end to foreign ownership of lucrative crude oil refineries in the Orinoco region.
Mr Chavez said Venezuela was moving towards “a socialist republic” that required “deep reform of our national constitution”.
“We are in an existential moment of Venezuelan life,” he said. “We’re heading toward socialism, and nothing and no-one can prevent it.”
Mr Chavez demanded an end to the current autonomy of the country’s central bank and said he would ask Venezuela’s parliament to grant him additional powers to legislate by presidential decree.
His calls for nationalization appeared in particular to affect Electricidad de Caracas, which is currently owned by US firm AES, and CA Nacional Telefonos de Venezuela, the country’s largest publicly traded company.
“All of that which was privatized, let it be nationalized,” Mr Chavez said.
“The nation should recover its ownership of strategic sectors.”
Emphasis added, so that the more easily panicked of my cowardly little right-wing lurkers will realize what is actually being said here, instead of just blindly soiling themselves as they usually do.
First, note the language. Chavecito is saying all those things “were privatized”–which means that once upon a time, they were public services. Then, they got sold off to–no, not the highest bidder, but often at fire-sale prices. What you know ’bout that?
Secondly, Chavecito is saying that this is a job for the nation. Not Chavecito–the nation. Meaning, he’s not the Great Dictator looking to own all that–he’s seeking to take it out of the hands of its present, not so rightful owners, and give it back to those from whom it was taken. Namely, El Pueblo.
It may sound alarming that Chavecito is now asking for the power to decree this, rather than leave these decisions up to the legislature to debate, but actually he’s done it before, and to good effect. There is nothing wrong with cutting red tape once in a while, especially when you’ve got an overwhelming mandate to do just that. Other presidents have also invoked enabling laws, albeit not with such good intentions–or effects. Gregory Wilpert of Venezuelanalysis explains:
Enabling law (ley habilitante), which Chavez referred to as the "mother law" of the project. This law would allow Chavez, over the period of one year, to pass laws on specified issues as decrees. This type of law has been given to Venezuelan presidents on several occasions before, such as during the first presidency of Carlos Andrés Perez (1974-1979) and early in Chavez’s presidency, following the passage of the 1999 constitution, to bring the country’s laws up to date to the new constitution.
There were 49 “Habilitante” laws, all of them benefiting not the richest Venezuelans but the poorest, under Chavez’s decree. This was a sea change from the previous order. They reformed everything from lands ownership and fishing rights, to how the oil industry was run. They passed in 2001–the same year the US began bombing Afghanistan in the wake of 9-11.
This strange bit of timing is no coincidence. Suddenly, “terrorists” were everywhere, including, it seems, the seat of democratic government in Caracas. However, BushCo, now well known for backing bad horses in every race on which it has ever laid a wager, chose to back a real terrorist as a model democrat, while making a real democrat out to be a terrorist. Greg Palast unwraps the true terrorist and the motive for his crime:
I interviewed [Pedro] Carmona while I leaned out the fourth floor window of an apartment in La Alombra, a high-rise building complex. I spoke my pidgin Spanish across to his balcony on the building a few yards away. The one-time petrochemical mogul was under house arrest – the lucky bastard. If he had attempted to overthrow the President of Kazakhstan (or for that matter, the President of the US), he would by now have a bullet in his skull. Chávez, in a gracious if strained nod to the ultimate authority of the privileged, simply confined Carmona to his expensive flat.
In response to my question about who gave him authority to name himself president, coup leader Carmona responded, ‘Civil society’. To him this meant the bankers, the oil company chiefs and others who signed his proclamation.
Most telling were Chávez’s laws to which Carmona and coup leaders objected. The prime evil was the Ley De Tierras, the new land law which promised to give unused land to the landless, land owned by the government but also properties held out of production by the big plantation owners for more than two years. But Chávez’s tenure would not have been threatened had he not also taken on the international petroleum giants. Chávez’s crimes against the oil industry’s interests included passing a law that doubled the royalty taxes paid by ExxonMobil and other oil operators from about 16 per cent to roughly 30 per cent on new finds. He had also moved to take control of the state oil company PDVSA – nominally owned by the government, but in fact in thrall to the foreign operators.
Chávez had almost single-handedly rebuilt the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) by committing Venezuela to adhere to its OPEC sales quotas, causing world oil prices to double to over $20 per barrel. It was this oil money which paid for the ‘bricks and milk’ programme and put Chávez head to head against ExxonMobil, the number-one extractor of Venezuelan oil.
This was no minor matter to the US. As OPEC’s general secretary Alí Rodriguez says: ‘The dependence of the US on oil is increasing progressively. Venezuela is one of the most important suppliers of the US, and the stability of Venezuela is very important for [them].’ It was the South American nation that broke the back of the 1973 Arab oil embargo by increasing output from its vast reserves way beyond its OPEC quota. Indeed, I learned from Alí Rodriguez that the 12 April coup against Chávez was triggered by US fears of a renewed Arab oil embargo. Iraq and Libya were trying to organize OPEC to stop exporting oil to the US to protest American support of Israel. US access to Venezuela’s oil suddenly became urgent.
It is very important to note that US access to Venezuelan oil was never in jeopardy; rather, Big US Oil’s right to set policy for an entire foreign country country was. Suddenly, that oil was in the hands of all Venezuela, not a few heads of US-based oil companies. The oil was for sale now, not free for the taking, and its extraction was to be fairly taxed, rather than granted for a song. A great many poor, rather than the usual wealthy few, suddenly stood to benefit. This is why Carl Ford of the US State Dept. and George Tenet of the CIA were sounding so many alarm bells about Hugo Chavez not having US interests at heart, and why Colin Powell was mumbling all sorts of ominous claptrap about Chavez’s “understanding” of the meaning of democracy.
But Chavez understood it all just fine, and he was operating within Venezuelan democratic rule when he asked the National Assembly to grant him the right to legislate by decree for a limited time, with the consent of at least 60% of the assembly. He was clearly not operating in the interests of wealthy landowners, international fisheries, the US or Big Oil, but the Venezuelan people. And he was operating not at the pleasure of the unelected oligarchy, but rather by permission of democratically el
But wait…the scariest chapter is still to come. At Aporrea.org, I found this:
The president of the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference, Monsignor Ubaldo Santana, recognized that 21st century socialism may be a “good and effective answer for the people of our country, who undoubtedly need to overcome the neoliberal and capitalist schemes that have caused so much poverty in Venezuela and Latin America.”
You know things are going badly for the opposition (and BushCo!) when even the leading churchmen in Venezuela are conceding that Chavecito is onto something good. Since the Catholic Church used to be squarely in the opposition’s pocket, something like this is a major embarrassment to them.
Oh, the HORROR!