July 7, 2003

Another email volley...
...somewhat calmer this one...

On Thu, 26 Jun 2003 06:08:36 -0700 (PDT), "Anton" said:
> Second, I have to respond to your response to the
> letter from 'Paul', your token US lefty. I've been
> pondering this for a few days now, and well, I think
> your position is nearly as wrong as his.
> Given the state of the world today, I don't think you
> can simply ignore the US in the analysis of any
> country's political situation, especially in this
> hemisphere. The US government may not have the
> influence in Venezuela that it does in, say, Columbia,
> but to dismiss it's influence as "marginal" would seem
> to me to be a mistake nearly as great as casting the
> CIA as South America's puppet masters. The failed coup
> that installed Carmona for a few hours demonstrated
> this -- we can argue about the extent of US
> involvement, but that they were involved should be
> unquestioned.

You know, I really disagree with this. The US did fund organizations that
later got involved in the coup. It also met with a bunch of leaders who
later ended up mixed up in it. That funding was not secret, and neither
were the meetings - both got written about amply in the Venezuelan press.
In the months leading up to the coup, as it became clearer and clearer
that democracy here was going to shit, any number of Venezuelan
political, trade union and business leaders travelled to washington to
talk not just with the gov?t, but also with NGOs, intellectuals,
academics, media, latino organizations, anyone who would listen,
basically. It became such a trend that the government eventually decided
they needed a counterstrategy and started sending delegations of their
own to counter what they perceived as a campaign of disinformation...and
so the chavistas met with the same damn people as the opposition, really
... but you don?t see anyone claiming that that amounts to US support of
the gov't...

What happened is that all those meetings, which were public and numerous,
and which happened with any number of organization, including but
definitely not limited to those who ended up in the coup, then got
reinterpreted after the fact as a conspiracy. But I've never seen any
particularly convincing evidence to that effect - a lot of innuendo and
supposition, yes, but no convincing connecting lines.

The fact is that the internal political dynamic in Venezuela in April
2002 was so white hot, had such a massive charge of endogenous anger and
mobilization and polarization and outrage, that April 11th was going to
happen regardless. I was there, I was at that march, I was on Avenida
Baralt 5 minutes before the shootout started with a camera crew in tow.
NOBODY that day was thinking about Washington. We, all 800,000 of us
marching that day, were rather more concerned with the mounting
authoritarianism we saw in Ch?vez and our imminent fear for the future of
our country if somebody didn't stop him.

And you know what, looking back, we weren't wrong to demand he leave
office immediately - the country really couldn't take it anymore. Today,
due to his mismanagement and narcissistic excess, millions - literally
millions - of Venezuelans who were barely hanging on to a poor but not
destitute existence in April 2002 now find themselves without enough to
eat. It's a massive tragedy - and that's without going into the costs in
terms of the utter fraying of our democratic institutions, which 15
months on are so deeply screwed up they're arguably beyond repair, at
least in the short run.

But I digress. It's easy for you to abstract from such questions though.
You don't live here. I live here. I have to live with the social and
institutional rot this man will leave behind . . . and this is exactly
what lies behind my exasperation with "Paul" - that the ongoing obsession
with the US, the fixation with US power and US conspiracies, mutes the
debate on, frankly, something that's far more important, interesting, and
worth considering as far as I'm concerned: a society that's slowly but
definitly going down the crapper.

> Personally I see the US, when it comes to Latin
> American politics, as more opportunists and jackals
> than anything -- they'll exploit a situation to their
> advantage, and maybe even stir the pot to try and
> create a situation they can exploit (which is what
> seems to have happened in Chile -- the CIA certainly
> chipped in to help create that "psychology of rampant
> fear that took over the Chilean middle class" you
> mentioned) but they're reluctant to get their hands
> dirty. I'd classify that presence, even if it's not an
> active presence, as something more than marginal.

This is another thing that's hard to explain to people outside the
country - the assumption that the US has a single, organized coherent
policy on Venezuela just doesn't seem to hold. There are evident splits
between various factions in the US foreign policy establishment on what
to do about Ch?vez, with warring leak campaigns between the Otto Reich
hardliners and the softly-softly camp John Maisto leads from the Nat.
Security Council. These splits are open and publicly discussed here, and
the resulting "policy" often ends up being schizophrenic - with part of
the US government wanting to find a modus vivendi with Chavez and another
part of it looking for any chance to confront him they can find. This is
all clearly number 27,392 in Colin Powell's list of things to worry
about, and neither side really seems powerful enough to impose its view
on the other. But if the US can't get its shit together on its Venezuela
policy, if it can't even decide what its Venezuela policy is, then how
the hell are they suppose to have some Rasputinian stranglehold on
anything important that happens here?

> Let me put it this way. If the opposition to Chavez
> hadn't known they could count on some support from the
> US, do you think the April coup -- without the full
> support of the military, and with a divided populace
> -- would have even happened?