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Relations between Venezuela and the United States Essay

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To create a speech/presentation about Venezuela-United States relations, with a focus on the regime of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Topic: Relations between Venezuela and the United States, with a focus on the Chavez administration. Purpose: To be able to analyze the roots of the current state of Venezuela-United States relations as well as its future, given the existence of the Chavez government. To say that relations between Venezuela and the United States are very shaky is already an understatement.

This is because the foreign policy of the US in Latin America is a “rhetorically concealed fusion between popular elections and imperial appointments” (Landau 29). The US has a long history of overthrowing Latin American governments that show even the slightest hint of favoring the poor. As soon as they get word about a pro-poor Latin American leader, the US government would flex its political, economic and military muscles in order to replace him or her with a pro-US head of state. The end of the Cold War did not change this scenario.

Since 1999, seven Latin American leaders were overthrown due to their pro-US stance. Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada resigned from the Bolivian presidency in 2005 due to massive popular revolts over his pro-US economic strategies. Paraguay’s Raul Cubas stepped down in 1999 due to charges of corruption and involvement in the assassination of Vice President Luis Maria Argana. Ecuadorian President Jamil Mahuad was toppled from power in 2000 because of his adherence to free trade (Landau 29). The regime of Peru’s Alberto Fujimori ended prematurely in 2000 mainly due to his bloody suppression of anti-US political dissent.

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The collapse of the Argentine economy in December 2001 because of neo-liberal policies resulted in popular revolts that forced President Fernando de la Rua to resign (Landau 29). But Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez is a Latin American leader that can be hardly described as a Washington lapdog. His pro-poor policies earned him immense respect and support from the Venezuelan masses, three consecutive presidential terms and harassment from the White House. The relationship between the US and Latin America has traditionally been that of a master and a slave.

Since its first arrival on Latin America in the 19th century, the US clearly wanted nothing more from the continent but unlimited access to its natural resources (O’Brien 180). But changing political realities in the 20th century prompted the US to attain this objective in a more subtle fashion. For most of the 20th century, therefore, the US projected itself to Latin America as the “good neighbor” (Gilderhus 71) – an indispensable ally in the continent’s struggle against the Great Depression, the Axis Powers and Communism.

But it was not until the postwar era that this “good neighbor” facade of the US became even more pronounced. Intensifying Latin American nationalism in the 1950s threatened US political and economic interests in the continent. The US, needing all the resources and allies it could get in order to challenge the Soviet Union in the global contest known as the Cold War, looked for an excuse to intervene in Latin America. Thus, American policymakers associated nationalism and Communism (O’Brien 181). This association between nationalism and Communism on the part of American lawmakers is valid to a certain extent.

Prevailing economic conditions during and immediately after World War II led to the emergence of leftist politics and labor militancy throughout Latin America. In Mexico, Brazil and Argentina, for instance, postwar economic recovery and programs promoting industrialization resulted in the growth of manufacturing workers from about 50 to 60 percent. Increasing urban workforces, in turn, translated to larger and more militant labor movements that called for better working conditions and greater economic benefits.

Furthermore, Communist parties in Cuba, Chile and Brazil obtained considerable gains in terms of membership and voter support (O’Brien 182). The aforementioned developments did not sit well with Latin America’s elite, who were fearful that leftist politics and labor militancy would make them lose their firm hold over the continent’s politics and economy. They therefore took advantage of the reemerging anti-Communist militancy of the US, using it as an excuse to roll back political reforms, outlaw Communist parties and crack down on independent unions (O’Brien 182).

The American government, meanwhile, rewarded them by bestowing on them the political and economic leadership of their respective countries. A bloody, CIA-engineered coup in 1973 toppled the socialist regime of Chile’s Salvador Allende and ushered into power the pro-US Augusto Pinochet (Menjivar and Rodriguez 35). The US-backed Somoza dynasty ruled Nicaragua from 1937 to 1979, robbing the country blind and brutally suppressing all forms of legitimate political opposition (Leonard 1134).

Francois and Jean-Claude Duvalier became the dictators of Haiti from 1957 to 1986, living off generous amounts of political and military aid from the US (Leonard 243). The dictatorship of the Dominican Republic’s Rafael Trujillo lasted from 1930 to 1961, primarily due to his exploitation of US fears of Nazism during the 1930s and Communism during the Cold War (Leonard 244). Although socialism in Latin America declined in the 1990s, certain economic developments in Venezuela led to its resurgence in the country. Venezuela had abundant oil resources, but its oil industry was developed at the expense of equally important non-oil industries.

As a result, the value of the Bolivar fuerte was dependent on fluctuating oil prices. Dropping oil prices forced the Venezuelan government to take out foreign loans and to debauch the currency. Inflation ensued, plunging the Venezuelan economy into poverty (Reid 161). Since Chavez was first elected President in 1998, Venezuela’s oil policy had represented “a dramatic break from the past” (Ellner and Salas 54). This was mainly because he used the country’s oil profits to come up with numerous social programs that were intended to help the most marginalized sectors of Venezuelan society (Ellner and Salas 54).

One of Chavez’s first programs was “Plan Bolivar 2000,” a civilian-military program that included road building, house construction, mass vaccinations, land reform, the lowering of infant mortality rates, the implementation of a free state-subsidized healthcare system and a system of free education up to the tertiary level (Peet and Hartwick 192). By the end of 2001, the aforementioned program led to an increase in primary school enrollment by 1 million students (Peet and Hartwick 193). Chavez preserved his administration by using oil as a means of forging alliances with like-minded leaders.

In 1999, he announced that the Venezuelan state-owned petroleum company PDVSA and the Brazilian state-run oil and gas giant Petroleo Brasileiro were reviewing plans of forming a larger joint oil company. The result of these plans would be Petrosur, an enterprise that was situated on the southern cone of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. Petrosur was intended to supply oil to countries under preferential financial terms, encourage large-scale infrastructure such as pipelines and refineries and coordinate oil distribution, exploration and processing.

The profits of Petrosur would be used to subsidize social programs for education, healthcare and employment (Kozloff 105). Chavez’s populist reforms earned him a second term in 2000 and a third in 2006. But his manner of using Venezuela’s oil reserves did not sit well with Washington and the Venezuelan elite. Prior to Chavez’s regime, Venezuela was the second largest supplier of oil to the United States (Noreng 74). In addition, PDVSA was controlled by the Venezuelan elites (Ellner and Salas 122). Thus, it was no longer surprising if these two parties joined forces in order to expel Chavez from power.

On April 9, 2002, the CTV (Venezuela’s largest trade union organization), Fedecamaras (Venezuela’s largest business federation) and board members of the PDVSA carried out a general strike against Chavez’s oil policies. Three days later, CIA-backed elements of the Venezuelan armed forces staged a coup against him. The coup succeeded in temporarily ousting Chavez and replacing him with Fedecamaras president Pedro Carmona Estanga. Widespread popular protests, however, forced Estanga to resign from the presidency to make way for Chavez (Trinkunas 206). But the CTV, Fedecamaras and the PDVSA would not allow themselves to be defeated.

On December 2, 2002, they called for the resignation of Chavez by staging another general strike. The strike lasted for 63 days – the aforementioned parties were forced to finally call it off due to subsequent detrimental effects on the Venezuelan economy. The strike was said to have devastated the Venezuelan economy by costing the latter about 7. 6% of its GDP (Kohnstamm, Bao, Porup and Schechter 28). Venezuelan politics remained turbulent until Chavez consolidated his power by winning a 2004 referendum. Having obtained tremendous political support and immense oil-generated wealth, he then proceeded to strengthen pan-American socialism.

He openly established strong political and economic ties with other Leftist leaders in Bolivia, Argentina, Cuba, Uruguay, Chile and Brazil. Despite being ridiculed by Bush’s officials as “Castro’s little buddy” (Landau 30), Chavez won about 63% of the vote in Venezuela’s 2006 national elections (Kohnstamm, Bao, Porup and Schechter 28). At present, it is very obvious that majority of the Venezuelan people continue to support Chavez. In February 2009, 54% of Venezuelans (O’Neill n. pag. ) supported an amendment that would scrap presidential term limits in their country (Llana n. pag. ).

Simply put, he would finally be allowed to run for the presidency in 2012. This development is ironic, considering that they rejected in 2007 a constitutional referendum which included the said issue. Moreover, Chavez’s regime was recently criticized for its failure to address acute urban problems such as transport, crime and waste disposal (O’Neill n. pag. ). But the very existence of Chavez’s administration showed Latin Americans that it is possible for them to freely elect their own representatives, as well as choose the form of government which they deem appropriate (O’Neill n.

pag. ). His open defiance of Washington’s dictates proved that a Third World nation, with sheer political will and unity of the part of its citizenry, can actually assert itself to the powerful nation on earth. Through Chavez, Venezuela showed that democracy is not measured in terms of how long a leader stays in power. Rather, it is whether or not this head was in fact chosen by the people and would truly serve their interests.

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