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Fidel's Heir, por Jon Lee Anderson

Fidel's Heir, por Jon Lee Anderson

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Published by juliocesareb4551
Una mítica nota de Jon Lee Anderson sobre el presidente venezolano, Hugo Chávez
Una mítica nota de Jon Lee Anderson sobre el presidente venezolano, Hugo Chávez

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Published by: juliocesareb4551 on Apr 21, 2010
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A Reporter at Large
Fidel’s Heir
The influence of Hugo Chávez.
by Jon Lee Anderson, June 23, 2008
Venezuela’s oil money has brought better living standards for the country’s poorest citizens. It has also given Chávez the means to buy influence with his neighbors,usually at the expense of the United States. Photograph by Chris Anderson.
A few years ago, when Hugo Chávez, the President of Venezuela, said that he wanted a new jet to replace the nearlythirty-year-old Boeing bequeathed to him by his predecessor, his critics raised an outcry. But Chávez went aheadwith his plans. His new plane, which cost sixty-five million dollars, is a gleaming white Airbus A-319, with a whiteleather interior, seating for sixty passengers, and a private compartment. The folding seat-back trays have gold-colored hinges, and there is plenty of legroom.Chávez has spent more than a year altogether on trips abroad since taking office, in February, 1999, and so the jet is akind of second home. His seat bears an embossed leather Presidential seal. Paintings of nineteenth-century Latin-American independence heroes hang on the walls, including a prominent one of Simón Bolívar, known as ElLibertador. Bolívar led military campaigns to free large parts of South America from Spanish rule, and in 1819 hehelped create a vast nation called Gran Colombia, which encompassed the present-day republics of Venezuela,Colombia, Ecuador, and Panama. But political rivalries and internecine warfare frustrated Bolívar’s dream of aUnited States of South America, and Gran Colombia fell apart soon after his death, in 1830.Bolívar is Chávez’s political muse; Chávez quotes and invokes him constantly, and is unabashed about his desire toresuscitate Bolívar’s dream of a united Latin America. In his first year in office, Chávez held a successful referendumto draft a new constitution, which officially renamed the country the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Moreremarkably, he has adopted Fidel Castro as his contemporary role model and socialism as his political ideal, and, a
decade and a half after the collapse of the Soviet Union, is leading a left-wing revival across Latin America.Chávez’s hemispheric ambitions have made him one of the most compelling, audacious, and polarizing figures in theworld—one of a number of post-Cold War leaders trying to form regional power blocs. A generation ago, Castrosought to undermine United States authority by supporting armed guerrilla forces; Chávez has pursued that goalmainly by using money—thanks, in large measure, to U.S. oil purchases. Venezuela is the fifth-largest supplier of oilto the U. S., providing around a million barrels a day, and its proved oil reserves are among the world’s largest.One recent Sunday, I flew with Chávez to La Faja del Orinoco, an oil-rich belt of land in eastern Venezuela. In May,2007, Chávez ordered the nationalization of pumping and refining facilities in La Faja owned by foreign oilcompanies. The move was one of a series of measures that Chávez had taken to increase Venezuela’s share of oilrevenues, including increases in royalty payments from 16.6 per cent to 33.3 per cent, and its ownership stake fromaround forty to at least sixty per cent. (As recently as 2004, these companies were paying royalties of one per cent of the oil’s value.) Most of the oil companies, including Chevron and B.P., agreed to the terms; ConocoPhillips andExxonMobil did not, and pulled out.ExxonMobil had been pumping as many as a hundred and twenty thousand barrels a day out of La Faja. Seekingcompensation, the company secured injunctions from judges in the United States, Great Britain, and the Netherlandsthat froze up to twelve billion dollars in overseas assets of Venezuela’s state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela,S.A., or P.D.V.S.A. Chávez, decrying “imperialist aggression,” threatened to cut off all oil sales to the United States.Analysts estimate that if he should ever make good on that threat the price, which has already risen vertiginously,would spiral even farther upward. (A London court later overturned the British injunction, in what was seen as amajor victory for Chávez, but the legal fight continues. ExxonMobil will not say publicly how much it asked for,except that the sum is “multiple billions of dollars.”)On the plane to La Faja were several of Chávez’s ministers and aides, along with a dozen or so bodyguards and threeCuban doctors, who travel with him everywhere. Just after boarding, Chávez pushed through the curtains from hiscompartment to the main cabin and greeted everyone. He joked that the Cuban doctors must be guerrillas on an“internationalist mission.” Halfway through the hour-long flight, I joined Chávez in his compartment. Chávez, who isabout five feet seven, is a youthful-looking fifty-three, and has a thick neck and chest. He introduced me to GeneralGustavo Rangel, his Defense Minister, and René Vargas, Ecuador’s Ambassador to Venezuela.Chávez began our conversation by asking, “Tell us, why didn’t Saddam put up more of a fight when the Yankeesinvaded?” Before I could reply, General Rangel said that the Americans had successfully degraded Iraq’s air-defensesystem in the run-up to the war. Chávez looked at me for confirmation, and when I agreed he smiled, and said that, just in case the Americans were thinking of doing anything similar to Venezuela, he had bought an air-defensesystem from Belarus. (In the past four years, Venezuela has spent four billion dollars on foreign arms purchases,mostly from Russia.) The Belarusian system probably wasn’t the most sophisticated in the world, Chávez said, but itwas what Venezuela could get: “We do what we can to defend ourselves.”Chávez campaigned for the Presidency, in 1998, with promises to bring radical change, but, for a time after he won,it was unclear whether he could deliver much more than symbolism and oratory. When he took office, oil was at amere ten dollars a barrel, and his first government budget was seven billion dollars; last year, as oil approached ahundred dollars a barrel (by last week, it was a hundred and thirty-six dollars), the budget rose to fifty-four billion.The oil money has allowed Chávez to triple spending on social programs. Even though many of these “missions,” asthey’re known, have foundered or have proved inadequate, the volume of revenues has meant an improvement inliving standards for the country’s poorest citizens, who are, unsurprisingly, Chávez’s strongest supporters. It has alsogiven him the means to buy influence with his neighbors, usually at the expense of the United States.Chávez’s relationship with the United States, which was strained from the start, became openly hostile after a short-lived military coup, in 2002, that seemed to have the blessing of the Bush Administration. Chávez discontinued long-standing military ties and ended Venezuela’s coöperation with the Drug Enforcement Administration, whileSecretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, before he left office, compared Chávez to Adolf Hitler. In 2006, the StateDepartment placed Venezuela on a list of nations that it described as “uncoöperative” in the war on terror.Despite the harsh language, unofficial U.S. policy in the past few years has generally been to ignore Chávez, in order to avoid being drawn into a confrontation. This reflects a broader disengagement from the region during the BushAdministration. Since 2001, the United States has been distracted from Latin America by the war on terror and byIraq, and that has given Chávez room to operate. Venezuela outspends the United States in foreign aid to the rest of Latin America by a factor of at least five. Last year, U.S. aid amounted to $1.6 billion, a third of which went toColombia, mainly to fund Plan Colombia, a drug-eradication program administered by the U.S. security contractor DynCorp. Chávez, meanwhile, pledged $8.8 billion for the region. This included subsidized oil for Cuba, Nicaragua,
and Bolivia; the purchase of public debt in Argentina; and development projects in Haiti. (Chávez has, in addition, provided discounted heating oil to poor Americans through Citgo, the Venzuelan state oil company’s U.S.subsidiary.)There is also evidence that Chávez has fostered a relationship with the Colombian Marxist guerrilla organizationFuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or FARC. The FARC operates along Venezuela’s border withColombia and holds hundreds of hostages—civilians, soldiers, and politicians—in secret camps. Chávez has, attimes, publicly distanced himself from the FARC, most recently last week, but the group’s espousal of Bolivarianideals, and its strategic position, appears to have tempted him into seeing the organization as a means, if only by proxy, of confronting the U.S.; Colombia is one of America’s closest allies in the region.The present in Latin America may be analogous to the nineteen-sixties, when the U.S. was mired in Vietnam anddeeply unpopular internationally, and Fidel Castro and Che Guevara (another hero of Chávez’s) saw an opportunityto foment guerrilla insurgencies elsewhere—“one, two, three, many Vietnams,” as Che said—by which U.S. strengthcould be sapped.Cris Arcos, who was, until recently, President Bush’s Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for InternationalAffairs, told me he feared that the moment had passed for the U.S. to do much to contain Chávez. “The problem withthe war on terror is that the Pentagon can’t engage anywhere else—it’s tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Arcossaid. “Our foreign policy is all about China and the war on terror, so where does that leave Latin America?”In Latin America, Arcos said, “the political left has lost its fear of the gringos and the right has lost its respect for theU.S. Why? Ironically, because both expected the U.S. to smash the left, especially now that it is the solesuperpower.” He continued, “The U.S. predictably considers Chávez to be annoying and crude, and thinks that he behaves inappropriately for a head of state. His cavorting with Iranians and other pariahs is alarming to the U.S., yetit’s not taken seriously by his South American neighbors.” Their tolerance for Chávez, he said, was “evidence of theU.S.’s eroding influence in the region.”Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico, first met Chávez in 1999, when, as President Clinton’s EnergySecretary, he represented the United States at Chávez’s inauguration. (He brought him a baseball glove as aswearing-in gift.) Richardson told me, “I am concerned that, because of our policy to isolate Chávez, we may havecreated a vacuum in Latin America, where he already outvotes us on certain issues. I am not saying that this meanswe have to go along with him, but there may be ways we can establish a working relationship with him. Isolating himis not in our interest.” Richardson said, “I question whether we would be wise to brand Chávez a state sponsor of terror”—a move that the Administration has considered—“because of our energy needs, and our energy relationshipwith Venezuela.”The old ExxonMobil station in La Faja was immaculate, all swept gravel and pristinely painted structures. Chávez,who has a regular live Sunday television show, “Aló Presidente,” planned to broadcast from the facility that day.It was humid but pleasant. An advance team had set up several hundred folding chairs outside the refining station,and a plank floor had been laid down as a stage, with a desk for Chávez, furnished with maps, notepads, and books(including a Spanish edition of Joseph Stiglitz’s “The Roaring Nineties”). Young aides in red T-shirts emblazonedwith Chávez’s image and the words “
 Democracia en Revolución
” (“Democracy Within Revolution”) and matchingred baseball caps dispensed coffee and bottles of water. Chávez was dressed in a red guayabera and black jeans. His bodyguards and many of his ministers wore similar red guayaberas.By the time Chávez sat down at the desk, he had been on the air for more than an hour, walking through the facility,followed by cameramen, with his daughter María Gabriela. She is a wide-faced young woman with a toothy smile.As they made their way, he explained what they were seeing, for the benefit of the television audience. Periodically,he stopped to hug or kiss her. She, her sister, Rosa Virginia, and a brother, Hugo Rafael, all in their twenties, areChávez’s children with his first wife, Nancy Colmenares, whom he divorced in the early nineties. Chávez also has aten-year-old daughter, Rosinés, with his second wife, Marisabel Rodríguez. Rodríguez left him in 2002, and has sincemarried a tennis instructor. Recently, she has begun speaking out publicly against Chávez, accusing him of beingobsessed with power, and hinting that she would like to run for the Presidency herself.Sitting at the desk, Chávez began with a long pep talk for his supporters. When the camera cut away for a short,sharply critical film about ExxonMobil—it opened with a montage of images of Hitler, oil spills, and John D.Rockefeller—an aide held up a large white screen to shield Chávez while a young woman applied powder to his face.Another aide poured him espresso from a thermos, which he carried in a black leather briefcase.

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