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deals; and Syria, where he promised anotherstrategic alliance to free the world of U.S.domination. The speech in New York was ahigh point in Chavez’s campaign to bait theUnited States and elevate his own worldprofile.
Chavez fancies himself a revolutionaryleader, protégé and presumptive successorto Castro, who announced last month he wasstepping down after nearly a half-century inpower. A leader of the anti-imperialist cause,“Chavez is the piper leading the most stridentanti-Americanism to parade through LatinAmerica since the Bay of Pigs invasion,”notes Venezuelan writer Ibsen Martinez.Since becoming president in 1999, Chavezhas called for political upheaval in LatinAmerica and flirted with violent anti-govern-ment guerrilla movements in neighboringColombia, with which Venezuela shares aporous 1,300-mile border. He has given tacitsupport to the communist RevolutionaryArmed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and thesmaller National Liberation Army (ELN) andangered Colombia by urging it to stop callingFARC “terrorists.” Calling FARC and ELN“true armies,” Chavez described them as “in-surgent forces that have political andBolivarian goals, and here [Venezuela] that isrespected.”Periodically Chavez proposes to mediateFARC disputes with Colombia and has of-fered to negotiate the return of hostages thatFARC has seized. Colombia says FARC iscurrently holding some 750 people hostage(including three Americans). Recently Chavezhelped negotiate the release of two hostages,but the government of Colombian PresidentAlvaro Uribe asked him to stop. “Any personwho openly aligns himself with one of theparties could not be a mediator,” Colombia’sdefense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, toldthe Financial Times. Chavez also has threat-ened neighboring Guyana, making claims tothree-quarters of its territory.Experts estimate that FARC may take infrom $200 million to $400 million annuallyfrom the illegal drug trade, but Chavez re-fuses to allow U.S. drug surveillance flightsin Venezuelan airspace. However, he hasallowed Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamasterrorists to open offices in Venezuela’s capi-tal, Caracas.In Latin America Chavez has vigorouslypromoted a new coalition of anti-Americangovernments. He is urging left-wing govern-ments in Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, and theCaribbean island nations of Antigua, St.Vincent, and Dominica to join Venezuela andCuba in an alliance he calls the BolivarianAlternative for the Americas. This granddesign is an alternative trade agreement meantto challenge the hemispheric free trade agree-ments negotiated by the United States.Chavez also urges investors to withdrawtheir funds from U.S. banks, and last monthhe acted on his promise to curtail oil suppliesto the U.S. by ordering government-ownedPetroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) to cutoff crude oil sales to ExxonMobil, which isfighting his regime’s seizure of its assets. Inretaliation, ExxonMobil won U.S. and Britishcourt orders freezing $12 billion of the Ven-ezuelan company’s worldwide assets. React-ing to the Bush administration’s support forExxonMobil, Chavez lashed out: “Take note,Mr. Bush, Mr. Danger. If the economic warcontinues against Venezuela, the price of oilwill reach $200. Venezuela will take up theeconomic war and more than one country isinclined to join us.”Chavez calls capitalism “savagery” andrejects free market prescriptions to lift less-developed nations out of poverty. Instead hepreaches the gospel of redistribution, prom-ising to build a workers’ utopia similar to thesupposed paradise created by his friendCastro, to whom he reportedly speaks dailyby telephone. Last year he nationalized firmsin Venezuela’s petroleum, communications,and electricity sectors, and last month hevowed to have the government seize foodproducers and distributors that “hoard” prod-ucts to sell at “inflated” prices. He demandsthat banks contribute a percentage of theirprofits to his social programs and threatensto seize any that fail to make loans at favor-able rates for homes, farms and small busi-nesses.Chavez likens himself to Simon Bolivar, thegreat liberator who led the movement to freeLatin America from Spain in the early 1800s.Chavez even renamed the nation the“Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela” when hetook power, and he retains power by mobiliz-ing support from among poor, black, andindigenous Venezuelans, holding out thepromise that they are key elements in a newnational culture he is creating. Chavez rejectswhat he considers the materialism of Ameri-can culture, and he promotes abstinencefrom alcohol, tobacco, and fatty foods. He isplanning to slap massive taxes on alcoholand tobacco, along with luxury cars and art.His socialist reforms are wreaking economichavoc. The World Bank ranks Venezuela asthe second-worst country in the Americas
: Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro