by Marvin J. Ramírez
( Photo By Marvin J. Ramírez )
As Venezuela becomes the bastion of leadership of the new leftist movement in Latin America, and voices of criticism and support crash at political circles, many in the City were able to listen directly from Venezuela’s highest official in the U.S. on May 9, say the latest word on the vision of Hugo Chávez.
And no one could be better prepared to respond than Bernardo Álvarez Herrera, an ex Vice Minister of Hydrocarbons at the Ministry of Energy and Mines, Deputy of the National Congress, and Vice Chairman of the Armed Forces, including Chief of the Research and Development Division at the Venezuelan Institute of Foreign Trade.
He became Venezuelan Ambassador to the United States in 2003, and was in the Bay Area to respond to criticism of his country’s new Socialism of the 21st Century, created by President Chávez.
Defending Chavez’ expanded presidential powers as a necessity to carry out the president’s vision of a social democracy, Álvarez talked in very detail of why things are going the way they are going in Venezuela. He reminded the audience at the World Affairs Council of Northern California, of the hypocrisy of President Bush, who himself has claimed broader executive powers in his fight against terrorism, despite of extensive criticism at home and abroad.
“Why, when you give a lot of power to your president, it’s good, and when we grant powers to our president, it’s bad? I really want to know this,” the ambassador asked.
“What we see is a new reality,” said Álvarez, referring to Chávez’ increasing political power and his influence in Latin America. “People agree that Chávez is not an accident, and mentioned the rising to power of Evo Morales in Bolivia, as new changes not accepted by the Washington consensus. He said that there is a huge socioeconomic transformation of the region now underway.
For the first time, “we are creating a new change,” which in the past was impossible to make major changes in society … while poverty grew, he said.
He mentioned the three millions people who were invisible when Chávez took power, who did not have any identification.
“They were invisible, they could not be counted or vote,” he said, while explaining how Chávez government brought them from the shadows and started providing them with I.D and social benefits, and registering them as citizens.
He also mentioned the millions of Colombians who were also living in the shadows as undocumented immigrants, they also were provided with legal residence, as a move to improve their living conditions.
It was not clear if he said it to criticize the United States, which has been unable to legalize more that 12 million people.
“I just wanted to tell you about the level of exclusion that existed before with a two-party system,” which conducted negotiations between themselves.
Accompanied by the a delegation of Venezuelan officials from the Embassy in Washington and the Consul General in San Francisco, José Egidio Rodríguez, the Ambassador was also accompanied by Nicaraguan Roberto Vargas, a known Sandinista figure who twice took over the Nicaraguan Consulate in protest against the U.S. support for the Contras.
He reminded the audience that like in Bolivia, where the country was getting nothing out of its gas trade, companies in Venezuela made money but the people made nothing.
“We want to have mixed company, and if we want to have power, we have to empower the poor in a way it reflects democracy also – representative democracy,” Álvarez said.
“We respect the system of this country but I don’t understand how this democracy doesn’t allow someone to run for office unless you have $1 million,” he said, while responding to written questions from the audience.
If we are going to talk democracy, we are going to discuss democracy, he said, and criticized the fact that the territory of the United States is 33 percent of the American continent, while it consumes 71 percent of the energy. “It would required an energy capability of six planets to satisfy its oil consumption,” he said.
Energy brings us together to talk about development and talk peace. Venezuela, he said, is the second largest commercial partner of the U.S, while blaming the energy crisis partially on the U.S. for not having built refineries in 30 years.
In Venezuela we not only want to use the oil for profits, but also for social development, he said. And in replying to criticism for nationalizing the energy industry, has said that unlike Venezuela, other countries don’t have any private participation in their oil industry, Saudi Arabia and Mexico.
He said that with the U.S. companies was no problem, they wanted to sell, and we bought, and added that nationalization has not always been good business.
“Chávez’ efforts to steer a far greater share of his nation’s increased oil revenue to the poor is framed by the New York Times as a sort of populist “scam,” said Randy Shao, of Beyond.com, an alternative online daily.
“A President who has won more honest and fair elections than George W. Bush is deemed a “strongman,” while his preventing foreign companies from reaping huge profits from Venezuela’s natural resources is described as akin to Soviet-style Communism (rarely are there stories about Venezuela’s robust private sector),” said Shao.
To Shao, Hugo Chávez provides an ongoing reminder of America’s distorted priorities. In other words, Chávez makes the U.S. government look selfish, uncaring, and even malicious toward the tens of millions of living in property in the world’s richest country.
“No wonder our media regularly attacks him. The last message corporate America wants voters to hear is that it is possible to radically change economic policies to benefit the poor, and that populism has seven letters but is not a dirty word,” said Shaw.
In regard to freedom of the press and latest issue of not renewing the license of a 53-year-old T.V. chain, the ambassador said that out of the only six T.V. channels in the country, only one is being turned to public T.V. PBS.
On May 27, the government of Venezuela denied the renewal of RCTV’s broadcasting license to allow for the establishment of a state-controlled station.
Questioning Democracy in the United States, in Venezuela, he added, exists the referendum, a mechanism that allows to ask the people if they want Chávez or not. “Here this doesn’t exist.”