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The Venezuelan government announced on Saturday that Manuel Zelaya, the Honduran President overthrown in a bloodless military coup last June, will serve as the political leader of the Petrocaribe alliance. Petrocaribe was created by the government of Hugo Chávez in 2005 and allows participating countries, including some of the poorest nations in the Americas, to finance shipments of Venezuelan oil over a period of 17 to 25 years at an interest rate of 1%, paying a small fraction up front[1]. Member states can also finance part of their petroleum imports with export commodities such as rice and bananas, which are sent to Venezuela in part-exchange for market-rate oil.

Zelaya’s appointment was announced by the Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nicolás Maduro, during a conference of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). Maduro stated that the decision to appoint Zelaya demonstrates the Venezuelan government’s commitment to “continue supporting the restoration of democracy in Honduras”[2]. Following June’s coup, President Chávez of Venezuela was one of the international community’s most vocal supporters of Zelaya, demanding his immediate reinstatement as an interim government under Roberto Micheletti took control of the poverty-stricken Central American nation.

In elections held in November of last year, Porfirio Lobo was elected Honduran President, with many nations, including Venezuela, refusing to recognise Lobo’s victory, taking place as it did in the shadow of last summer’s coup d’état. Venezuela has indefinitely suspended oil exports to Honduras, but has stated that Caracas would restore relations with Tegucigalpa if the new government permitted Zelaya to return to the political scene in the country[3].

Zelaya, a wealthy landowner in his own right, had begun to institute significant changes which sought to alleviate the plight of the millions of Hondurans living in abject poverty. These included a 60% increase in the minimum wage which provoked criticism and anger on the part of multinational companies operating in the country, who had hitherto benefitted from unchecked access to the labour of the roughly 60% of Honduras’ 8 million inhabitants who live below the poverty line.

U.S. banana-giant Chiquita, formerly The United Fruit Company, which was instrumental in pushing through the CIA-led overthrow of the democratically-elected government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954 in response to his drastic land reform policies, was among the more vocal critics of Zelaya’s minimum wage increase, and maintains substantial holdings in Honduras[4].

Honduras is the poorest nation on the mainland of the American continent, with an estimated 75% of the country’s rural population living in poverty[5], and is characterised by “an extraordinarily unequal distribution of income and high un- and underemployment”[6]. President Lobo, educated at the University of Miami, was quick to exonerate those members of the Honduran military who took part in the coup which toppled Manuel Zelaya, confirming that they would not face prosecution for their part in the overthrow and promising to put Honduras “on the path to democracy”, in February of this year[7].

During his inauguration in January, Lobo publicly thanked U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the backing he had received from the government of Barack Obama following his victory at the polls in November 2009, while Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela were among a group of several Latin American nations who boycotted Lobo’s swearing-in and refuse to recognise the Honduran government, considering it illegitimate[8].

The Obama administration is extremely unpopular in much of Latin America, with widespread anger at the decision to place U.S. troops on the ground at several military bases in Venezuela’s neighbour Colombia as part of the United States’ “war on drugs”. Obama’s decision to extend crippling sanctions against Cuba, in spite of having made noises to the effect that relations could thaw between Washington and Havana during his campaign, has also done little to alter the image of his administration in a region which has seen countless U.S. and U.S.-backed military interventions in preceding decades which have left deep physical and emotional scars which endure to the present day.

Honduras had been receiving oil shipments from Venezuela under a Petrocaribe agreement until dispatches were suspended following last June’s coup. Zelaya said of his new role as political head of Petrocaribe, “I am going to accept this nomination and this appointment from President Chávez with a view to strengthening the democratic processes in this continent”. Commenting on the role Chávez played in supporting the ousted President following the coup, Zelaya remarked, “it’s false that Hugo Chávez came looking for me, I went looking for him in order to help Latin America”.

Interviewed after the conclusion of three hours of talks with Zelaya held at the Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Chávez affirmed that Porfirio Lobo’s electoral victory in Honduras “was no defeat” and that Zelaya is still the “legitimate President of Honduras”.

Tom Kavanagh


[1] Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. – Petrocaribe, http://www.pdvsa.com/index.php?tpl=interface.sp/design/readmenuprinc.tpl.html&newsid_temas=48

[2] Designan a Zelaya como nuevo presidente del Consejo Político de Petrocaribe, http://www.telesurtv.net/noticias/secciones/nota/67940-NN/designan-a-zelaya-como-nuevo-presidente-del-consejo-politico-de-petrocaribe/

[3] Chávez contrata al ex presidente hondureño Zelaya para dirigir Petrocaribe, http://www.cnnmexico.com/mundo/2010/03/06/chavez-contrata-al-ex-presidente-hondureno-zelaya-para-dirigir-petrocaribe

[4] Chiquita in Latin America, http://www.counterpunch.org/kozloff07172009.html

[5] Honduras, http://www.ifad.org/media/success/honduras_2.htm

[6] CIA – The World Factbook – Honduras, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ho.html

[7] Presidente de Honduras exonera militar que executou golpe, http://noticias.uol.com.br/ultimas-noticias/afp/2010/02/25/presidente-de-honduras-exonera-militar-que-executou-golpe.jhtm

[8] Lobo Assumes Presidency as U.S., Latin America Split, http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-01-27/lobo-set-for-presidency-as-u-s-latin-america-split-update1-.html

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The governments of Venezuela and Iran have signed a memorandum of understanding which pledges military cooperation and entails “training and mutual exchange of military experiences”. The accord was signed on Thursday 30th April following a meeting between Iran’s Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammed-Najjar and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Brigadier General Mohammad-Najjar affirmed that, “Iran pledges its full support to promote the Venezuelan military’s defense capabilities in the framework of mutual defensive agreements”[1].

There has been increasing collaboration and solidarity between the two nations in previous years; past agreements include cooperation over oil exploration, the construction of low-income housing and assembling tractors and bicycles. Venezuela has been an outspoken defender of Iran’s right to enrich uranium for civilian purposes; the U.S. and its allies have repeatedly threatened Tehran over its nuclear policy, accusing the Persian state of attempting to acquire nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile the United States itself has the largest nuclear arsenal in the world, and Israel is believed to be the only Middle Eastern nation with nuclear weapons, although it refuses to disclose any information regarding its nuclear program. Former Israeli nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu released classified information about Israel’s development of advanced nuclear weapons to the Sunday Times in 1986, with the newspaper estimating that Israel had more than 100 nuclear warheads and publishing photographs which Vanunu had taken in secret. Israel subsequently prosecuted Vanunu, having first kidnapped him in Rome; convicting him of treason and espionage and sentencing him to 18 years in prison. Vanunu served 12 years of his imprisonment in solitary confinement; longer than any other known prisoner in modern history[2].

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was briefly overthrown by an abortive coup d’état in 2002 before being reinstated just 47 hours later following a massive popular uprising. The United States had been quick to recognise the interim government which replaced Chávez, and members of the Organization of American States (OAS) went on record at the time stating that senior U.S. officials were “not only aware the coup was about to take place, but had sanctioned it, presuming it to be destined for success”.[3]

Relations between the United States and Venezuela have been tense since the election of Chávez in 1998, with Washington taking issue with the redistributive policies of the Venezuelan leader who has been keen to ensure that the country’s vast oil wealth is better-distributed among the country’s 28 million inhabitants.

The United States covertly sponsored numerous coups d’état throughout Latin America during the 20th century, overthrowing governments which have threatened its hegemony and commercial interests whenever forceful regime change has been viable. In 1970, a memo sent by then-National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger to President Richard Nixon just days after the inauguration of the left-wing leader Salvador Allende in Chile urged “regime change” in the South American nation, warning that Allende’s populist policies could serve as a “model” for other regimes and thus prove damaging to U.S. interests[4].

The memo, declassified in 2004, underlines the subversive means the United States uses to pressure governments of weaker nations into conforming to U.S. foreign policy objectives, and the perils which await those who refuse to toe the line.

Chávez has consistently pursued policies which conflict with Washington’s interests. Under an agreement with the Cuban government, Venezuela exports reduced-price oil to the Caribbean nation whilst Cuba furnishes Venezuela with desperately needed medical professionals and expertise.

The United States continues to give refuge to numerous suspected terrorists wanted by Havana on suspicion involvement in attacks against the Cuban state, with the most prominent among them being Cuban-born Venezuelan Luis Posada Carriles. Carriles has himself admitted to taking part in the bombing of a Cubana airliner in 1976 which claimed 73 lives, and for which he was detained in Venezuela before escaping from prison in 1985.

Carriles has also been implicated in the bombing of hotels in Havana and an assassination attempt against Fidel Castro during a 2000 visit to Panama. Venezuela has repeatedly requested his extradition; calls which have fallen on deaf ears in Washington, leading to observers condemning the United States for its clear display of double standards in the ‘war on terror’[5].

In March, Chávez aroused the attention of the world’s media when he called the recently inaugurated Barack Obama “ignorant”, stating that his U.S. counterpart is uninformed of the “reality of Latin America” and urging him to “read and study”[6]. Obama had condemned Chávez for “exporting terror” and “hindering progress” in Latin America[7], to which the Venezuelan premier responded; “the real obstacle has been the empire that he today presides over, which has exported terrorism for nearly 200 years, has launched atomic bombs on innocent cities, has bombarded, invaded and issued orders to kill whenever they have taken the notion.”

In addition to the South American country’s pact with Iran, Venezuela inaugurated diplomatic relations with Palestine on April 27th. The South American nation severed ties with Israel and expelled its ambassador to Venezuela following the Zionist state’s three-week winter offensive in Gaza which left over 1,400 Palestinians dead and well over 5,000 wounded, causing $1.6 billion worth of damage to Gaza’s economy in the process[8].

Venezuelan foreign minister Nicolas Maduro stated that, “The people of Palestine can count on our eternal and permanent solidarity with their just and humane cause.” Hugo Chávez has said on record that he believes Israel’s onslaught in the beleaguered Palestinian territory constitutes genocide.

Tom Kavanagh


[1] Iran, Venezuela enter into military alliance, http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=93122&sectionid=351020101

 

[2] Prisoner Support – Mordechai Vanunu, http://www.motherearth.org/prisoner/vanunu.php

[3] Venezuela coup linked to Bush team, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/apr/21/usa.venezuela

[4] Kissinger Document Shows Pre-Emption in Practice, http://www.commondreams.org/headlines04/0205-07.htm

[5] Terrorist Luis Posada Carriles – AND THE DOUBLE STANDARD IN THE U.S. ‘WAR ON TERROR’, http://www.rethinkvenezuela.com/downloads/Posada%20Carriles.htm

[6] Chavez: Obama clueless about reality, http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=89370&sectionid=351020704

[7] Venezuela’s Chavez calls Obama “ignoramus”, http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSTRE52L19G20090322

[8] ‘Genocide’ brings Palestinian embassy to Venezuela, http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=92776&sectionid=351020704

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