Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill's trip
to Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay has brought
some needed attention to the financial and
economic crises there. But there is one country
where the US is playing an enormous -- and
thoroughly destructive -- role that has been left
out of the picture: Venezuela.
Last April the Bush Administration sent
a powerful message not only to Venezuelans but
to all of our Southern neighbors: if we don't like
the presidents you elect, we will use our muscle
to get rid of them. By any means necessary.
That is what was understood when the
Administration endorsed the attempted military
coup on April 11 against the elected president of
Venezuela. (The White House later justified its
response by saying it thought that President
Hugo Chavez had "resigned;" but nobody south
of the Rio Grande was fooled).
Now we will see whether the
Democratic-led US Senate will object to this
1950s-style foreign policy.
On May 3, Senator Christopher J. Dodd
of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
requested an investigation from the US State
Department, to find out what it did wrong in
Venezuela. What he got was a complete
whitewash -- which was turned over to the
Senate last week.
The State's Department's supposedly
independent Office of the Inspector General
didn't even interview a single Venezuelan, but
relied on US embassy officials and others who
had a direct career interest in covering up what
happened. This is comparable to investigating
Enron by talking to Ken Lay and Andrew
Significant parts of the report remain
classified -- most tellingly, a section entitled
"Miscellaneous Issues Raised by the News
Media in Venezuela or the United States." Just
what issues raised by the Venezuelan and U.S.
news media are our State Department trying to
keep away from the public discussion?
Of course they can't hide what the press
has already printed. The Washington Post and
New York Times cited numerous meetings
between top US officials and the people who led
the military coup on April 11. The European
press was even more explicit about these
meetings: "The coup was discussed in some
detail, right down to its timing and chances of
success, which were deemed to be excellent,"
reported the Observer of London, citing sources
at the Organization of the American States.
There were dozens of such leads in the
press that the State Department could have
investigated. But they chose not to do so; or if
they did, they have apparently withheld the
results from the public.
Some of the report's admissions are even
more damning than the omissions. Listing the
reasons for US hostility to President Chavez, the
report notes "his involvement in the affairs of
the Venezuelan oil company, and the potential
impact of that on oil prices." There you have it:
the number one reason for the US State
Department supporting a military coup against a
democratically elected president. He had the
nerve to get involved in deciding how much oil
Venezuela should produce, instead of leaving
these decisions to Washington! And people
wonder why anti-US sentiment is rising in Latin
Even more importantly, the report
admits that US officials did little or nothing to
warn the coup leaders that the United States
would impose sanctions on a government that
was installed by military force. This means that
all the admonishments from the US embassy
about not supporting a coup -- while
Washington was funneling millions of dollars to
pro-coup organizations -- were a mere
formality. The real message was a big green
The anti-democratic Venezuelan
opposition will continue to understand that
message, until there is an explicit statement
from the Bush Administration that a coup would
result in a cut-off of economic and diplomatic
relations with the United States.
The Senate should demand exactly such
a statement, and conduct a real investigation in
place of the State Department's cover-up.
Anything less would tell the world that our
Congress -- not just the Bush Administration --
has little respect for democracy in Latin
Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research,
in Washington D.C. (www.cepr.net)