Typical was the mouth-breathing editorial by the San Francisco Chronicle, that the referendum could make Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's President, a constitutional dictator for life. And no less a freedom fighter than Donald Rumsfeld, from the height of the Washington Post, said that by voting, Venezuela was receding into dictatorship. Oh, my!
Given that Chavez referendum was defeated at the ballot box, we now know that, as a dictator, Chavez is a flop. Of course, without meaning to gainsay Secretary Rumsfeld, maybe Chavez is not a dictator.
Lets get clear exactly what this vote was about. Firstly, it was a referendum to change the nations constitution to end term limits for President.
Oh, horror! Imagine if we eliminated term limits in the US! We could end up stuck with a president like Franklin Roosevelt. Worse, if Bill Clinton could have run again, wed have missed out on the statesmanship of Junior Bush. While US media called Chavez a tyrant for suggesting an end to term limits, they somehow forgot to smear the tyrant tag on Mr. Clinton for suggesting the same for the America.
We were not told this weekends referendum was a vote on term limits, rather, we were told by virtually every US news outlet that the referendum was to make Chavez, President for Life. The President for Life canard was misreported by no less than The New York Times.
But ending term limits does not mean winning the term. As Chavez himself told me, Its up to the people whether he gets reelected. And that infuriates the US Powers That Be.
Secondly, beyond ending term limits, the referendum would have loaded the nations constitution with changes in property law, work hours and so many other complex economic adjustments that the entire referendum sank of its own weight.
Its the Oil.
Term limits and work hours in Venezuela? Why was this a crisis for Washington? Why is the Bush crew so bonkers about Hugo? Is it because Venezuela sits on the worlds largest reserve of coconuts? Like Operation Iraqi Liberation (OIL) - its all about the crude, dude. And lots of it. The US Department of Energy documents I obtained indicate that the guys holding Bush's dipstick figure that Venezuela is sitting on 1.36 trillion barrels of crude, five times the reserves of Saudi Arabia.
Chavez continuing tenure means that Venezuelans huge supply of oil will now be in the hands of Venezuelans! As Arturo Quiran, resident of a poor folks housing complex, told me, Ten, fifteen years ago there was a lot of oil money here in Venezuela but we didn't see it. Notably, Quiran doesn't particularly agree with Chavez politics. But, he thought Americans should understand that under Chavez Administration, there's a doctors office in his building with free operations, x-rays, medicines. Education also. People who never knew how to read and write now know how to sign their own papers.
Not everyone is pleased. As one TV news anchor, violently anti-Chavez, told me in derisive tones, Chavez gives them (the poor) bricks and bread! how dare he! so, they vote for him. Big Oil has better ideas for Venezuela, best expressed in several Wall Street Journal articles attacking Chavez for spending his nations oil wealth on social programs rather than on more drilling platforms to better fill the SUVs of Texas.
Chavez has committed other crimes in Washington's eyes. Not only has this uppity brown man spent Venezuela's oil wealth in Venezuela, he withdrew $20 billion from the US Federal Reserve. Weirdly, Venezuelas previous leaders, though the nation was dirt poor, lent billions to the US Treasury on crap terms. Chavez has said, Basta! to this game, and has called for keeping South Americas capital in South America! Oh, no!
Oh, and did I mention that Chavez told Exaction it had to pay more than a 1% royalty to his nation on the heavy crude the company extracted? And that's why they have to kill him. In 2002, The New York Times sickeningly applauded the coup d'etat against Chavez. But that failed. Therefore, as the electorate of Venezuela is obstinately refusing to vote as Condi Rice tells them, there's only one solution left for democracy-loving Bush-niks, the view express out loud by our Presidents spiritual advisor, Pat Robertson:
We have this enemy to our south controlling a huge pool of oil. Hugo Chavez thinks were trying to assassinate him. I think we ought to go ahead and do it. We don't need another $200 billion war Its a whole lot easier to have some covert operatives do the job.
But Hugo's not my enemy. Indeed, he's made a damn good offer to the American people: oil for $50 a barrel nearly half of what it sells today. By locking in a long-term price, Venezuela loses its crazy Iraq war oil-price windfall. In return, we agree not to let oil prices fall through the floor (it dropped to $9 a barrel in 1998) and bankrupt his nation. But Saudi Arabia doesn't like that deal. And Abdullah's wish is George Bush's command. Interestingly, Chavez fellow no-term-limits dictator Bill Clinton endorsed the concept.
I don't agree with everything Chavez does. And I've found some of his opponents point well taken. But unlike Bush, I don't think I should have a veto over the Venezuelan vote.
And the locals sentiments are quite clear. I drove with one opposition candidate, Julio Borges, on a campaign stop to a small town three hours from Caracas. We met his supporters or, more accurately, his lone supporter. The rally was in her kitchen. She served us delicious arepas.
The next day, I returned to that very same town when Chavez arrived. Nearly a thousand screaming fans showed up - and an equal number were turned away. The British Telegraph laughably reports that Chavez boosters appear under duress. You'd think they were showing for a taping of South American Idol. Well, the Venezuelan President did break into song a few times.
Its worth noting that Chavez personal popularity doesn't extend to all his plans for Bolivarian socialism. And that killed his referendum at the ballot box. I guess Chavez should have asked Jeb Bush how to count votes in a democracy.
So there you have it. Some guy who thinks he can take Venezuelas oil and oil money and just give it away to Venezuelans. And these same Venezuelans have the temerity to demand the right to pick the president of their choice! What is the world coming to?
In Orwellian Bush-speak and Times-talk, Chavez referendum was portrayed before the vote as a trick, Saddam goes Latin. Maybe their real fear is that Chavez has brought a bit of economic justice through the ballot box, a trend that could spread northward. Think about it: Chavez is funding full health care for all Venezuelans. What if that happened here?
Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestsellers, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, Armed Madhouse, and a new film on DVD, The Election Files: Theft of 2008