As the chasm separating Latin American nations deepens, worrisome events in Bolivia reveal how the dictator-rulers of Cuba and Venezuela operate.
To understand the Bolivian situation, it helps to look over the Latin American scene and analyze the roles of its principal actors.
Fidel Castro took power in Cuban coup forty-seven years ago. Shortly after assuming power, he declared himself a Marxist, imposed a Communist regime and reduced the unfortunate island to misery. Meanwhile, Castro enjoys a personal fortune calculated at $900 million. He was recently rated the world’s seventh richest ruler.
His health appears to be failing and he may shortly appear before the terrible tribunal of God. Then, he will have to account for his actions and endure the eternal sentence he has earned.
Thus, someone needs to replace him and it seems that someone has appeared.
Chavez in the Present Latin American Scene/strong
In November 1999, a reserve colonel and former rebel named Hugo Chavez came to power in Venezuela with considerable electoral support, amid a wave of optimism.
Facing a socially unstable Venezuela, Chavez considered himself a new Simon Bolivar, invested with a quasi “divine” mission of integrating the continent in a tribal-socialist commune. He immediately set out to work.
Thus, Chavez could become a principal actor in the Latin American scene. He is a messianic person who aims to stretch his mandate until 2031, in spite of huge demonstrations staged by hundreds of thousands of people against his government.
Chavez has changed the official name and symbols of Venezuela. He has imported 15,000 Cuban “doctors.” Following Hitler’s example, he wants to disarm the civilian population. While he has yet to fix the collapsed but vital highway to his capital, he makes promises of gigantic gas pipelines to other countries. Meanwhile, he allies himself with Muslim countries like Iran, Syria and Libya forming a showy anti-American front.
Messianic Role at the Service of Communal Tribalism
Chavez made revealing declarations to TV Ecuavisa of Quito, Ecuador on November 19 2002 at the opening of a cultural center called The Chapel of Man. This building, which is nearly 50,000 square feet and shaped like an Inca temple, was built primarily to house the works of the communist artist Oswald Guayasamin. It is a showpiece of the left whose opening was also attended by Fidel Castro.
The Cuban Communist Party paper Gramma described it this way:
This monument to peace and human rights is a symbol of Ecuador and America. It reflects the ancestral desires of societies victimized by wars and tortures of all sorts. The Chapel of Man also represents the hope of achieving a just free and fraternal solidarity [and] the necessity of paying cult to the human being, its peoples and identities… (November 28, 2002)
Chavez’s declarations to TV Ecuavesa echoed this message: “It is the hour of the people. I consider it the hour of a great revolution, a great revolution that is beginning.”
According to Chavez, the revolution supposedly being born in the region “is going to end around 2022 or 2030 with a much more just and egalitarian Latin America.” The Venezuelan ruler went so far as to bet his “life and soul,” that his prophecy for the region will be fulfilled.
Chavez’s declarations came amid conjectures about the formation of a leftist axis in South America that included Brazilian president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva and Ecuador’s Lucio Gutierrez.
However, at the chapel’s inauguration it was clear that Bolivia was also included in this axis. This was revealed by Iza Leonidas, president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, who said: “Now Lula in Brazil, you (Chavez) in Venezuela and we in Ecuador are going to tighten the bonds of friendship between our Bolivian people who were marginalized for centuries.”
Thus, already early in his career, Hugo Chavez was spreading communist-tribalism in Latin America, taking advantage of the large Latin American Indian populations and succeeding Fidel Castro.
Bolivia the Ideal Staging Ground for an “Experiment”
Bolivia has a key role in the decline of a free Latin America. First of all, it is politically unstable. Secondly, it recently elected an incendiary indigenous leader and member of the Movement for Socialism named Evo Morales as president. This is a highly combustible mix. If this revolutionary spark is not contained in Bolivia, the conflagration could spread to Peru, intensify in Ecuador and reach the whole continent.
This somber perspective is substantiated by recent Bolivian news that President Evo Morales nationalized and confiscated the whole oil and gas industry, formerly owned by foreign investors he claimed were exploiting Bolivia. The main foreign financier was Brazil.
However, this nationalization was not an independent action of the Bolivian government. Two important Spanish newspapers: El Pais of Madrid and La Vanguardia of Barcelona reported on the episode.
The sequence of events is as follows:
Act I: On Sunday, April 30, President Evo Morales arrived at the El Alto International Airport in La Paz coming from Cuba. He went directly to the governmental palace where he worked until 1:00 a.m.
Instead of staying in La Paz on May 1, he went to oilfields in the southern Tarija province. Surrounded by military officers, he signed the “supreme decree,” nationalizing all hydrocarbons, including their extraction, refining, distribution and transportation. He gave foreign companies 180 days to renegotiate their contracts.
Act II: Forty-eight hours later, President Hugo Chaves arrived in La Paz accompanied by 30 technicians from the Venezuelan state-owned oil company, PDVSA, who came to audit the process of nationalization of Bolivian oil with another group of technicians who had been in the country since February.
Act III: Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera declared: “There was no foreign advisor involved in the decision; the decree was prepared by the president and five specialists who worked on it for two months.”
This declaration is a flimsy attempt to hide the obvious. The events strongly suggest that the decree was prepared in Cuba or Venezuela. Once ready, its faithful executor, Evo Morales, proclaimed it to Bolivia and the rest of the world.
Gabriel Dabdoub, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Santa Cruz (an important Bolivian oil capital) declared: “This nationalization is an ideological matter. Morales is surrounded with Venezuelan and Cuban advisors.”
Subservience to Venezuela
Fernando Messmer, a spokesman for Bolivia’s principal political opposition party “Podemos,” claimed: “There are Venezuelan agents in security, I.D. distribution, literacy programs and in the drawing up of the decree nationalizing petroleum and gas.”
Another indication of subservience is the presence of 600 Cuban physicians in Bolivia (Venezuela has 15,000!). They are active in 20 regular hospitals and eleven field hospitals according to the Bolivian Medical Association. Though they originally planned to stay for only ninety-days, Castro and Morales resolved to keep them in Bolivia permanently.
Furthermore, Chavez has begun other demagogic ventures aimed at tightening his grip on Bolivia. One, called “Operation Miracle,” offers free cataract surgery. While apparently philanthropic, it is merely a symbol of his brusque intervention throughout Bolivia. Some even speak of his “guardianship” over the country.
Chaves returned to La Paz again in June to negotiate a contract between the Venezuelan and Bolivian state oil companies. Venezuela offered to help separate the liquid part of Bolivia’s natural gas in exchange for soybeans that Bolivia would have to stop exporting to Colombia. Bolivia’s contract with Colombia will be cancelled in reprisal for the free trade agreement planned between Colombia and the U.S. at the end of this year.
Right after the January 23 elections, Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera sought to minimize Chavez’s influence in Bolivia’s internal affairs, by declaring to the journalist Joagum Ibarz: “Of course, Venezuela is not our model to follow.”
However, the journalist observed: “Nonetheless, the growing presence and continuous intervention of Hugo Chavez in the internal affairs of the country shows that he exercises a kind of tutorship over the Indian president.”
He added this worrisome observation: “Morales has taken a turn toward a socialist political and ideological radicalism trying to liven up the nationalist euphoria in order to sweep overwhelmingly in the elections for a Constitutional Assembly on July 2.”
Latin America Divided
The journalist also observed that Bolivians are tiring of the aforementioned closeness with Venezuela. For example, Chavez surprised the public by appearing in La Paz to speak with Morales and then giving him a ride in his plane for the summit meeting with Lula and Kirchner in Puerto Iguazu. Ten days later he returned to sign on to many joint projects with Bolivia.
Mr. Ibarz summarized the Latin American situation, declaring: “Latin America was never so divided. There is practically no country that gets along with its neighbors. The much-touted continental integration has turned into an argument wherein everyone clashes with everyone with all kinds of accusations like an ill constituted family.”
He listed the following Latin American countries as having strained relations: Argentina and Uruguay – both led by leftist presidents, Venezuela and Peru – due to Chavez’s interference in favor of one of the Peruvian presidential candidates, Mexico – for the same reason as Peru, Chile and Bolivia – due to Chavez’s declaration advocating a corridor to the sea for Bolivia and the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Colombia, Nicaragua and El Salvador, who are becoming increasingly uneasy due to Venezuelan interference.
Hugo Chavez’s actions in Latin America certainly have their implications in world politics. Meanwhile Brazil, in spite of its proximity to Bolivia and the great loss it suffered from the nationalization of Bolivian oil remains oddly silent.