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   Vol. 69/No. 14           April 11, 2005  
Rice, Rumsfeld: Venezuela in U.S. gunsights
(front page)
In a lengthy interview on U.S. foreign policy published in the March 25 Washington Post, U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice spoke about Washington’s hostile course toward the government of Venezuela. During a news conference in Brazil two days earlier, U.S. secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld said the imminent purchase of 100,000 AK-47 rifles by the Venezuelan military is a threat to “the hemisphere.”

Rice also touched on the U.S. rulers’ inability to make much headway in promoting counterrevolutionary forces inside Cuba, which is unlike what Washington has been able to organize in former Soviet republics such as Kyrgyzstan or Ukraine.

“When it comes to Venezuela we have our differences,” said Rice, who has described Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez as a “negative force” in Latin America.

In response to a question about whether Venezuela is interfering with the affairs of its neighbors, Rice asserted, “I think there are very strong signs that there have been problems with Colombia and there have been problems with others and, of course, Venezuela has a very close relationship with [Cuban president Fidel] Castro.”

Turning to U.S. policy toward Cuba, Rice said, “The problem with Cuba is that there isn’t much room for the engagement really of whatever may be bubbling in Cuba. There just isn’t much room. And what room there is, like the couple of projects that have come up over the last couple of years, Castro has managed to cut off.”

“So our view has been,” she continued, “that somehow engaging Cuba is going to have an impact on that domestic structure is just, there’s no evidence that that is going to be the case…. It’s true that they have better relations with Venezuela, but other than the personal relationship between Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez, I’m not really sure what Cuba has to give to the Venezuelan people. We’ll see.”

Two days earlier at a news conference held in Brasilia, the Brazilian capital, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld expressed his growing concerns about the Venezuelan government’s plans to buy 100,000 assault rifles from Russia. “I can’t imagine what’s going to happen to 100,000 AK-47s,” he said. “I can’t imagine why Venezuela needs 100,000 AK-47s. I just hope that, personally hope, that it doesn’t happen… I can’t imagine that if it did happen, that it would be good for the hemisphere.”

In response to mounting criticism from Washington, the government of Venezuela has warned about possible U.S. aggression toward the country and has responded by taking steps to upgrade the country’s military and expand local popular defense units. In addition to the assault rifles, Caracas has agreed to buy at least 10 military helicopters from Russia and is considering updating its air force with Russian MIG-29’s. Chávez has also expressed interest in buying as many as 24 Super Tucano patrol planes from the Brazilian jet maker Empresa Brasileira de Aeronáutica, or Embraer, according to a March 24 New York Times article.

In a similar approach, the conservative magazine National Review featured a photo of Castro and Chávez on the front cover of its April 11 edition with the headline, “The Axis of Evil… Western Hemisphere version.” The related article is authored by Otto Reich, former assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere and member of the National Security Council between 2001 and 2004.

Many Venezuelan capitalists and their U.S. allies have been angered by the passage of a series of laws beginning in late 2001. These include agrarian reform legislation, a bill strengthening state control of the country’s oil resources, and a law that includes protections for artisan fishermen and restrictions on big fishing firms. The struggles by workers and peasants to implement these measures and push for others that would result in land ownership, jobs, and more democratic rights have struck fear in the hearts of most of the bourgeoisie in Venezuela and its allies in the United States. Local capitalists and landlords, with Washington’s backing, have also protested the normalization of relations between Venezuela and Cuba and the presence of more than 20,000 Cuban volunteer doctors, literacy teachers, and agricultural technicians in the country.  
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