Venezuela 2004 is not Nicaragua 1990
The Bush administration is about to suffer an important defeat on Sunday, August 15 at the hands of the Venezuelan people, this despite its awesome firepower and the unquenchable thirst for oil that guides United States foreign policy.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez affirms that the US government is his real opposition in the recall vote. This is similar to what took place fourteen years ago in Nicaragua during elections widely described as being a contest between the Sandinista revolution and the US in all its post cold war glory. But the similarities stop there.
As the Feb 25, 1990 elections approached in Nicaragua there were several factors weighing hard on the government of the Sandinista National Liberation Front. The covert and overt war to topple the revolution inspired by the “I am a contra” president, Ronald Reagan, was by then in the hands of Bush Sr., fresh off his December, 1989 invasion of Panama.
After nearly a decade of defending itself from the US backed “contras” the already weak Nicaraguan economy was all but crippled. Inflation was rampant with the dollar trading at over 45,000 cordobas to one US dollar. Production was dangerously low, supplies depended on friendly countries giving donations and soft credit and shortages of many basic products was growing. I remember how on payday people would rush to spend their entire paychecks, going from store to store in search of the basics or in their absence anything, instead of seeing the money devaluate in their hands.
Likewise, by 1990 many of the social-economic benefits that the Sandinista government put in place in the early years of the revolution had long since been put on hold or lacked funding for their implementation as the country had no choice but to devote the vast majority of its human and material resources to the defense effort.
An American adult education specialist working in rural Nicaragua wrote about the dilemma in 1984 after her best teacher was summoned into the army. In nine words the young recruiter summed up the change occurring in the country: “Now, a soldier is more important than a teacher.”
By 1990, the death toll was extremely high and added to the tens of thousands killed in the war that overthrew the brutal dictator Anastacio Somoza in 1979. Few Nicaraguan families were unscathed from over twenty years of fighting.
The pressure of the US backed contras had taken a costly toll on the young revolution attempting to transform the impoverished nation, and the people were being asked to go to the polls with a gun pointed at their heads.
Retrospect shows us that these adverse factors had an overwhelming influence on the outcome of the vote that brought Violeta Chamorro to power and closed the window of opportunity opened by the Central American country’s hard-won revolution.
A revealing Wall Street Journal quote cited by Ernesto Cardenal in his book “The Lost Revolution” stated: “In Nicaragua the US won by backing terrorism, not Democracy.”
In Venezuela 2004, where allowing President Hugo Chavez to finish out his 6-year electoral mandate of 2001 comes up for a vote in a recall referendum, the country is in relative peace and the economy based 75% on its oil production and related activities is healthy (booming??) despite large scale opposition sabotage attempts at the end of 2002 and beginning of 2003.
For the first time in Venezuelan history, oil revenues are visibly tied to important social and economic programs to benefit the majority of the people. These include credit for small farmers and business people, important public works projects and large-scale education, health, cultural and sports programs.
When masses of underprivileged but hopeful Venezuelans combined with a significant portion of the armed forces to rescue President Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution from the 48-hour coup of April 11, 2002, planned and executed by the “democratic” opposition and their US advisers, a strong statement was sent to Washington.
Likewise, in their short-lived de-facto government the coup leaders showed their true “democratic” colors. They immediately suspended the Constitution and closed down the Congress and virtually all of the important state institutions. They formed a junta to rule be decree that not surprisingly was quickly approved of by its patrons to the North.
But since the US can fool the people some of the time but not all of the time, Venezuelans gave a historic lesson of dignity reminiscent of Latin American icons Simon Bolivar, Augusto Sandino and Jose Marti.
The world had grown accustomed to Venezuela’s elite lining its pockets as they sacked the country of billions in oil revenues, earning it a ranking as one of the most corrupt nation’s on the planet. Now the same discredited politicians from the past hope to return to power and resume milking the national cow. On their side they have the powerful private media and the Bush administration.
If successful there are no secrets as to what they would do. Their actions over several decades and during their 2-day coup speak for themselves.
On the other hand, if the forces of the Bolivarian revolution win the recall referendum battle, as most believe will happen, the war will not be over. The opposition will cry fraud or foul play and the Bush Jr. administration will continue to try and undermine the country as the Bush Sr. government would surely have done if the Sandinistas had won in 1990.
Nonetheless, a victory by a clear majority of Venezuelans united around national sovereignty, Latin American integration and a widely inclusive social-economic project will shine as a beacon of hope throughout the changing continent.