Chávez's Revolution in Foreign Policy

A Palestinian girl holds a sign thanking Venezuela during a protest in the West Bank town of Ramallah earlier this month. (Photo: Abbas Momani / AFP-Getty Images)

Israel is "killing innocent children and whole families." "They dismantled the legitimate government of Palestine, and thwarted tremendous efforts to achieve peace and establish a Palestinian state," Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chávez said in an interview with Al Jazeera. The interview was televised on Aug. 4 — the day after Chávez ordered the withdrawal of Venezuela's ambassador in Israel to express indignation at the war on Lebanon and Palestine. On Aug. 7, Israel responded by withdrawing its ambassador from Venezuela.

Chávez continued: "Now they are attacking Lebanon … I am telling you with all honesty that the hand of the Americans is spurring them on. This hand is behind the Israeli aggression. It is imperialistic aggression."

Venezuela has not limited its solidarity with the Lebanese and Palestinians to diplomatic gestures — it has also sent 20,000 tons of humanitarian aid. reported on Aug. 8 that the same day as Israel withdrew its ambassador, Venezuela "sent a Boeing 707 jet full of aid to Lebanon to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis caused by the Israeli bombing."

On Aug. 7, according to, a delegation from Venezuela's National Assembly visited Damascus to meet with Palestinian groups in order to "support and identify as parliament members with the Lebanese and Palestinian peoples."

The response in the Arab world has been enormous. Chávez was already popular throughout the region for his government's anti-imperialist policies and for its willingness to use Venezuela's oil wealth to tackle poverty.

Tariq Ali noted in the March/April New Left Review: "Over the last few years, Chávez has visited the major countries in every continent, embarrassing some of his hosts by demanding a global front against imperialism."

Ali wrote that an earlier Chávez interview with Al Jazeera "had an electric impact on 26 million Arab viewers. It received the station's largest ever e-mail response — tens of thousands — with the bulk of them posing a simple question: why can't the Arab world produce a Chávez?" reported on Aug. 6 that the site had been deluged with e-mail from Arab readers supporting Chávez's stance on Israel's war. A protest held in Kuwait after Venezuela withdrew its ambassador featured a large placard of Chávez that declared him a "true Arab leader."

Venezuela's chargé d'affaires to Australia, Nelson Davila, announced to cheers at an Aug. 12 Sydney demonstration against the war on Lebanon that if Israel continued its attacks, Caracas would cut all diplomatic ties with the country.

"We cannot have relations with states that attack humble peoples," Davila explained. The crowd featured a large contingent from the city's Lebanese community, many of whom waved Venezuelan flags. "The people of South America are with Lebanon!" Davila declared. His speech was followed by chants of "Chávez! Chávez!"

Following Venezuela's withdrawal of its ambassador, the Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign issued an open letter to Chávez hailing the move: "This courageous step is valued by all of our people as the model of action we would expect the world to take to protest against [Israel's] continued war crimes."

The letter explained that "we need to know that we are not alone. The withdrawal of the Venezuelan ambassador has given us new confidence and hope that the solidarity with our cause is gaining strength." It called on other governments to follow the example of Venezuela.

The Lebanese government also expressed its gratitude, with the country's president calling Chávez a "Latin American hero."

The Associated Press reported on Aug. 5 that Mahmoud Komati, a representative of Hezbollah, told the Latin America-wide TV channel Telesur that Venezuela's actions were "an example for revolutionaries" in defending "the oppressed, enslaved, and humble peoples of the world,"

Hezbollah's secretary general, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, expanded on the resistance movement's view of Chávez in an Aug. 14 interview posted on the Web site of Turkey's Labor Party: "What most of the Muslim states could not do has been done by Chávez by the withdrawal of their ambassador to Israel. He furthermore communicated to us his support for our resistance. This has been an immense source of [morale] for us."

"Go and wander around our streets!" said Nasrallah. And in nearly "every house, you will come across posters of [Argentinean-born revolutionary] Che [Guevara] or Chávez."

The Venezuelan government's position on Israel's war is a continuation of its policies both inside Venezuela and internationally. The government has won every election since Chávez's victory in 1998's presidential election, and Chávez is almost certain to win this December's presidential election. Key to its support is its leadership of a popular process known as the Bolivarian revolution.

By taking the state-owned oil industry out of the hands of the pro-U.S. elite who ran it previously, the Chávez government has been able to redirect the country's oil wealth to social programs that, according to government figures, decreased the number of people living in poverty by 2 million last year alone. Venezuela is also attempting to develop other aspects of Venezuela's economy, and is providing cheap credit to the poor to establish cooperatives.

Despite being the fifth-largest supplier of oil in the world, when Chávez was elected in 1998, as much as 80 percent of Venezuela's population was living in poverty — a fact that the president insists condemns the system of imperialism, whereby the world is dominated by First World nations on behalf of corporate interests, condemning the majority of the world to poverty and underdevelopment. Latin America has been treated by the U.S. as its "backyard" for decades.

Chávez sees Israel's war as an extension of U.S. imperialism's drive to dominate the world on behalf of its corporations. He told Al Jazeera that the "real threat to the world is the imperialistic threat posed by the U.S., and Israel is one of its imperialistic instruments in this part of the world." Chávez argued, "We must defeat imperialism in this century, so that this elite will not annihilate the world."

The solution promoted by the Chávez government is the unity of Third World nations to challenge imperialism, starting with Latin America. Venezuela is pushing for Latin American nations to forge a bloc to counter U.S. domination. This is the reason Venezuela's revolution has been dubbed "Bolívarian" referring to Venezuelan-born revolutionary Simón Bolívar who liberated much of South America from Spanish rule and advocated a South American union.

Chávez led successful opposition to the U.S.-pushed Free Trade Area of the Americas and pushed a counter-proposal called the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA), which is focused on human needs, not corporate profits.

An Aug. 4 article explained that Venezuela's proposals to increase regional integration include "a continental literacy plan; a Latin American plan for free health care; an education scholarship program; a Social Emergency Fund; a Development Bank of the South; a regional Petroleum company, Petroamerica; a regional television station, Telesur; and many others."

Caracas has signed agreements such as Petrocaribe, an agreement between Venezuela and 13 Caribbean nations guaranteeing the latter energy security by selling them oil at a 40 percent discount.

As part of the agreement, Venezuela's state-owned oil industry is investing in Caribbean nations' state-run energy industries at the expense of private corporations. This contributes directly to the rebuilding of state industries run-down or privatized as part of U.S.-pushed neoliberal economic polices.

Chávez used a speech to the World Social Forum, held in Caracas in January, to explain how imperialism exploits Third World nations. He gave Ecuador as an example: "Ecuador exports crude petroleum and imports fuel [at much higher prices]. See, colonialism!"

Venezuela is assisting Ecuador to build a refining plant to break this cycle and enable it to produce its own fuel. During a July trip to Vietnam, which is in the same predicament, Chávez signed a similar agreement. In this way, Venezuela is helping undermine the economic exploitation enforced by the First World governments and corporations.

Venezuela has united with socialist Cuba to help spread the success of the nations' social programs throughout the Americas. One example is Mission Miracle, whereby Venezuela flies people to Cuba for operations to have their eyesight restored — all completely free of charge. Hundreds of thousands of people across the region, including inside the U.S., stand to benefit.

Venezuela has extended its policies to the people of First World countries, recognizing that the poor are also abandoned inside the rich nations. Thousands of poor people in the U.S. have benefited from Venezuela providing cheap heating oil via community groups and local governments. Chávez has offered to extend this assistance to the poor in Europe, and has signed an agreement to do just that with London's mayor.

Venezuela is currently campaigning to win a two-year seat on the U.N. Security Council. With Argentina set to vacate the seat that traditionally goes to a Latin American country, there is a battle for the spot between Venezuela and U.S.-backed Guatemala. Caracas is pushing for the seat explicitly on the grounds that the U.N. needs to be reformed and that Venezuela will help counter U.S. domination.

An Aug. 12 analysis by the Washington-based Council of Hemispheric Affairs pointed out that a U.N. victory for Caracas "will represent a crushing defeat for State Department diplomacy." Venezuela is campaigning for the position by arguing that it will act "in favor of the interests of countries from the South."

Chávez has attacked the International Monetary Fund. The I.M.F. offers Third World nations loans, but in return, these countries are forced to implement policies that further open them to exploitation by First World multinationals and leaves them stuck with crippling debt repayments.

Chávez has proposed an "international humanitarian fund" as an alternative. Venezuela has begun to make moves to make this a reality via the Bank of the South, which aims, in conjunction with other Latin American nations, to make funds available to nations in the region without the exploitation associated with the I.M.F.

The Chávez government's stance over Israel's war is an extension of this people-before-profits foreign policy. This combination of verbal attacks on the crimes of imperialism with principled action to advance the interests of the world's poor have increasingly made Chávez a hero for the world's oppressed and the Bolívarian revolution a beacon of hope.

From Green Left Weekly.