Hugo Chavez, Drugs, Guantanamo Bay and Vultures

Hugo Chavez is at it again, sticking his thumb into the eye of the overbearing United States of America. And, true to imperial historical form, the US is playing the outraged hemispherical nanny and blustering back.

Chavez is currently playing a round of the game my-enemy’s-enemy-is-my-friend and is hosting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Caracas. The Iranian president is on a tour of friendly leftist regimes in Latin America, while the leaders of our great nation whistle and look at the ceiling when Israeli agents murder Iranian scientists in broad daylight.

Fighting cancer, a chemo-bloated but grinning Chavez greeted an equally grinning Ahmadinejad at the Mireflores Palace in Caracas. At a press conference in the palace under a painting of Simon Bolivar they made jokes about nuclear bombs and the imperialist giant to the north so obviously worried about remaining top dog in the world.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad welcomed by Hugo Chavez; and General Henry Rangel SilvaMahmoud Ahmadinejad welcomed by Hugo Chavez; and General Henry Rangel Silva

“Despite those arrogant people who do not wish us to be together, we will unite forever,” Ahmadinejad told Chavez.

Referring to an area near the palace, Chavez replied, “That hill will open up and a big atomic bomb will come out. The imperialist spokesmen say Ahmadinejad and I are going into the Miraflores basement now to set our sights on Washington and launch cannons and missiles.” He and Ahmadinejad both laughed.

If that isn’t enough to pique imperialist leaders, President Chavez had earlier announced the appointment of his loyal pal General Henry Rangel Silva as national defense minister. Rangel was formerly head of the nation’s intelligence services and was a member of the failed but famous 1992 coup led by Hugo that brought him to prominence. This worried his opponents, since Rangel is a really tough guy who doesn’t always play by the rules.

The United States insists General Rangel has connections to drug traffickers and has worked with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. This kind of charge should not surprise anyone, since the US supply-focused Drug War is a corrupt and baroque debacle in which virtually everyone in power in the region can be connected somehow with drug traffickers. We’re now at the point it’s hard to distinguish from the Drug War and the War On Terror. In fact, the US willfully blurs the lines. If US militarist leaders don’t like you, you’re easily placed into one of them.

To show how this works, the right’s beloved President Ronald Reagan can glibly but accurately be linked with drug traffickers. During Reagan’s beloved Contra War there were many documented cases of pilots and other mercenaries running guns down to the brave Contras in Nicaragua and returning to the US — why fly back empty? — with bales of marijuana and cocaine. One pilot even testified to Congress about being ordered to land a C-123 packed with pot at Homestead AFB in South Florida. Just like on the street corners of our inner cities in America, in Latin America, the Drug War follows all the capitalist rules of supply and demand and the beloved free market.

The fact is, Drug War aside, the various nations of South America and Central America are paying less and less imperial fealty to the United States. Our lion’s roar is less fearsome than it was at the beginning of the 20th century, for example, when the imperialism began in earnest with the Spanish-American War. Latin American nations have learned from events like the 1954 coup in Guatemala that overthrew a moderate left government to usher in one of the most ruthlessly cruel militarist regimes in the hemisphere’s history. This was, of course, a year after the equally notorious 1953 British/US coup that overthrew a moderate reform government in — strange how this works — Iran.

In South America, Brazil is a burgeoning powerhouse approaching first-world economic status; it more and more looks at the US as an equal. So it’s not surprising it did not put Ahmadinejad on its invite list, though it did on his last visit. The Iranian president is only visiting the Latin American nations most hostile to the policies of the US giant, including Bolivia, Nicaragua and Cuba.

The trend toward independence in Latin America has been going on for over a decade. The exception to the rule is the US client state of Colombia, a well-financed fortress nation friendly to the American right sitting on the north coast of South America right next to Venezuela. Colombia has its own issues with drugs on both the political left and right. Lately, the FARC rebels have been significantly checked in by the Colombian military.

With Cuba under Raul Castro working to moderate its image and slowly injecting free enterprise into its system, Venezuela has become the vanguard for anti-US rhetoric and posturing. Tensions between it and Colombia are significant. Both nations feel the need to firm up their security forces, and as far as Colombia goes, the US is delighted to help with programs like Plan Colombia that pump into Colombia billions of US tax dollars and — our specialty — sophisticated weaponry.

The US, of course, would like to see Hugo Chavez disappear. He’s a brilliant politician and has survived as president since 1999. He is to face re-election this year. His party controls the Supreme Court, the legislature and all federal bureaucracies. An opposition candidate for president is running close in polls. Opponents are scared that if Hugo loses the election, the army under Senor Rangel will take over the nation.

The US already showed its sneaky but nefarious hand in a 2002 coup attempt to overthrow Hugo that failed. The Obama administration also behaved quite shamefully in the 2009 successful coup in Honduras, in which US elements either helped arrange it or, at best, stood back and knowingly let it happen without as much as a peep of concern.

The real question is will Hugo Chavez make it to the election in October this year? One doctor who treated him in the past said his cancer was in the pelvic area and was “very aggressive.” Another said he had two years to live max. Chavez claims he’s cancer-free. He reportedly passed up on treatment in Brazil because it would mean public disclosure of his disease. Other reports say he has been taking lowered doses of chemo in order to be able to govern. A replacement candidate for the theatrical Hugo would likely not have the popularity he is able to muster. It’s a fact, Hugo Chavez is fearless and an amazing survivor. So stay tuned.

Meanwhile, the vultures in Caracas and Washington are waiting.

Is it time for a new diplomatic approach to Latin America?

Whether or not Hugo survives, our leaders in Washington could do two things that would greatly improve the relationship of the United States with Latin America.

1) Honestly analyze the failures of the Drug War and refocus the effort from attacking supply in Latin American to attacking demand here at home in the United States where the real problem exists. That is, really ask why so many Americans have such addiction problems? Also, isn’t it time to seriously consider the well-researched social alternatives to the military, cops, courts and prisons as a solution to the problem? The experience and wisdom is out there; it just has to be empowered. And, the hard part: The momentum of the robust military/police-state mentality that stands in the way would have to be ratcheted down.

The fact is, one of the most difficult addiction challenges here in the US to break is the social addiction to police and prisons as a means to address the drug problem. We’ve demonized, criminalized and incarcerated way too many of our poor (significantly African American) citizens in our inner cities. It’s past time that we turned this atrocity around. Is this a radical idea? Maybe it is. But the only reason it’s radical is that the 40-year-old Drug War was a bad idea to begin with. And it can only get worse. It has already become so confused with the War On Terror it’s a national disgrace.

2) Give Guantamamo Bay back to Cuba. Leapfrog over all the nonsense about closing the Camp X-Ray Prison down as candidate Obama promised to do. Instead, release or re-distribute the prisoners kept in the disgraced prison and give the whole base back to the Cuban people, to whom it rightfully belongs.

The flag goes up at Guantanamo Bay June 10, 1898; the only (closed) gate to the naval base todayThe flag goes up at Guantanamo Bay June 10, 1898; the only (closed) gate to the naval base today

Cuba and an aerial image of the US Guantanamo Bay naval base shaded in blueCuba and an aerial image of the US Guantanamo Bay naval base shaded in blue

This is an idea presented recently in a New York Times op-ed by Harvard Lecturer Jonathon M. Hansen, author of a new book titled Guantanamo: An American History. As Hansen explains, giving the blatantly imperialist US military base back to Cuba would have an incredibly powerful symbolic meaning for the future of Western Hemisphere relations. In the coming economic struggle with China and India, it would be a smart move to shore up our Latin American relationships to one of mutual respect.

Is this a radical idea? Again, of course it is — because the United States has been offensively holding the base at the point of a gun for over 100 years. The US does not need a base in Guantanamo Bay for security purposes. We’re holding the base out of pure arrogance and 43 years of hurt feelings that the Cuban people overruled our imperial and gangster-riddled oversight of Cuba. We’re also using it as a blatant imperial prison camp beyond the reach of US or international law.

It’s time to move on from that legacy of the 20th Century. The fact is, thanks to us, the Cubans have learned a lot about survival in bad times. Actually, they could teach us here in the land of consumer madness a lot about resourcefulness and sustainability.