Globocop v. Venezuela’s Chavez, April 2002

SYNDICATED DISTRIBUTION TO 400 NEWSPAPERS IN ASIA, EUROPE, LATIN AMERICA, AND AFRICA IN 27 LANGUAGES.  For information on subscribing to INTERPRESS SERVICE (IPS) Rome, contact: Pablo Pacientini, fax: 390-6-481-7877.  For permission to syndicate or reprint, contact: Teddy Jefferson (IPS) New York, phone: 1-212-924-9102; fax: 1-212-924-9120.

For InterPress Service
© Hazel Henderson, December  2002
(1,053 words)


Economic and technological globalization was always a project of global corporations, financiers and their political allies in mature industrial societies.  The blueprint was the “free” market enthusiasms of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.  This Anglo-Saxon model of capitalism was followed by the ”Washington Consensus” policies we still see today.

The World Trade Organization (WTO), NAFTA and the incipient Free Trade Area of the Americas, all follow the same recipe for export-led GNP-growth, open capital markets, convertible currencies, privatization, deregulation, increasing world trade.

Even though a welter of evidence is now in – from the 1997 Asian meltdown, Russia’s default and now that of Argentina, the ideologues who believe in this form of globalization still promote these policies with the familiar cry: TINA (There Is No Alternative).  As psychiatrists know, people who cannot conceive of any alternatives to their current behavior are deemed to be suffering from clinical depression.  And scientists note that it is illogical to imagine that repeating a similar experiment could lead to dissimilar results.

But we now see an even deeper set of contradictions, all signaling a lack of systems thinking among the ideologues of laissez faire globalization  In the West, these interdependencies are recognized as ‘what goes around – comes around.”  In the East, the same phenomena are known as “Karma.”

Let’s examine some of these karmic effects of today’s globalization:

The USA, globalization’s most fervent promoter, has up to now, reaped the greatest benefits – when the dollar became the world’s defacto reserve currency – over valued today by between 15-25%. This has led to unsustainable US trade deficits, the sucking in of the lion’s share of world exports and increasing inability of US-based companies to export.
The USA’s long ride on the over-valued dollar is now coming to an end as its trade deficits continue growing to unsustainable levels (some 4.5% of US GDP).  Until recently, countries which export to the USA (China, Taiwan, Japan, Mexico and many others) kept accepting US dollars in payment and buying US Treasury bills for their currency reserves.  This system, with the USA absorbing so much of the world’s exports and capital – trying to serve as the world’s “locomotive” – is now bogging down in the weakening dollar (currently below the euro).
The US Federal Reserve has lowered interest rates to 1.25%, the lowest in 40 years in order to try to hype the domestic economy – so far with little success.  The Japanese “deflation malaise” may be in store for the post-bubble USA as well.  Countries holding their towering piles of US dollars in their currency reserves are diversifying into euros (now becoming the world’s alternative reserve currency).
Private holders of US T-bonds and stocks look on with alarm as the dollar continues to weaken and the interest they now earn is close to zero when corrected for inflation.  These private investors are worried about the US economy’s fundamentals: historically high levels of corporate and consumer debt; over $1 trillion of unfunded corporate pension liabilities in the auto and other “Old Economy” sectors; the corporate crime wave continuing to undermine confidence in auditor’s reports and stock markets; the Bushies’ foreign strategy of playing global policeman; preemptive strike plans on Iraq; warring worldwide terrorism and evil leading to ever-larger deficits – and the unsupportable US trade deficit.  It is only a matter of time before more private investors switch to euros, Swiss francs and other investments – where interest rates are higher and fundamentals are more favorable.
US officials and economists say that productivity is higher in the USA than Europe – advising investors to keep betting on the US economy.  However, closer examination reveals the different ways that Europe and the USA measure “productivity” (the USA method flatters the US – Europe uses a broader measure).  When these methods are compared, the difference in productivity is trivial.  Add to this, that US capital productivity in the late 1990s was negative – i.e., trillions of dollars were wasted in “investments” in half-baked dot com businesses – during the bubble.  Indeed, a recent survey of 300 global fund managers by Merrill Lynch & Co found some two thirds considered Wall Street the most over-valued of the world’s top five stock markets.

The global economy was always a power game – and currencies are becoming the weapons of choice. Revulsion against all weapons of mass destruction, as well as land mines and small arms are producing a global backlash. Bullying by military superpower – the USA lie two conflicting worldviews. One is represented by the Davos World Economic Forum, the orthodox view of industrial development, globalization and free trade, summed up as “The Washington Consensus”.

The other view is that of global grass-roots, activists opposed to further globalization of corporate power, who gathered at the World Social Forum in 2001 and 2002 under the vision “Another World is Possible” (i.e. to globalize human rights, workplace standards, social justice and environmental protection while curbing the power of global finance). Typical of this vision is well-known Venezuelan author and diplomat Frank Bracho’s 1998 book, Petroleum and Globalization: Salvation or Perdition, which struck a deep chord with President Hugo Chavez, elected in 1998 with an unprecedented popular mandate.

President Hugo Chavez agreed with Bracho’s view that the goals and direction of development had been skewed by “economism” and must be steered toward social well-being, poverty-reduction, sustainable human development and quality of life. Both Bracho and Chavez are of indigenous descent and proud of their heritage of native wisdom. Like most of the world’s indigenous peoples, they are skeptical about the prevailing worldview of industrial, economic globalization – seeing the resulting destruction of local cultures, communities, social and ecological assets (unpriced in conventional economics).

I met Frank Bracho in 1984 at The Other Economic Summit, a counterpoint to the G7 Summit. Our friendship since then included many trips to Venezuela, collaborating on the G-15 Summits, the Report of The South Commission in 1989, Challenge to the South and exchanging ideas and contacts during Frank’s tenure as Venezuela’s Ambassador to India.

Fast-forward to 2000 and a call from Bracho asking me to help him create a global conference of experts on all forms of energy, which President Chavez had asked him to convene. The International Seminar on the Future of Energy, convened in Caracas, June and Vancouver, August 2000, surveyed global energy statistics, their reliability under different future scenarios and included all supply options from fossil fuels to solar, wind and all renewables.

Chavez opened the conference and stressed that there were only two basic kinds of energy: solar energy and human energy. He urged our international participants – including many investors and CEOs of solar and renewables companies to think outside the box. PDVSA executives were outraged as were some of the OPEC representatives. Many of PDVSA’s top refinery managers later joined Fedecameras in pressuring Chavez by shutting off oil production, according to Business Week (April 22, 2002). The New York Times, AP and most other media erroneously reported that PDVSA’s labor, not management, led the strike that shut off almost all Venezuela’s oil exports of 2 million barrels a day. Chavez and PDVSA had been on a collision course over PDVSA’s demand for “autonomy” and Chavez’s charges that the state-owned oil giant had become taken over by an elite, “an island of luxury in a sea of poverty.”

Oil continued to be at the heart of Chavez’s problems with the USA – dependent on Venezuela as its third largest supplier and increasingly worried as OPEC member Iraq, cut one million barrels of production in protest of the Israeli incursions into Palestinian areas. Chavez reasserted Venezuela’s leadership in OPEC while signaling an independent foreign policy course – risky for any Latin American country. Chavez’s early visits to all OPEC heads of state, from King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, Libya’s Muamar Quadafi touched off a firestorm of anti-Chavez US media coverage of this “leftist, military caudillo.” Chavez’s friendship with neighboring Cuba and Fidel Castro provoked US fury.

In late September 2000, Chavez hosted OPEC’s second summit in the oil cartel’s 40-year history. Chavez transmitted the report of the International Seminar on the Future of Energy to the OPEC heads of state. It’s key recommendations included: 1)that OPEC should set up its own facility on new transportation and energy technologies to invest in post-fossil fuel futures, hydrogen, solar, fuel cells and other renewables, and 2) that OPEC take advantage of high-tech electronic barter and bi-lateral exchanges of its oil with its developing country customers lacking hard currency while facing rock-bottom prices for their own commodity exports. Economists consider barter “primitive” – but since the Internet and electronic trading, it has become as efficient as money-based trading. Where cash and currency reserves are in short supply, electronic barter is more efficient in matching trades.

After September 11th’s attacks, Chavez further angered the US by characterizing Bush’s war in Afghanistan as “fighting terrorism with terrorism.” The US recalled its Ambassador for a few days. The reality the fossil-fueled Bush Administration must still address is US dependency on foreign oil – which colors all foreign policies. So far, Bush’s energy plan, designed by campaign contributors Enron, other coal, oil, gas and nuclear companies, the auto industry (which still blocks greater fuel efficiency, CAFE standards for vehicles) is countered by the growing “clean, green energy” sector and its 56% popular support.

During recent visits to Caracas in 2001, on two separate occasions while having breakfast on the executive floor of the Caracas Hilton, I heard US executives discussing their plans to overthrow Chavez, by organizing the business-led “general strike” in July. I was participating in the Latin-American Parliament Conference on Integration and the Social Debt. Over 1000 participants and parliamentarians from all of Latin and Central America and the Caribbean debated new models of people-centered development. They opposed IMF policies and the “Washington Consensus” policies promoted by George W. Bush in his Free Trade in the Americas plan.

I also overheard Fedecameras and US business interests plans to overthrow Chavez, while attending a December 2001 UNESCO-sponsored Dialogue of Civilizations. This explored the experiences of pre-Columbian indigenous peoples of “The Eagle and the Condor” in dealing with European conquest, chaired by Frank Bracho. During the spectacular opening ceremony with indigenous leaders from all the Americas, Chavez announced his intention to enact his land reform program and his curbing of PDVSA’s autonomy. The second Fedecameras-led demonstrations commenced – followed by the April oil shutdown by PDVSA’s executives. The April military coup led by a sympathetic faction, was also annoyed because Chavez had ended training programs with the US Army and US military over-flights of Venezuela. We may never know how involved the US was in the coup. All we know is that the US was infuriated that Chavez refused to support Plan Columbia (as did many other Latin American leaders).


Hazel Henderson is author of Beyond Globalization and other books on equitable, ecologically sustainable development.