FROM AN END TO A BEGINNING
Chávez spoke at length to gathered business and trade
representatives from both countries, though US embassy officials were
not in attendance.
The Venezuelan President did not shy away from addressing the
premier political conflicts between the two countries, though he
reminisced quite fondly of time he spent in the U.S. and in the company
of U.S. politicians during both his military and his political careers.
Drawing on the historical connections between Venezuela and the
U.S., Chávez reminded his audience that two of South America’s great
liberators, Simón Bolívar and Francisco de Miranda, were great
friends of the Founding Fathers of the United States. In 1826, General
Lafayette made a gift to Simón Bolivar a portrait of George Washington,
and some of Washington’s belongings that Lafayette had in his
possession and believed Bolívar to be a suitable heir to. Miranda
deserted from the Spanish army in Cuba to fight in the American
revolution against the British.
From Lafayette, Chávez moved to Walt Whitman, quoting a passage from “Song of Myself,”:
| I speak the pass-word primeval, I give the sign of democracy,
By God! I will accept nothing which all cannot have their
counterpart of on the same terms.
And from Whitman to John F. Kennedy who, said Chávez, recognized
that the root of revolution in the Global South was not communism, but
rather hunger. Speaking to a special session of Congress in 1961,
Kennedy said “The great battleground for the defense and expansion of
freedom today is the whole Southern half of the globe--Asia, Latin
America, Africa, and the Middle East--the lands of the rising peoples.
Their revolution is the greatest in human history. They seek an end to
tyrrany, injustice, and exploitation. More than an end, they seek a
Forty years after Kennedy launched his attempt at promoting
political and economic reform in Latin America through the Alliance for
Progress, however, misery and hunger have actually increased, said
To combat the situation he suggested both the North and the South
must work together to create an International Humanitarian Fund, to
entertain ideas such as the Tobin Tax, which would tax large
international financial transactions, a Fund that would permit an
historic alliance between societies, “not an Alliance for Progress,”
clarified Chávez, but rather, an “Alliance for Survival.”
THE POLITICS OF ECONOMICS
Several days before the business round opened, President of
Venamcham Imelda Cisneros told Venezuela’s largest circulating national
newspaper, Ultimas Noticias in an interview that Venamcham had “moderate expectations” of the upcoming US-Venezuela business round.
Though she acknowledged that trade between the two countries is up considerably, Cisneros said investment is drying up.
Getting it back is the only way to fight poverty, she added, arguing
that Venezuela must become more competitive and more productive.
According to Cisneros, this competitiveness and productivity comes from
the private sector, rather than the state. “The state provides other
things,” she said, “The private sector should be worried about
productivity and competition, in generating wealth and employment.”
Chávez did not directly respond to Cisneros’ criticisms, only
acknowledging that he had read her interview “with much interest.” One
of the pervading themes of his speech, however, was the critical role
of the state in relieving poverty. Chávez advocated for a more
humanistic vision that focused first on raising the standard of living
of the majority of Venezuelans currently living in poverty, rather than
on improving competitiveness in the hopes that private sector profits
might trickle down.
Nevertheless, the Venezuelan organizers of the
macro business round and Cisneros do share a common desire to see
US-Venezuela economic relations expand beyond oil, which currently
accounts for over 65% of trade between the two countries.
JONAH GINDIN wrote this article for Venezuelanalysis.com