I received an email today from a friend referencing the January MSN article, “Sheehan, Chavez join to bash Bush, Iraq war.” The email included the following exhortation:
Take Action: Please decide that you will not be shopping at a Citgo station. Why should U.S. citizens who love freedom be financing a dictator who has vowed to take down our government? Very important. Please forward this to your friends and family. Most of them don’t know that Citgo is owned by the Venezuela government.
I have lots of thoughts in response to this, but the ones below are what I emailed back to my friend and the distribution list he used:
I think this issue is a lot more complex than “the Venezuelan President is bashing America, so let’s all stop buying oil from him.”
A professor I know just got back from spending a week in Venezuela in May, and her report was pretty interesting. Capitalism as it is being promoted today in Latin America is not doing enough (in the perception of some) to make big changes in the historic rich/poor gap that has existed there for centuries,– since colonialism started and maybe even before. We have a large middle class in the US, and people who have not lived abroad or traveled much abroad may not realize how important this is. Venezuela, like most of Latin America, has a large poor population and a very large rich/poor gap. The promises of the capitalists have rung hollow for many in Latin America I think, and this is giving a politician like Chavez a chance to get attention and speak out.
If Chavez, Castro, or any other national leader really does cut off the US economically, they’ll be shooting themselves and their country in more than the foot— they’ll be cutting themselves out of the global economy. I don’t think any of them are going to do that. Read Friedman’s book “The World is Flat.” Countries like India and China are figuring this out, and experiencing tremendous economic growth as a result of the governmental policies they are adopting. The Cold War is over, the US won, and this was primarily an economic victory rather than an ideological one. One result, I think, is that more people than ever recognize that market economies are the best way to generate wealth and income. The problem of income distribution remains, however, and I think when we see people like Chavez making comments like this, we should pay attention and seek more information rather than rejecting him and his perspective out of hand.
Venezuelans are concerned about this, according to the professor I know who went there the wealthy ones are making sure they have visas and even passports for other countries in case the situation deteriorates further and they have to flee. If that happens, again that will be self-critiquing for Venezuela. Their economy cannot survive without their economic elites.
This is a very interesting situation to follow, and an important one. Like most political issues, it is complex and doesn’t have a simple answer. People can buy gasoline from wherever they want, generally I think most people buy the gas that is cheapest— but I don’t think any of us should want to see this rhetoric escalate into a trade war. According to another MSN article, Venezuela supplies over 10% of current US oil imports, and a recent Congressional investigation indicated that a cutoff of that supply would have a significantly negative effect on the US economy.
I would encourage people interested in this issue, Venezuela, and Chavez to read blog posts on the www.globalvoicesonline.org website from people in Venezuela. Often we can obtain a more realistic and current snapshot of what is going on and what the range of opinions are on topics by visiting blog sites like this, rather than just getting our info from traditional news sources like MSN. The date on this article about Chavez was January 2006, btw.
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