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Hugo Chávez and the church

By John | Reason Over Might

03.03.05 | A German-language, catholic newspaper, Die Tagespost, has published an article on President Chávez's Venezuela and the president's relationship with the catholic church. This is a relationship increasingly fraught with difficulty, as the article shows. There is a significant potential for conflict here because the catholic church still exerts a strong influence in Venezuela, like in most Latin American countries (even though secularisation is increasing, as is the influence of the so-called evangelical churches).

Open hatred against anything spiritual

In Venezuela, a severe conflict between the church and the state is brewing – the process of cubanisation under Hugo Chávez continues

By Jürgen Liminski

As the conversation moves to the topic of politics, the bishop takes his cellular phone out of his pocket, turns it off and removes the battery. Now he can be sure that he can’t be overheard. Since the meetings between Venezuela’s president Hugo Chávez and the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro over the past few years, he says he can sense the government in Caracas toughening its stance vis-ŕ-vis the church. During the past year, the government has singled out the bishops for attacks and has been trying to incite the people against the shepherds. In public speeches, Chávez reviles the church for being corrupt and the bishops for being “pigs”, according to the cleric, and is trying to set up his own national church. He has not managed to do so yet because the people have no faith in such initiatives. But in individual cases, he has managed to “buy” some priests. Overall, there’s a climate of intimidation. Some bishops can’t travel on their own anymore, and certainly not at night.

Little is known about all this in Rome, and nothing in Europe. Here, two main aspects are known of Venezuela: It has a lot of oil and good rum. And that is enough for most politicians involved in foreign affairs. As long as elections are held some way or another, the country imports lots of goods from Europe, pays its debts and the situation appears stable overall, then only the barrel and the bottle remain in the short-term memory. A disastrous mistake. A crisis is brewing in Venezuela that will probably have negative effects on European markets as well at some point in time.

The new, old president Hugo Chávez has a masterplan. He emulates his idol, Fidel Castro, and wants to turn the country into a communist dictatorship extending across the entire region, i.e. including Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia, in the name of liberation – in Latin America, this is always carried out in the name of the historical hero of independence, Simón Bolívar. The plan is to extend his vision across the entire subcontinent via the new leftist governments in Brazil and Argentina. That may seem presumptuous. But Chávez has money, lots of money. In the past year alone, Venezuela exported oil worth 24 billion dollars to North America; daily production is equivalent to three million barrels – almost as much as Saudi Arabia’s. The state-owned oil company Citgo disposes over 14,000 petrol stations in the United States and is the second-biggest supplier there. This also explains in part Washington’s patience with the ruler in Venezuela, who buys his people and is giving an international rebirth to socialism.

Revolution according to the “proven” Cuban pattern

The pattern for the “Bolivarian Revolution” is also well-known. Chávez knows it from his brother, who gave him extra lessons in Marxism and is now the ambassador in Cuba. First, you ensure the population’s basic needs are met – food, health, education – then you restrict the liberties and finally you export the revolution from the basis of a solid dictatorship. This is how it’s happening: Chávez is buying his people with interest-free credits for cars, furniture, consumer goods. A taxi driver, for instance, is satisfied with the Chávez government. It has financed his car. The street sweeper is also satisfied: he is picked up in the morning, given a uniform, taken to his place of work and brought back home in the evening. He gets eighty dollars a month, enough to live on, because electricity and water are free of charge and he has food to eat during the day. The fact that he and many other Venezuelans are not engaged in any investment activities and that the economy is dependent on oil revenues, i.e. that the country is hardly producing, but instead only consuming and thereby not creating any wealth, is not apparent to him. But he does see that Chávez has removed the old, corrupt clique from the leadership of the nation. The fact that Chávez has installed himself with a different clique does not bother him.

Cuban experts, above all medical personnel, distribute medicines in first-aid stations and are now also beginning to indoctrinate people engaged in education; more than a thousand Venezuelan teachers have already completed courses in Cuba. The next step could be strangling or confiscating the catholic schools. TV and radio are mostly synchronized with the regime. The only opposition comes from parts of the press and the catholic church. Its credibility is a thorn in the eye of the regime. Leading bishops are electronically bugged and shadowed. Anonymous threats and open insults are no longer a rarity either. Officials stoke open hatred against anything spiritual. Up to now, only the Adenauer Foundation and the international aid organization “Kirche in Not” (Church in Need) have reacted to the Cubanisation and stealthily increasing dictatorship in Venezuela. The foreign policy establishment in Brussels, Berlin, Rome, Paris, and London, on the other hand, is sleeping the sleep of the just. It is like at the times of the “Speckpater” (Bacon Priest): There’s a church in need and “Church in Need” sees it and goes there.

A dangerous mix of oil, drugs, and terrorism

The revolution is being exported via the existing guerilla infrastructure in Colombia. When the Colombian government, which is supported by the United States in its war on terrorists and the drug mafia, recently had a guerilla leader kidnapped in Venezuela, the result was a diplomatic crisis. It became known that Venezuela serves as a safe haven for narco-terrorists, from where they plan and execute operations. Washington is restraining itself – up to now. But the connection between petrodollars, drugs, terror, and ideology has attracted its attention. It contains a potentially explosive effect on the oil markets, and on the oil price. This makes caution a necessity. But looking away is not a solution. And least of all an appeasement policy such as that practiced by Spain regarding Cuba.

Europe, and Germany especially, holds great prestige in Latin America. This should be thrown in the balance to contain Chávez, the revolutionary -- before it’s too late and the laments about the oil price and the rebirth of socialism from this corner of the world again drown out everything else.

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