While Bush prevaricates, Venezuela offers help to US poor

Venezuela was the first country to offer help to the United States in dealing with the effects of Hurricane Katrina. Chavez has offered money and personnel to help in the relief operations. The answer of an unnamed "senior State official" was that “unsolicited offers can be counterproductive." They would rather some of their own people died than have the people of the USA see Venezuela for what it is, a country where its people are challenging the very capitalist system upon which so much poverty and devastation is based.

Venezuela was the first country to offer help to the United States in dealing with the effects of Hurricane Katrina. On Wednesday, August 31st, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez announced that Venezuelan state-owned CITGO Petroleum Corporation had already pledged US$1 million for hurricane aid. "It's a terrible tragedy that our North American brothers are living through," Chavez said. "We have a battalion from our Simon Bolivar humanitarian team ready in case they authorize it for us to go there, if they give us the green light." He offered humanitarian workers and fuel to help. "We are willing to donate fuel for hospitals, for public transport, everything we can do," Chavez said.

But at the same time Hugo Chavez sharply criticised US president G W Bush for his handling of the Hurricane crisis. "As more information comes out now, a terrible truth is becoming evident: That government doesn't have evacuation plans," Chavez said. Putting words to what many in the US must be thinking, he added that Bush, "there at his ranch, said nothing more than 'you need to flee'; he didn't even say how - in cowboy style." He also pointed out that the lack of a clear strategy on the part of the government hit the poorest sections of the population hardest. "We all saw the long lines of desperate people leaving that city in vehicles, those who had vehicles," he said, noting that the areas worst affected are amongst "some of the poorest in the United States, most of them black."

In contrast with the lack of action on the part of the US government, the Venezuelan government was able to help hundreds of Lousiana residents. CITGO, a company in the US owned by the Venezuelan oil company PDVSA, has a network of refineries and gas stations in the United States. One of these is based in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and was opened to give shelter and aid to some 2,000 residents of the area.

Felix Rodriguez, the president of both PDVSA and CITGO who was visiting the Lake Charles refinery, said that the funds from their donation would be directed to aid organizations in affected areas.

According to Venezuelanalaysis.com, sources at the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington DC said that "apart from the million dollars in monetary assistance, Venezuela is offering two mobile hospital units, each capable of assisting 150 people, 120 specialists in rescue operations, 10 water purifying plants, 18 electricity generators of 850 KW each, 20 tons of bottled water, and 50 tons of canned food."

In his statement Chavez also noted the contrast between the way Cuba and the US deal with these kinds of natural catastrophes. Here we can see again the advantages of a system where the private profit motive was abolished after the 1959 revolution. While there are very few victims of hurricanes in Cuba, and the contingency plans are properly organised, in the most powerful capitalist nation on earth, thousands die, most of whom could be alive today if the necessary measures had been taken.

Chavez further made the link between the fierceness and frequency of recent hurricanes and global warming, for which he blamed capitalism and criticised the US for refusing to sign the Kyoto Protocol on the reduction of greenhouse gases.

Not surprisingly, coverage of this offer for help from Venezuela was very scarce or non existent in the US media. The only reaction from the US administration was from an unnamed "senior State official" quoted in the Washington Times as saying that “he was not aware of Caracas' proposal” but noted that “unsolicited offers can be counterproductive." The Bush administration cannot really accept this offer for help which would destroy the image they are trying to create of Chavez as an evil dictator.

Venezuela's offer comes a week after the statements by right wing fundamentalist preacher Pat Robertson, who said on his TV station that Chavez should be assassinated. The Bush administration has so far not condemned this statement and not taken any legal measures against Pat Robertson. The furthest they went was when Rumsfeld said that he did not agree with the declarations of Robertson, but that any private individual is free to say whatever he wants.

In the last week, Venezuela has also offered cheap gas and fuel to poor communities in the US, the hardest hit by the recent increases in the price of oil. "We want to sell gasoline and heating fuel directly to poor communities in the United States". Chavez explained that the exorbitant price of oil is mainly caused by speculation on the part of the multinationals and intermediaries, and that if these were cut out, prices would be much cheaper. He explained how in Venezuela gas is even cheaper than bottled water and that Venezuelans can fill their tank for about $2. According to the Venezuelan Embassy in the US, more than 1400 organisations (churches, charities, counties, hospitals) have already contacted them to enquire about the details of the offer.

This is not the only offer that revolutionary Venezuela has made to the United States people. When Chavez attended the graduation of the first promotion of the Latin American School of Medicine in Cuba (ELAM), he also offered to bring tens of thousands of US citizens to Cuba to be operated on their cataracts, extending the "Mision Milagro", which has been dealing with Venezuelan patients, to a 150,000 poor US-Americans a year. The offer was also to train thousands of doctors at this ELAM school. "We are deeply concerned about the poverty which is increasing in the United States," Chavez said.

The attitude of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez towards the US is thus very clear and has been so from the very beginning of the Bolivarian revolution: opposition to imperialism and the attempts of the US administration to overthrow the democratically elected government in Venezuela, while at the same time solidarity and links with ordinary working people in the United States.

These offers of help also expose the inability of capitalism in the US to provide the basics for their own population: health care for all, relief in case of emergency, cheap fuel for heating in the winter, etc. This is a further argument against those who say that the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela must proceed cautiously, not to provoke imperialism, etc. In fact the best defence against imperialism is taking measures like these which will show ordinary working people in the United States what can be done and will make them think what kind of government they would rather have: one that puts war and private profit before peoples' basic needs, or one that invests the country's natural resources to improve peoples' lives.

This example would be even more powerful if the Venezuelan revolution were completed and the whole of the economy put under the democratic control of the workers, the only way in which the Bolivarian revolution can succeed.