Chavez opponent’s meeting with Bush provokes predictable outrage

A meeting between a leader of the Venezuelan opposition and President Bush seems to have thrown the regime of President Hugo Chavez into a tizzy.

In a move that strained already frayed relations, Bush met [May 31] with Maria Corina Machado, a Venezuelan opposition activist who helped promote a recall referendum last year against left-winger Chavez. Chavez won and remains in office.

The nationalist Venezuelan leader, a fierce critic of Bush’s policies, has branded Machado a “traitor” for receiving U.S. Congress funding for her pro-referendum activities in the world’s No. 5 oil exporter.

“I think this was a … provocation,” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez said on Wednesday in the Chavez government’s first reaction to the Bush-Machado meeting.

“It’s a form of meddling by the U.S. government in Venezuela’s internal affairs,” Rodriguez told reporters.

Cilia Flores, a pro-Chavez member of Venezuela’s National Assembly, said, “She went there to receive instructions, to see what other mischief they can get up to in Venezuela,” and called for Machado’s prosecution.

And one Einnoc Lebrac, writing for the pro-Chavez website, claimed that Machado’s meeting with Bush proved that she has “long sold her soul to the devil.” Lebrac was prepared to convict Machado on the basis of her family name alone. “I do not know from where the ancestors of Maria Corina Machado come, but I am quite sure that… they… come from Cuba and are somehow linked to the Cuban-American families and their ‘corrupt-terrorist’ activities in Miami.”

While in the US Machado also attended a meeting of the Organization of American States in Florida and met with Secretary of State Rice.

According to another pro-Chavez website, Machado has already been charged by the Venezuelan government with treason for her alleged support for the short-lived 2002 coup against Chavez. The “evidence” seems to be that her signature was on a sheet of paper found at the Presidential Palace after the coup was defeated. Many others who undoubtedly did support the coup have not been charged, which suggests Machado is being singled out for her role as director of the election monitoring group Sumate.

In fact Machado has criticized the OAS for failing to oppose the coup.

Machado is also being prosecuted because Sumate accepted “illicit” aid from the US-based National Endowment for Democracy.

Of course the sinister role of the NED is well-known by progressive-minded people throughout the world. Many would agree with the Latin American leader who called the NED an “external aggressor who for the sake of revenge or disinformation seeks to come to the aid of those who are hawking their country away for millions of dollars.” And he added, “Our people, I am sure, totally reject this interference, which is unacceptable.”

The leader who said this was General Augusto Pinochet of Chile, and he was speaking in 1988, shortly before Chilean voters rejected his proposal for eight more years of military rule. The NED aided the Chilean opposition in its campaign to defeat the proposal. But even Pinochet never tried to prosecute anyone for receiving NED assistance.

Machado told Jackson Diehl of The Washington Post:

“People outside say to us: ‘You can come in and out of the country, you have a free press, you don’t have thousands of political prisoners, you have elections– so what’s the problem?’

“But Chavez doesn’t need to close newspapers in order to force people to censor themselves. He doesn’t need thousands of political prisoners if he can make examples of a few people in every sector of society, a labor leader here, a journalist there. And he doesn’t need to cancel elections if he can use his appointees to change the rules so that the voting can be easily manipulated. It is a terrific facade, but inside is an atmosphere of total control and fear. Traveling around the country, as I do, it’s shocking to see how frightened people are about what the government can do to their lives.”

Meanwhile Machado, who easily could have sought political asylum in the US, has gone back home to Venezuela to face whatever fate awaits her.