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The Reality of a Sordid History

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When Democratic elections in foreign countries don't go the way of U.S. policymakers, all too often, particularly during the Cold War, intervention, assassination or coup d'etat followed.

This is not to depress anyone, nor to demean America as a whole. We freely here express our appreciation for the central pillars of the American secular republic - which hopefully can guarantee room for all discussion, as long as sovereignty, peace and freedom are respected. We just don't much care for what the hidden hand of our national government has represented to many parts of the world, too often shielded from the public eye. There is a lot of history glossed over but the reality of unleashed violence has not been erased or forgotten, particularly in Latin America.

From the bully days of Theodore Roosevelt, American superpower politics has had its hidden but also notorious dark side: In Latin America, the history is of all too numerous bloody and highly-unpopular interventions. Often, it was to impose terms of trade, terms of property holding and acquisition by American firms. This is the overwhelming view in the Latin American street, where the outstanding example is Chile in 1973, featuring the violent overthrow of the democratically-elected government of President Salvador Allende, who was bombed and strafed to death by his own military, encouraged and guided by the likes of Henry Kissinger, then U.S. foreign policy architect. To remember those days more generally: In Vietnam, a widespread program of policy-driven assassination is not forgotten; in Cuba, where Castro has counted into the 50s the number of attempts on his life, there are whole museums dedicated to such histories. We don't have to like these governments to understand that they are expressions of sovereign peoples, whatever their choice of system.

Consider Venezuela, where America's assigned nemesis these days is President Hugo Chavez, a no-nonsense populist who has carried on a tumultuous social revolution within the confines of legitimate presidential elections. Chavez, facing a U.S.-supported referendum and consistent hostility from current U.S. policy, suddenly pulls out in front of his opposition with a 60 percent support rate, according to even U.S. pollsters. And, wouldn't you know it, talk of assassination has begun.

Hemispheric Affairs, a Washington think tank on Latin America, reports that "the opposition is increasingly desperate and will resort to illegal means to tear the results."

Carlos Andres Perez, former president and campaign manager for the referendum, has stated; "We Venezuelans have to liquidate Chavez through violence, because there is no other way." Later, he was quoted by El Nacional newspaper in Miami: "Unfortunately the referendum has proven to be a failure ... It will fail." The U.S. ally added: "Chavez must be killed like a dog, he deserves it - no offense intended against all good animals." (La Jornada, Mexico).

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Chavez is not everybody's hero - as neither is Bush nor was Clinton - but, in fact, he won the presidency by a landslide in 1998 and again in 2000 (56 percent of the vote). His were reputable elections in a country with serious social polarization, which in Latin America is usually between very few rich people and increasingly poor and marginalized populations. Venezuela, being oil-rich for generations, still has not resolved its social problems. Being oil-rich, of course, it gets a lot of attention from the U.S., which is not happy that Chavez is pursuing a radical social change agenda that taxes the oil industry to create expensive and popular programs to feed and educate the poor.

Chavez has spawned much fear and some chaos. His move to change the Constitution of Venezuela was highly controversial as are his "turbas" or directed street protests, which have engaged in violent aggression, sometimes in defense of government institutions. At the same time, an international, Miami-based opposition movement has wreaked havoc on much of industry and civil life in Venezuela. At times, it has deployed sharpshooters to cut down pro-government demonstrators.

It is no great secret that the U.S. wants Chavez gone. A coup d'etat against his government in April of 2002, had traceable involvement by the U.S. and Spanish embassies in Caracas. The short-lived new government was immediately acknowledged by the U.S., which refused to condemn the coup. But the coup ultimately failed, as Chavez was reinstated by popular demand in Venezuela's streets, and the eyes of the region watch intently to gauge the ongoing conflict with the U.S.

Foretelling the California Recall Initiative, the Venezuelan opposition moved to force a referendum before the end of Chavez's term. Funded in part by Washington, the Aug. 15 referendum vote now decides the future of Venezuela.

We hope the U.S. will keep its hands out of anything like Mr. Perez suggests in Venezuela. Latin America is changing and is not likely to play lap-dog to external interests forever. Popular movements are coming back with much passion and Venezuela is just the beginning - yet, it is democratic.

For way too long American dictates south of the Mexican border to Tierra del Fuego demanded a "with us or against us" stand that has caused the death of hundreds of thousands. A lot of killing took place in Latin America during the 1970s and 1980s that American television largely ignored while it happened and now conveniently forgets.

It is best not to forget, lest a major super-power with the greatest potential for peace and freedom in the world, blunder into outright negativity again.