Bernardo Álvarez Herrera, who represents Venezuela and Hugo Chávez in Washington, says his country's break from the U.S.-endorsed model of economic policy in Latin America is giving the region hope that democracies can enact "revolutionary change." He faults the United States for upholding a "double standard" on terrorism and not minding its energy consumption.
It also helps that probably the U.S. was paying more attention to Iraq.
On the final stop of a nine-day Californian tour, Venezuela's ambassador to the United States, Bernardo Álvarez Herrera, spoke to an audience of about 85 at UCLA's Covel Commons on May 14, 2007, including a group of 15 that stood near the back entry to the conference room. Ambassador Álvarez Herrera urged those present to consider the alternative model of government and society that Venezuela has presented under President Hugo Chávez since 1998, to broaden domestic discussion of energy policy by questioning levels of U.S. consumption, and to demand that the United States not employ any "double standard" in opposing terrorism.
"I think you can see the effects of neoliberal policies in this country," Álvarez Herrera said, rejecting the notion that the so-called Washington Consensus on economic policies including free trade has aided even the United States.
The event was sponsored by four UCLA units: the recently renamed and restructured Latin American Institute, the Cesar E. Chavez Center for Interdisciplinary Instruction in Chicana and Chicano Studies, the Chicano Studies Research Center, and the North American Integration and Development Center. UCLA Vice Chancellor for Research Roberto Peccei formally introduced the ambassador, and Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America, addressed the audience before a question-and-answer session with him.
The issue of international terrorism came up during the question period in the context of legal developments in the case of Luís Posada Carriles, a Cuban exile accused of the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people and other attacks and plots. Venezuela has demanded the extradition or U.S. prosecution of Posada on terrorism charges since 2005, the year he turned up in the United States seeking political asylum. This month, he went free from house arrest when a judge threw out immigration charges against him.
In spite of that result and the languishing of the Venezuelan extradition request, Álvarez Herrera cited Posada's case as an example of progress made in expanding the range of discussions in the U.S. news media. On the day of the talk, The Toledo Blade editorialized about U.S. government hypocrisy in the case, following the example of The Los Angeles Times a few weeks earlier.
"It was a hopeless fight when we started in 2005," Álvarez Herrera said, while underscoring the centrality of U.S. public opinion in the case.
Needed: Four More Planets
In his prepared remarks, the ambassador lingered on the "meaning of Allende," a reference to the 1973 CIA-backed military coup that toppled the democratic government under socialist Chilean President Salvador Allende. He contended that Chávez's use of oil revenues to fund programs for the poor, combined with an internationalist approach to broader economic issues, was reviving a kind of politics that had been ground down by U.S. interventions.
"For the first time since Allende, it's telling people it's possible to go for radical change," he said. "And you can do it within a democracy." He added, "It also helps that probably the U.S. was paying more attention to Iraq."
Álvarez Herrera questioned whether existing pan-American institutions could be responsive over time to a changing Latin America. Venezuela is promoting such alternative institutions as the Mercosur common market, the Banco del Sur lending organization, and ALBA, or the Bolivian Alternative for the Americas, a trade and cooperation organization aiming at what Álvarez Herrera called "a more human approach" to economic integration in Latin America.
Turning to energy policy, the ambassador complained that discussions in the U.S. media are artificially narrow in their focus on the supply of energy for the U.S. market and (in that context alone) alternative fuels. If economic development under the neoliberal model is really aimed at raising poor countries to the standard of the United States, he said, "we will need four additional planets" to extract the resources that the world requires. He rejected the development of biofuels such as ethanol if it is pursued merely for the purpose of satisfying the world's largest market.
"It would be crazy to start using our land to make ethanol to fill the cars of the U.S." he said.
Huerta shared impressions from a 2006 trip to Venezuela—she went with a delegation that included celebrity activists Harry Belafonte and Danny Glover, and scholar Cornell West—and praised Chávez's use of oil revenues to fund social programs.
"It doesn't even occur to us that somehow our natural resources belong to the people," she said.