Review:The Threat Closer to Home: Hugo Chavez and the War Against America

With the Middle East occupying most of America’s attention during the past eight years, it has taken a little longer for the expected propaganda books about Venezuela to appear in the Current Events section of the local bookstores. For Douglas Schoen and Michael Rowan it’s better late than never, so here they are with the hysterical, ultra-paranoid “The Threat Closer To Home.” Following the classic Bush administration line of thinking when it came to progressive movements down South, Schoen and Rowan rant and rave about the “real threat” to our shores: Hugo Chavez and his diabolical plans for world domination, or at least domination of our hemisphere. Alas, this is nothing but a fanatical disinformation vehicle that ends up coming across more like a bad James Bond movie than an actual work of serious scholarship.

Readers should be aware that starting with the authors themselves, this is a completely unrialable work. Consider that Michael Rowan has good reason to hate Chavez and other Leftist leaders in South America, they are rolling back the disastrous policies of most Rowan’s former bosses, including former corrupt Presidents of countries like Bolivia. Can we also trust Rowan as an objective source when he has also consulted right-wing Venezuela opposition leader Manuel Rosales, who has been connected to narco trafficking and paramilitary activities in the state of Zulia? Amazingly, this is information you can actually read on the book’s jacket.

Let’s get down to the basics of the book’s arguments. The authors claim Chavez is some sort of dangerous destabilizing force in Latin America, throwing the usual accusations about support for Colombia’s FARC, and even claiming Chavez has Hezbollah training camps in Venezuela. They of course provide, vague, crackpot sources already discredited by much more serious scholarship in works by authors like Eva Golinger and Nikolas Kozloff. Like all propagandists, the authors know how to gloss over certain realities and distort known information. For example, the authors never make any mention on how when it comes to Colombia, all the serious scholarship shows that is it is the US-funded, right-wing Colombian government which has pushed the violence to dangerous new levels. Colombia under Alvaro Uribe now ranks as the #1 human rights violator in the hemisphere, with disastrous levels of unemployment and poverty rising hand in hand with the government’s dangerous forms of repression including political assassinations and massacres in the country’s rural zones. But of course to Rowan and Schoen, the real problem is Chavez, who is deemed a “terrorist supporter” because he has demanded a negotiated end to the conflict. As with all statist propaganda, the violence by our clients is acceptable, all else is terrorism and a cosmic threat to our safety. For more information I recommend the books “Evil Hour In Colombia” by Forrest Hylton and “Colombia: A Brutal History” by Geoff Simons. Those are serious works on the subject written by serious scholars who have lived within and understand the culture of the hemisphere.

One of the most biased, fractured and terribly researched chapters has to do with the April 2002 coup which overthrew Chavez for 24 hours only to be broken by the Venezuelan people themselves. The authors claim that Chavez’s protests about the coup being US-backed are fantasies based soley on certain misguided comments by people like Condi Rice soon after the coup. This is a joke. As investigators like Eva Golinger have displayed in works like “The Chavez Code,” official documents obtained through the freedom of information act show that the US was fully aware that the right-wing opposition was planning a coup, no is certain of how far US involvement went, but it is a certainty that the Bush White House knew what was coming and supported it all the way. The authors also try to wiggle around the well-known evidence showing that it was the opposition which carried out the deadly violence which impulsed the coup during protests in Caracas, using laughable excuses including murky Chavez quotes.

One of the most laughable sections for anyone well-versed in recent Venezuelan politics also deals with what happened after the coup, when the plotters installed a puppet businessman, Pedro Carmona as President. The authors rightfully denounce Carmona’s moves to shut down the courts, dismiss congress and make himself a defacto dictator. but they then try to lay all the blame for this on Carmona himself, citing one lonely opposition figure who went against the fascist protocal. It is probably true some coup leaders went against Carmona’s decisions, but the vast majority did not and openly backed them as can be read in “The Chavez Code,” “Hugo!” by Bart Jones or you can judge for yourself on Youtube by watching the excellent documentary “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” The authors also make bogus protests about Chavez repressing the coup plotters. Most of them are actually free and participating in Venezuelan political life, some even won back positions of power in the November 2008 regional elections. Carmona went to hide in Miami for a while, now he’s reportedly operating in Colombia.

The rest of “The Threat Closer To Home” is full of the same classic fear mongering always aimed towards those who simply do not follow US orders on how to run their affairs. The authors scream and rant about Chavez forming alliances with Iran, calling this a major threat to the world blah blah blah. Venezuela and Iran do indeed have agreements, but they are no different from any normal trade and cooperation agreements made between nations. The authors actually go on to critique regional moves towards greater global intergration on the grounds that, hey why should Latin America begin to form relations with outside nations when it has us and our crumbling economy right next door?! And of course there is the typical double standard nobody likes to mention. Hugo Chavez apparently cannot conduct relations with Iran, but the US is free to make actual dangerous alliances with brutal regimes in Egypt, Colombia, Peru, Mexico, Jordan, and let’s not forget Israel, which killed over 1,000 civilians in December when Venezuela’s death count from imposed aggression on neighbors stands at 0.

According to the authors, Hezbollah is apparently training somewhere in Venezuela, possibly even Hamas. This is a lunatic claim which has been advanced particularly by right-wing Republican politicians from Miami such as Lincoln Diaz Balart and Illiana Ros-Lehtinen. It should be noted that Lehtinen and Balart are notorious for supporting armed terrorists and groups like Luis Posada Carriles, Alpha 66 and Omega, which operate in Miami and are responsible for bloody acts of violence towards Cuba. Carriles and Bosch (who Lehtinen campaigned to be pardon by Bush I), bombed a Cuban airliner in 1976, killing 73 civilians. The authors again provide vague, pathetic sources and second-hand gossip as evidence. Interesting that no serious Israeli scholarship or government report from Tel Aviv has denounced this rather alarming development right down south from our border. In fact, it is quite alarming that the Bush White House never made a point about this development considering the accusations have been floating around since 2003 at the earliest.

Chavez is accused in the book of crushing democracy at home, stealing elections, crushing dissent etc. A Carter Center quote is taken out of context concerning the 2000 elections, the authors of course never mention the Carter Center quotes about the 2004 referendum and 2006 elections which it called some of the most transparent ever. Carter himself confirms this in his book “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” he ranks them in transparency next to the elections in…gasp! The Palestinian territories! Someone hurry! Jimmy Carter is a terrorist sponsored by Hamas! Poll after independent poll also continues to show Venezuelans are the most satisfied people in the hemisphere with their democratic system.

One of the book’s greatest faults is that it tries to attribute the recent tide of Left-leaning elections in Latin America soley to Chavez’s influence and his promotion of “hatred” towards the United States. Of course it is inconvenient to mention the real reason for the recent shift in political power which is that neoliberal, economic policies turned the region into a greater catastrophe, virtually collapsing the economy of Argentina in 2001 and turning Nicaragua into the second poorest country in the hemisphere after Haiti (where another US-backed coup took place in 2004 with chilling similarities to what almost happened in Venezuela in 2002). The authors also never mention that when Chavez came to power under the Clinton White House, relations between Venezuela and the US remained pretty steady and respectful. It was after the 2002 coup that Chavez truly radicalized and declared his project as socialist, very similar to Cuba’s own declaration of a Communist state following the Bay of Pigs. Facts of course, always swiped under the rug by propagandists.

“The Threat Closer To Home” claims that instead of bombs, Chavez uses oil to threaten us. His most dangerous weapon is apparently providing free heating oil to poor US families through Citgo. The authors of course never make an effort to condemn US oil companies for rejecting social groups’ request for the service in the first place. Of course this is dangerous, not because it is part of Chavez’s plans for regional hegemony, but because he is doing what the American corporate culture refuses to do, and if it works, it might just make Americans look at their neighbors through different lenses apart from typical cliches.

Like Cuba, the Sandinistas, Grenada etc., Venezuela is now the new “imminent threat” to the most powerful and armed country in the world according to the authors. Are there things we can criticize about Hugo Chavez? Of course. But this book is not a serious critique, it is pure yellow journalism that offers nothing new. The authors seem to have just collected every anti-Chavez slur of the past ten years into one volume. Serious readers should seek serious works of scholarship. This book will no doubt join the club of those now forgotten works from the 1980s warning us about Nicaragua planning a mass scheme to then reach across tiny Central America and destroy our way of life. “The Threat Closer To Home” threatens to waste your time.


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