Venezuelan Dictator Seizes Oil to Buy Weapons

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s offer of subsidized heating oil to the frosty northeastern United States this past winter was met warmly by the broadcast media. But network interest in Chavez turned stone-cold with the dictator’s springtime pursuit of Russian weapons financed by his country’s state-owned oil supply.

A Free Market Project (FMP) review of the three broadcast networks revealed no recent news stories on Chavez’s move to socialize his country’s oil supply even further, financing weapons purchases. This continues the major networks’ trend of ignoring Chavez’s saber-rattling after vilifying "Big Oil’s" profits. FMP previously documented the media’s positive portrayal of Chavez’s gift of subsidized heating oil from Venezuelan-owned petroleum company Citgo. On March 9, FMP reported how the media largely ignored Citgo’s efforts to avoid regulatory oversight by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM), among other oil companies, faced a March 31 deadline decision: to sign over a majority stake in its oil operations to Venezuelan control or pull out of the country. The stringent terms of the new contracts facing Exxon and other companies included "a minimum 60 percent stake for the state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) in each field; PDVSA controlling the boards of the new joint ventures; and a jump in income tax rates from 34 percent to 50 percent and royalties from 16.6 percent to 33.3 percent."

Ultimately ExxonMobil decided to sell its stake in Venezuela rather than accede to Chavez’s demands.

On April 4, The Wall Street Journal and the AP similarly reported on the Chavez regime’s latest move to consolidate control over the nation’s oil operations through the state-run PDVSA, which owns Citgo, an oil company operating in the United States.

Far from being earmarked to heat the homes of working-class retirees in South Boston, an influx of cash from heavier oil revenues will finance Chavez’s order of Russian fighter jets and small arms in time for his imagined U.S. invasion of Venezuela. The BBC reported on April 4 that Chavez has purchased Russian military assault helicopters and Kalashnikov rifles in preparation for an imminent U.S. strike against his regime. On April 3 the AP’s Natalie Obiko Pearson found that Chavez is not only drumming up fear of the U.S. to buy military hardware, he’s training civilians to be militia.

"Housewives, students, construction workers, social workers and many unemployed have signed up for the Territorial Guard," Pearson wrote, following a group of 900 civilians whose "20 weeks of instruction will turn them into resistance fighters prepared to defend their communities in the event of a conflict." Pearson added that Chavez critics fear the Territorial Guard would more likely be a political weapon of Chavez’s to stifle dissent.

Political repression at the hands of the Territorial Guard is far from an improbable threat. The Harvard Political Review‘s Ryan Jamiolkowski noted that not only have Chavez’s police and intelligence forces cracked down on political dissent, but mobs of his civilian supporters have attacked government critics. "In November 2005, journalists from right-of-center stations covering student rallies were attacked with broken bottles and beaten by the students, who were angry at being filmed by stations unsympathetic to the government," wrote Jamiolkowski.