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Venezuala Floridated: Will The Gang That Fixed Florida Fix the Vote in Caracas this Sunday?

Hugo Chavez drives George Bush crazy. Maybe it's jealousy: Unlike Mr. Bush, Chavez, in Venezuela, won his Presidency by a majority of the vote.

Or maybe it's the oil: Venezuela sits atop a reserve rivaling Iraq's. And Hugo thinks the US and British oil companies that pump the crude ought to pay more than a 16% royalty to his nation for the stuff. Hey, sixteen percent isn't even acceptable as a tip at a New York diner.

Whatever it is, OUR President has decided that THEIR president has to go. This is none too easy given that Chavez is backed by Venezuela's poor. And the US oil industry, joined with local oligarchs, has made sure a vast majority of Venezuelans remain poor.

Therefore, Chavez is expected to win this coming Sunday's recall vote. That is, if the elections are free and fair.


Greg and Chavez in Venezuela

They won't be. Some months ago, a little birdie faxed to me what appeared to be confidential pages from a contract between John Ashcroft's Justice Department and a company called ChoicePoint, Inc., of Atlanta. The deal is part of the War on Terror.

Justice offered up to $67 million, of our taxpayer money, to ChoicePoint in a no-bid deal, for computer profiles with private information on every citizen of half a dozen nations. The choice of which nation's citizens to spy on caught my eye. While the September 11th highjackers came from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon and the Arab Emirates, ChoicePoint's menu offered records on Venezuelans, Brazilians, Nicaraguans, Mexicans and Argentines. How odd. Had the CIA uncovered a Latin plot to sneak suicide tango dancers across the border with exploding enchiladas?

What do these nations have in common besides a lack of involvement in the September 11th attacks? Coincidentally, each is in the throes of major electoral contests in which the leading candidates -- presidents Lula Ignacio da Silva of Brazil, Nestor Kirschner of Argentina, Mexico City mayor Andres Lopez Obrador and Venezuela's Chavez -- have the nerve to challenge the globalization demands of George W. Bush.

The last time ChoicePoint sold voter files to our government it was to help Governor Jeb Bush locate and purge felons on Florida voter rolls. Turns out ChoicePoint's felons were merely Democrats guilty only of V.W.B., Voting While Black. That little 'error' cost Al Gore the White House.

It looks like the Bush Administration is taking the Florida show for a tour south of the border.

However, when Mexico discovered ChoicePoint had its citizen files, the nation threatened company executives with criminal charges. ChoicePoint protested its innocence and offered to destroy the files of any nation that requests it.

But ChoicePoint, apparently, presented no such offer to the government of Venezuela's Chavez.

In Caracas, I showed Congressman Nicolas Maduro the ChoicePoint-Ashcroft agreement. Maduro, a leader of Chavez' political party, was unaware that his nation's citizen files were for sale to U.S. intelligence. But he understood their value to make mischief.

If the lists somehow fell into the hands of the Venezuelan opposition, it could immeasurably help their computer-aided drive to recall and remove Chavez. A ChoicePoint flak said the Bush administration told the company they haven't used the lists that way. The PR man didn't say if the Bush spooks laughed when they said it.

Our team located a $53,000 payment from our government to Chavez' recall organizers, who claim to be armed with computer lists of the registered. How did they get those lists? The fix that was practiced in Florida, with ChoicePoint's help, deliberate or not, appears to be retooled for Venezuela, then Brazil, Mexico and who knows where else.

Here's what it comes down to: The Justice Department averts its gaze from Saudi Arabia but shoplifts voter records in Venezuela. So it's only fair to ask: Is Mr. Bush fighting a war on terror -- or a war on democracy?

---
Greg Palast is author of the New York Times bestseller, 'The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.' This commentary is based on 'Tango Terrorists,' in the new chapter of the book's Expanded Election Edition (Penguin 2004). For Palast's reports on Venezuela for the Guardian of Britain and his exclusive interview for BBC Television with President Hugo Chavez, go to www.GregPalast.com

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