TransAfrica Forum pontificates about Venezuela
By Gustavo Coronel
October 11, 2004 - Bill Fletcher, Jr., President of TransAfrica Forum, has just published a 23-page essay on Venezuela, which purports to be an in-depth analysis of our country under the regime of Hugo Chávez. It represents the official stance of this organization on the political, social and racial situation of my country. In my opinion it is a very biased document which does grave harm to the Venezuelan people in their quest for a truly democratic and peaceful society. I have nothing personal against Bill Fletcher. In fact, I am grateful to him for having received me very well in his office, about one year ago, when I asked him for a meeting to give him my views on Venezuela and on Chávez. He is a cultured man. His document is not the product of a mediocre, ignorant observer, which makes it more deserving of criticism.
The interest of TransAfrica in Venezuela
What does TransAfrica Forum have to do with Venezuela? The interest of this organization in our country is hard to understand. Fletcher claims that their main interests in Venezuela is to obtain a better understanding of the Venezuelan "Bolivarian Revolution" and to develop closer ties with Afro-Venezuelan organizations. The main interest of this organization in Venezuela is, therefore, clearly political while the racial aspect seems subordinate to this main interest. They see Venezuela as a political battleground. Their concern has little to do with us Venezuelans as a society. They see us as pawns in a larger ideological struggle. TransAfrica Forum is focused on Venezuela because our current political regime, led by a fanatical and authoritarian army officer, is aggressively anti-U.S. This is what is mostly important for TransAfrica Forum. They could have focused as well on Zimbabwe or Nigeria or Sierra Leone. But Venezuela is the country making waves in the struggle against U.S. policy and the Bush administration.
However, this fight between TransAfrica and Bush is not the fight of us Venezuelans. It is a fight that does not turn us on. Why, I ask TransAfrica, should they drag us into that messy fight? Their reasons seem several: first, TransAfrica apparently believes that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend"; second, they seem to believe that the Bolivarian revolution uses race as a political tool, which makes it a natural ally of their own racial attitudes. Other reasons, I cannot fathom.
Why do we oppose Chávez, Mr. Fletcher?
On the basis of those reasons for bringing their fight into our territory, the document of TransAfrica pretends to explain the formidable Venezuelan opposition to Chávez as the handiwork of the U.S. Government. This is a lot of baloney. The opposition to Chávez is deeply and genuinely Venezuelan, Mr. Fletcher. It is rooted in all social strata and has all the colors of the rainbow. It is deeply unfair and incorrect of TransAfrica Forum to claim that the opposition to Chávez is reduced to a white, oligarchic elite that has lost its privileges.
The opposition to Chávez, Mr. Fletcher, has to do with the tragic poverty in our country, with the increasing crime rate, with the unemployed, the street peddling, the beggars and the abandoned children in our streets. The week you spent in our country did not allow you to grasp the horrible magnitude of our social tragedy. Contrary to your sugary and idealized perception of Chávez, I have to tell you that six years of Chávez in power and USD $180 billion in income have not made the life of Venezuelans any better. Chávez considers that anyone with an education and some financial means is an enemy of the people and that Venezuelans have to be poor and ignorant in order to be genuine sons of the fatherland. Today the country is in ruins, Mr. Fletcher. I have seen it with my own eyes. You were given the King's tour in one week. Let me give just a few examples:
* The Chávez controlled National Assembly is passing a Gag Law which will effectively smother freedom of expression in Venezuela.
* The National Assembly will increase the number of judges in the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ), in order to assure political control of this organism.
* The Attorney General, a friend of Chávez, has received 5,653 reports of corruption in government during the last two years, several related to the presidency. So far, only 101 indictments have been delivered and 54 sentences handed out but none related to the president .
* The armed forces have been essentially destroyed and are today "a hollow shell," according to independent intelligence reports .
* Petroleos de Venezuela has lost production capacity of over 600,000 barrels per day while managed by another Chávez friend, a former terrorist and guerrilla fighter .
* The National Electoral Council (CNE), politically controlled by Chávez, is currently violating with total impunity 10 articles of the Law that regulate electoral events in Venezuela. The list of violations to democracy and to Venezuelan laws would fill many pages .
What really happened in April, 2002 in Caracas, Venezuela?
Those who read the TransAfrica Forum document would believe that in April, 2002 there was a U.S. coordinated military coup to oust Chávez that ended with the Venezuelan people putting Chávez back in power. What actually took place on April 11, 2002 was a gigantic popular march against the Miraflores Presidential Palace by close to a million people. Chávez ordered his military commanders to get the tanks out onto the streets and repress the march by force. Chavez's armed followers, located along the march's path, murdered and injured many innocent civilians but none are in prison and there has never been an investigation of this massacre. The military heirarchy disobeyed the orders to further deploy combat troops and tanks against civilian opponents -thus saving countless lives- and demanded and obtained Chávez's immediate resignation, as announced to the nation on April 12 by the country's highest-ranking officer and Chávez confidant, General Lucas Rincón Romero (who was subsequently promoted by Chávez to General-in-Chief and later served as Minister of the Interior). It is true that the provisional government of Pedro Carmona did not act within the Constitution and that was the reason why it lasted only 48 hours and why the military put Chávez back into power. This is what truly happened in my country in April 2002. Your emphasis on the U.S. participation is just a maneuver to use us, the Venezuelan people, in your bitter fight against the Bush administration. You are being particularly unfair to our people because the popular protest of April 11, 2002 represents one of the most spectacular and spontaneous popular protests ever seen in Venezuela. To dismiss it as a U.S. ploy is, very frankly, an insult to the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans who took to the streets to defend their democracy. This is just a tragic example of the great harm your extemporaneous intervention in our affairs can do, if you try to explain our internal processes through the optics of narrow, partisan U.S. politics.
Racism is not a social but a political issue in Venezuela
Your document talks about Venezuela being a racist society, although you add that racism is expressed differently from the U.S. You claim that the opposition to Chávez has attacked him "using racist language and imagery." You salute Chávez for emphasizing his African and Indigenous background. Has it never occurred to you, Mr. Fletcher, that this emphasis by Chávez on being African and Indigenous, in contrast with the "white oppressors of the opposition, the oligarchs, the ones that have stolen the goods of the nation," constitutes, in itself, a racist attitude? Or do you consider racism just a one-way street? I will tell you frankly: I consider Chávez a highly racist person. He is full of social hate, of social resentment. He is no Martin Luther King, Mr. Fletcher. He is more like Malcolm X, an idol of yours. Whereas King based his fight on social justice and non-violence, Malcolm X based his fight on hate and violence.
Trying to transplant racial struggle from the U.S. to Venezuela is not a noble thing to do, Mr. Fletcher. In Venezuela you would not be black, I told you that when we met. Zapata, the man who drew the cartoon that offended you is dark and would be considered black in the U.S. But he has no racism in his heart. He used a term that colloquially means "politically burnt out" (Quemado). If you do not know about other cultures you are bound to make significant mistakes.
Women and the revolution
Your document, Mr. Fletcher, also talks about the revolutionary role of Venezuelan women, as if this role was being discovered by the current regime. Well, I have news for you. Women have played an increasingly important role in Venezuela for the last 25 years. In contrast, the regime of Hugo Chávez has unleashed the most despicable violence against Venezuelan women who oppose him. The National Guard, controlled by him, has become a repressive force against unarmed citizens, notably women. The photos of violence upon women by the National Guard, which delighted Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwe butcher, have traveled around the world. I am sure that you would have protested, as a civilized person, if you had seen them. Women represent today, in Venezuela, the main spear point in the opposition to Chávez. The Pacific News Service, October 6, 2004, carries an article: "New Women Activists Bolster Anti-Chávez Protests," which illustrates in great detail this assertion and should be required reading for the activists of TransAfrica.
You make some points about the labor movement in Venezuela. You are an expert on that and I will not try to argue. In fact, you accept in your document that Chavez has not handled the relations with the labor union well.
Chávez bedside manners
The last portions of your document, Mr. Fletcher, have to do with the political merits of the Chávez regime. In these portions of the document you make some really unbelievable statements. First of all, and although coming from a truly democratic country, which honor the democratic processes, you start by saluting the Chávez military coup of 1992 against the democratic government of Carlos Andrés Perez. This coup, Mr. Fletcher, produced over one hundred deaths in my country, many of them children. I am sure you did not know this or you would not have applauded this bloody, criminal and inept coup. Later on, you say that Chávez "has faced hostility since first taking office." Someone has been feeding you the wrong stuff, Mr. Fletcher. Ask impartial observers and they will tell you that Chávez started, from day one of his presidency, on a verbal rampage of hate, insult and resentment against dissenters. You surely ignore that the first collaborators of Chávez were some of the main editors of the media, which are now against him, people like Mr. Otero and Mr. Peña and the Armas Group, as well as the business leaders of the country like the Boulton and Cisneros groups. They soon grew tired of being abused by Chávez's populist rhetoric and they deserted him. It was the other way around, Mr. Fletcher. Your document ends up with some basic questions:
* Will the opposition "accept the loss?" You probably do not know, Mr. Fletcher, that the CNE has violated all norms and procedures, which regulate electoral processes. The abuses they committed prior and during the presidential referendum have been mentioned in The Carter Center and the OAS reports and by many other observers beside "The Wall Street Journal." As a result the Venezuelan people do not trust them. Do you think that a democratic and transparent process can be run by a corrupt, government controlled Electoral Council? We cannot be forced to accept fraud, Mr. Fletcher.
* Will the U.S. build a more constructive relationship with Chávez? If he behaves democratically, I don't see why not. But so far, he has been a bully, a fascist dictator wannabe. Please tell him, next time you see him, to forget about his dreams of an archaic dictatorship for Venezuela. Tell him that there are other ways of obtaining social justice and racial harmony in our country. And tell him that being friendly with the Colombian guerrilla, the killers and kidnappers of Venezuelan people cannot be the way to be accepted by the people.
* You say that having 40% plus in the opposition remains an uncomfortably high figure. Of course. This means that Chávez cannot govern unless he accepts them as part of the society, instead of excluding them from participation, like if they were second-class citizens. Today, he can only impose his brute force. His "Revolution" is contained by the forces of democracy and is bound to fail. Venezuelans will not accept a Cuban style dictatorship. The time for this ignominy is past, just as slavery is a thing of the past in civilized countries.
My fundamental question remains:
What in the world is TransAfrica Forum doing in Venezuela? You are needed in Alabama or in Haiti, where racial tragedy and discrimination effectively exists. As visitors you will always be welcome. As fellow travelers of an authoritarian, fascist regime, you are not welcome, at least by half of the nation.
I am always at your service to present these views to your group, whenever you so desire. I tried to speak at Howard University, after you sponsored Chávez's ambassador, Bernardo Alvarez, in that excellent institution. Unfortunately the invitation to speak was only for ambassadors. There must be a place where your group can hear me and where I do not have to be an ambassador but just a citizen.
Please receive my best regards!
1. "There are 5,653 cases of government corruption in the office files of the Venezuelan Attorney General." Quinto Día, Friday, October 8, 2004. The Director Livia Romero admits that there are only 101 indictments and 54 sentences. She chose not to say how many of the corrupt are in prison. The Attorney General is a buddy of Chávez.
2. Stratfor Global Intelligence Report, October, 2004 says that "Venezuela's armed forces are a hollow shell, so weakened by years of defense spending cuts that soldiers patrolling the border region frequently lack uniforms, boots, helmets, body armor and ammunition for their assault rifles." The men under arms are less than half than the number given by the government.
3. The collapse of Petroleos de Venezuela is a well-known situation in the international petroleum scene. Today Venezuela is the only OPEC country that cannot produce up to its quota. Refineries such as El Palito are practically idle. Even the pro-Chávez website Soberanía, accuses the government of importing products into this facility to make people believe that it is functioning properly. They point at Petroleos de Venezuela's president, Ali Rodriguez, as the main promoter of this fraud which costs us millions of dollars per month.
4. Súmate, the organization being persecuted by Chávez, published an ad in several Venezuelan newspapers, describing all of the violations to the Laws that regulate Venezuelan electoral events by the CNE. Instead of investigating the violation of articles 152, 118, 119, 120, 121, 168, 267, 268, 156 and 40 of this law, the Chávez government retaliated against Súmate by trying to put their officers in prison for "treason." We ask: since when blowing the whistle on government corruption is an act of treason? The new Minister of Information, Andrés Izarra, announced over national radio and on the Internet that Súmate had received USD $23 million from the U.S. government and said that he had received this information from a Mrs. Eva Golinger, a NYC based Chávez sympathizer who, in the past, has received payment for her services. But this time Mrs. Golinger said that she had never claimed such a thing, unmasking Izarra as a liar.
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