By Christopher Helali

Hands off Venezuela!

April 9, 2019

MASSACHUSETTS - “Leftists think a revolution is like a Disney movie,” María Fernanda Barreto explained over a drink. “There are stars, fireworks, and everyone lives happily ever after. That is not at all the case. A revolution always has failures. That does not mean that we won’t be critical, learn and keep improving.” 

Having recently returned from Venezuela after nine days in the country, I can say that the mass media, in Goebbelsian fashion, is perpetuating lies as truths as it did in the lead up to the War in Iraq. While the war criminals in Washington, along with Venezuelan elite, shed crocodile tears for those who are supposedly “starving,” the legitimately elected government of Nicolás Maduro provides food for the poorest who are disproportionately hit hard by sanctions. Taking a walk through the richest neighborhoods of Caracas shows just how disingenuous they are.

These same elites seek to return to a time before Chávez when the wealthy few had everything, impoverishing the vast majority of Venezuelans through neoliberal economic policies. A look at Instagram in Venezuela shows the opulent lifestyle the elite live, partying on beaches, traveling the world, and living in a life of luxury. It should come as no surprise then that the government is supported by the poor while the opposition is made up of middle and upper class Venezuelans who are far from starving.

Having participated in a massive demonstration in support of the government while I was in Venezuela, it became very apparent that the opposition, comprised mostly of the traditional elite and middle class, is mostly white while the government is supported and defended by the overwhelming majority of people of color.

Many may ask why the poorest people of Venezuela, those living in the shantytowns of Caracas and beyond, would support the government? The answer is that for the first time in Venezuelan history, the “wretched of the earth,” the poor black, brown and indigenous masses saw themselves represented by the government. Chávez, who identified as indigenous and Afro-Venezuelan, not only made them visible, but put them at the very forefront of the government's policies. 

Violence against Chavistas is rampant in the country. Venezuela must be one of only a few countries where the legitimate government's supporters are targeted by the opposition with little to no consequences for fear of greater international isolation. Opposition forces, which have brought far-right Colombian paramilitaries across the border as mercenaries, have harassed, tortured, and even burned to death supporters of the government. 

While attending a concert for peace, I spoke to Orlenys, one of the most famous Chavista social media journalists. While we drank juice, beer and cocuy throughout the evening, listening to amazing music and poetry, she spoke at length about the narrative promoted by the mass media outside Venezuela as well as the opposition. She and her family members have been subjected to constant threats, harassment and even physical violence. 

She illustrated this by highlighting a recently completed online survey on Twitter where participants were asked “I wish” and given four possible options which were “sex”, “kill Chavistas,” “cessation of usurpation,” and “military intervention.” Out of 28,938 votes cast, the number one was “Kill Chavistas” with 38%, followed by “military intervention” with 36%, and “cessation of usurpation” with 20%, and in last place, “sex” with 6%. For the Venezuelan opposition, “make love, not war,” has now become “make war, not love.” 

U.S. sanctions have crippled the Venezuelan economy. Since the US dollar is the international reserve currency, Venezuela, due to the sanctions, cannot use US dollars in any transactions. Therefore, it sells oil to other countries, like China, India and Russia, receiving in return essential commodities, like food, to offset domestic hoarding and speculation. This is very reminiscent of the Iraq Oil for Food program which, due to the illegal sanctions of the US, killed approximately half a million children. 

The US sent $20 million worth of humanitarian aid to Venezuela. What is rarely talked about is the fact that the sanctions cost the Venezuela more than $30 million a day. From my time on the ground in Venezuela, especially my travels to some of the poorest neighborhoods of Caracas, like Catia, I can say that there is not a humanitarian crisis but a full scale economic war that is punishing the Venezuelan people simply for electing a government that does not take orders from Washington and foreign Oil companies. 

Since Venezuela is dependent on food imports to meet its needs, private companies control the importation and transportation of food and other commodities. The result has been a catastrophic combination of hording and speculation; an internal economic war by the merchants, private companies, and wealthy elite against the legitimately elected government. 

Of great concern to many is the issue of the flight of Venezuelans from the country due to the ongoing crisis over the past few years. Figures range from less than one million to upwards of three million people have fled the country. However, this number is highly disputed not only by the government but by ordinary people that I spoke to. Lack of infrastructure, monitoring capabilities, and border crossing registries have contributed to inaccurate data. 

It is important to note that Venezuela and Colombia have a fairly porous border with families on both sides of the border. Many of those who leave Venezuela are workers who go back and forth between the countries for seasonal or temporary work, or people going to see their relatives. Additionally, statistics fail to show the nearly five million Colombians who have emigrated to Venezuela over the past few decades. 

Even if we take the three million figure to be accurate, for a country of over thirty million, this is not catastrophic. Greece, for example, has had nearly half a million citizens emigrate since 2008 due to the financial crisis and it has a population of nearly eleven million. It is important to understand that the emigration is voluntary and not forced. There is no dictatorship in Venezuela. 

While thanking me for coming to see the reality and defend the people, Luis Salazar, a community communicator, asked me if I knew John Reed's classic Ten Days That Shook the World which he had just finished reading. “Of course,” I responded. He spoke of the importance of internationalist solidarity and the necessity of defending people beyond our borders in their struggles against imperialism. 

There are many readers who might continue to think that Venezuela is unfree. Who are you kidding? This country has tremendous freedom, so much so that approximately 50 countries have recognized another person as the president, given him access to billions of dollars, aid, and weapons, and this person is still freely goes around the country campaigning for regime change against the legitimately elected government. If this were any other country, he would be called a traitor, arrested and might even face the death penalty. Not in Venezuela. 

Following the theories of Mao, Che, and Ho Chi Minh, the military is of the people, having an officer corps no longer made up of the Venezuelan ruling class. Preparations have been made since Chávez was first elected that the military and the people should be united in preparation for a protracted people's war should the United States or its proxies attack. Thus, when Maduro says a war with Venezuela will be another Vietnam, the military, militias, and people have readied, trained and prepared themselves for this scenario. 

Throughout my trip, I repeatedly heard words like dignity, independence, sovereignty, and respect. This land, liberated by Simon Bolivar, will resist until the end. The words “patria, independencia, socialismo,” or “homeland, independence, socialism,” were rallying cries, the very source of unity for the people. The people would rather have their dignity and freedom, than grovel at the feet of the United States empire, fulfilling what the Greek revolutionary Rigas Feraios once wrote that it is “better to live one hour free than forty years in slavery and prison.”


 

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