[News] Pray for Venezuela … to remain a sovereign nation

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Mar 7 12:36:31 EST 2014


  Pray for Venezuela … to remain a sovereign nation

by Lisa Sullivan 
<http://america.aljazeera.com/profiles/s/lisa-sullivan.html> 
@lisavenezuela <http://www.twitter.com/lisavenezuela> March 6, 2014
*http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2014/3/venezuela-protestsmaduromediapropaganda.html*

*US media give distorted view of country I call home*

I was in Guatemala on Feb. 15 when I first received the news that 
Venezuela — my home for the past three decades — was on the brink of 
civil war. My inbox flooded with questions from friends and journalists 
asking what was happening in my adopted country. “Pray for Venezuela,” 
said numerous other email messages from people in the U.S.

I had just returned from the Mayan Ixil community of Cocop, in the state 
of Quiche, in the western highlands of Guatemala, where I met with 
survivors of the 1981 massacre there. The 58 victims of Cocop were among 
1,700 Ixils murdered by the army under the leadership of Gen. Jose 
Efrain Rios Montt, the former Guatemalan president who was recently 
convicted for genocide, although the conviction was overturned by the 
Constitutional Court and will be retried. All told, approximately 
200,000 were killed in Guatemala’s 1981–96 civil war.

At Cocop’s small cemetery, the president of the town’s survivors’ 
committee, Jacinto de Paz, turned to me and said, “I'd like to introduce 
you to my parents./” /His hand then swept/ /to/ /two tombs. As he shared 
the story of how the army gunned down nine family members, his body 
trembled and tears fell. He was 13 at the time. “I'm so sorry,” he said. 
“It still hurts so much.”

Back at the hotel, I learned that two Venezuelan students and a 
government supporter had been gunned down at a demonstration in Caracas. 
There were “only” three victims at that point. (The death toll would 
climb to 17 by the end of the month.) But, having just embraced a 
sobbing Jacinto 30 years after his parents’ massacre, I knew that the 
pain of one loss is enough to rip apart your world forever. For the 
families of the Venezuelan victims, it makes no difference if their 
loved one shared that fate with two or 199,999 others. Their pain is 
just as real.

Still, I couldn’t help but wonder: Would I have received the same 
heartfelt international outpouring of concern during Guatemala’s time of 
troubles, when 200,000 people were slaughtered, 93 percent by the 
country’s own military forces and more than 80 percent of the victims 
indigenous?

Every news article about Venezuela seemed to reshuffle the same 
storyline. Over and over again I read the same dozen or so words and 
phrases: chaos, civil war, 54 percent inflation, crime, exit Maduro, 
government responsibility, peaceful students, Lopez, Harvard Business 
graduate, toilet paper, etc.

Worse, most news sources referred to social media messages and images as 
their source. Some were even accompanied by bizarre photos showing 
protesters in Caracas wearing turtlenecks, jackets and sweaters, when 
the average temperature is about 80 degrees. Others showed toppled 
buildings. As it turned out, some of those images were from crackdowns 
on student protesters in Chile two years ago and the 2011 earthquake in 
Japan.

As the media hype grew daily, I began to sense that the call to/ /“pray 
for Venezuela” was not heartfelt concern for those suffering but 
actually a demand for regime change.


    Image and reality

I returned to Venezuela on Feb. 23, 11 days after the protests began, to 
find Caracas surprisingly normal. Buses, subway trains and pedestrian 
traffic all moved at their usual hectic pace. Streets were filled with 
schoolchildren and office workers; shops, banks and restaurants were 
open and bustling. After hours of traversing various zones of the city 
with errands and seeing absolutely nothing amiss, I opened my email that 
evening to messages from friends in the U.S. “Lisa, how are you getting 
by?” read one of them. “We’ve heard that the roads in Caracas are 
completely blocked.”

I flew back to my home city of Barquisimeto, 166 miles west of Caracas, 
the next day. As with the scenes in the capital, nothing seemed amiss. I 
turned on the TV to see if the national picture was bleaker. All 
Venezuelan stations carried a live broadcast of an emergency national 
peace conference <http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/10425> hosted by 
President Nicolas Maduro in an effort to halt the violence by bringing 
together diverse sectors of society. I sat transfixed for four hours as 
prominent Venezuelan academics, journalists and religious, business and 
opposition leaders shared their concerns about the economy and crime. 
All expressed commitment to Venezuela’s stability and disdain for the 
violent tactics of many protesters. Maduro took notes and said his 
government supported many of the suggestions raised at the conference. 
Watching the discussion from such an array of Venezuelan stakeholders 
left me hopeful.

International headlines the next morning, however, told a different 
story. “Venezuelan opposition boycotts ‘bad faith’ talks,” read 
<http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/02/26/3961648/venezuela-peace-conference-falls.html> 
the title of the Miami Herald’s story. A similar focus on the talks’ 
alleged failure was echoed by most mainstream reports.

Deja vu swept over me. In April 2002, the United States questioned the 
legitimacy of President Hugo Chavez and American media similarly hyped 
opposition protests. The turmoil then ended with a short-lived coup that 
Chavez and his supporters were able to defeat.

/“/We are not Colombia,”/ /several speakers reaffirmed at the peace 
conference./ /Venezuela’s neighbor to the west has lost tens of 
thousands of citizens to political violence in recent decades. By 
contrast, Venezuela has made enormous social gains, peacefully, via the 
ballot box. In fact, it has the lowest rate of political violence in 
Latin America.

To be sure, the press is correct to report that Venezuela’s inflation is 
much too high. But it is also the most economically equal society in all 
of Latin America. It has eradicated poverty more than any other country 
in the hemisphere. That is the news the international media rarely report.

Media watchers also might wonder why the roadblocks that news reports 
have fixated on are only found in the wealthier areas of the country. 
Why are the people from the “barrios,” Venezuela’s populous lower-income 
neighborhoods, not streaming down to join the protesters in Caracas?

Why are basic questions not even being asked, let alone answered?


    Gaining weight

When I built my home 17 years ago in a rural area outside Sanare in the 
western state of Lara, my neighbors were barely eking out a subsistence, 
digging for potatoes and herding goats and sheep. The only school in 
town was elementary level, and teachers showed up only two days per week 
on average. There were no modern modes of transport. If you got sick, 
you had to walk eight miles to town and get in line at 3 a.m. to be seen 
by a doctor the next day at the nearest hospital.

Today, that same community has an elementary and secondary school, and a 
free university that functions on the weekends. Every evening, the 
university offers adult classes. My neighbors are now doctors, lawyers 
and teachers. Their younger siblings face few barriers to pursuing their 
dreams. There are 18 new homes — double the amount before, with 
approximately the same population — built by the local community council 
in my enclave. Many of my neighbors have replaced horse sheds with 
driveways for their vehicles. There is also a free medical clinic, 
staffed by Cuban doctors and Venezuelan medical students from my 
community, half a mile down the road.

  “For every year of the revolution, I think that everyone has gained a 
kilo,” said/ /a surprised American visitor, commenting on my neighbor’s 
plumper physique/./

These same stories could be told a thousand times over. If only 
journalists would actually come to Venezuela and leave their five-star 
hotels, maybe they would figure out why the country has repeatedly 
re-elected Chavismo in more than a dozen elections for the last 14 
years, in what former U.S. President and democracy observer Jimmy Carter 
calls “the best electoral system in the world.”

Venezuela is far from perfect. It is a new and evolving political and 
economic experiment that puts the poor front and center. Among several 
pressing challenges, it needs to confront rampant crime head-on. Toward 
that end, Maduro’s administration is doing a better job than his 
predecessor’s by instituting a national disarmament program and a 
national youth program to bring sports and culture to the barrios. Even 
more needs to be done, though, to guarantee security for all citizens.

Venezuela also faces shortages of staples such as milk and corn flour. 
Many are to blame. It is the government’s fault for not instituting a 
policy that promotes national production and makes necessary imports 
more fluid. But private industry is also to blame for hoarding or 
exporting products purchased with cheap government-regulated funds.

It’s my fault, too. Check out my pantry. Like those of most of my 
friends, it has a few more quantities of things than needed. In my case: 
20 kilos of corn flour, 10 large packages of toilet paper and 5 kilos of 
coffee. Sometimes my compañero calls to say he'll be late, he's in a 
line. “What for?” I ask. “Not sure/,/”/ /he responds, “but probably 
something essential.” As I open the door for him to bring in the 4 
liters of oil, I see my neighbor balancing a bag stuffed with sacks of 
sugar.


    Return to order

Venezuela’s challenges cannot be addressed overnight, but certain steps 
should be taken immediately. The violence must end. All Venezuelans can 
and must contribute to the return of peace and order. The government 
should continue to detain and investigate security forces who responded 
with violence. Radical forces in the opposition must take down 
roadblocks that create havoc for their own neighbors. And the 
international media should be called out for their efforts to 
misrepresent the current reality in Venezuela.

I have visited 18 Latin American countries in the past six years, but 
Venezuela is unique among them. Why? Because it has the world’s largest 
oil reserves — a potential boon for all of its citizens, including the 
poorest. Due to this fortune, Venezuela is also a prize for corporations 
and countries seeking access to its natural resources. But all of the 
country’s bounties, which my family has had the fortune to enjoy, 
rightly belong to each and every Venezuelan: its orange-flowering bucare 
trees, its Afro-Venezuelan tambores (drums), its mangos, arepas, 
avocados and coffee.

Yes, pray for Venezuela. Pray that there will be no more bloodshed. Pray 
that the people may continue their peaceful political tradition of 
finding solutions to real problems and differences. Pray that they be 
allowed to continue to determine their own destiny. Pray that Venezuela 
may remain a sovereign nation.

Lisa Sullivan is Latin America coordinator for School of the Americas 
Watch, a nonviolent grassroots organization that works with the people 
of Latin America to close the U.S. Army School of the Americas and to 
oppose its policies. She has lived in Venezuela since 1982, and for 21 
years was a Maryknoll lay missioner, working as a community organizer in 
the western barrios of Barquisimeto.

-- 
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