They want Maduro here
An open letter to the U.S. Congress is only the latest in a series of shameless publications by a small group of university professors and Hollywood figures that support the Venezuelan narco-dictatorship. The same persons appear repeatedly in the diverse documents generated recently. They all share enthusiasm for the Cuban and the Venezuelan totalitarian governments. Although living in a democracy, they inexplicably support these autocratic regimes for reasons that properly belong into textbooks about Psychological Pathology.
The list of signatories of this open letter is:
Danny Glover, Oliver Stone, Tom Hayden, Fr. Roy Bourgeois, Lisa Sullivan, Antonio Gonzalez, president, William C. Velasquez Institute; George Ciccariello-Maher, professor of Political Science, Drexel University; Arturo Escobar, professor of Anthropology, UNC, Chapel Hill; James Counts Early, Institute for Policy Studies Board of Trustees; Sujatha Fernandes, acting associate director, Center for Place, Culture, and Politics, Queens College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York; Daniel Hellinger, professor of International Relations, Webster University; Dan Kovalik, professor of International Human Rights, University of Pittsburgh School of Law; Steve Ellner, professor of History, Universidad de Oriente, Venezuela; Nicole Phillips, human rights lawyer, Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, Port-au-Prince, Haiti; John Womack, Jr., Harvard University Robert Woods Bliss professor of Latin American History and Economics, emeritus; Miguel Tinker Salas, professor of History, Pomona College; Sinclair Thomson, professor of History, New York University; T.M. Scruggs, professor emeritus, University of Iowa; Gilbert M. Joseph, Farnam professor of History and International Studies, Yale University; Gerardo Renique, associate professor, Department of History, City College of the City University of New York; Greg Grandin, professor of History, New York University.
Some of the members of this group are well-known to us, due to their dedication to sing the praises of the Venezuelan narco-dictatorship. Some of them have actually received significant amounts of money from the deceased dictator, Hugo Chavez. One, Danny Glover, received about $18 million from Chavez to do a picture about Haitian historical figure Toussaint Overture, no doubt promising him that the picture would be a subliminal pro-Chavez message. This film is still “in the makings”, after nine years or so, and we reasons to suspect that it will never be finished. Another, Oliver Stone, is the author of a documentary on Chavez for which he received a significant amount of money, in the millions of dollars. Others are university professors such as Daniel Hellinger, Steve Ellner, Miguel Tinker-Salas and Greg Grandin or authors of laudatory books about Chavez, such as George Ciccariello-Maher. Tom Hayden is a social activist, better known for having been married to Jane Fonda during her pro- Hanoi years.
This is the letter they sent to Congress, which I would like to comment:
Dear Members of Congress,
We write to you out of a deep concern over the recent tragic events in Venezuela and because we believe that recent congressional action in response to these events is misguided and could actually worsen the situation. On Mar. 4, the House of Representatives passed Resolution 488 "Supporting the people of Venezuela as they protest peacefully for democratic change and calling to end the violence." The resolution is right to condemn violence and call for dialogue, but incorrectly portrays the government as the sole party responsible for the violence that has taken place and also paints an inaccurate picture of protestors' demands.
My comment: It would seem obvious to anyone that violence following peaceful protests by thousands of students, house wives and, even, children, is generated by the reaction of the armed forces of the regime. The protesters did not and do not have weapons. The rubber bullets, the toxic gas, the rifles, the armored tanks, are all in on the camp of the regime. The graphic material that proves the repression by the armed forces and by bands of thugs controlled by the government is absolutely overpowering. It was very revealing that Mr. Nicolas Maduro’s op-ed in the New York Times complained about the coverage of these events by the international press, which is unanimously critical of government brutality. The international press is not subjected to censorship as is the case in Venezuela.
As The New York Times, Reuters and other outlets have reported, opposition protestors have engaged in acts of violence that have resulted in loss of life and injury. Rather than merely "protesting economic, social, and political concerns," as the resolution text states, many of these protestors are blocking roads, damaging public and private property and carrying out violent acts in a stated effort to provoke the immediate removal of the country's elected government. Given the passage of this resolution and the recent introduction of legislation that mandates targeted sanctions against Venezuelan officials (H.R. 4229), we wish to share with you a few well-documented facts about these protests in the hope that you can help promote a more balanced vision of the situation in Venezuela within Congress.
My commentary: These paragraphs grossly distort the facts. International reporting coincides in the repressive nature of the government forces. This is very well documented and the U.S. Congress should not be led astray by these irresponsible allegations. Repression came first, then, came barricades.
In the last five weeks, over two-dozen people have been killed in violent incidents related to opposition protests. Some of these have been opposition protesters and some of them appear to have died due to the actions of government forces. However, it is important to note that more than half of the dead (as of Mar. 13), however, have not been opposition protesters, but have either been government supporters, National Guard officers, or people who have been killed at the barricades - either driving into them, or shot while trying to remove them. A few ghastly cases resulted in the decapitation of motorcyclists who rode into wire that opposition protesters had tied across the road. All such deaths and violence are lamentable. But recent statements and the text of H. Res. 488 focuses exclusively on violence carried out by those in the employ of the Venezuelan government, while ignoring the equally lamentable deaths of those who support the government, or who were essentially bystanders.
My commentary: The truth about the deaths is, again, very well documented. They number 39 people, many more than as reported in the letter. About 75% of the victims belong in the opposition camp. Only one motorcyclist has been killed in the manner mentioned. Armed motorcyclists, by the way, represent one of the main weapons of the regime. They are civilians trained to kill and harass Venezuelans and have been called “main defenders of the revolution” by the government.
It is also commendable to denounce actions by the Venezuelan government or any other government that infringe on human rights such as freedom of association and freedom of speech. H. Res. 488 notes the number of people "unjustly detained" in connection to the protests, including opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, condemning "politically motivated criminal charges to intimidate the country's political opposition." Yet many protesters have not been peaceful, as clearly shown by much of the media coverage. Protesters have shot and killed people trying to remove barricades, including Chilean national Giselle Rubilar Figueroa on March 9, National Guard officers and others. They have burned buildings and Metro stations. They have assaulted journalists (as Reuters reported on March 12).
My commentary: Killing, torturing and repression are being carried out by the Police, the National Guard and the urban thugs mentioned above. The evidence is so overwhelming that there is no need to report a few specific cases. Senator Marco Rubio already showed some of this material in a recent speech on Venezuela. Foro Penal Venezolano, a human rights organization in Venezuela, see http://mashable.com/2014/02/24/report-venezuela-tortured-18-arrested-protesters/ , reports 18 cases of torture and 539 arrests, including the case of Juan Manuel Carrasco, sodomized by members of the National Guard. The United Nations, see: http://www.vanguardia.com/actualidad/mundo/254380-la-onu-expresa-su-preocupacion-por-muertes-en-venezuela, reports 39 deaths, 608 wounded and 192 people in prison as of today and its Secretary General Ban Ki-moon demands the protection of human rights. About 120 cases of human rights violations have been reported by the Foro Penal Venezolano from the State of Táchira, one of the many areas of the country where protests are taking place (El Nacional, April 4, 2014).
Considering that not all the protesters in Venezuela are peaceful and engaged in lawful activity, the Venezuelan government may have legitimate reasons for arresting and detaining a number of them. This includes some higher-profile opposition figures. The Venezuelan government sought the arrest of retired General Angel Omar Vivas Perdomo in relation to his Tweets advising protesters to string wire across streets at a height of 1.2 meters in response to pro-government motorcyclists. After the deaths of two motorcycle riders from riding into wires, security forces went to Vivas Perdomo's house. He emerged on his balcony carrying a large assault rifle and engaged in a stand-off, and ultimately the officers left without arresting him.
My Commentary: the case of general Angel Vivas Perdomo is very illustrative. This military officer was actually dismissed from the Armed Forces when he refused to salute: “Fatherland, socialism or death”, since he considered this partisan salute to be incompatible with the constitutional mission and apolitical nature of the Armed Forces. The letter fails to report that when the government tried to put him in prison the entire neighborhood defended him and forced the Venezuelan military/police to retreat.
Among those the Venezuelan authorities have arrested are 14 members of the security forces. It is also notable that as soon as evidence emerged that members of Venezuela's intelligence service (SEBIN) had been involved in shooting at protesters - apparently killing one - President Maduro fired the head of the agency and eight other officers were arrested. In another case, the driver of a truck who struck and killed a student protester was arrested and charged with homicide.
The concern for human rights in Venezuela expressed in the resolution is admirable, but to only focus on the deaths of protesters while ignoring the killings of pro-government and other individuals by protesters politicizes and undermines effective promotion of human rights. Targeting only the Venezuelan government and condemning it while depicting the protesters as uniformly "peaceful" and "non-violent" is akin to saying you want to break up a fight by holding back the arms of one brawler while the other continues to throw punches at him. This is undoubtedly why the U.S. administration's proposals for action on Venezuela at the OAS have fallen on deaf ears: the U.S. government's version of events seems far removed from reality and what has been reported in the international media.
My Commentary: The brawl in Venezuela involves someone armed to the teeth (the regime) and another unarmed (the protesters) , a highly asymmetrical affair. The shameful event at the OAS, where Deputy Maria Corina Machado was not allowed to speak, has a different explanation. The OAS today is an organization controlled by the Venezuelan regime through the votes of the ALBA countries and of the members of the Caribbean Community, CARICOM. The Venezuelan regime provides them with subsidized oil at a huge loss to the nation. Such handouts have converted them into political satellites. This is why the OAS is now a totally discredited organization.
Portions of the letter have been omitted due to its irrelevancy.
…..If U.S. members of Congress want to assist Venezuela in resolving this current situation of violent unrest, they should urge other opposition leaders to come to the table in good faith.
Venezuela is a democracy, as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently affirmed in public statements on the situation, saying, "No one would argue that it isn't." Voter enfranchisement and participation has greatly increased in recent years, and former president Jimmy Carter has called Venezuela's electoral system "the best in the world." Freedom of the press is also alive and well in Venezuela, where the vast majority of media (including TV stations) remains privately owned and regularly gives voice to the opposition, as the New York Times recently admitted in a correction.
My Commentary: These paragraphs actually border on the dishonest. The letter quotes a selected portion of what Mrs. Clinton said. Her complete sentence was: “It’s a democracy. No one would argue that it isn’t,” Clinton said, but she added: “But a democracy doesn’t just mean an election. A democracy means a free press. Protecting the rights of opponents. Protecting a free economy. Having an independent judiciary. So other than elections, there aren’t very many characteristics of a real democracy right now in Venezuela.” We can add that even elections are mostly controlled by the regime since the Board of the National Electoral Council is made up of government followers. The letter repeats Carter assertion to the effect that the Venezuelan electoral system is the best in the world. I say, once more, that Carter is a bad word in Venezuela, a persona non grata, since the Carter Center is perceived to be in bed with the Venezuelan regime. Recently a sugary book on Chavez by Mr. George Cacciarello- Maher, one of the persons signing this letter, was presented in an event at the Carter Library, next door to the Center. Congress should ask if they have received donations from the Venezuelan government.
Finally, we feel that targeted sanctions against the Venezuelan government - as stipulated in H.R. 4229 (introduced on March 13, 2014) - is both a gross over-reaction to the alleged repression in Venezuela and uncalled for given that, as mentioned earlier, authorities have taken judicial action - including arrests and investigations - to address alleged abuses carried out by security agents. Rather than contribute to peace and dialogue, this legislation will only create more tension between the U.S. and Venezuela and will weaken U.S. efforts to promote constructive dialogue between government and opposition actors. Thank you for your concern for human rights, peace and democracy in Venezuela.
My Commentary: I hope the U.S. Congress will see through this letter since it represents a highly biased position by a group of friends of Latin American dictators. The admiration of leftist university professors and some Hollywood actors for strong men and autocratic governments is not new. Similar groups existed in support of the criminal Cuban “revolution”. This letter points to a resurgence of this aberrant posture, a proof that ideological fanaticism can destroy true academic values, which include the search for truth in a free and democratic intellectual environment.