lunes, 3 de marzo de 2014

The pro-autoritarian bias among some U.S. intellectuals


I just read an article by Rebecca Hanson, a graduate student at the University of Georgia  Apparently Ms. Hanson is living, at least temporarily, in Catia, one of Caracas poorer areas, conducting sociological fieldwork. She writes, talking about the protests in Venezuela
"To fully appreciate these changes, however, we need to also appreciate the geographical limits of the opposition protests. Taking into account where protests are not occurring, and why, is important in understanding what they represent for residents who do not live in the zones where protests have erupted.
These protests have not engulfed the entire country or even the entire capital, despite coverage and photographs that might suggest otherwise. Recent articles in Ultimas Noticias have declared the western side of the city, which normally grabs headlines for its high homicide rates, as tranquil and quiet in comparison to the east.
I live and conduct research in Catia, a massive grouping of working and lower-class barrios in the western section of the city that have long been considered a Chavista stronghold. Though I had heard about the violence that erupted on Youth Day, when clashes first came to a head in Caracas, I had to go into the city center to find evidence of protests......". 
See full article in: 

This paragraph caught my attention because it suggests to the reader that everything is normal in the poor neighborhoods of Venezuela, in spite of 16 students dead, hundreds wounded and many more arrested during two weeks of protests, an exhibition of government brutality that had not been seen in Venezuela for more than 50 years, in times of Perez Jimenez’s military dictatorship. 

I remembered the name of the author in connection with a blog of the Washington Office on Latin America, WOLA. This is a publication that represents a very intelligent pro-Chavez/ Maduro posture without overdoing it, discussing both sides of the Venezuelan political scene in a reasonable manner, while consistently giving the government side the more favorable treatment. The names of two of its three main bloggers are Ms. Rebecca Hanson and David Smilde, a professor at the University of Georgia and also a senior Fellow at WOLA.

Frequently associated with this group is Ms. Julia Buxton, a prominent Chavez/Maduro/Castro   regime supporter. She and Professor Smilde have co-authored a book titled “The Venezuelan Bolivarian Democracy”. I think this title says it all.  

Ms. Hanson original article, in English, has been reproduced in “progressive” publications that, in general, seem to always blame the United States for all the terrible things that happen to the environment and to other countries, from Libya to Ukraine. In those publications the name of Mark Weisbrot also appears frequently, Weisbrot being one of the most enthusiastic admirers of the Hugo Chavez-Nicolas Maduro- Raul Castro regime in the Washington DC area.

The contents of the blog leave no doubt as to its bias in favor of the Venezuelan authoritarian and repressive regime. A recent article by professor Smilde titled: “Who was responsible for yesterday’s violence in Venezuela”, see:  includes the following trend of thought :

What Interest Would Maduro Have in Violence?

Would organizing violence against an opposition march make sense for the Maduro government right now? The Maduro government controls all branches of the national government and the majority of state and local governments. Most importantly, it controls the military, as well as the state oil company which is Venezuela’s main source of wealth. Two months ago it enjoyed a solid victory at the polls which effectively ended public questioning of its legitimacy. Finally, since the December elections the opposition has been beset with internal conflict and divided regarding what path it should take in the coming months and years…… the Maduro government is not in a particularly vulnerable political position and it would make no sense in such a context for the government to organize violence against a modest student march (with a turnout of around 10,000 it was much bigger than recent protests, but by no means was it a big protest by Venezuelan standards).

This leaves little doubt about what side is professor Smilde on. Am I  paranoiac in assuming that WOLA’s blog and the group at the University of Georgia support the Maduro regime?  My paranoia includes perceiving a possible association of the University of Georgia group with the Carter Center. Or is it only that both organizations are located in Atlanta, Georgia?  

Speculating further I find that this rather small, but active Atlanta-Washington based pro-Chavez/Maduro unit is far from being an isolated case in the U.S. They seem to be connected with people like George Cicariello-Maher, author of a pro-Chavez book recently “baptized” in the Carter Library, next door to the Carter Center and  with other intellectual workers such as Washington’s Mark Weisbrot  and  Pomona College Professor Miguel Tinker Salas,  to make up quite a significant, U.S. wide academic team in support of the brutal, Cuban-controlled Venezuelan regime.

So what?  You might say. U.S. democracy, by definition, should allow everybody to have their own opinion about politics. I agree. I would not pretend that WOLA or Larry Birns’ COHA and Mark Weisbrot’s CEPR stop their work in support of the Venezuelan dictatorial, Cuban controlled regime. I object to their pretense of impartiality.  

My basic question is, what makes intellectual, articulated, well-educated men and women like these, born and brought up in one of the most democratic countries on earth, to engage in the support of a non-democratic, repressive, inept and corrupt political regime like Venezuela’s? What experience could they have had that have driven them to support a government so brutal and so ideologically contrary to what their own country represents? Have they tasted repression and police brutality in the U.S. ? Would they like to live in Maduro’s Venezuela permanently? Would they like to live in a country where a party or a military-civilian alliance can stay in power indefinitely because the constitution was illegally altered to make this possible?  Would they like to live in a country where there is no respect for private property, where there is a clear process of apartheid affecting millions of the middle class who are subject to abuse, humiliation and harassment? The middle class is the backbone of U.S. society, the social stratum that has made the country what it is. The desideratum for Venezuela should be the emergence of a strong and numerous middle class. Instead the regime in power for the last 15 years has acted against the middle class in almost a genocidal manner. The defunct satrap used to say: “To be rich is immoral”. For him, rich was anyone with a home, a car and an education. And the current Venezuelan Minister of Education, Hector Rodriguez, has just said: “We do not want to take Venezuelans out of their poverty because, then, they would become members of the opposition”. It sounds incredible but here it is:

I would like anyone of the professors and intellectuals who support such a regime to explain to democracy-loving Venezuelans what their reason is to support.

I would guess the reason is not a single one: indoctrination by teachers, idealism translated into into cane-cutting for a murderer or going to Nicaragua to support the Ortega brothers, one a thief, the other a pedophile, admiration for dictators, an overseas  projection of local Republican –vs Democrats squabbles. At the root of this attitude frequently lies a basic rejection of the United States as the country that, in their opinion, has not been able to fulfill its democratic promises.  While there are some reasons to think that way, the truth remains that, by comparison with regimes such as the Russian, the Chinese, the Cuban and the Venezuelan, America remains as a citadel of democracy and opportunity for all.  

The practical result of this attitude by some U.S. intellectuals is that what should be a matter of universal principles and values becomes an ideologically driven foot note of the local and regional political arena. Democrats support Castro and Chavez, Republicans adverse them . The tragedy is that, as Einstein said, “If there is a relative truth there must be a universal truth”. There cannot be good dictatorships, Castro’s and Maduro/Chavez’s, and bad dictatorships, Pinochet’s and Franco’s. There cannot be good private sectors like in the U.S. and bad private sectors like in Venezuela. We cannot live happily in a country without state monopolies and advocate state monopolies in other countries, for abstract ideological reasons.

To me this is ethically untenable.

2 comentarios:

Rebecca Hanson dijo...

Apart from various incorrect statements made in this post, the paragraph at the beginning

She writes: “on the west side, where many of the poor people live under tin roofs, you would hardly know that the country has been stirred by weeks of unrest. Schools operate normally, restaurants serve up arepas, and residents, enjoying the extra days off that President Nicolás Maduro has given the country, prepare to crown their carnival queens.

is not even taken from the blog post I wrote. It was written by William Neuman in the New York Times in an article published Feb. 28th entitled "Slum Dwellers in Caracas Ask: What Protests?" I have no problem with criticisms of my writing, but please do not attribute words to me that are not my own.

Gustavo Coronel dijo...

Dear Ms. Hanson:
I regret my error and I have corrected it in a post I just placed in this blog. I mixed the article of William Neuman with yours. I apologize to you. If you find some other error or some opinion of mine you disagree with, I will be glad to exchange arguments with you, because I feel that the position you and your colleagues maintain at the WOLA blog and the Univ. of Georgia about Venezuela needs to be debated openly.