Monday, August 16, 2004
Letter to Chavez
Caracas, Venezuela. Aug 13, 2004
- U.S. Reverend Jesse Jackson, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, Historian and writer Howard Zinn, activist Naomi Klein, and others sent a letter to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez offering their support ahead of the upcoming recall referendum.
A copy of the letter is below:
August 12, 2004
Dear President Chavez,
We are writing to express our solidarity during this important moment in Venezuela’s history. It is our hope and expectation that, on August 15, you will once again win an electoral mandate from the Venezuelan people to be their president.
The world knows that you are achieving something remarkable in Venezuela: you are investing your country’s vast oil wealth in ways that benefit everyone, not just small minority of well-connected elites. Over the last year your government’s literacy campaign taught one million Venezuelans to read. And today, millions of others are benefiting from the governments investment in job training, small businesses and health care.
We are disturbed by our own government’s interference in your internal affairs. The National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a group funded by the U.S. Congress, has financed radical opposition leaders in their efforts to cut short your term. Some of the individuals funded by the NED participated in the April 2002 coup attempt against you.
Polling done by both the Venezuelan government and its opposition shows that you will defeat the recall referendum on August 15. We have every expectation that on August 16 Venezuelan relations with the U.S. government will begin to improve.
We are committed to doing what we can, as U.S. citizens, to heal those relationships and encourage Congress and the White House to see Venezuela not only as a model democracy but also as a model of how a country’s oil wealth can be used to benefit all of its people.
Dr. Howard Zinn
Robert Jensen explains the nature of the U.S. Interference:
US Supports Anti-Democratic Forces in Venezuela Recall
The vehicle for this meddling in Venezuela is the National Endowment for Democracy, which calls itself "a private, nonprofit organization" but is funded by U.S. taxpayers. Its self-described mission is "to
strengthen democratic institutions around the world through nongovernmental efforts."
In the case of Venezuela, "strengthening democratic institutions" has
meant financing groups that helped carry out the failed coup attempt against Chavez in April 2002. Coup leaders representing the traditional oligarchy in Venezuela, and their supporters in the U.S. government, saw a "problem": Chavez is genuinely interested in a fairer distribution of wealth and refuses to subordinate his country to U.S. policy. Their "solution" was a coup that lasted for 48 hours, during which an illegal decree installed a businessman as president and dissolved the National Assembly and the Supreme Court.
The United States quickly backed the coup, until loyal officers and civilian groups restored Chavez to office. In the continued quest to promote "democracy," the NED kept funding some of those same opposition figures as they shifted to a strategy of work stoppages and lockouts aimed at crippling the country's vital oil industry. When that failed to dislodge Chavez, they finally took up a legal route, the recall election. (Documents regarding NED funding obtained through the Freedom of Information Act are available online at: http://www.venezuelafoia.info/)
Whatever objections U.S. officials might have to the Venezuelan president's policies, it is clear the attempts to push Chavez from power have nothing to do with the charge that he is an authoritarian president (or "quasi-authoritarian," as one U.S. newspaper described him in an editorial, or perhaps a "quasi-editorial"). Since his 1998 election, Chavez's real "crimes" have been not just consistently speaking out against the unjust distribution of resources in his country but taking tangible steps to help the poor, such as literacy programs and community-based health clinics.
It is of course, no coincidence that Venezuela sits on the fifth largest oil reserves in the world. Voter turn out has been massive; polling station hours have had to be extended twice, with polling stations open until midnight to accomodate all of the people queuing to vote.
As Aljazeera reports, right wing attacks on the democratic process are continuing to the last:
Polling station attacked in Venezuela
One person died and 10 others were wounded after unknown armed assailants opened fire on voters queuing up to vote in a referendum on the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Firefighters said unidentified armed men riding motorbikes on Sunday fired at voters just outside the capital Caracas.
"What we know is that voters were in line and people opened fire from motorbikes and there are 10 people with bullet wounds and one person died," said Caracas fire chief Rodolfo Briceno.
The incident took place in an impoverished area 17km east of the capital as Venezuelans voted in large numbers to decide whether to recall Chavez.
"There has been a massive voter turnout," says Aljazeera's correspondent in Caracas Dima al-Khatib.
In some places there have been long lines as voters wait their turn to determine Chavez's fate, she added.
Held amid a politically charged atmosphere, the referendum has heightened passions and split Venezuela between pro and anti-Chavez forces.
Both the president, who has ruled since 1998, and his opponents claim they will win the referendum.
"This is a historic day for democracy in Venezuela," Chavez told reporters shortly after submitting his vote.