Originally published on December 18, 2002 by Trinicenter.com
Venezuela Analysis note: When this article was written, Venezuela was undergoing a lock-out and strike mainly affecting the oil company PDVSA, which was promoted by the Chamber of Commerce FEDECAMARAS, the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers, and other opposition groups including the mainstream commercial media. For the effects of the lock-out and strike, and the country´s recovery afterwards, see Venezuela's economy shows strong signs of recovery after lock-out/strike
This month, for the first time in history, Venezuelan people of African descent have total control of their historic Black university, the Instituto Universitario Barlovento. They are already planning a university administered hotel and a restaurant for students, faculty and the community. This is an achievement of a lifetime, and the people of Barlovento gather around their seat of higher learning to reflect on their success.
Another topic on their minds and hearts is the fate of President Hugo Chavez. He is Venezuela's first multiracial president and is called "Negro" (nigger) by his detractors because of his African-Indigenous features. Behind the enemies of Venezuela and Hugo Chavez are very large sums of money being spent to destroy the dreams of the people who historically have been discriminated against because of race, economic ideas, etc.
These dreams of the African Venezuelan people may be deferred if the United States replaces Chavez with a rightwing businessman as president. Currently, three Blacks are state governors elected by the people; the secretary of education is black; two Indigenous Venezuelans are congresspersons elected directly by the people; Indigenous Venezuelans have the complete right to claim their historic lands; land is protected and available to Black and Indigenous Venezuelan farmers so that they can now engage in farming for the first time in generations; and Venezuelans of African descent are participating in conferences against racism around the world and establishing strategic relationships with international organizations. They have attended Congressional Black Caucus conferences in 2000, 2001 and 2002; the pre-conference against racism in Chile in 2000; and the United Nations World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, in 2001. The African Venezuelan community in Barlovento also hosted the Second International Reunion of the African Latin Family in 1999.
Sixty percent of the population of Venezuela are people of African descent. The others are Mestizos of Indigenous and European descent and Indigenous. The support of the people of African descent in the United States is one of the most strategic factors in helping the people of African descent survive and prosper in Venezuela.
President Hugo Chavez was elected in a democratic election with more than 70 percent of the 11 million votes cast. One of his first actions was to call for an election of a National Constituency Assembly whose mission was to reform the 1969 national Constitution. During 40 years of democracy this Constitution was used to avoid empowering the people. The election of the National Constituency Assembly allowed the participation of students, business related organizations, community representatives and parties opposed to the president in the Assembly. The entire society had its opportunity in the Assembly.
The National Constituency Assembly designed a new national Constitution, which was widely discussed all around the country. Then a national election was called to consider the acceptance of the new Constitution. The Venezuelan people, by direct vote, said, "We do accept the new Constitution" in 1999. New national elections were called at all levels of government to test the acceptance of the new Constitution and renegotiate the public powers. President Hugo Chavez, again, won the election with over one million votes more than his closest opponent. The party supporting Chavez also won, as did several state governors who belonged to the party.
During his three years in power – the complete term is six years – President Chavez has been an advocate for the education of the poor. After 50 years of being eliminated, full schedule schools were opened with schedules from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., allowing children to stay longer in recreational programs and special classes, apart from receiving free breakfast and lunch.
Never before have small businesses flourished with the full support of the government at the local and national levels. Chavez has opened the doors for the participation of those who have long been excluded.
When President Chavez came to power, 80 percent of the population lived below poverty. Overcoming this difficult obstacle requires a joint effort at all levels of society. Unfortunately, the support has not echoed in the upper economic brackets of Venezuelan society. What have they done? Organizing a coup is not the way to support the government.
Venezuela is the fourth largest oil producer in the world and the second largest oil exporter to the United States. President Chavez has never threatened the export of oil to the U.S. He has visited the U.S. about five times, holding meetings with businesspersons, seeking to stimulate foreign investment in Venezuela in order to raise the level of employment and mitigate the conditions of the poor.
Unfortunately, the sectors of society wanting to reverse these important advances decided to violate Venezuelan democracy. A group of renegade military generals formed a coalition with "businessmen" – land owners whose ancestors stole it from Indigenous Venezuelans and used enslaved African labor to build the Venezuelan economy and society.
Some members of the press also belong to the business establishment. Three main private TV stations led a campaign against the evolution of democratic change in the same style Hitler used against the Jews: "Say a lie a thousand times and everybody will believe it as a truth."
These forces formed a coup to destroy freedom in Venezuela. For three days they controlled the government and instituted practices not seen in Venezuela since the ‘50s, during the days of the military rulers. Venezuelans in their 60s were astonished to see such violations of civil rights.
Leaders of the coup imprisoned President Chavez, isolating him from any public contact, lying about a presidential resignation, dissolving all legitimate national powers at all levels. Then they started hunting down the legitimate member of Congress and of the president's cabinet. Even the Supreme Court was forced to resign. They did all that in a period of three days. Further, they derogated the 1999 constitution.
In response, however, people of all races and backgrounds took to the streets, the military bases and public buildings to liberate President Chavez. He is in control again.
Venezuelans watched with deep concern how Ari Fleisher, Bush's press secretary, and Condoleezza Rice, Bush's defense advisor – a black woman – avoided calling the coup against President Chavez what it really was: a vulgar, right wing coup against a democratic government. Both have used vague rhetoric to criticize Chavez' administration rather than condemn the coup. The Bush administration in general looked with sympathy at the coup and issued no declaration condemning it.
The New York Times also has presented the facts in a less than objective way. Rather than going into the countryside to talk with the people, Times reporters appear to have visited only the Caracas suburbs to assess public opinion. Furthermore, the local media consider only the opinions of wealthy people. All other opinions are considered unworthy. So, if you are poor or if you are not in agreement with the media, then you are not considered a part of the public opinion.
U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd has expressed dismay over the Bush administration's behavior regarding the situation in Venezuela. His position is an example of goodwill and is appreciated by Venezuelans.
There's an international effort to destroy the public image of President Chavez. Let us briefly analyze it.
1) Hugo Chavez has visited Iraq, Iran and Libya. Because he is a friend of those nations, he is branded an enemy of the United States. Venezuela and the countries visited by President Chavez are members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Together with these countries, Venezuela regulates oil prices and must agree with them on strategies for maintaining profitability while at the same time making prices affordable to the oil importing countries such as the U.S. With 60 percent of its national budget based on oil income, clearly Venezuela must talk with members of OPEC. This doesn't make Venezuela a partner in terrorism as has been insinuated by the U.S. and the media.
2) Hugo Chavez is a friend of Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro. It is insinuated that he is therefore an enemy of the U.S. Venezuela is a free and self-determining nation in its business relations with Cuba. It has a right to have business relations with China or any other country.
3) It is said that Hugo Chavez didn't condemn the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, and is therefore an enemy of the U.S. But President Chavez most certainly did condemn the Sept. 11 attacks and said, just as France and Russia and the Pope did, that he doesn't support a heavy and indiscriminate attack against Afghanistan which might cause civilian casualties. The Bush administration considers neither the presidents of France and Russia nor the Pope as enemies of the U.S. and is not willing to plan and finance a coup against those leaders because they express humanitarian points of view.
4) President Chavez is said to be a supporter of the Colombian guerrillas and is therefore involved in terrorism. The truth is that President Chavez has condemned terrorism in Colombia. Furthermore, the Venezuelan government under his administration has been a mediator in peace talks between the guerrillas and the Colombian government.
5) The people of the U.S. should think deeply about U.S. support of the failed coup and its leaders and its plans to change the regime in Venezuela. The result of President Chavez' trip to oil exporting countries was agreement on a solid oil price. In Venezuela, the price of oil is extremely important for education, health care and public services generally. The first declaration of the leaders of the failed coup was the abandonment of the quota system, which caused oil prices to drop.
Alejandro Correa is an African Venezuelan professor at the new Barlovento University, located in the Miranda state where large numbers of African Venezuelans live.
Willie Thompson is a professor emeritus at City College of San Francisco, and he is very active around issues affecting Blacks in the Americas.
Note from Willie Thompson: Africans and people of African descent are beginning to tell our own story. Most other people have no vested interest in telling the truth about us. Professor Correa of Barlovento University is an African Venezuelan, and he tells the story of the achievements of African Venezuelans, the United States' participation in the failed attempt to overthrow President Chavez, and the certain reversal of the social, economic, cultural and psychological gains to African Venezuelans if President Chavez is overthrown. He pleads with us to
1) discuss in open forums, churches and community organizations the U.S. attacks on Venezuela and the conditions there, and
2) write letters to the U.S. Congress asking that the U.S. respect the Venezuelan government and follow the rule of law and international treaties in dealing with Venezuela.
You can trust his advice and act on it.
I can be reached at Willliemackthompson_22335msn.com