Venezuela: Kerry’s Done It Again!

A new statement by John Kerry confirms he is playing dirty politics and stepping all over Venezuela’s sovereignty in the name of his own misleading political gain

Dear Candidate Kerry:

Political campaigns are difficult. The upcoming 2004 presidential elections in the United States are critical for the Democratic Party. Those opposed to the war in Iraq and the interventionist foreign policy of the Bush administration consider Bush’s removal from power as a matter of life and death, literally. Progressives, liberals, democrats and moderates have rallied around campaigns to ensure President Bush does not return to the White House for a second term. Conscious citizens are well aware that a cross section of voters needs to support one candidate to oppose Bush in a unified manner, to avoid the disaster of the 2000 elections, which resulted from a divide in constituents seeking a true alternative to the US political landscape.

Mr. Kerry, the Democratic National Convention has not taken place and you have not yet been selected as the Democratic Candidate for the 2004 presidential elections. Of course, you are the frontrunner, but you, more than most, understand the nature of politics and are well aware that things can change dramatically at the drop of a hat. After your first Statement on Venezuela a couple of months ago, I pondered over the reasons behind such blatant inaccuracies and political pandering. Many came to your defense claiming it was your advisors, not you, who had written and made public the statement. Then, I watched you on the Univisión channel, to my horror, claiming that President Chávez of Venezuela was on the path to becoming a dictator. After that interview on Univisión, it became clear that you truly felt (as true as politicians can feel) that President Chávez’s view of democracy was different than yours.

Even so, your statements were written off as mere dirty campaign politics. For some reason, you think that making extreme statements against President Chávez and taking sides in Venezuela’s polarized politics will garner you votes from the anti-Chávez and anti-Castro community in South Florida. At the same time, it is difficult to believe that you could be so naive as to truly think that Jeb Bush’s state would go to you if you make it to the 2004 elections.

So, where does that leave your position on Venezuela? Your recent statement on the Referendum Process in Venezuela (May 27, 2004) is a true eye-opener. Mr. Kerry, you have successfully aligned yourself with the stance of the Bush Administration with respect to Venezuela and foreign policy in general. Not only do you once again expose your clear lack of knowledge of Venezuela’s politics, Constitution and history, but you make such inaccurate statements and judgments that your capacity as a potential head of state is undermined. The only answer to why you would make such outrageous claims as stating that President Chávez has “undermined the constitution and used his Bolivarian Circles to repress peaceful dissent…” is that you care nothing about Venezuela and have chosen to use it as a stepping-stone to the presidency. You obviously believe that by berating the Bush Administration for not being tougher on Chávez, you will appear as a true democrat, a crusader for democracy. While chastising the Bush Administration for its messy war in Iraq, you attempt to use Venezuela to evidence some sort of “double standard” it has been playing.

Mr. Kerry, Venezuela is not Nicaragua and we are not reliving the 1980s, although many of the characters are the same on the U.S. side. Do not think that you can correct your errors of the past by using Venezuela as a rug you can so dismissingly wipe your feet on. How righteous of you to claim that Venezuelan people are entitled to a “government that respects human rights and the rule of law…” Apparently, you have no knowledge whatsoever of the Venezuelan Constitution and the significant amount of laws that have been enacted and implemented during the Chávez Administration that ensure and guarantee a more ample gamma of human rights than are even recognized by the United States. Lest you disregard the guaranteed rights to healthcare, education, housing, decent wages, indigenous languages and lands and freedom from discrimination of any type as important not only to Venezuela’s growth and future, but also for all those seeking social justice and world progress.

The recall referendum in Venezuela is a constitutional right, but as any legal process, rules must be followed and standards met in order to exercise this delicate procedure. The two-part process began last November 2003 with a signature drive set to collect a minimum of 2.4 million signatures of registered voters residing in Venezuela who desired a recall on President Chávez’s mandate. After the drive was complete on December 1, 2003, the opposition group Súmate, a recipient of National Endowment for Democracy funds, held the petitions for 19 days, with no reason offered for such an untimely delay. As such, the petitions were turned in at the commencement of the December holidays and the process delayed through January 2004. Once the National Electoral Council in Venezuela began review of the petitions, questions arose as to more than 800,000 signatures that had been filled out with the same handwriting, in violation of the referendum rules that had been widely advertised in print and on national television, in skillfully crafted commercials created and funded by Súmate. Additionally, more than 300,000 signatures were immediately disqualified as fraudulent use of deceased citizens’ and minors’ identification, as well as duplicates of those eligible to sign. This is an unusually high number of outright fraudulent signatures in petitions of this type.

Despite your misinformation, Mr. Kerry, the Government of Venezuela has abided by all regulations and guarantees since the beginning of the referendum process. Those clamoring for the recall have done the opposite. Calls for violence and civil disobedience are frequent by the opposition. Attempts to sabotage the process of the referendum have been numerous by those calling for the illegal ouster of President Chávez. The process underway this weekend, the “reparos”, is an uncanny chance for those requesting the recall to actually revalidate those signatures that did not comply with the regulations. In most petitions of this type, signatures found to be incompliant would be immediately disqualified. But, due to the level of tension and polarization in Venezuela, the Government and opposition negotiated an agreement to permit more than 800,000 incompliant signatures to be either “repaired” by their signors or disqualified permanently.

Yet, Mr. Kerry, you apparently omitted these facts from your “Statement” and unabashedly continue to paint the Venezuelan Government as an enemy of democracy while lauding the opposition that not only doesn’t represent the majority of Venezuelans but also led a brief violent coup d’etat in April 2002 against President Chávez and has continued to engage in undemocratic activities aiming to oust the elected government. Your advisors on Latin America must be akin to Otto Reich and Roger Noriega, as your politics on the region are obviously in line with those desiring regime change in a democratic nation against the will of the people.

Mr. Kerry, please take a moment to seek out the facts on Venezuela. President Chávez has done nothing to jeopardize democracy. Venezuela does not have a Patriot Act that permits silent warrants and detentions without due process. There are no political prisoners in Venezuela and there is absolute freedom of the press. These facts have been documented by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. The opposition you so unconditionally support has committed the most heinous crimes against democracy – a coup d’etat, the dissolution of all of Venezuela’s institutions, an illegal strike that crippled the economy, massive electoral fraud and the employment of Colombian terrorists to execute an ultimate ouster of Venezuela’s government.

Salvage your candidacy, Mr. Kerry, if you truly believe in democracy. Stop treating Venezuela as a mere political tool in your ascendancy to the presidency of the most powerful nation in the world. You won’t get the votes of the South Floridians who share these views, but you will lose the votes of democrats and progressives who believe in democracy for the people and social justice.

Shame on you once again, Mr. Kerry, for playing dirty politics and for stepping all over Venezuela’s sovereignty and participatory democracy in the name of your own misleading political gain.

Eva Golinger, Esq.
Venezuelan-American in Brooklyn, NY USA

Kerry Statement on the Referendum Process in Venezuela
May 27, 2004

The coming days will be critical for the future of democracy in Venezuela.  President Chavez and all Venezuelans must understand that the international community will be watching closely to ensure that the signature validation process proceeds openly and impartially.

The Venezuelan people are entitled to a government that respects human rights and the rule of law, fights corruption and builds consensus through the democratic process. Yet after being democratically elected and promising reform, President Chavez has treated opponents as enemies rather than seeking to heal the divisions that have plagued Venezuela. He has undermined the constitution and used his Bolivarian Circles to repress peaceful dissent as his government systematically moved to expand its powers.
When the referendum process presented a legitimate challenge to his leadership, President Chavez lost an opportunity to demonstrate the popular support he claims to enjoy, instead showing a troubling disregard for the rule of law.  Particularly concerning are recent reports of numerous human rights violations.  Over the past weeks, President Chavez has used questionable pretexts to justify further arming of militias and intimidation of the press and the referendum’s supporters.

The disturbing trend towards establishment of an authoritarian regime must be reversed now, so that the referendum can begin a process of national reconciliation.  President Chavez has a responsibility, as the head of state, to protect the interests of all Venezuelans by allowing the recall signatures to be reviewed in an atmosphere of calm and transparency. Representatives of the OAS and the Carter Center must be given full and unfettered access to all aspects of the process. Given the need to verify hundreds of thousands of signatures, more time should be granted if necessary to allow this process to be completed in an orderly manner.

To date, the Bush administration has regrettably chosen not to play a true leadership role in bringing international pressure to bear on President Chavez to allow the referendum to proceed without interference.  Indeed, their tacit support for the ill-conceived April 2002 military coup against Chavez has undermined their ability to play that role.  With our credibility and the hopes of so many at stake, I call on the Administration and our allies in the region to stand strong for the democratic process in Venezuela.