Dennis on the Road

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Reflections on Chavez & Venezuelan Politics

(I wrote this in Venezuela but am just getting around to posting it now… Sorry)

One of the greatest things about this trip is that I’m NOT in the US right now. Don’t get me wrong, I love my country, but I think that everyone needs an international perspective, especially in these times.

It is amazing how blinded we are to what is happening in the world and what the roll of the US is in that. For example, how many times each day do you think about the fact that we are at war. Does it feel like it? Do you experience it? Can you imagine what it means that well over 100,000 Iraqis have died?

As I’m sure you can imagine, the perspective of the Venezuelan media of the US and US/Latin American relations is very different than Fox News. There was a lot of coverage of Bush’s recent trip to Argentina. Chavez was there too, and he packed a soccer stadium with socialists and progressives. Chavez does not hold his tongue when speaking about “Mr. Danger”, who is universally disliked in Venezuela. Even the most fiercely anti-Chavez Venezuelans I met didn’t think for a second before answering “¡absolutamente no!” when I jokingly asked if they wanted to trade presidents.

It barely made the news in the States when Chavez offered to help the victims of Huricane Katrina (which Bush, who was famously slow in his response, refused), or when Chavez unveiled a plan to help poor Americans in urban centers with far-below market oil for heating their homes this winter.

In an interview with Ted Koppel in September, Chavez said, “We do love the people of the United States. We want to be brothers and sisters of the people of the United States, independently of their government.” The two months of kindness and generosity I am experiencing on this trip is evidence that Chavez was sincerely speaking from the hearts of his people when he said this on US Television.

After traveling throughout Venezuela, a lot of conversations, a bit of reading, and a lifetime of leaning left, I confess that I am a “Chavista.” I like the man’s bravado, but more than that, I appreciate his vision for Venezuela and beyond. The US would do well to study some of his “misiones”. For example, there is Mision Mercal, a government-owned chain of grocery stores in poor communities, with fresh and healthy food that is far less expensive than commercial stores. Contrast this with the fact that the poorest communities in the US are served almost exclusively by liquor stores with real groceries nowhere in site. Then there is Mision Robinson, a nationwide adult literacy campaign. The woman who ran the small posada where I stayed in the Andes, hours from a paved road, was learning to read for the first time in her life. It seems simple, but seeing her write a note for me to take to a friend, slowly and carefully sounding out each word, really touched me. There is are misiones to open new universities that cost next to nothing all over the country and to improve the quality of elementary and secondary education in the poorest areas. In another mision, Chavez has brought thousands of doctors from Cuba to establish clinics in the most needy areas, and with Mision Milagro he funds all expenses for those needing cataract surgery to regain vision to travel to Cuba for the operation. The slums of Caracas, crudely built houses that seem to be piled one-upon-the-next on the hills above the city, attest to the fact that an overnight about-face is impossible, but I believe that a course has been set in the right direction. To get a glimpse of some more of the programs Chavez has introduced, skip to the second half of this article in the LA Times

For the few of you who have actually read to this point and are not yet bored with political discourse, I suggest these links to keep up on news in Venezuela.


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