As a registered Democrat who supports major changes to current US governance, I must express my utmost disappointment and disillusionment with your March 19, 2004 Statement on Venezuela. I am a US citizen of Venezuelan origin. I have voted on the democratic bill since I was first legally permitted to vote many years ago. Along with many other residents and citizens in this country, I believe the current US administration has acted in ways contrary to my beliefs and perceptions of democracy and progress, and has betrayed notions of what the United States of America should truly represent and pursue in the world community.
Up until Friday’s statement, I had hope that you, as a presidential candidate, could offer the American people a true alternative and change from the brutal, insensitive and interventionist government we have had during the past four years. As a Venezuelan-American, I must tell you that your statement on Venezuela is not only highly misplaced, but also demonstrates how truly uninformed you are about the situation in Venezuela. It also leads me to believe that you have been influenced by interested parties insisting you take a stand on this issue in their favor.
You declare that international pressure should bear on President Chavez to allow the referendum to proceed, which clearly demonstrates your ignorance of the referendum process in Venezuela. As per the Venezuelan Constitution, certain procedures must first be completed before a recall referendum can be held on President Chavez’ mandate, and those clamoring for the referendum have yet to fulfill the necessary requirements that would permit such a vote to take place. It may be easy for you to make a statement on an issue you do not fully understand or care about, merely to acquire approval from a targeted voting pool, yet I would warn you to not make such whimsical declarations without first examining the entire situation.
You, as others in the current administration and congress, may feel as though President Chavez is somehow interfering in the referendum process. But, Mr. Kerry, I suggest you seek out other news and information sources than those currently serving you, because a more accurate report of the events in Venezuela would demonstrate to you that President Chavez has taken no steps whatsoever to impede a recall referendum. Venezuela’s Electoral Council and Supreme Court are currently determining whether hundreds of thousands of potentially fraudulent signatures are subject to further review and certification. Determining whether substantial numbers of signatures on a very important petition is an issue, which I hope, you would consider worthy of scrutiny and absolute certainty. Or would you permit such a situation to occur in your own election and just let potentially fraudulent votes against you be counted without any further verification or review?
In Venezuela, it is not President Chavez, but rather the Venezuelan people who voted for him in 1998 and 1999 and still strongly support him today, who have demanded the petitions be free from fraud and corruption and have insisted the appropriate overseeing bodies ensure a fair, true and honest electoral process.
You also mention in your March 19th Statement that President Chavez has "repeatedly undermined democratic institutions using extra-legal means, including politically motivated incarcerations, to consolidate power". Honestly, Mr. Kerry, are you speaking of the same President Chavez who has been democratically governing Venezuela since 1998, has implemented one of the most progressive constitutions in the world in the area of human rights, has developed successful social programs that are benefiting millions of Venezuelans in the areas of health care, education, housing and jobs, and has brought more Venezuelans into the political process than any government in the nation’s history? The same President Chavez who survived a coup d’etat in April 2002 by an opposition movement that violently ousted him from his democratically elected post and then proceeded to dissolve all of Venezuela’s most treasured institutions, such as the Supreme Court, the National Assembly, the Constitution, the Public Defender and the Attorney General?
Prior to President Chavez’ administration, there were hosts of political prisoners in Venezuela. Yet since Chavez has been in office, there have been no political prisoners. This is a fact documented by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, and even the US State Department’s Country Report on Venezuela. And more power is in the hands of the Venezuelan people than ever before. Finally, under Chavez’ governance, more Venezuelans actually have a say in their government and feel a part of their country’s progress, development and political process.
I would also ask you, Mr. Kerry, to verify just what exactly you mean by "Chavez’s policies have been detrimental to our interests" Such a statement is not supported by fact. Under Chavez, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has been revitalized and the oil industry has surged in production and growth. This has benefited US investors, companies and refineries substantially. Venezuela has paid off a substantial portion of its foreign debt and its own domestic industries are growing. Chavez has supported legislation in the area of indigenous rights and anti-discrimination laws, and has implemented education and social welfare policies that are far more advanced than those of the United States. If anything, Venezuela has become a world leader in socially humane governance.
As to your statements regarding President Chavez’ relationship with Fidel Castro, all I can say is: give it up. Cuba is no longer any type of threat to the United States and has much to offer in the area of science, health and education. Did you know that illiteracy was eradicated in Cuba years ago? I don’t think the US could boast nearly the same. In any event, most countries in Latin America and Europe maintain a diplomatic and economic relationship with Cuba. US policy on Cuba is outdated and infantile.
Mr. Kerry, I wonder what the millions of Venezuelans receiving free education and health care, who are finally permitted to participate in their political processes, and who support a government that actually works in the interests of its people, would respond to your March 19th statement. Probably the same way that I would if they could vote in the US presidential elections this year: by not voting for you.
You can count on me as one less democratic who will vote for you, Mr. Kerry. Your understanding of democracy is clearly as stilted as that of Mr. Bush.
EVA GOLINGER lives in Brooklyn, NY. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org