THE RACIAL CARD
Or how the saurian left tries to help Chavez beat the Recall Election in Venezuela
Thursday November 27, 2003
I have come across a rather disturbing development: Chavez has found a few guys to promote overseas the racial card to defend his Bolivarian Revolution. That is, some columnist from left wing publications are willing to buy the idea that in Venezuela the problem is basically rich-white versus black-poor.
Now, in the height of the 2002 unrest, many did buy that cliché but those that have bothered to observe Venezuela in depth have come to realize that things are not as clear cut. Indeed, way more “dark-skinned” people tend to be poorer than “light-skinned” people. However, chavista rallies have a significant sprinkling of “white” folks and since late 2002, opposition rallies have become quite a multicolored crowd. And I am not referring to the profusion of flags.
Since the end of the strike in February 2003, the opposition has slowly been scoring points internationally to the extent that these days it is seen as more democratic than the Chavez administration who benefited for quite a while of the afterglow as a victim ofthe April 12 coup. As the referendum on Chavez rule seems to creep closer to Miraflores Palace, the administration is getting desperate to shore up its foreign support, and has probably decided to stir up the vocal minority that shows up regularly at anti globalization summits and other nihilist activities. Nothing easier than to play a racial card among these groups.
I will give you two examples on how that maneuvering is unfolding.
Greg Palast is a journalist (free lancer?) for the Observer in the UK. Apparently he is on a job in Caracas for Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone checking out Venezuelan politics? Never mind. From his blog come all sorts of un-chewed thoughts on Venezuela assorted with the usual lack of information. But never mind again. Let’s instead focus on the first picture he uses in his blog, a blog that apparently will become a newspaper articles somewhere.
These are the words Mr. Palast uses to “explain” the picture.
The matronly blonde in the stylish leaopard-patterned blouse doesn't like the President of this Latin state.
Her polite interlocutor -- red t-shirt, brown skin, eyes impatiently averted
And that's what it's all about. Race and class. Whatever else you hear about Venezuela, this is the story in a single frame. Like apartheid-riven South Africa, the whites, 20% of the population, have the nation's wealth under lock and key. The Rich Fifth have command of the oil wealth, the best jobs, the English-language lessons, the imported clothes, the vacations in Miami, the plantations.
Now the brown people, like community activist Lara -- and President Chavez himself -- have a piece of the action. "Negro y indio," Chavez calls himself. Black and Indian. And the blondes don't like it.
Woah! How many clichés can one use in a single blog page!?
Let’s start with the “blonde”. A careful examination of the facial features and hair of the woman in the picture reveals that she is no blonde at all. In fact, she is a past 50 mestizo woman (native American and European origin) that suffers from a bad dye job on her graying hair. Not to mention that her “leaopard” [sic] is synthetic fabric that is found usually in the famous “lower” classes that Chavez defends.
Let’s keep going on with the “polite brown skin” (Uncle Tom anyone?). Nothing in the picture betrays impatience between the two parts. People that have to sit for 4 days under the sun one to collect and one to watch, will not look rested. But the “blond” is drinking a yellow liquid in a small cup. It does not look like she is about to throw the cup content at the polite brown.
And let’s end with South Africa. Perhaps Mr. Palast would be well advised to compare Mr. Mandela with Mr. Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Mr. Chavez. Nelson Mandela will pass in history second only to Gandhi. The Constitution that he left even includes protections for homosexuals. And Mr. Mandela made a career in reconciling two sides while the other two characters are making a career making both sides jump at each other throats. Mr. Palast is a democrat from the left? Really…
The other item is a lengthy interview granted by Chavez to Mark Weisbrot. Just from the look of it one can see that it is a piece of shoddy journalism. The questions are brief, and often leading Chavez to the “right” answer. The replies are endless, and never challenged. Thus the interview is a simple vehicle for Chavez to give his usual ranting, even if only for an Internet site. Of course the ignorance of Weisbrot is apparent in many places, but what is important for today’s topic is the question before last:
[Weisbrot]: Another topic: it is hard not to notice the difference between the color of the people on the two sides here. The opposition crowds are noticeably lighter and more European looking than those who support the government. Do you think there is a racial dimension to this struggle?
[Chavez]: Yes, there is racism here—it used to be more hidden and now it is more open. But it is not the main factor. And this is part of the picture in other countries, too—look who supported Lula, or Evo Morales [in Bolivia].
Notice first the contradiction within Weisbrot words: he recognizes first that colorations vary in each side but right there he tries to find a predictable explanation. Second, notice that Chavez confess that racism is stronger now, but himself, for all his rhetoric refuses to make a big deal out of it in spite of been given the opportunity by Weisbrot. However the interview was in May and only this week did the pro Chavez site Venezuelanalysis picked it up. A rather interesting coincidence and one would wonder what would Chavez say today.
Now, as it just happens, newspapers in Venezuela came out with the research results of Dr. Dinorah Castro from the IVIC, Venezuela’s most important research center. Dr. Castro is an anthropologist and has studied the genetic composition of Venezuelan people. I do not have the details of the study, but she claims that the individual racial contributions to the Venezuelan make up is: “The proportions are as follow: European genes 59%, Native American genes 29 % and African genes12%”. She also adds that the nature of Venezuelan colonization makes the contribution of Native and African genes to come rather from the women’s side and that of the European stock rather from the men’s side (a whole bunch of horny conquistadors would do that). Currently research is undertaken on mitochondrial DNA to confirm this.
So, Venezuela as South Africa? Please…
That Venezuela is probably the most racially mixed society in South America does not seem to stop some lefties to find quick fixes to explain complex problems. Racism is as good as any. Surely soon enough they will come up on rampant homosexuality in the opposition files, according to many chavistas. How long until Gay White Pride Marches of the opposition?
Reminds me of an old saying, you end up so far on the left that you wake up one day on the right of all. Hey! It did happen to Mussolini!
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 the cliché approach of rich/poor, white/black, has been rejected by serous newspapers such as Le Monde in France or the Washington Post in the US.
 Mark Weisbrot is a free lancer for “progressive causes”.
 Mithochondrial DNA is inherited only through the mother