Today I am publishing an interview of Alek Boyd. For readers of this page Alek Boyd is the Venezuelan activist based in London who has been able single-handedly to expose a few nice tasty misbehaving from chavista agents in the US and London. Thanks to Mr. Boyd, certain agents such as Eva Golinger have never been able to prosper as intended. Not to mention that the intricate network of lobbying and chavista propaganda in the US was in large part exposed thanks to his work which appeared in El Universal and elsewhere such as the Times of London.
Now, in a surprising move Alek has decided to follow step by step the Rosales campaign and report it in English to the larger world. As far as I know Alek Boyd is the first blogger allowed to follow live a major Venezuelan campaign (and perhaps elsewhere). You can read it all in Vcrisis. I have contacted him to ask him about his experiences since he is back in Venezuela and thus the interview. All the pictures are his on the trail, I just decided on the legends (and some UK spelling).
It has been a surprise for many of us that you have left your activist career in London to come and follow the Rosales campaign. What made you take this decision?
First of all I would like to thank you for this opportunity and the interest that my recent activities have aroused. As you rightly mentioned I have been heavily involved in political activism in London for quite some time now, but the impact of a lonely activist is very limited nowadays, especially taking into consideration the person whose behavior I decided to denounce. As you know Europeans never ceased to be extremely racist and certainly having to put up with a third-world-born individual that has zero tolerance for political correctness and other such useless dogmas has made my activism increasingly difficult. I felt that the time was ripe to come back to Venezuela, although temporarily, to prove wrong yet again those I have been denouncing in the past. Apart from that when in London not a day went by without thinking on how to become more effective in my activism and following a presidential candidate around the country certainly qualifies for it allows me to talk directly to people and get a better understanding of what goes on.
So it has been a set of circumstances. You had to leave your family behind, which is certainly tough. But you also left a lawsuit. Any news on that?
The part of leaving my family behind was indeed very difficult. As you know there are dangers of the physical sort associated with what I am doing and that was the one issue that had both my wife and I worried. Journalist have been killed in Venezuela and although local bloggers do not seem to be in the regime's radar I think my activities abroad have gained me a certain degree of notoriety among officials. One example of that is precisely the lawsuit I filled against London Mayor's Ken Livingstone who saw fit to accuse me of being a terrorist without providing one shred of evidence to support his spurious accusation. Had these allegations come from another apologist of Chavez I wouldn't have paid much attention to it. However in 2005 the Metropolitan Police shot 5 times and killed a Brazilian citizen living in London thought to be a terrorist. Other blunders such as the Forest Gate raid gave me much reason to think, deciding that the best course of action was to sue Livingstone, who, as Mayor of London, meets on a regular basis with Metropolitan Police chiefs. I have no doubts that Livingstone has been following orders from Caracas all along, even more so now that he has become head of Chavez propaganda office in London, headquartered in City Hall, and is about to launch an oil for propaganda programme that his lieutenants will implement in London's bus fleet. I have to admit that I made many mistakes in the way of presenting the case. Not having professional counsel certainly affected my chances of winning. Before even presenting his defense Livingstone offered me a settlement out of court which I decided to accept. However in a surprisingly malicious move Livingstone repeated his accusations the day after I withdrew my claim. I recently wrote a summary of the whole thing which can be read here.
I understand that you have been hired to follow the campaign as any other journalist. Could you tell us in what consists the group with whom you go around the country?
Indeed my work could be defined as that of any other journalist, although there are certain things that I'm dying to do but can't such as posing questions in press conferences. Unfortunately your regular Venezuelan journalists is rather mediocre in its approach to political coverage. Beyond the daily gossip or the last presidential utterance there's very little understanding about the impact of Chavez's policies both locally and abroad; his alliances with rogue states and propaganda activities around the world are totally unknown for these lot and that's reflected in the intellectual depth of the questions presented to Rosales.
I travel around the country with a group of journalist from different media outlets and meet with local journalists whenever we go. However not all is negative. Although the relevance of the questions posed may be a consequence of the rather shallow political debate in the country I have the utmost respect for the journalists and cameramen that I have met thus far most of them have risked their lives in their line of work. Accounts of shootings, beatings, vandalism attacks and robbery make part of their experiences. In spite of that there's a steadfast commitment to keep at it, which I find remarkable and above all admirable. Self censorship is also an issue that doesn't bode well for the flow of information. When there are limited places that one can go work and denouncing things can jeopardize one's livelihood and source of income self-preservation kicks in, hence I'm sure that when all this finishes the world will get to know the true reality of the Chavez era.
How do you file your reports? Is it easy to find communication centers wherever you go?
The initial idea was to do live blogging but in a country with such a dysfunctional telecommunications network that has proved to be a difficult task. I have had to go to internet cafes and queue for most of the PCs are being used by teenagers playing videogames. Whenever I get the chance to use a laptop with mobile internet access I'm in nirvana but that's seldom the case.
What is a typical day on the trail for Alek Boyd? How many places have you been so far?
It depends on whether I'm in Caracas or traveling around. To be frank I rather travel, having lived like a nomad for most of my life this is the aspect I enjoy the most. In Caracas wake up at around 6am, jump in the tube, head to the campaign's communication's office to sit in different meetings, discuss strategies, cover local press conferences, etc. When traveling get up at 6am, jump on a plane and go to different cities around Venezuela. Invariably rallies and other such events tend to start at around mid day, which gives me time to talk a lot to local people and learn about their issues. It's in these times that I have gathered a wealth of information about how Chavez is perceived outside Caracas. There's a lot of traveling involved. Rosales has visited up to six different cities in a given day, only to continue the following day with more rallies in cities of other states. To someone who lives and breathes politics, like me, this is the experience of a lifetime. Walking with the candidate could be considered a physically challenging extreme sport for a lot of people feel the need to touch, hug, kiss or talk to him when he passes by. As number of people increase it's very difficult to get near him. In any case I thoroughly enjoyed what I'm doing. I have been in barrios and cities in Caracas, Miranda, Guarico, Zulia, Yaracuy, Anzoategui, Monagas, Bolivar, Merida, Cojedes, Barinas, Aragua, Carabobo, Trujillo and Nueva Esparta, that is 15 states out Venezuela's 24.
Have you had the chance to speak with Rosales for more than an "hello-goodbye" moment?
Unfortunately no. I continue to be perceived as a stranger, as someone who does not belong here. The role of bloggers is yet to be understood in this country in its full dimension.
Could you tell us an anecdote or two? Do you have pictures you could share with us?
A pleasant surprise was to have heard Rosales debunking the bullshit coming from the journalist of VTV by saying "I saw on internet a picture of you, highlighted with a circle, among the crowd of journalist present on the stage of the Avalanche of Caracas. Why did you misinform about what took place?" The picture, together with the article was picked from Vcrisis, reposted in Noticierodigital and printed in a magazine called Zeta, which BTW did not do justice to what I wrote. Perhaps the best is the picture I took of Rosales after torrential rain in Punta de Mata in Monagas. Having been a rank and file adeco for most of his life it certainly was well received by him and his close collaborators for its symbolism. Then last Friday in Puerto Ordaz I took a picture of two friends, one a chavista the other a Rosales supporter. I think it encapsulates rather neatly the way Venezuela was up until Chavez screwed everything up with his hatred. (Editor's note: In the picture on the right Rosales has the yellow shirt; the picture of the two friends is posted below)
So you have been exposed to the Venezuelan division when chavista supporters come as hecklers to Rosales meeting. Is this an increasing phenomenon or do you think they are more tolerant to Rosales campaign?
In Maracay I noticed that the hecklers that attacked the Rosales march in Plaza Girardot were the same that block our way to barrio San Vicente further along the way. In Antimano I noticed that the same man that was instigating violence against us was in three different parts, again along the way. In Valera local residents told me that the 'chavistas' blocking our way didn't even live there. These are Chavez's thuggish quick action groups that seek to terrorise. However thus far they have failed miserably mainly due to the number of people that keep showing up at Rosales' rallies. When they feel safe and no one's around they reengage in their tactics, as seen in Valera when they attacked the Globovision crew.
Do you really, really get into chavista strongholds?
Well Antimano, Carapita, Caricuao and Petare in Caracas are considered Chavez's terroritory. So is Cantarana, barrio El Milagro in Valera, Barrio San Vincente and Sector Sorocaima in Maracay, cities in Anzoategui and Monagas, in sum these are appreciations of people in the know. As I have been living in London for nearly 7 years I can't tell whether this is true or not. Given the number of people who spontaneously keep showing up, to me all is Rosales' territory.
What do you think is the people's response to Rosales campaign? Do you sense that he is making inroads within chavismo?
People are showing up in increasingly large numbers at his rallies. Although the world took notice after last Saturday's Avalanche in Caracas, smaller avalanches had been taking place in the provincial cities around the country. One hears people saying "the last time I saw such a large crowd in a political event was before CAP won the first presidency." That tells a lot about people's response to his campaign. He keeps repeating a couple of mantras that I consider extremely valuable. Firstly he says that beneficiaries of misiones should be at ease for he will not prosecute anybody nor will he finish the misiones. As you know Chavez's only real success thus far has been the misiones and he plays the fear factor among his constituents assuring that if he's not around they'll lose all benefits. However in Zulia state people do not have to don red t-shirts to get access to social projects implemented by Rosales, ergo he aims at devolving dignity to the disenfranchised that do not particularly fancy to be played like political cannon fodder. The second has to do with civil servants. Chavez has degraded them to the point of compulsory assistance to political events, so pena of being dismissed should they fail to show up, or forcing them to wear red t-shirt to go to work certain days of the week. It's hard to tell whether or not this is being well received by chavismo. Well placed sources within chavismo have told me that Chavez popularity among public employees is wearing thin. Besides one can't forget that the vast majority of civil servants in this country are either adecos or copeyanos. Rosales has pledged that no public employee will be dismissed on political grounds but rather due to corruption and other unlawful practices. It's therefore safe to assume that only a handful of them have got something to fear about. In my opinion another masterstroke of Rosales is to have extended this discourse to the armed forces and Cubans working for Barrio Adentro. To the latter he has promised help to bring their families kept in captivity in Cuba. The result of these approaches will be seen on 3 December.
So Mi Negra is a hit. Can you point out to other hits?
The security plan, the health plan, the tourism plan, the project of distributing 50% of the royalties generated by the coal industry in Zulia state to its rightful owners, i.e. indigenous groups such as Wayu, Bari and Yupkas, the promise to transfer permanently land ownership to campesinos, agreements with President Uribe to safeguard our common border... Sadly for the reasons mentioned above the media has failed to inform the public about these issues but these plans if successfully implemented can have a positive impact in the short, mid and long term for the life of all Venezuelans.
Finally about yourself. Since you have been listening to Rosales speech all the time, making exceptions for all that are routine electoral promises that any politico makes on the trail, what is your perception as Rosales will and ability to at least try to fulfill some of his promises?
Well the man is a rarity to be frank. One thing that surprises me is his constant reference to "la palabra empeñada" As you know that's a practice that only honorable people consider worth keeping. In this week's visit to Zulia a waiter at the hotel where we were staying said to me that Rosales had devolved the dignity to the Zulianos. Now that was a bit of a shock to me, given the regional pride that has always characterized them. But this chap said that attitudes were changing in Zulia, that now Zulianos, though still very proud about their land and culture, are starting to behave differently in the civil sense. He said that they now think twice before dumping rubbish on the streets or disrespecting rules and regulations just for the sake of it. Still, a farmer willing to get onto the platform from where Rosales was addressing the crowd in Villa del Rosario smashed one of his bodyguards' face when he was denied access -talk about respect for norms, but all seem to believe that whenever the man promises something he always delivers. Almost every person I asked in Maracaibo, Villa del Rosario, Machiques and Ciudad Ojeda told me that he is yet to fail on his promises. He has a track record that speaks volumes about fulfilling electoral promises having being in Zulia politics for 27 years. If he cares for Venezuela as much as he does for Zulia I reckon there's a pretty good chance that this country leap frogs towards a brilliant future. He seems to act in commonsensical fashion, which again is not something one would expect from a politician that has built a career out of the gutter. What I do like about his approach is the fact that he won't become a puppet of Caracas' elites which means that decentralization will be one of the fundamentals of his administration. As the majority in this country he is a firm believer of upholding rights to private property, freedom of expression and association and the business of "la palabra empeñada" can only mean that he gives special significance to contracts and agreements.
Lastly how do you see your future when all this finishes?
Well, as I said to someone the other day, I sincerely hope that Rosales wins the election so that the possibility of returning permanently to my homeland becomes feasible. There's much to be done in this country and I am keen on participating actively in its reconstruction.
Thank you very much for your time, and for making history for Venezuelan bloggers.