Alek, so what brought you to Venezuela last week?
Thanks so much for the interest Daniel, and the opportunity to explain my views and current activities. Work reasons bring me here. Since early this year I have been doing research for the Human Rights Foundation.
Does that mean you have been traveling around Latin America? Could you tell us some about that?
Indeed, I have been traveling quite a lot lately. We were invited, as international observers, to the autonomy referendum in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. This was an incredible experience, having been in Venezuela's presidential campaign in 06 and knowing, as we do, the sort of 'elections' that we have here, where our president feels he can consider whether or not to accept results, I could only feel envy at Bolivia's utterly transparent electoral system. I had the opportunity, as anybody interested in doing so, of witnessing vote counting at all levels. Democracy is a remarkable thing, when it works as it should. Our report should be published soon.From there I went to Ecuador, for I wanted to visit Guadalupe Llori, Prefect of Orellana, who was thrown in prison last December, merely for criticizing President Rafael Correa. Fortunately, our advocacy work to raise awareness about Guadalupe, by any measure a prisoner of conscience, has been echoed by Amnesty International and the International Society for Human Rights, alas the silence of feminists and gender movements is deafening. While there I also met with Guayaquil's Mayor Jaime Nebot and other figures to coordinate future projects. President Correa decided recently to attack the Human Rights Foundation's legitimate mission of defending civil and political rights, but sadly he did not address issues raised about trumped charges, illegal detention and violations perpetrated against Guadalupe.
Then I had the chance to go to Cuba. Words fail me to describe the situation in that place, for abject poverty, the regime's repressive security apparatus, lack of information, brutal prosecution, the embargo, etc., are not what make Cuba's reality so asphyxiating. Rather it is the ever present knowledge that one does not even control one's own destiny. Poverty I have seen in lots of places, even in London or New York. However the poor in such places are free to do what they please. In Cuba, only a couple of people get to do that. It is a soul piercing experience, aggravated by the hypocrisy of most nations, and thousands of tourists that flock the island to have the sex and the life, albeit brief, they can't afford in their own countries owing to personal and financial shortcomings. But then, one meets people like Yoani Sanchez, who against all odds are doing extraordinary things to voice their discontent. Her's is but one example of many others, which, need be stressed, are doing even more remarkable things that are unknown outside Cuba. Then one concludes that freedom, and the struggle to live free, is not an advanced society's thing but intrinsic to human nature. I guess that's why no matter how long such experiments last, at the end, invariably, freedom comes.
Any parallelism with Venezuela? What do the folks you met think about Venezuela in these countries?
Parallelisms? Yes and no. Chavez is, of course, trying to copy some of Castro's formulas. However, given Venezuelan's anarchical nature, product of decades of doing pretty much what they want at all levels of society, Chavez's intended project is, evidently, a failure. As a matter of fact, I'd counter the argument "Venezuela se esta cubanizando" with "Cuba se esta venezolanizando". The thousands that have arrived in these shores are, without a doubt, the best advocates for freedom there are in Cuba these days: they come, they get paid a fortune (compared to Cuba's 12 CUC/month national salary), they read, talk, eat meat, drink, travel, interact, buy and do pretty much what they please. They feel free, in most cases for the first time in their lives. Then, they go back, and tell big tales, which every new listener sexes up, as in Chinese Whispers game. It's like a virus, corroding uncontrollably, eating away communism 'values.' Chavez is not only his biggest enemy here, our money, contrary to what he intends, is liberating souls and provides the best taste of freedom there is.
Presidents Morales and Correa are in turn trying to replicate Chavez's formulas. If the first pupil, with all its money, is having such trouble imposing the Cuban script here, you can imagine how the other two are faring. An argument I like to use is "Castro wrote the 100-pages script: Chavez has taken Venezuela to page 47, Morales is lagging behind in page 20 and Correa is not even in page 10." In all three cases instead of going forward the contrary is taking place, revolutions in involution. Modeling our countries' democracies into Castroite systems just won't happen. In this front, Latin American democrats should take pause and learn from Bolivia's experience. What the prefects of the "Media Luna" and Tuto Quiroga's PODEMOS party have done is to show precisely that it can be done. That these attempts to impose authoritarianism, regardless of how well financed, how military powerful, how popular, can't take root and succeed if people unite and defend their freedoms and democracy.
A lot of people are watching what's happening here. Tuto Quiroga, for instance, told me that we had the second most powerful politician in Latin America. When I asked who that was in awe, he replied "General Raul Baduel." People in Cuba know the names of our student leaders and opposition politicians. President Correa will have a terribly difficult time to get his constitution approved, no matter how many TV and radio networks he expropriates or how many indigenous leaders he jails. Where intrinsic features don't work their magic, inflation, corruption and mismanagement of incumbents do the trick. It's just not going to happen. We are a basket case, an experiment that will never succeed.
I remember well the outrage that one of my last posts from Venezuela in 06 caused. This is odious but time has proved me right. The crisis that Venezuela experiences is of a sort that does not bother the majority of Venezuelans. It is a crisis of the moral type that evidently goes unnoticed in a largely amoral society. Values and priorities are upside down in my opinion, and things have turned for the worse. Venezuelans seem to have grown accustomed to all manner of abuses from the State and its officials. To me, having an independent judiciary, where I can go get redress when somebody violates my rights and those of my family is infinitely more important than buying a new car, or having my wife enlarge her boobs. To me, being in an environment where my kids can: be safe, think independently, criticize, voice their opinions and reject safely cult-type behavior is more important than seeing them grow up in a place devoid of intellectual challenges, where fatuousness is the norm. To me, living without fear is invaluable. To me, a society that prices viveza rather than effort, intelligence and hard work is not worth living in. To me, listening to married men, purportedly committed and compromised with high moral values, relating with pride their latest extramarital sexual fling is just disgusting. But then again, I am certainly not a representative of the majority.
What do you think about Venezuela today?
What do you think about Venezuela today?
So the majority sees no crisis here. But then one meets with folks such as the second most important politician in Latin America, according to Quiroga. A man who has known and been with Chavez for more than twenty years and brought him back when we were still in shock for what had happened in April 02; and one listens to his outraged account about the perils that allowing Chavez in power represents; and one learns that his grief with Chavez, allegedly owing to discrepancies of preferred timing to attempt a coup d'etat, dates back to December 1991, and marvels at inside stories about how multi million dollar commissions for weapons deals are made and known about, or how Chavez decides which lackey will replace which in which ministry; and then one concludes that this country has the government, and the opposition, it deserves. Our lack of engagement and dysfunctional moral compass have brought us to where we're at.
TellChavez, whereby we want to raise awareness about Venezuela's political prisoners and the atrocious conditions in which they're kept. President Hugo Chavez has had the nerve to say that there are no political prisoners in Venezuela but politicians in jail. What we are aiming at is to expose his hypocrisy in this respect, with specific cases. This will be followed with a joint project with Observatorio Venezolano de Prisiones.
Which is your latest project?
Which is your latest project?
Thank you for this on-line interview. We must congratulate you for having been able to reinvent yourself and gone on to bigger things than Chavez.