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This network is about providing an unbiased perspective on U.S.-Venezuela relations, so in that spirit we thought – for a starter – we would share our own experience from a recent trip to Venezuela. Scroll down to read the article. In the future we will provide information on U.S. policy initiatives, administration positions, candidates' comments, media coverage, action alerts, and other pertinent material.Our network is just getting off the ground, and we hope everyone stays involved and informed. Contact us by emailing at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling at (202) 546-7010. We look forward to your comments!
Beyond the Rhetoric:
Report from Venezuela
Reprinted from the latest Witness for Peace newsletter.
"What can we as Americans do?" This question was asked by our delegates more than once during our 12 days with Witness for Peace in Venezuela. "Tell your government to leave us alone!" was a typical response from the Venezuelans we encountered. Understanding what that means is not so easy. Searching the Library of Congress website using the keyword "Venezuela" produces a list of bills introduced in the 110th Congress. Not surprisingly, many of the bill titles and texts are filled with seemingly aggressive accusations. Words like state, sponsor, terrorism, Iranian, regime and transgression stand out as particularly alarming. As you scroll down the page other words become prominent: energy, fuel, gasoline, price, stabilization. Understanding the sentiment of Venezuelans when they say "leave us alone!" suddenly made more sense to me.
Yet, search results from the Library of Congress website may not be an accurate indicator of U.S. policy as it currently stands. During our time in Caracas I didn't see the revolutionary fervor that the United States media portrays Venezuela to have through its oil economy and allies around the world. What I saw instead was lively political debate and difficult questions. I looked for reasons for an aggressive U.S. policy, but what I saw were T.G.I.Fridays, billboards for CSI Miami and iPhones. Some may say this reflects U.S. policy, but I was looking for something else. An aggressive attitude by Venezuela toward the United States and anti-American sentiment that is often talked about in the U.S. media was missing from the picture.
Traveling to Venezuela
On March 24 of this year, a group of 26 travel delegates met in Caracas for a Witness for Peace study trip, co-sponsored by the Latin America Working Group Education Fund (LAWGEF).
Our trip focused primarily on the health care system in Venezuela, a task riddled with controversy and political polarization. Our mission was to understand the physical, psychological and spiritual health of the people of Venezuela in the context of the policies and practices of the Chavez government, U.S. policy toward the region, and recent history. Quite a task indeed!
Because both delegation organizers were well-versed in Cuba and U.S./Cuba relations, a special focus was given to the relationships among Venezuela, Cuba, and the United States and the impact of current U.S. policy on our Latin American neighbors. We learned about the Barrio Adentro program, an exchange between Venezuela and Cuba involving healthcare provision by Cuban medical professionals in Venezuela and the benefits of low-cost Venezuelan oil for Cuba. We visited facilities where Cuban doctors work with their Venezuelan counterparts to provide high-quality primary care to an underserved Venezuelan population.
The Role of U.S. Policy
In the U.S. embassy our delegation asked a lot of questions of the representative. Mostly the questions were about what we couldn't see: U.S. funding of the internal opposition, the role of the U.S. Embassy during the April 2002 military coup and resulting fiasco, the U.S.-coordinated Office of Transitional Initiatives, etc. We felt that the Embassy representative's answers were vague and that our questions made him uncomfortable. Secrecy in U.S. policy was a concern for all of us, so his answers were somewhat concerning. Nothing good can come out of labeling, hidden initiatives, and ludicrous accusations from either side. One label that we did away with, however, was "dictator." When asked if Chavez is a dictator, the U.S. Embassy representative answered unequivocally "No." We concluded that U.S. policy should be as transparent as possible, especially USAID programs that claim to "promote democracy." We felt, as U.S. citizens traveling in Venezuela, that we must demand such transparency in order to hold our own representatives accountable for their actions and their policies and to show respect for the sovereignty of our neighbors.
On our last day together as a delegation we dedicated the day to brainstorming next steps. After seeing the primary care health facilities, speaking with government and opposition political parties, meeting with representatives from international organizations and asking questions of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, all of us felt that in the United States Venezuelan current events were not being well explained. As a delegation we felt it necessary to share our experiences with others and to take action when U.S. policy is used to intimidate a sovereign country. As a result the Latin America Working Group and Witness for Peace have partnered to create an email network that keeps people informed on U.S. policy initiatives toward Venezuela. The email network will serve to keep people up-to-date on U.S.- Venezuela relations while pushing for greater transparency in the United States' role in the domestic affairs of Venezuela.