By Jomo Sanga Thomas*
(“Plain Talk”, Jan. 10, 2020)
“If your desire is to get a true picture of a country, it is better to go to the reference section of a good library than to gain your information through a guided tour from devoted government officials.” — Joe Slovo, South African revolutionary leader.
These words have stuck ever since I read them more than two decades ago. Since then, I have opened my eyes just a little more, listened just a little closer, paid more attention and became far more sceptical. (All to my benefit.)
On this trip to the land of Bolivar and Chavez, we traveled through Margarita, once a busy and thriving “city state”, where nationals from across the Caribbean came to shop and turn bargains into a livelihood. Today, Margarita has been reduced to little more than a sleepy town. You ask what caused the downturn, and the almost universal response points to the western sponsored blockage, led and directed by the American government. Are there dissenters? Yes, we found people who blamed the Chavistas and socialism. If they will only go away, one man said, things will be better.
We took a ferry from Margarita to Cumana, a city in Sucre state, where we met people going about their business much as we do across the Caribbean. Some going to work or at work, others standing in line to collect cooking gas from a government facility, still others selling trinkets or begging. Others just liming on the street corners or in public spaces in the imposingly beautiful country.
Then the journey of a lifetime. We travelled, by car, for more than seven hours, sometimes at breakneck speed from Cumana to Caracas. We zipped through Miranda state and saw people, black like us, smiling, walking and working. Passing through towns and villages, we witnessed something truly creative and unique, people “set up shop” in the middle of the highway selling fruits, vegetables and juices to motorists. How did they do that?
There were speed bumps on the highway so motorists must slow down. In addition, these were convenient police checkpoints. Security did their jobs. People sold their goods. We saw no antagonism between the poor and the police as we witness daily on the streets of SVG.
Nothing however prepared us for what we witnessed in Caracas. We expected a dreary city with its lifeblood choked. We found a metropolis much like New York or Lagos; activity unlike Kingston or Bridgetown. View BBC, CNN and MSNBC or read the New York Times, Jamaica Gleaner or Trinidad Guardian, and they portray images of starving people eating out of garbage bins, empty shops and supermarkets, dirty streets and hungry children as the predominant way of life.
Clearly, this is a contrivance intended to make believe that the government is inept, corrupt, unable to govern, and things are falling apart. There are challenges, huge challenges. This is no attempt to sugar-coat reality. The inflation rate is beyond imagination. The exchange rate is 75,000 Bolivars to US$1. Things are tough for the poorer classes and may get even harder, but the media picture is grossly exaggerated. Moreover, many in the lower classes will not survive without government assistance. As it is in Jamaica and SVG as well.
We saw no evidence that people were dying from starvation. In Caracas, we saw no more begging than elsewhere in the Caribbean. We were pleasantly surprised by the dental health of the population; no missing teeth and only a few persons with rotting teeth. We learn that this great achievement was attained because of government-sponsored programme, “Smile Venezuela”.
Venezuela has been producing oil for about 100 years. The last twenty years is the first time in which most of the country’s resources were directed towards addressing the pressing needs of the people. For the commitment and choice away from the ruling and middle classes and towards the people, the Chavistas have been forced to fight for their survival. The West makes the economy scream thus creating hardships for the people.
In the face of the negative press Venezuela has received, we must remember not to forget that the revolution brought free health and dental care, free education and millions of homes for mostly ordinary citizens. How much more could have been achieved if the most powerful countries on earth will leave the people to choose their own path of development and refrain from their wrecking policies?
We were in Venezuela last Sunday when Juan Guaido, the Trojan horse of America, was soundly repudiated by the National assembly with the help and assistance of members of the conservative opposition. At the assembly session, Guaido assessed that he did not have the votes to be returned as President of the National Assembly refused to entry the chamber. He later untruthfully claimed that he was prevented from entering. He also falsely declared that there was not a quorum (minimum of 84 members) for the assembly meeting when, in fact, 115 members attended.
President Maduro, so often underrated as a bus driver and trade unionist, has proven to be a skilled strategist and tactician. Always speaking of dialogue, peace and the dignity of the Bolivarian Republic, he has outmanoeuvred his opponents. Amidst great odds and difficulties, he has held the republic together and continues to deliver necessities to the people.
It is not an easy task battling the most powerful forces on earth; forces that possess the economic, financial, cultural, political and military heft and the wherewithal to do serious harm to your country and survive. The proof of that power is reflected in the fact that the American government was able to impose the unknown Juan Guaido on the nation and hoist him onto the world stage. Fifty nations to recognise the usurper. When he was declared president, 85% of Venezuelans did not know who he was.
A world order of independence and economic justice, respect for a nation’s sovereignty and right to self- determination is needed now more than ever. We must commit to fight for it or risk living in a world of endless wars and strife, deprivation, environment degradation and exploitation of the world’s peoples.
Venezuela is contributing towards the emergence of a new and better world. The least we can do is offer solidarity.
As the poet Claude Mc Kay says, “If we must die, let us all die like men.”
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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