Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Desperate to Save His Legacy, Obama Chooses Cuba

The announcement came as a welcome surprise to millions around the world who have long awaited a major change in US policy towards Cuba. In simultaneous broadcasts, presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama bridged the painful, unjustified and well-outdated gap that has tormented both nations for over half a century. In a matter of sentences, relief came to the many Cubans, at home and abroad, Latin Americans region-wide, and people across the US and world who cheered at the declared thaw in US-Cuba relations. After more than 50 years, the heads of state of both countries spoke on the telephone and agreed to reestablish diplomatic ties. The US would open its Embassy in Havana, and Cuba would do the same in Washington. It was a major breakthrough, to say the least.

It was Castro who was quick to remind his fellow citizens that, while applauding the decision of the first standing US president to actually improve ties with Cuba, the vicious blockade imposed against his nation by Washington still remains. Obama was also cautious to mention that though there were concrete actions he could take towards normalizing relations with Cuba, it was the US Congress that had the authority to end the blockade, and not him. He did urge Congress to take those steps, while lashing out a few patronizing admonitions at Castro regarding democracy and human rights.

Without a doubt, one of the most important victories of the deal was the release of the three remaining Cuban citizens, Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino and Antonio Guerrero, unjustly held in US prisons for 16 years on charges of espionage and other crimes. Even the United Nations Commission on Human Rights had condemned their trial as arbitrary and unfair, their due process and fundamental rights severely violated. These men were finally able to return home to a hero’s welcome, after an agreement was brokered between the two governments that also saw the return of a USAID subcontractor convicted on charges of subversion in Cuba, Alan Gross, and a Cuban citizen and former intelligence officer, Rolando Sarraff Trujillo, jailed for working as a double agent for the US Central Intelligence Agency.

There is no question that this event marks a profound change in US-Cuba relations and US relations with Latin America. And it is a major victory for the Cuban Revolution, Fidel and Raul Castro and the Cuban people. Over the past fifteen years, Washington has lost its influence in Latin America and the region has shifted significantly towards the left with socialist presidents in a majority of countries and new regional organizations that exclude the United States and Canada. With the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), the Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), Latin America has become more integrated, sovereign, independent and powerful than ever before. The region has forged relations with China, Russia, Iran and other sovereign states with strong markets and technological know-how. Development has excelled and with few exceptions, Latin American economies are on the rise. All this has been achieved without the United States.

In response, Washington amped up its interference in the region, supporting coups and attempted coups against democratically-elected presidents in Venezuela, Haiti, Bolivia, Honduras, Ecuador and Paraguay, increasing its military presence in the hemisphere and intensifying subversive efforts to undermine Latin American governments through multimillion-dollar funding of opposition movements. Those actions isolated Washington even more in the region and were rejected unanimously by all Latin American governments, even those on the right. A growing sentiment of “Patria Grande” (The Great Homeland) has taken root in the region and only appears to get stronger every year.

When Obama was elected president and first attended a Summit of the Americas regional gathering in Trinidad in 2009, he promised a new relationship with Latin America, based on regaining US influence in the region. He either ignored or ignorantly misunderstood the changes that had taken place throughout Latin America and had the gall to stand before 33 heads of state and high-level representatives of regional governments and tell them to “forget the past” and move forward together with the United States towards new relations. His arrogant rhetoric reminded the people of Latin America the importance of consolidating and advancing their sovereignty and integration on their own terms. At that summit, a majority of nations, with the exception of the US and Canada, condemned the fact that Cuba continued to be excluded from the Organization of American States solely because of Washington’s influence. In 2012, at the next Summit of the Americas, President Rafael Correa of Ecuador refused to attend in a sign of solidarity with Cuba. “Ecuador won’t be a part of these summits until Cuba is included”, he made clear.

A few months ago, well before Obama and Castro announced efforts to normalize relations, the government of Panama had made public that Cuba would be invited to the 2015 Summit of the Americas, which it will host. Cuba has indicated it would attend. This decision was clearly a sign that Washington’s influence no longer reigned in Latin America - even the regional organization created by Washington to dominate and control the region was now rendered irrelevant.

Nevertheless, Obama’s move on Cuba was not without immediate consequence. While there is no question that the decision to reestablish diplomatic relations, along with the release of the remaining three of the five unjustly detained Cubans, is an enormous, historical victory for the Cuban Revolution, and a tribute to the resistance, dignity and solidarity of the Cuban people, Obama’s motives are not pure.
The day after a well-crafted presidential speech on how US policy has failed in Cuba, which acknowledged the blockade and economic embargo of Cuba had been a fiasco, Obama signed bills imposing sanctions on both Venezuela and Russia. There is little doubt that the sanctions bill against Venezuela, an absurd law titled the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014, was signed by Obama to appease the small, but influential group of rabidly anti-Castro, anti-Chavez and anti-Maduro politicians and constituents in Miami who were steaming with rage from the shift on Cuba.

The Venezuelan sanctions bill is rather ludicrous. It purports to punish officials in Venezuela who allegedly violated the human rights of anti-government protestors in demonstrations that took place in February 2014. Considering that the majority of those protests were extremely violent and protestors directly caused the deaths of over 40 individuals, most of whom were government supporters, bystanders and state security forces, imposing sanctions on state officials who exercised their duty to protect civilians is illogical. Even more ironic is the passage of this bill while hundreds of protestors against police brutality and racism are being detained and having their rights violated in the United States, at the hands of US authorities. Not to mention that the same Senate that promoted this bill just released an in depth report on torture and grave human rights violations committed by CIA and US military officers.

The sanctions bill against Venezuela goes beyond freezing the assets of a few Venezuelan government officials and revoking their visas. It reaffirms the US government commitment to supporting - financially and politically - the anti-government movement in Venezuela which acts beyond a democratic framework, and it authorizes the preparation of a full-on propaganda war against the Venezuelan government. All of this is reminiscent of the very same failed policy on Cuba that Obama just renounced. So why impose the same on Venezuela?

Appeasing the community in Miami is a major reason. But Obama also needs the change in Cuba policy to save his withering legacy. As the first black president in the United States, Obama expected his legacy to be the end of racial tensions and institutionalized racism in the country. However, the opposite has occurred during his administration. Racial tensions are at an all-time high. Mass protests have erupted nationwide against police brutality in black communities and the injustice blacks face in the US legal system. Racial crimes have increased and people are angry. The “change” Obama promised hasn’t come and he won’t be forgiven for his failure to deliver.

Obama’s healthcare reform has made a mediocre impact and still faces serious threats from a Republican Congress, which has returned to power in full force, winning majorities in both houses thanks to a disgruntled democratic base. While making some executive decisions on immigration, Obama has failed to pass sweeping immigration reform and probably never will after losing democrat seats in the legislature. Though he did withdraw US troops from Iraq as promised, another terrorist group took over significant parts of that country, rendering US operations and billion-dollar investment in bringing democracy to Iraq practically useless. As for Afghanistan, Obama increased US military presence and brought the total war budget well over one billion dollars, making it the longest US military conflict and one of the most costly. He’s brought more war to Pakistan, Yemen and Africa, and destroyed Libya, while later funding and arming warlords and terrorists in Syria to demolish that country too. And to top it all off, Obama has rekindled the Cold War with Russia.

Overall, Obama’s legacy leaves nothing to be desired. He’s failed at home and brought havoc abroad, and Cuba is his savior. Now Obama will be remembered in history as the president who ended the most dysfunctional, damaging and pointless US foreign policy ever. He’ll be recalled for bridging ties not just with Cuba, but with all of Latin America, which would be very noble and legacy-worthy if it were true.

Cuba hasn’t been a real threat to the United States - if it ever was - for a very long time. But Venezuela, because of its vast oil reserves, is. The US needs to control Venezuela’s 300 billion barrels of oil in order to guarantee its long-term survival, and without a subservient government in power, that’s not possible. US policy on Venezuela has been the same since Hugo Chavez was first elected in 1998 and refused to bow to US interests: destroy the Bolivarian Revolution and remove him from power. The same policy is in effect against the government of Nicolas Maduro.

By attempting to isolate both Venezuela and Russia with sanctions and cripple their economies, Washington believes it will succeed in stifling Russia’s expanding relations with Latin America and neutralize Venezuela’s regional influence. The plan is to step in and fill the void with US financial and political clout. And Washington thinks that by reaching out to Cuba, the rest of Latin America will be seduced enough to welcome back US domination.

Cuba may be Obama’s lifejacket, but the ship has sailed. Latin American nations have overwhelmingly condemned US sanctions on Venezuela and called for them to be rolled back. Obama may think he can sacrifice Venezuela in order to save his legacy by engaging with Cuba and closing ranks in the hemisphere, but he’s wrong. The same solidarity that Latin American nations expressed to Cuba for over 50 years is also present for Venezuela. La Patria Grande won’t be fooled by US double standards anymore. Latin America has long expressed its desire for a mature, respectful relationship with Washington. Will the US ever be capable of the same?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Defiant Ecuador Seeks Solutions in Assange Case

By Eva Golinger
August 2014
Telesur English

Two years ago, one of the most controversial figures of the age of cyberspace appeared on the doorstep of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. On the verge of losing an appeal in the British courts that could open the door to his extradition to Sweden and then later, the United States, where a secret Grand Jury had convened to indict him, Julian Assange sought refuge in Ecuador’s modest Embassy flat. During the following two months, the Ecuadorian government studiously reviewed his case, calling in experts to discuss and debate the duties and risks Ecuador faced in granting the asylum petition.

On August 16, 2012, Ecuador’s Foreign Minister, Ricardo Patiño, announced that his country would grant Assange diplomatic asylum, a concept enshrined in the Convention on Diplomatic Asylum of 1954, also known as the Convention of Caracas.  The British government refused to recognize this status and initially threatened to violate Ecuador’s sovereignty by entering into the Embassy and arresting Assange. After strong protest from the Ecuadorian government and outcry from Latin American nations, England refrained from causing an international uproar by forcing entry into the Embassy, and instead chose to maintain a prominent police presence surrounding the building, impeding Assange’s escape.

Two years later, the Assange case is at a standstill. Despite his legal team’s efforts to end the unsubstantiated persecution against him from Sweden, where no formal charges have materialized, an extradition request still remains to bring him to Stockholm for “questioning”. The British government has made clear it would extradite Assange to Sweden if they could detain him. While no public extradition request has been issued from the United States to Sweden for Assange, sufficient evidence exists to demonstrate that a Grand Jury may have already indicted him in a US court, on charges, including espionage and/or aiding and abetting the enemy, that could result in his long-term imprisonment were he subjected to a trial. This well-founded fear of political persecution has reinforced Ecuador’s decision to maintain his political asylum.

In 2013, when Foreign Minister Patiño visited Assange in the Embassy on the one-year anniversary of his confinement, Ecuador initiated an effort to create a bilateral working group with the British government to find a solution to the situation. To date, no movement has been made in the group and England has refused to discuss the matter further. Recently, during Foreign Minister Patiño’s second visit to see Assange on August 16, 2014, the British Foreign Office issued a statement claiming they were “committed to finding solution”, yet only according to their vision of the outcome: "We remain as committed as ever to reaching a diplomatic solution to this situation. We are clear that our laws must be followed and Mr Assange should be extradited to Sweden. As ever we look to Ecuador to help bring this difficult, and costly, residence to an end." In other words, the British government sees no other solution than Assange’s extradition. Their unwavering, rigid position leaves no opportunity for diplomacy or creative problem-solving, which is what this case needs.

The Ecuadorian government has reiterated its support for Assange and has made clear that their country is bound by international law to maintain his asylum. As Minister Patiño has affirmed, there is no return policy on asylees who are still subjected to exactly the same conditions as when the asylum was granted. The persecution remains, and there are still no charges of any kind against Assange. Ecuador, a small nation of 15 million inhabitants with bananas and beautiful roses as its main exports, has remained defiant in the face of pressure from England, Sweden and their biggest ally, the United States.

Two years enclosed in the Ecuadorian Embassy, a narrow flat with just a handful of rooms, has taken its toll on Julian Assange. While he continues to work from his small space inside the Embassy, and his organization Wikileaks has not ceased publishing important documents exposing the abuses and illegal acts of powerful interests, the lack of sunlight, fresh air and regular exercise have obviously decreased his quality of life and impacted his health. Despite his confinement and separation from close friends and family, his spirits remain high, as was apparent during the visit with Minister Patiño, and he is optimistic about changes to a law in the UK that potentially could lead to his freedom.

Known within political circles as the “Assange Act”, an amendment was made in early 2014 to the Extradition Act 2003 in the British parliament. Resulting from discontent and discomfort over the legal limbo Julian has been in for the past four years - even two years before receiving asylum from Ecuador, Assange had been on house arrest in England, pending potential extradition to Sweden -  several British MPs began debating a substantive change to the law that would impede a future Assange situation from happening to someone else.

The amendment is included in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 (not the most socially-friendly name), in Chapter 12, Part 12. It specifically states that “Extradition is barred if no prosecution decision has been made in the requesting territory”, as in Assange’s situation. If the country requesting extradition has not yet charged or decided to try the individual being requested, than the United Kingdom will not extradite. This is exactly the case of Julian Assange. The Swedish prosecution has not decided to try him yet or even formally charge him, and the extradition request is merely based on the desire to “question” him about certain allegations he may or may not be involved in.

In the parliamentary debates in the House of Commons leading up to the passage of the extradition act amendment, specific references to Assange’s case were made. According to the parliamentarians, the new clause, amending the extradition act of 2003, “seeks to ensure that people are not extradited when it is not certain they will be charged, so that they do not sit in a prison for months on end”. Reference was also made to the case of a British citizen, Andrew Symeou, who was extradited to Greece for questioning and remained in inhumane prison conditions for over ten months with no charges against him. In Julian Assange’s case, the debate concluded, “where a decision to charge and try is not taken, extradition cannot take place. People will not be left in limbo...”

Julian’s legal team will need to challenge this law in order for it to be applied to his case, since at present it does not appear to be retroactive. But there is no denying that this change in the law would impede Assange from being extradited to Sweden were it to have been in place previously. Ecuador’s Foreign Minister made reference to the amended law as a potential opening for dialogue with the UK government in the case. Ecuador has also offered to allow Swedish authorities question Assange inside the Embassy, or via videoconference, all to no avail. It seems as though the only parties interested in finding a solution to this situation are the government of Ecuador and Julian Assange. The Brits and the Swedes have done everything possible to stall and stonewall the case.

Foreign Minister Patiño has stated previously that Ecuador could bring the case before the International Court of Justice in the Hague, or the United Nations. The affronts to Ecuador’s sovereignty, the failure to recognize the asylum granted to Julian Assange and the refusal to provide him with safe passage to Ecuadorian territory are all violations of international law. Julian’s human rights are also affected. The inability to fully enjoy his right to asylum and the confining conditions he has been forced to remain in for two years, under threat by arrest by British authorities right outside the Embassy doors and windows, have subjected him to cruel and inhumane punishment. Were he to experience a medical emergency and need hospital attention, the British government has already made clear it would arrest him.

Both Julian Assange and Ecuador have taken on the most powerful world interests, despite the dangers, threats and consequences of their actions. Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño and President Rafael Correa have made clear that Ecuador will stand strong in its decision to grant Assange asylum under international law, and they will not bow to pressure and intimidation from anyone. The Assange case goes beyond just simple political asylum and issues of sovereignty. It is matter of principle in a time in which information and secrecy have become ever more the tools of the most powerful. Justice must be done for those who have sacrified their liberties to warn us of these dangers.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Dirty Hand of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in Venezuela

By Eva Golinger

Anti-government protests in Venezuela that seek regime change have been led by several individuals and organizations with close ties to the US government. Leopoldo Lopez and Maria Corina Machado- two of the public leaders behind the violent protests that started in February - have long histories as collaborators, grantees and agents of Washington. The National Endowment for Democracy “NED” and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) have channeled multi-million dollar funding to Lopez’s political parties Primero Justicia and Voluntad Popular, and Machado’s NGO Sumate and her electoral campaigns.

These Washington agencies have also filtered more than $14 million to opposition groups in Venezuela between 2013 and 2014, including funding for their political campaigns in 2013 and for the current anti-government protests in 2014. This continues the pattern of financing from the US government to anti-Chavez groups in Venezuela since 2001, when millions of dollars were given to organizations from so-called “civil society” to execute a coup d’etat against President Chavez in April 2002. After their failure days later, USAID opened an Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) in Caracas to, together with the NED, inject more than $100 million in efforts to undermine the Chavez government and reinforce the opposition during the following 8 years.

At the beginning of 2011, after being publically exposed for its grave violations of Venezuelan law and sovereignty, the OTI closed its doors inVenezuela and USAID operations were transferred to its offices in the US. The flow of money to anti-government groups didn’t stop, despite the enactment by Venezuela’s National Assembly of the Law of Political Sovereignty and NationalSelf-Determination at the end of 2010, which outright prohibits foreign funding of political groups in the country. US agencies and the Venezuelan groups that receive their money continue to violate the law with impunity. In the Obama Administration’s Foreign Operations Budgets, between $5-6 million have been included to fund opposition groups in Venezuela through USAID since 2012.

The NED, a “foundation” created by Congress in 1983 to essentially do the CIA’s work overtly, has been one of the principal financiers of destabilization in Venezuela throughout the Chavez administration and now against President Maduro. According to NED’s 2013 annual report, the agency channeled more than $2.3 million to Venezuelan opposition groups and projects. Within that figure,  $1,787,300 went directly to anti-government groups within Venezuela, while another $590,000 was distributed to regional organizations that work with and fund the Venezuelan opposition.  More than $300,000 was directed towards efforts to develop a new generation of youth leaders to oppose Maduro’s government politically.

One of the groups funded by NED to specifically work with youth is FORMA (, an organization led by Cesar Briceño and tied to Venezuelan banker Oscar Garcia Mendoza. Garcia Mendoza runs the Banco Venezolano de Credito, a Venezuelan bank that has served as the filter for the flow of dollars from NED and USAID to opposition groups in Venezuela, including Sumate, CEDICE, Sin Mordaza, Observatorio Venezolano de Prisiones and FORMA, amongst others.

Another significant part of NED funds in Venezuela from 2013-2014 was given to groups and initiatives that work in media and run the campaign to discredit the government of President Maduro. Some of the more active media organizations outwardly opposed to Maduro and receiving NED funds include Espacio Publico, Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS), Sin Mordaza and GALI. Throughout the past year, an unprecedented media war has been waged against the Venezuelan government and President Maduro directly, which has intensified during the past few months of protests.

In direct violation of Venezuelan law, NED also funded the opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Table (MUD), via the US International Republican Institute (IRI), with $100,000 to “share lessons learned with [anti-government groups] in Nicaragua, Argentina and Bolivia...and allow for the adaption of the Venezuelan experience in these countries”.  Regarding this initiative, the NED 2013 annual report specifically states its aim: “To develop the ability of political and civil society actors from Nicaragua, Argentina and Bolivia to work on national, issue-based agendas for their respective countries using lessons learned and best practices from successful Venezuelan counterparts.  The Institute will facilitate an exchange of experiences between the Venezuelan Democratic Unity Roundtable and counterparts in Bolivia, Nicaragua and Argentina. IRI will bring these actors together through a series of tailored activities that will allow for the adaptation of the Venezuelan experience in these countries.”

IRI has helped to build right-wing opposition parties Primero Justicia and Voluntad Popular, and has worked with the anti-government coaltion in Venezuela since before the 2002 coup d’etat against Chavez. In fact, IRI’s president at that time, George Folsom, outwardly applauded the coup and celebrated IRI’s role in a pressrelease claiming, “The Institute has served as a bridge between the nation’s political parties and all civil society groups to help Venezuelans forge a new democratic future…”

Detailed in a report published by the Spanish institute FRIDE in 2010, international agencies that fund the Venezuelan opposition violate currency control laws in order to get their dollars to the recipients. Also confirmed in the FRIDE report was the fact that the majority of international agencies, with the exception of the European Commission, are bringing in foreign money and changing it on the black market, in clear violation of Venezuelan law. In some cases, as the FRIDE analysis reports, the agencies open bank accounts abroad for the Venezuelan groups or they bring them the money in hard cash. The US Embassy in Caracas could also use the diplomatic pouch to bring large quantities of unaccounted dollars and euros into the country that are later handed over illegally to anti-government groups in Venezuela.

What is clear is that the US government continues to feed efforts to destabilize Venezuela in clear violation of law. Stronger legal measures  and enforcement may be necessary to ensure the sovereignty and defense of Venezuela’s democracy.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A TRIBUTE --- CHAVEZ: A Giant Under the Moon

(Aquí en español)

By Eva Golinger

A year has passed since the physical parting of Hugo Chavez and it’s still impossible to accept. His voice was a constant in revolutionary Venezuela, his discourse was a school in continuous development. A humble man with a noble soul, Chavez had the courage of warriors and a heart filled with patriotism. He defied the most powerful interests without ever flinching. His hand never trembled, he never bowed down, he was always firm with serenity and conviction, ready to confront the most powerful threats. His value was immense, a soldier of the people, a giant of centuries. Knowing him was a privilege and a priceless treasure.

Chavez had an impact on the world, leaving his fingerprint in struggles and dreams of social justice, from north to south. His legacy is transcontinental, without borders. “Chavez” translates to a symbol of dignity in all languages.

I had the honor of accompanying him on several of his international trips. I witnessed the massive support he received on almost every continent. His mere presence inspired millions. He represented the dreams of so many struggles, so many commitments to humanity, and he proved that another world is possible.

All around the world people ran to see him up close, anxious to hear his words full of hope, simple yet full of profound intimacy. Chavez breathed love, and although millions received him with open arms, there were always dangerous threats around him. He was unpredictable, always a step ahead. Washington called him a “wise competitor”, and coming from the US government that wasn’t only a compliment, but evidenced his grandeur. Not even the empire could control him.

In May 2006 I was on a book tour in Europe with the publication of the German and Italian editions of my first book, The Chavez Code. While finishing up my events in Germany, I had the luck of coinciding with President Chavez’s visit to Vienna, Austria for the Latin America-European Union summit.

I arrived at the hotel where the presidential delegation was staying and after greeting familiar faces in the lobby, I went to my room to rest. An hour later, I went downstairs to see what was going on and to find out the president’s schedule. When I entered the lobby, the friendly presidential protocol officer informed me we would be leaving in a few moments. He asked me to join them in the caravan. I hadn’t yet seen the president but I assumed we were heading out before him to an event, so I got in the car with the delegation.

They took us to a place in the center of Vienna. When we arrived, we saw an enormous amount of people, mainly young, who were both outside and inside the venue. “What is this place?”, I asked. “It’s a popular cultural center here called Arena”, I was told.

We got out of the car and saw thousands of people around the place. There was an event that evening with none other than President Hugo Chavez, leader of the Bolivarian Revolution. A while later, when we had entered the venue to see the impressive amount of people there, I was approached and told that I would be speaking at the event that night, there in front of the European crowd. “What an honor”, I thought, to participate in a public event in Vienna alongside Chavez.

The evening air was brisk and so many people kept arriving that they didn’t fit in the venue. The organizers decided they had to change the event from inside, where only 500 people fit, to right outside in a public square, where thousands could arrive. Never before had there been a phenomenon like this in Vienna. Thousands of European youth had gathered outdoors in a Viennese square to listen to a Latin American head of state. The quantity of people present was spectacular. Chavez wasn’t just a Latin American leader, he was an international sensation.

Time went by and the President didn’t arrive. People were getting anxious waiting for so long - punctuality in Austria was strict and they weren’t used to waiting. A while later, the presidential protocol folks asked me to go on stage with the rest of the delegation. We had to do something, they said, the people were waiting for too long to just leave them in limbo. I went to talk to the other members of the delegation, which included Nicolas Maduro, then President of the National Assembly, legislator Juan Barreto and Planning and Development Minister Jorge Giordani. “They president is not coming”, they told me. “So what are we going to do now?”, I asked. “We can’t just go out there when they are expecting Chavez”.

Two hours had passed from the start time of the event and the public was restless. We went to talk to the organizers, a group of friendly European activists. We told them about the possibility that Chavez wouldn’t come. He was tired and already resting in the hotel, preparing for the heads of state summit the following day.

The news hit them like a rock. It wasn’t possible, they said. Never before in history had so many people come out to a public place to hear a head of state from anywhere. We had to understand the historic importance of the moment.

We understood clearly that under no circumstances could we replace President Chavez before that crowd. It was Chavez or nothing, or better yet, it had to be Chavez, period. We took footage of the venue and thousands present, and we sent it with the Presidential Guard and the President’s assistants, asking them to please convey the importance of the event to him so he would come.  

Two hours went by and it was now nighttime, but no one had left. People actually kept arriving. They stayed alert singing “Uh Ah, Chávez no se va” in Spanish and in German, “Chávez geht nicht”.

After four hours under the beautiful full moon of Vienna, anxious for the arrival of the Comandante of the XXI century, there was movement. Chavez had seen the images and he understood the magnitud of the moment and the importance of speaking before European youth. Despite his fatigue and lack of sleep, he appeared, radiant, smiling as he looked upon the young crowd.

The arrival of the President was met with an impressive applause from the public around 10pm. The brilliant light of the moon reflected on the awe and intensity of the faces in the crowd. Everyone was completely attentive, listening hard to the Venezuelan leader. And President Chavez was inspired by the attention and dedication of the Viennese youth, and there outside “Arena”, he launched into a master class about building an international revolutionary movement. He talked about “The Triangle of Victory”, comprised of three principle factors: political objectives, strategy and power framed within conscientiousness, commitment and organization. Everyone stayed during the two hours that Chavez spoke, listening carefully to every detail about the international revolutionary project, showing their support and approval in applause, chants and smiles. “They accuse us of wanting to build an atomic bomb”, exclaimed Chavez. “But we aren’t interested in having atomic bombs. The empire can have all the atomic bombs. We don’t need an arsenal of bombs to save the world. We are the atomic bombs! And above all, youth of the world, you are the atomic bombs...bombs of love, passion, ideas, strength, organization”.

Sixty-four European media outlets covered that historic event in Vienna. “The Che Guevara of the XXI century”, they called him, fascinated with what had happened that night under the full moon. Never before had a head of state gone out to the streets to speak with the people. Never before had so many people spontaneously gathered outdoors in Vienna to hear a head of state speak, let alone one from Latin America. Chavez brought the love and sincerity of the Venezuelan people to Austria, and the people of Vienna received him with open arms.

“You are going to save the world”, he affirmed. “Know that you are not alone here. Know that youth all around the world, who speak different languages, who are bathed in other colors, have the same calling as you...In Latin America, in Africa, in Asia...Youth of the world awaken, workers of the world rise up, women rise up, students rise up. Let’s go together on the path of revolution!”

When he ended his speech, Chavez looked at the glorious full moon that had illuminated the event. “Ah...”, he said. “That full moon, so beautiful, makes me want to grab a guitar and go with you all to the Danub river to sing until dawn”. The glimmer in his eyes gave away his sincerity. It was a special moment, those that occur only once in a lifetime. It seemed like an intimate gathering amongst friends, although most of us didn’t know each other. But, we shared a love for justice and a dream for a better world. Chavez was just another brother in the fight for that dream.

Years later, Chavez’s international influence turned him into the number one enemy of Washington. Someone of his humility, sincerity, courage and conviction was not common, especially as the president of the country with the largest oil reserves on the planet.  The threats against Chavez were constant, attempts against his life never ceased. There was a systematic aggression against his government from the most powerful interests in the world, together with their agents in Venezuela. They gave their all against Chavez. A leader of his stature, influence, strength and dignity, with an immense capacity for love, was dangerous for the imperial agenda. They did what they could to neutralize him. 

We may never know if his death was provoked or not, although enough evidence exists to investigate. What we do know is that his mortal departure was not a goodbye. Men like Chavez don’t disappear, though some wish they would. Chavez’s legacy lives today and grows beyond the Bolivarian Revolution. His voice is present in every cry for freedom, his gaze is seen in brave young people who defy powerful and dangerous interests to expose truths. His love is present in the solidarity and heartfelt commitment that millions feel for revolutionary Venezuela. His strength and dignity guide the defense of the Patria Grande, today under threat again from those who seek to erase us from history.

Chavez will never disappear. His presence will continue to grow and multiply in every soldier of peace, every warrior for justice. Smiling, with a heart of gold, Chavez will always be a giant under the moon.