Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Hugo Chavez, Dream Maker

By Eva Golinger

Most of what you read or hear in mass media about President Hugo Chavez is always negative, his faults exaggerated, his discourse distorted and his achievements ignored. The reality is quite different.

Hugo Chavez was beloved by millions around the world. He changed the course of a continent and led a collective awakening of a people once silenced, once exploited and ignored. Chavez was a grandiose visionary and a maker of dreams.

An honest man from a humble background who lived in a mud hut as a child and sold candies on the streets to make money for his family, Chavez dreamed of building a strong, sovereign nation, independent of foreign influence and dignified on the world scene. He dreamed of improving the lives of his people, of eradicating the misery of poverty and of offering everyone the chance of a better life - the “good life” (el buenvivir), as he called it.

President Chavez made those dreams come true. During his nearly fourteen years of governance, elected to three full six-year terms but only serving two due to his untimely death, Chavez’s policies reduced extreme poverty in Venezuela by more than 75%, from 25% to less than 7% in a decade. Overall poverty was reduced by more than 50%, from 60% in 1998 when Chavez first won office to 27% by 2008. This is not just numbers, this translates into profound changes in the lives of millions of Venezuelans who today eat three meals a day, own their homes and have jobs or access to financial aid.

But the dreams don’t stop there. Chavez dreamt of a nation filled with educated, healthy people, and so he established free, quality public education from preschool through doctoral studies, accessible to all. In fact, for those in remote areas or places without educational facilities, schools were built and mobile educational facilities were created to bring education to the people. Chavez also created a national public health system offering universal, free health care to all, with the help and solidarity of Cuba, which sent thousands of doctors and medical workers to provide quality services to the Venezuelan people, many who had never received medical care in their lives.

To strengthen and empower communities, Chavez propelled policies of inclusion and participatory governance, giving voice to those previously excluded from politics. He created grassroots community councils and networks to attend to local needs in neighborhoods across the nation, placing the power to govern in the joint hands of community groups. His vision of diversifying his nation and developing its full potential transformed into railways, new industries, satellite cities and innovative transport, such as MetroCable Cars soaring high into the mountains of Caracas to connect people with their steep hillside homes and the bustling city.

The centuries-old dream of Independence hero Simon Bolivar to build a unified “Patria Grande” (Grand Homeland) in South America became Chavez’s guiding light and he held it high, illuminating the path he paved. Chavez was a driving force in unifying Latin America, creating new regional organizations like the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). These entities have embraced integration, cooperation and solidarity as their principal method of exchange, rejecting competition, exploitation and domination, the main principles of US and western foreign policy.

Chavez inspired a twenty-first century world to fight for justice, to stand with dignity before bullying powers that seek to impose their will on others. He raised his voice when no others would and had no fear of consequence, because he knew that truth was on his side.

Chavez was a maker of dreams. He recognized the rights of the disabled, of indigenous peoples, all genders and sexualities. He broke down barriers of racism and classism and declared himself a socialist feminist. He not only made his own dreams come true, but he inspired us all to achieve our fullest potential.

Don’t get me wrong, things are not perfect in Venezuela by any stretch, but no one can honestly deny that they are much better than before Hugo Chavez became President. And no one could deny that President Hugo Chavez was larger than life.

The first time I flew on President Chavez’s airplane he invited me to breakfast in his private room. It was just me and him. I was nervous and felt anxious and rushed to tell him about the results of my investigations into the United States government role in the coup d’etat against him in 2002. After all, that’s why I was on the plane in the first place. I had been invited to participate in his regular Sunday television show, Alo Presidente (Hello Mr. President) to present the hundreds of declassified documents I had obtained from US government agencies through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that exposed US funding of coup participants. The date was April 11, 2004, exactly two years after the coup that nearly killed him and sent the nation into spiraling chaos.

As I began pulling out papers and spreading documents on the table that separated us, he stopped me. “Have you had breakfast yet”, he asked. “No”, I said, and continued fiddling with the revealing paper before me. “We can discuss that later”, he said, “for now, tell me about yourself”. “How is your mother”, he asked me, as though we were old friends.

A flight attendant came through the door of his private room with two trays and placed them on the table. I quickly gathered up the documents. “Let’s eat”, he said. I started to protest, trying to explain that his time was so limited I wanted to take advantage of every minute. He stopped me and said, “This is a humble breakfast, a breakfast from the barracks, what I most love”. I looked at the tray for the first time. On it was a small plate with an arepa, a typical Venezuelan corn patty, a few shreads of white cheese, a couple of pieces of canteloupe and some anchovies. Beside the plate was a small cup of black coffee. No frills and not what you would expect on a presidential airplane.

“After all, I am just a soldier”, he added. Yes, Chavez, you are a soldier, a glorious soldier of a dignified, proud and kind people. And you are a maker of dreams for millions around the world.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


The first time I met Hugo Chavez was at the United Nations in New York in January 2003. He asked me my name, as if we were chatting between friends just getting to know each other. When I told him “Eva”, he responded “Eva, really?”[i] “Yes, Eva”, I said. “My brother is named Adan”, he said, adding, “My mother wanted me to be a girl so that she could call me Eva, and look, I appeared!” He smiled and laughed with that laugh of his, so pure and sincere it’s contagious to all those near.

He appeared. Chavez, who even underestimated himself.

This man appeared, larger than life, with an immense heart full of his people, pueblo, beating with homeland, patria. A human being appeared, with a great capacity to persist and stand defiantly in the face of the most powerful obstacles.

Hugo Chavez dreamed the impossible and achieved it. He assumed responsibility for the grandiose and difficult tasks that remained undone from the time of independence, those that Simon Bolivar couldn’t attain due to the adverse forces against him. Chavez fulfilled those goals, turning them into reality. The Bolivarian Revolution, the recovery of Venezuelan dignity, social justice, the visibility and power of the people, Latin American integration, national and regional sovereignty, true independence, the realization of the dream of the Patria Grande, and much, much more. These are Chavez’s achievements, the man who appeared just like that.

There are millions of people around the world who are inspired by Hugo Chavez. Chavez raises his voice without trembling before the most powerful, he says the truth - what others are afraid of saying -, he kneels before no one, he walks with firm dignity, head held high, with the people, el pueblo, guiding him and a dream of a prosperous, just and fulfilled nation. Chavez has given us the collective strength to fight inequality, injustice, to build nations and to believe that a better world isn’t just a dream, it’s an achievable reality.

Chavez, a man who could spend time in the company of the world’s richest and most powerful, prefers to be with those most in need, feeling their pain, embracing them and finding ways to improve their lives.

Chavez once told us a story, or told it many times as he often does. He was driving in his motorcade, out in the Venezuelan plains, los llanos, on those long roads that seem to continue infinitely. A dog suddenly appeared at the side of the road, limping with a wounded leg. Chavez ordered the motorcade to stop and went out to get the dog. He hugged the wounded animal, saying it had to be taken to the vet. “How can we leave it here alone and wounded”, he asked. “It’s a being, it’s a life, it needs to be cared for”, he said, demonstrating his sensitivity. “How can we call ourselves socialists without the lives of others mattering? We need to love, we need to care for all, including animals, which are innocent beings. We can turn our backs on no one”, he recalled.

When he told that story I cried. I cried because of my love for animals and the widespread mistreatment they suffer, and how necessary it was for someone like him, Chavez, to say something like that to awaken consciousness about the need to care for those who share our planet. But I also cried because Chavez confirmed something in that moment that I already knew, something I felt in my heart, but was unsure of in my mind. Chavez confirmed his simplicity, his sensitivity and his capacity to love. He confirmed he is a man whose heart feels pain when he sees a wounded animal. A man who not only feels, but acts. That’s who he is.

When Chavez assumed the presidency of Venezuela, the country was limping. He had seen its wounds and knew that he had to do all he could to help. He took Venezuela into his arms, embracing it closely, soothing and seeking how to make it better. He gave everything he had in him - his sweat, soul, strength, energy, intelligence and love - to change Venezuela with dignity, growth, sovereignty, and nation-building. He looked after it day and night, never leaving it alone. He found its beauty, its strength, its potential and its greatness. He helped it to grow strong, beautiful, visible and happy. He led its rebirth and filled its pulse with force and passion, with people’s power and a dignified homeland.

Chavez has given everything of himself and asked for nothing in return. Today, Venezuela grows and flourishes, thanks to his commitment and vision, thanks to his dedication and determination, thanks to his love.

Thank goodness you appeared, Chavez.

- Eva Golinger

[i] “Adán y Eva” in Spanish is “Adam and Eve” in English. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Venezuela: A Threat to Washington?

From the first time Hugo Chavez was elected President of Venezuela in 1998, Washington and its allies have been trying to undermine his government. When Chavez was just a presidential candidate, the US State Department denied his visa to participate in television interviews in Miami. Later, when he won the presidential elections, Ambassador John Maisto called him personally to congratulate him and offer him a visa. The following months were filled with attempts to “buy” the newly elected President of Venezuela. Businessmen, politicians and heads of state from Washington and Spain pressured him to submit to their agendas. “Come with us”, urged Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, trying to seduce him with offers of wealth and luxury in turn for obeying orders.

When Chavez refused to be bought, he was ousted in a coup d’etat April 11, 2002, funded and planned by Washington. When the coup failed and Chavez’s supporters rescued their democracy and president in less than 48 hours, attempts to destabilize his government continued. “We must make it difficult for him to govern”, said former US State Department chief Lawrence Eagleberger.

Soon, Venezuela was overrun with economic sabotage, oil industry strikes, chaos in the streets and a brutal media war that distorted the reality of the country on a national and international level. A plan to assassinate Chavez with Colombian paramilitaries in May 2004 was impeded by state security forces. Months later, the US-backed opposition tried to revoke his mandate in a recall referendum, but again, the people saved him in a 60-40 landslide victory.

The more popular Chavez became, the more millions of dollars flowed from US agencies to anti-Chavez groups to destabilize, descredit, delegitimize, overthrow, assassinate or remove him from power by any means possible. In December 2006, Chavez was reelected president with 64% of the vote. His approval rating grew in Venezuela and throughout Latin America. New governments in Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Uruguay and several Caribbean nations joined regional initiatives of integration, cooperation, sovereignty and unity, encouraged by Caracas. Washington began to lose its influence and control over its former “backyard”.  

The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas (ALBA), the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), PetroCaribe, PetroSur, TeleSUR, Bank of ALBA, Bank of the South and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) were created. Washington isn’t included in any of these organizations, nor is the elite that previously dominated the region.

In January 2005, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Chavez was a “negative force” in the region. In March, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) placed Venezuela on their list of “Top 5 Hot Spots”. A few months later, Reverend Pat Robertson publicly called for the assassination of Chavez, claiming it would cost less than “a $2 billion war”. That same year, when Venezuela suspended cooperation with the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) because it was found committing acts of espionage and sabotage, Washington classified Venezuela as a nation “not cooperating with counter-narcotics” efforts. No evidence was presented to show alleged Venezuelan government ties to drug trafficking.

In February 2006, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte referred to Venezuela as a “dangerous threat” to the US. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfled compared Chavez to Hitler. That same year, Washington created a special intelligence mission dedicated to Venezuela and Cuba, increasing resources for operations against them. In June 2006, the White House placed Venezuela on a list of countries “not cooperating sufficiently with the war on terror”. The classification included a sanction prohibiting the sale of military and defense equipment from the US and US companies or those using US technology to Venezuela. No evidence was ever shown to back such serious claims.

In 2008, the Pentagon reactivated its Fourth Fleet, the regional command in charge of Latin America and the Caribbean. It had been deactivated in 1950 and hadn’t functioned since then, until Washington decided it was necessary to increase its presence and “force” in the region. In 2010, the US established an agreement with Colombia to set up 7 military bases in its territory. An official US Air Force document justified the budget increase for these bases in order to counter the “threat from anti-American governments in the region”.

International media call Chavez a dictator, tyrant, authoritarian, narco, anti-American, terrorist, but they never present proof for such dangerous titles. They have converted the image of Venezuela into violence, insecurity, crime, corruption and chaos, failing to mention the incredible achievements and social advances during the last decade, or the causes of the social inequalities left behind from previous governments.

For years, a group of US congress members - democrats and republicans - have tried to place Venezuela on their list of “state sponors of terrorism”. They claim the relationships between Venezuela and Iran, Venezuela and Cuba, and even Venezuela and China evidence the “grave threat” represented by the South American nation to Washington.

They say again and again that Venezuela and Chavez are threats to the US. “He must be stopped”, they say, before he “launches Iranian bombs against us”.

In an interview a few days ago, President Barack Obama said Chavez was not a threat to US security. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said he was. The ire of the Miami Cuban-Venezuelan community came down upon Obama. But they shouldn’t worry, because Obama increased funding to anti-Chavez groups this year. More than $20 million in US taxpayer dollars have been channelled from US agencies to help fund the opposition’s campaign in Venezuela.

Is Venezuela a threat to Washington? In Venezuela, the only “terrorists” are the groups trying to destabilize the country, the majority with political and financial support from the US. The drug traffickers are in Colombia, where the production and transit of drugs has increased during the US invasion disguised as Plan Colombia. Relations with Iran, Cuba, China, Russia and the rest of the world are normal bilateral - and multilateral - ties between countries. There are no bombs, no attack plans, no sinister secrets. 

No, Venezuela is not that kind of threat to Washington.

Poverty has been reduced by more than 50% since Chavez came to power in 1998. The inclusionary policies of his government have created a society with mass participation in economic, political and social decisions. His social programs - called missions - have guaranteed free medical care and education, from basic to advanced levels, and provided basic food items at affordable costs, along with tools to create and maintain cooperatives, small and medium businesses, community organizations and communes. Venezuelan culture has been rescued and treasured, recovering national pride and identity, and creating a sentiment of dignity instead of inferiority. Communication media have proliferated during the last decade, assuring spaces for the expression of all.

The oil industry, nationalized in 1976 but operating as a private company, has been recuperated for the benefit of the country, and not for multinationals and the elite. Over 60% of the annual budget is dedicated to social programs in the country, with the principal focus on eradicating poverty.

Caracas, the capital, has been beautified. Parks and plazas have turned into spaces for gatherings, enjoyment and safety for visitors. There’s music in the streets, art on the walls and a rich debate of ideas amongst inhabitants. The new communal police works with neighborhoods to battle crime and violence, addressing problems from the root cause.

The awakening in Venezuela has expanded throughout the continent and northward into the Caribbean. The sensation of sovereignty, independence and union in the region has buried the shadow of subdevelopment and subordination imposed by colonial powers during centuries past.

No, Venezuela is not a threat to US security. Venezuela is an example of how a rising people, facing the most difficult obstacles and the brutal force of empire, can build a model where social justice reigns, and human prosperity is cherished above economic wealth. Venezuela is a country where millions once invisible are today, visible. Today they have a voice and the power to decide the future of their country, without being strangled by foreign hands. Today, thanks to the revolution led by President Chavez, Venezuela is one of the happiest countries in the world.

That is the threat Chavez and Venezuela represent to Washington: The threat of a good example.

- Eva Golinger

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Qué vergüenza, Dan Rather

Difusión de información falsa de Dan Rather sobre Venezuela y el presidente Hugo Chávez

Por Eva Golinger

Desde que al presidente venezolano, Hugo Chávez, le diagnosticaron cáncer y le extirparan un tumor maligno de su región pélvica en junio pasado, ha circulado todo tipo de rumores, mentiras y especulaciones sobre su estado de salud. La mayor parte del despliegue exagerado ha venido de conocidos medios de comunicación antichavistas, tales como el Miami Herald y varios blogs en línea administrados por extremistas de derecha como el ex subsecretario de Estado de Bush, Roger Noriega, quien ha estado obsesionado con Chávez desde hace años. Todos citan fuentes anónimas que dicen que tienen "información privilegiada" sobre la salud del Mandatario venezolano.

No es de sorprender que esos medios de comunicación, conocidos por sus distorsiones de la realidad de Venezuela durante diez años, publiquen falsedades e historias morbosas sobre el presidente Chávez. Pero que un veterano periodista de investigación serio como Dan Rather, caiga en la narración de historias necrofílicas sobre el Presidente venezolano es verdaderamente decepcionante.

Rather, quien ahora dirige su propio show (Dan Rather Reports) en HDNet, publicó una información el miércoles 30 de mayo que afirmaba que la salud del presidente Chávez está "grave" y ha "entrado en la etapa terminal". Rather también afirma que su fuente anónima de "alto nivel", que según él es cercana al Presidente de Venezuela, le dijo que Chávez no va a vivir "más que un par de meses como máximo".

En la breve información que difundió, y a la que califica de “exclusiva”, Rather también participa con su lenguaje sesgado llamando "dictador" al presidente democráticamente electo de Venezuela.

¿Qué impulsó a Dan Rather a escribir esta diatriba? ¿Por qué iba a engrosar las filas de Roger Noriega, de la desgracia del The Miami Herald y de un montón de pseudo-periodistas que se babean con sus sueños húmedos morbosos sobre el “decadente” estado de salud del presidente Chávez?

Lo evidente es que Rather se apresuró en apretar el gatillo para "disparar" su historia "exclusiva". Justo el día antes, el presidente Chávez encabezó un Consejo de Ministros transmitido en directo por televisión y que duró más de cuatro horas. El Jefe de Estado venezolano apareció lleno de energía, optimismo y se centró en sus funciones, e incluso cantó un par de canciones como es la costumbre del ecléctico y carismático Chávez. Reafirmó su candidatura para las elecciones presidenciales del 7 octubre. (¡Sí, Venezuela es una democracia!) Eso dista mucho de estar en su "lecho de muerte", como Rather implica.

El presidente Chávez sí tiene cáncer. Fue el primero en informar sobre su estado de salud, y ha sido abierto sobre su tratamiento y recuperación desde su primera operación en junio pasado para extirpar el tumor inicial. Chávez luego se sometió a cinco sesiones de quimioterapia, cuatro de las cuales fueron realizadas en Cuba. Estaba recuperándose bien e incluso fue el anfitrión de una cumbre histórica importante en Caracas en diciembre pasado para inaugurar la recién creada Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños (CELAC), en la que las 33 naciones de la región están representadas.

Pero a principios de febrero, Chávez anunció que un segundo tumor, más pequeño, se había detectado en la misma área en su región pélvica, y tuvo que ser extirpado. De nuevo volvió a Cuba para la cirugía, y posteriormente recibió varias sesiones de radioterapia. Según Chávez, no había metástasis, y ninguno de sus órganos resultó afectado. El 11 de mayo, regresó a Venezuela después de completar el tratamiento y expresó su optimismo por su recuperación: "Ya en el avión... Rumbo a la Patria venezolana. Con más optimismo que nunca! Viviremos y venceremos!", dijo Chávez ese día en un mensaje en Twitter.

Desde entonces, el Presidente venezolano ha participado en varias reuniones televisadas y llamado a varios programas de noticias para discutir sus políticas y proporcionar información actualizada sobre su estado de salud. Ha admitido que ya no puede ser el "caballo de trabajo" que era antes, y que ahora debe limitarse a una jornada de 8 horas, asegurándose de mantener su dieta y dormir bajo control. Pero antes de su problema de salud, Chávez era un súperpresidente, que aparecía en la televisión en actos públicos durante horas - a veces hasta ocho horas - y participaba en tres o cuatro actividades diarias, a menudo en diferentes partes del país. Apenas dormía y bebía cantidades excesivas de café negro con azúcar. Trabajaba hasta la madrugada escuchando todas las voces y atendiendo todas las solicitudes. Su nivel de energía era extremo, como era su ansiedad y compromiso de continuar la reconstrucción de Venezuela, y asegurar que sus políticas redujeran la pobreza y atendieran a los más necesitados.

Ahora, Chávez es candidato presidencial para un tercer periodo, y su ritmo ya no es extremo, pero sin duda está a la par o por encima de sus homólogos. Incluso durante su tratamiento de cáncer, el presidente Chávez estuvo a la altura de sus funciones, informando al público a través de la televisión y de Twitter acerca de las cuestiones presupuestarias y de los nuevos proyectos en marcha. Nunca dejó caer la pelota, a pesar de la gravedad de su situación.

Chávez tiene cáncer, y está combatiéndolo duro, con la misma fuerza que ha utilizado para impulsar su nación hacia adelante, y a menudo contra los obstáculos más difíciles. Pero el presidente Chávez no está "fuera del juego", como Dan Rather implica con morbosidad. Las encuestas lo muestran con ventaja de dos dígitos sobre el candidato presidencial de la oposición, Henrique Capriles Radonski, un neoconservador conocido por su papel violento en el golpe de estado contra Chávez en abril de 2002. La mayoría de los venezolanos conocemos - y amamos - al presidente Chávez por su inmensa humanidad y su apasionado compromiso con el mejoramiento de sus vidas. Y van a votar por él otra vez.

Dan Rather, siempre ha insistido en la necesidad de tener "valor" a la hora de reportar, sin embargo, demuestra cobardía y ambición descuidada apresurándose a publicar información no confirmada sobre la salud del presidente Chávez, y revendiendo epítetos difamatorios para describir al Jefe de Estado venezolano. También demuestra una completa falta de respeto a la humanidad del presidente Chávez perpetuando rumores terribles sobre su mortalidad. El señor Rather parece haber olvidado su ética y principios periodísticos, y ha elegido - por lo menos en este caso - ser un peón del periodismo amarillista.