|Published on Friday, March 26, 2004 by CommonDreams.org
Why John Kerry Must Retract his Position on Venezuela
The Democratic candidate for President of the United States, John Kerry,
published a statement on his web site this past March 19, setting forth his
position on the political situation in Venezuela. In this declaration,
Kerry relies on inaccurate information and repeats views identical to those
of the Venezuelan opposition to democratically-elected President Hugo Chavez.
We examine below Kerry's statement in more detail:
Kerry urges President Chavez to allow the recall referendum against his
mandate to occur. The reality is that the President has no legal means, to
either impede or permit a recall referendum. It can only be achieved if
those requesting the referendum collect the number of valid signatures
required by the regulations.
The Senator states that, "the international community cannot permit
President Chávez to subvert this process, as he has tried to do up until
now." Nevertheless, Kerry does not specify how the President has tried to
subvert this process. Kerry conveniently omits the fact that it was
President Chávez who proposed to include the possibility of these referenda
in the new Constitution that was drafted by a Constitutional Assembly
elected by popular vote. Chávez has called for a review of signatures
collected by the opposition because, as per numerous credible reports,
there appears to have been substantial fraud committed during the signature
drive. What is so terrible about denouncing fraud and calling for an
investigation of hundreds of thousands of petitions filled out by the same
handwriting? Kerry surely would expect the same type of investigation to
occur if there were evidence of fraud in any electoral process he was a
As it stands, those whose signatures appear on petitions that were filled
out by the same handwriting will soon have the chance to confirm their
identity and intention to sign the petition requesting a recall referendum.
It is the opposition that has opposed this process. Chávez has repeatedly
stated that he will respect whatever decision is made by the nation's
electoral authorities regarding a referendum.
Kerry states that Chávez has undermined democratic institutions with
extra-judicial measures that include politically-based arrests in order to
consolidate his power. Kerry omits the fact that Chávez has won two
presidential elections by large margins and that the political parties
supporting Chávez control the National Assembly because voters
overwhelmingly chose to elect those party representatives.
During five years of Chavez's presidency, there have been absolutely no
political prisoners. Those detained during recent disturbances, whom the
opposition claimed were political prisoners, were arrested lawfully on
charges brought by a Public Prosecutor, and the majority of them have been
released. Those who remain detained have been arrested on charges such as
illegal possession of arms and, in many cases, for illegally carrying
weapons of war. Trials for those arrested have not yet taken place.
Kerry repeats the discourse of the Venezuelan opposition that refers to
those arrested for carrying illegal arms as political prisoners, yet he has
never declared that those arrested for protesting peacefully in front of
the School of the Americas in Georgia are political prisoners.
Relationship with Fidel Castro
Kerry states that Chavez's relationship with President Fidel Castro is
evidence that Chávez is not committed to governing democratically. If a
democratically elected leader's relationship with an undemocratically
elected leader places the credibility of the democratic leader in jeopardy,
then the democratic credentials of all US presidents should be questioned.
"The policies of President Chávez have been detrimental to our interests
and those of our neighbors," claims Kerry. The Senator may be referring to
the interests of multinational corporations who have contributed to his
campaign and Senatorial reign. Chavez's opposition to the FTAA and the WTO,
his support of indigenous and workers' struggles and his fight for the
self-determination of Latin American nations, may be considered to go
against the interests of multinational corporation and in favor of the
interests of the people of Latin America and the United States. US workers
have seen their salaries diminish and have lost millions of jobs due to
policies that Kerry has supported and those that Chávez opposes. Chavez's
position in relation to these issues has earned the support of millions of
progressives in Latin America, who view him as a leader in the struggle for
Fight against the illegal trafficking of drugs
In terms of the issue of the fight against illegal drug trafficking, Kerry
is completely misinformed and again is repeating the Venezuelan
opposition's line of reasoning without even reviewing facts and statistics.
The Bush Administration has continuously praised the Chávez government in
this fight. "Venezuela has achieved notable advances in the interdiction of
drug trafficking...The confiscation of illegal drugs has increased
drastically", Robert B. Charles, Sub-Secretary of State for International
Narcotrafficking Affairs stated at the beginning of March. Additionally, a
U.S. report evaluating 195 countries in the fight against narcotrafficking
in 2003 states that "the levels of heroin confiscation have remained the
same as those in 2002, in half a ton, the highest level in South America
for the fourth consecutive year."
Kerry accuses Chávez of helping insurgency groups in Colombia.
Nevertheless, General James Hill of the Southern Command of the US Army has
stated publicly that there is no evidence that the Venezuelan government
has aided insurgency groups in Colombia.
Agreements with the OAS and the Carter Center
Kerry states that Chávez must be pressured to comply with the agreements
that he signed with the OAS and the Carter Center regarding a recall
referendum. The agreements signed last year between the government and the
opposition do not mention specifically that a recall referendum will take
place, but rather put forth a commitment to respect the Constitution in
seeking a peaceful solution to the political crisis. Respecting the
Constitution implies that in order to request a referendum, the required
amount of valid signatures must be collected according to the regulations.
Kerry asks that freedom of expression be respected in Venezuela. It is
widely known that in Venezuela, every person is free to express his/her
opinion without fear of reprisal or imprisonment, as has happened during
prior governments. There are no journalists in prison nor have media
outlets been shut down by the Chavez administration, as was common in prior
administrations. The current government has not censured the media
whatsoever as all prior governments, despite being democratically elected,
have done in the past.
Seeking for the Right's Vote
It is almost unexplainable that Kerry, as a Democrat, maintains almost the
same positions as Bush and his ultra-conservative cabinet. Many in the
progressive community had hoped that Kerry could bring a fundamental change
to the foreign policies implemented by Bush towards Latin America.
Statements such as this lead us to believe that there may be little change
in the arrogant US government foreign policy, and unfortunately, mistrust
and resentment towards the United States in Latin America would probably
continue to grow as a result.
Without offering any evidence, Kerry, follows the line of the Venezuelan
opposition, accusing Chavez of aiding the Colombian guerrilla forces,
permitting narcotrafficking, undermining democratic institutions,
attempting to impede a possible recall referendum on his mandate, and of
implementing policies that are detrimental to US interests.
Chavez is a President who has been elected twice by clear majorities in
democratic elections, and who, at this time, still enjoys one of the
highest levels of popularity amongst Latin American leaders. Chavez's
policies have earned him the support of millions of progressive and liberal
voices throughout Latin America as well as in North America.
Kerry's recent statement makes it clear that he has taken the side of the
Venezuelan opposition, an opposition which is unequivocally responsible for
the political instability in Venezuela due to its failure and refusal to
accept Chavez as the President of Venezuela, despite his clear support by a
majority of Venezuelans proven through numerous electoral victories.
The fact that in his statement Kerry suggests Bush has not put enough
pressure on Chávez, completely ignores the ample evidence of the millions
of dollars the Bush administration has given the Venezuelan opposition
through the National Endowment for Democracy. Such substantial financing
has been used numerous times in attempts to oust Chávez from office through
We must demand that Kerry retract his position on Venezuela, and get better
informed about Venezuela and Latin America before issuing such biased
opinions and we should warn him not to underestimate the support of
progressives, who in the past election voted for candidates such as Ralph
Nader, in the face of a democratic platform that clearly failed to meet
Please call and send emails or faxes to the Kerry headquarters, demanding
that Kerry be more informed about Venezuela and Latin America so that he
will not commit the same errors of prior administrations whose thoughtless
actions have increased anti-American sentiments throughout the region.
At the same time, we must insist he respect progressive and liberal voices,
and make him understand that positions such as those he has expressed
against President Chávez, give us more reason why we should seek
alternatives to the Democratic Party.