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 part of.
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 social justice.
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 extra-constitutional means.
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 their expectations.
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.
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John Kerry for President, Inc.
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