About History Theory and Practice  Race and Ethnic Relations Favorite Links Venezuela US Media and Government Lies and Deception Palestine Spooks Iraq Follow the Money Libya Alternative News and Views Imperialism and Terrorism Cuba Restorative Justice Dr. T's Blog China LEARN/Liberation Education Action Research Network




Venezuelan Views: Anti-imperialist Identity and Nationality


June Terpstra, Ph.D.

This essay based on my experiences during a research trip to Venezuela is an exploration of anti-imperialist identity and nationality. While examining the vivid confrontations observed between the Chavistas and the US/Israeli supported opposition in Venezuela I was able to experience front and center the complex dynamics of power and contestations regarding identity within the context of national liberation movements and of those who embrace imperialism. I went to Venezuela brimming with excitement, expecting to see the revolution in progress in hopes of meeting revolutionary comrades from whom I could learn and connect with, as I did in Cuba. I was deeply disturbed when the complexities of the intense divisions of a nation undertaking the tumultuous process of a new form of socialism against aggressive imperialism hit me over the head. Many people in the USA do not understand our responsibility for the fundamental consent given in the global fight for U.S. dominance. The disastrous coups globally and the failed US-sponsored coup in Venezuela, the terrorism of US economic terrorism and state-sponsored assassinations, invasions, and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, bombing Pakistan and other nations, and the hubris and hypocrisy of US rhetoric have earned condemnation for the US populace from all and sundry around the globe.

My study of Venezuela was driven by my need for new models of liberation and community. Venezuela is not only challenging global capitalism and false claims to democracy, but it is also creating alternatives from which I longed to learn. Venezuela offers new ways of thinking and working for change as articulated in the declaration of Cumaná, authored by the member nations of ALBA—Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, Honduras, Dominica, and Nicaragua—

states, "Capitalism has caused the current environmental crisis, by submitting the necessary conditions for life in the planet to the predominance of market and profit…the global economic crisis, climate change, the food crisis, and the energy crisis are the result of the decay of capitalism, which threatens to end life and the planet." The ALBA nations call for a global system based on "solidarity…not competition…" harmony with our mother earth and not plundering of human resources…cultural diversity and not cultural destruction, peace based on social justice and not on imperialist policies and wars."

In a speech to the Tri-continental Conference in 1966, Amilcar Cabral said that "the national liberation of a people is the regaining of the historical personality of that people, its return to history through the destruction of the imperialist domination to which it was subjected… however great the similarity between our various cases and however identical our enemies, national liberation and social revolution are not exportable commodities; they are, and increasingly so every day, the outcome of local and national elaboration, more or less influenced by external factors (be they favorable or unfavorable) but essentially determined and formed by the historical reality of each people, and carried to success by the overcoming or correct solution of the internal contradictions between the various categories characterizing this reality." (The Weapon of Theory, 1966)

Our research delegation represented a diverse group of faculty and students from Northeastern Illinois University Justice Studies program and board and staff members of the Alternative Education Research Institute which provides research and programs focused on those formerly incarcerated re-entering communities in the USA. The three research interests of the group the social and economic reforms of the Bolivarian Republic under the leadership of Hugo Chavez with a specific focus for my colleague's group in how these innovations impact the lives of indigenous African-Venezuelans.

My aims were to know more about how Venezuela’s oil profits are funding one of the most

comprehensive, high-quality and accessible systems of free health care the world has ever

seen. I sought information about the educational misiones, where millions of adults are developing literacy skills, and millions more are enrolled in free community programs to provide high school and college education. I longed to see at work the mechanisms for integrating

excluded and oppressed sectors of the population into a participatory process of community and

national development.

I observed immediately upon leaving the USA and entering Venezuela that the only woman in our group to be detained, searched and questioned on both the US and Venezuelan checkpoints was the Muslim delegation member who wears hijab. The Venezuelan customs officer remarked to her, (I assume because she is a Latina Muslim who speaks fluent Spanish) that she must have converted to Islam when she married. The cultural war of position propagated in the so-called "War on Terror" has done a great job instilling distrust for women in hijab across the Americas.

Once we left the customs area entering Venezuela we were met by one of our translators for the trip, a Slovakian Venezuelan woman and a Venezuelan man who would be our driver for the duration of the trip. We were perfunctorily welcomed, photos were taken, and rushed off to the van because it was late at night and everyone wanted to get to the hotel. In the van, our translator/guide began to detail the itinerary for the research trip immediately excusing herself from the upcoming trips to the San Juan Festival in the barrios on the basis that she did not know how to dance like Black people, as she shook her hips and could not share the hotel room with the driver. She informed us that another translator would be joining us for the trip to Barlevento in the morning. Needless to say, this was not a good way to initiate cross-cultural alliances and later it was remarked upon as setting a negative introduction to the woman translator.

When we got to the hotel in Caracas, Venezuela, I observed the staff as both curious and apprehensive. My thought was that the staff was thinking "what the hell is this group from the USA?" The tension in the lobby increased when my colleague who was quite anxious about accounting to our sponsoring university for the money spent on the trip asked the translator to help her with a discussion of credit for the group for meals and the translator refused and said she would have nothing to do with a discussion of money with the front desk staff and that was not her job. My colleague viewed this as more racism coming from the translator which I believe was an accurate assessment. Because three of our delegation members speak Spanish fluently the money situation was worked out. I feared that we had been viewed as "argumentative USA money obsessed Yankees" from the start of our trip at a hotel in which we would be staying for the majority of our trip.

The following morning, our first full day in Venezuela, two students and I took a short walk around the commercial area in which our hotel was situated. I am a sixty-year-old white Italian American woman who no longer is gazed or gawked at by men in the streets (a relief) and my students are two young and beautiful Mexican American women who were scrutinized by almost every man on every block. I felt slimed by these overt attentions just walking with them. The students, who had expressed concern about anti-USA sentiments in Venezuela on the plane, asked me when we returned to the lobby why they were stared at so intensely. I told them that I viewed it as the sexism and male entitlement so prevalent in all societies for young beautiful women with its own specific flavor in South America. Because the young women had never been out of Chicago much less the USA, this level of intense attention was new for them.

At 11 am we were met by the second translator-guide, a tall commanding 58-year-old light skinned Venezuelan male. I knew we were to be assigned two translators on the trip and had requested of the touring agency that they not be in the opposition camp or anti-Chavez. The guide, upon introductions, seeing that only three out of the seven of us were present at the prescribed time to leave for Barlevento informed me that I, as the senior member of the delegation, should call my colleagues and tell them to come down to the lobby and be on time for the remainder of the trip. I countered by requesting his patience advising that we were a small group and that the first day was a travel day with no appointments. Sadly, the theme of lateness by our group established a source of irritation between translators, the driver and delegation members right up to the morning we left to return to the USA.

Despite this rocky start I still had revolutionary stars in my eyes as my colleagues and I got on the van for the scenic trip to Barlevento which is a rural area along the coast about 2 hours from Caracas. I became concerned about the ideological position of this guide when after an introduction to Caracas and Venezuelan history as we were leaving the city the guide went on to tell us how he believed that the local and street crime is not attended to by the Chavez government. He told also us how he was blacklisted by the Chavez government for speaking out on a referendum. This skepticism about the Chavez government was dispersed through-out the trip in comments and derogatory non-verbal cues such as rolling eyes, frowns, and hand gestures. I informed him that I was a supporter of Chavez and the revolution to which he responded that he was a moderate and independent thinker and all would be well. He was smart at alleviating and exciting tensions when he wanted to.

The topic of discussion that the guide emphasized repeatedly on the trip concerned the increase of violence in Venezuela which the guide attributed to the Chavez government as opposed to centuries of colonial and neo-liberal oppression. With dire warnings to us of being careful and sticking together with him and the driver through-out the tour, he expressed his dislike for the new reforms that he believed would be too "soft" on criminals who should be thrown in jail.

Because I had just read about these reforms I explained to him the restorative justice models from when these reforms generate. He backed off of the discussion after he explained that he had a law degree but no longer practiced law and a short discussion about philosophy and law. Yet, The one concrete gang-type event I saw in ten days in Venezuela was when a funeral group forced led by youth on motor cycles forced everyone to move their cars as they turned around in the middle of the highway because an accident was stopping traffic. Given that Chicago has one of the highest murder rates world-wide, I was undeterred by these discussions. Getting into the hotel in Barlevento after a  traffic jammed four-hour trip was a relief. This time the guide helped my colleague with the translations about money and credit for the group with no hesitation and we were able to settle into our rooms.


The next two days we were participant observers and interviewers at the San Juan Festival in Curiepe and the Casa Central de Madres agricultural farm. The first day at the festival was intense for participants on many levels. The drums of Curiepe are the first things you see as you arrive in town. There are two types of tambor we learned from a maestro to which were introduced. One stand-up drum, about waist-high and nearly two feet in diameter. The other drum, long and tubular resting on the ground. A conch horn blown in staccato bursts announced the beginning of the festival. The dances mimic the mating prance of birds. I observed a similar dance in Cuba at the Art School in Matanzas. The rhythmic dance was one that I could not help but try to emulate and danced on the sidelines much to the dismay and perhaps embarrassment of our group.

Barlovento is populated by Venezuelans whose ancestors were brought from Africa as slaves for the cacao plantations.

It was here that large plantations filled the Venezuelan countryside and worked countless Africans, stolen from their homes and brought to Venezuela via Cuba. Life is different in Barlovento. You can feel it as you roll down the highway, lush vegetation hanging off the hills and mountainsides, small eateries, warm dark smiles. The town of Curiepe was

founded in the early 1700s, by a group of freed and liberated slaves, led by a man named Juan del Rosario Blanco. Curiepe still only has a population of 10 to 15,000, but the history and the fame have lent Curiepe international attention and the centerpiece of the yearly San Juan Festival, which may not always be a good thing.

Here too, our delegation drew the stares and curiosity of men, women, and children. Word got out of our visit and an elder teacher (maestro) introduced himself and led us to the home of honor where the statue of the cult of San Juan Bautista is kept before the ceremony where men carry him on their shoulders to the church for the mass the next day. The family generously welcomed us into their home with smiles and invitations to pray to San Juan at this special time. With sounding of a conch horn and the drums moving through town we left the home and followed the crowd to the initial drumming and dancing opening the festival. Later, an inebriated elder from Curiepe told me many times about the importance of the dancing and the drums once the dancing had begun. When I would not comply with his request to go away with him he danced with me and some others in our delegation instead.

Later, my colleague told me that this first morning was very emotional for her as she felt completely at home in the town but was upset by the poverty and drunkenness while longing for African cultural traditions that were not preserved nor practiced in the USA. She said in tears, "why wherever I go in the world is the state of my people in such poverty and despair?" My responding embrace felt shallow indeed given the reality of her insight.

Our next stop that day was the women’s organic agricultural collective, Casa Central de Madres, an NGO sponsored by Prout Assembly. The two-story, 160 square-meter Community Center is located on three and a half hectares of agricultural land. The project began in the year 2000 putting Prout into practice. A two-hour drive from Caracas, this model "Master Unit" (interesting colonial master/slave language is indicative of the NGO relationship to people through-out the world) serves the five nearest rural villages of Barlovento, which are very impoverished, through education, health, agriculture, and cooperatives. We had purposely wanted to include an NGO in our analysis of programs in Venezuela in addition to government programs. For me it is part of my ongoing research into the nature of the relationships between imperialist NGO’s and those countries resisting imperialism.

After a scenic trip through small towns and a stop at a corner shop to sample a national food, Arepas, the Venezuelan corn bread stuffed with cheese, chicken, or beef, that we savored in the van we arrived at the lush organic farm of Casa Central de Madres. We met with Didi Ananda Sadhana, Director, Centro Madre, a Dutch woman who became a nun within the Prout tradition, had been managing the collective along with her Board President and Vice President, two local woman, who were generously giving their time to visit with us on somewhat short notice that had been arranged between myself and Didi over email in which we had agreed to hold a general question and answer discussion together. Once seated in a circle after introductions, my colleague announced that before we conducted the tour of the farm, she would like individuals to interview the women separately. We had not talked about this prior to the visit so I became concerned immediately that we were making demands of the women’s time that had not been agreed upon. Not being brutta Americana (an ugly American) is a constant concern for me on any trip out of the USA but specifically here where people from the USA are very suspect because of the long list of USA/CIA sponsored troubles and the coup of 2002. I understood my colleagues need for the women to be interviewed separately by other African-American women but had not expected to feel as excluded and marginalized as I felt from that point on in our trip.

Didi explained how she came to Barlovento with a small international team of AMURT ((Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team) volunteers due to the tragedy of landslides in 1999. Not only was the state of Vargas affected (where an estimated 50,000 people died), but also in Barlovento there was terrible flooding. Didi went there to do temporary relief work, and after six months there was an opportunity to start a long-term project. This is how Centro Madre began.

She explained Centro Madre’s vision to offer the local people, particularly the population of the five nearest rural villages, a variety of activities, projects, and opportunities for personal growth, economic development, and social and spiritual growth so they can better defend themselves against economic exploitation, racism, etc.

The women we met with agreed to the proposed individual interviews and after brief introductions all around in which our interpreter had to insert his own personal stories as the women told theirs. This assumption of male entitlement was irritating to me and I noticed that the group tolerated his narrative with smiles all around the circle with the exception of few eye rolls from the local women. The women told us of their experiences in poverty and the lack of education available before the Chavez government and before the agricultural project which combines organic farming with other projects such as self-help groups. The two events combined during the same 10 year period meant that both of them could go to college and get jobs in teaching and social work. When asked about funding the director explained that despite the Chavez government’s green agenda the help they received was from the government-sponsored Cuban exchange program where Cuban agricultural experts came in and transformed the land into the lush farm that we could see all around us. We spent approximately four hours at the farm. I interviewed the director and the board president together but did not have time to interview the vice president as she had to leave after her interview with my colleague and her group.

In my interview with the women of Casa, I learned that the country has made outstanding progress in reducing gender disparities in recent decades. Women obtained the right to vote in 1946. The Law of Equal Opportunities for Women was enacted in 1993, and the 1999 Bolivarian Constitution prohibits gender-based discrimination. In adjudicating rural land the Land Law of 2001 gives preference to women who are heads of households and new houses are put in the names of the women. Women are guaranteed a food subsidy during pregnancy and after childbirth. Several institutions have been created to assist women. They include the Ministry of Popular Power for Women, the Development Bank for Women and the National Prosecutor for Women’s Rights. In addition, a Basic Law on the Right of Women to a Life Free of Violence was passed in 2006. Even with these laws, I was told that domestic violence is still a major problem that many of the women of the Casa have experienced.

It was explained that domestic violence was never spoken about before the revolution. Women were forced to keep it a secret because the communities would talk about them if they said anything. Since Chávez, there are organizations that will help women when they are in a situation of domestic violence. She also said that women now have access to an education. I got a mixed response to my question of whether or not the men in the local villages are supportive of the women and because I asked this question while our male translator was present the women may not have felt comfortable speaking freely.

Our tour of the gardens included the medicinal garden, composting and the organic trade project. The farm also has 80 chickens, a fish pond, and beehives which experts from Cuba helped develop and who were there advising Venezuelans about how to grow more food. (Chavez and Castro worked out a deal where they are trading oil for expertise. Didi also told us that they grow a little tobacco, which mixed with noni juice and neem leaves from the garden acts as a biological deterrent against pests and fungus, which are quite persistent in this hot, humid climate. The aim is to create a regular source of income from a wide variety of agricultural products and to educate the local community about the principles and practices of small-scale organic agriculture. However, during the course of our interviews, we learned of two violent attacks at the Casa. Didi said that four young masked men with guns broke into the house after sunset. She was alone with her play daughter, Melkys, who was12 years old at the time and ordered to lie down and cover their heads. The young men then proceeded to steal everything of value, including two laptops and agriculture and construction machines and tools. At the end, they tied Didi and Melkys up and drove off in Didi’s car. The robbers abandoned the car down the road, which they later recovered. The material loss was around US$15,000.The president of the organization expressed to me that she and many of the locals believe that the opposition party

is arming the youth to create problems using the classic tactic in which the imperialist always does—that is to get the poor to kill each other and blame the violence on the enemy.

On Sunday I woke up dreading our planned visit to attend mass in Curiepe. My personal and family history of religious oppression is intense and I mostly steer clear of churches be they Catholic or Protestant. I did not feel that it was appropriate for the white woman (me) to back out of this day in Curiepe, nor would it be right to waste the day when I had come so far and would miss the grand climax of the celebration. While I was relieved to see that we were too late to crowd into the church I was delighted that our delegation met and later interviewed an exchange student from Africa. As he and I walked with our group around the village he told me of a health clinic there staffed with Cuban doctors, which contains extensive diagnostic equipment that had never been seen in the region. Before the clinic, I was told, patients faced extremely high prices for medical care. Most care was only available through hospitals in Caracas. Now primary and diagnostic care is available locally, and there is a decrease in infant mortality as a tangible benefit of their new access to primary health care.

My colleague wanted to interview the African exchange student formally and the police allowed her to so in their station. I wanted to sit close to hear the interview and was attempting to ask one of the police officers if it was ok to move my chair near the interview when one of the delegates (former military but now a pacifist) authoritatively motioned for me not to move closer to hear the interview by pointing and shaking her head, no, in what I assumed was fear of blocking a police exit. Determined instead to improvise by conducting my own walkabout and observational research for the next hour I watched the San Juan processional from a park and a community center in which a temporary police station was set up to prevent the kind of violence and shoot-outs that had occurred in previous years at festivals. There were a community radio station and a computer center (they have 167 computers), as a place for kids to do homework, and as a place to teach arts and crafts. The Chavista movement’s headquarters was decorated with vivid posters: anti- Israeli, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and Allende.

We returned to our Van, hot and weary, which was parked close to a brightly colored school for children in the community. Here, they teach classes both to students and members of the community. The program was created by the national government to give technology to marginalized sectors that never had access. At the computer room, the students do research and help each other with their homework. Education, they said, is used as a tool of inclusion. It was clear to me that the AfroVenezuelan community is not done with their push to be recognized as significant members of Venezuela 's population in the process of revolution in which many previously ignored groups within society are finally gaining recognition. Later, I learned at the Bolivarian universities Afro-Venezuelan studies program that while progress has been made, Afro-Venezuelans still feel as though they deserve to be more included in the process- the same struggle that marginalized groups everywhere are also still going through.

The following day in Caracas we went on a historic tour of the city which was introduced by the woman guide with the "Columbus discovered Venezuela myth to which many of us responded reminding her that the indigenous Venezuelans were there and not "discovered". This set off the

tensions in the van once again for me. Ou trip that day included the house where Simon Bolivar was born and the museum dedicated to his life and death. At the museum, we were able to see portraits, clothes, letters and medals all belonging to Simon Bolivar. We learned about the six countries (Venezuela, Bolivia, Panama, Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia) that Bolivar liberated during his career as a general. We also saw delightful groups of children on school field trips to the museum.

Our next visit that day was to the Venezuelan Museum of African Art.  My overall assessment of this museum is as a space that emphasizes African culture as an aesthetic resource while guided by neo-liberal rationalities of acquisition and appropriation. Upon entering the Museum the first works of art are the racist ethnic effigies that Basquiat created to educate about racism in the USA. I had no idea that I was walking into the collection

and appropriation of African art by the wealthy philanthropist, Nelson Sanchez. Nelson Sanchez Chapellín, introduced us to his museum explaining that he was inspired to open the museum in honor of one of his wives who was Afro-Venezuelan. He funded the project through the foundation that bears his name. After travel, research and procurement of works, he said that the museum has the world’s largest collection of African art, all of which he procured in his travels and now "owns" including the 5,000 pieces that make up the current collection.

Mr. Sanchez is a perfect example of the elite’s opposition against Chavez who organize from Miami where he told me he has a home in addition to homes in Venezuela. His account of art history displayed at the museum makes no apologies for the failures of colonialism or the racism of the Venezuelan political system prior to Chavez. While calling himself a socialist Mr. Sanchez clearly expressed the belief that Venezuela is on an unsustainable path, and that the inflationary economy will catch up with Chavez eventually.

Like our translators, Mr. Sanchez also did not like that the Chavez government changed the name and constitution abolishing term limits on the office of the president making it possible for Chavez to serve for as long as people voted for him. These changes to the constitution have political and economic dimensions that were raising his and many people’s fears about the future. As a harsh critic, he would not concede that anyone has benefited from the Bolivarian revolution. Mr. Sanchez was vehement in his dislike for Chavez’s initiative in redefining the constitutional definition of and protections for "property, changing how property is defined was provoking the greatest anxiety.

From the outside, it’s easy to criticize Venezuela. Inflation is high, the economy is in a difficult place, although growing, and relations with countries such as Russia, China and Iran are often painful for foreigners to comprehend…While it’s true that there is awful inflation in Venezuela, much of it has been caused by business owners, large-scale private distributors and producers, import-exporters and the economic elite that seek to destabilize and overthrow the Chavez administration.

They sell dollars on the black market at pumped-up rates and speculate and hike the prices of regular consumer products to provoke panic and desperation among the public, all with the goal of forcing Chavez’s ouster. And despite ongoing economic sabotage, the economy has still grown substantially in comparison to other nations in the region. In fact, according to the neoliberal International Monetary Fund (IMF), Venezuela is the only South American nation to forecast economic growth this year.

Eva Golinger

Our collective sensibility as a diverse group of women researchers from the USA each bringing distinctive social consciousness about the social structures at home and abroad meant that we also had our own interpretations of what we heard and saw in Venezuela. I felt this vividly in the Museum and the next days at the universities in Caracas. Our identities run along a continuum of ideological and religious repertoires of contestation in each place we visited and the Museum was no exception in this regard. While in the USA we are programmed to view identity along racial, class and ethnic lines we found in Venezuela that the understandings of race are more fluid where notions of the identity function more as a means of articulating a sense of shared marginality or class distinctions. Yet the racism against Afro-Americans, be they from the USA or Venezuela was distinct everywhere we went.

On my final day traveling with our delegation, we visited two universities. At the start of the day, we met with a government representative, a male faculty law professor from the Bolivarian University who would accompany us to both universities. These meetings had been arranged with the tour agency with the express intent of comparing the two universities. Our first visit was at the Universidad Central de Venezuela. In his introduction, the translator said: "this university is the good one, the open one, the free one, the other one; Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela is the radical one with the closed minds". In actuality, the Universidad Central de Venezuela is the central location where the opposition to Chavez is organized, many who say, with help from USA/CIA. This type of negative commentary about the Chavez government was ongoing every day. Thankfully, the faculty of Bolivariana put his claim to rest as they explained all that has actually been implemented at Bolivariana compared to centuries of oppression through unfair and elitist systems of higher education.

I have written about these two universities in a separate article but will summarize the Bolivarian University of Venezuela (UBV) because in many ways it is the university I have desired to develop in the USA. UBV is a state university in Venezuela which the government founded in 2003 in the aftermath of the oil strike–indeed locating it in the oil company’s headquarters. It has locations in 9 other locales around Venezuela. The UBV is a part of the Chávez government's "Mission Sucre" social programs, which aim to provide free higher education to the poor. Consequently, enrollment at the UBV is free and open to all, regardless of academic

qualifications, prior education or even nationality. The UBV was created to break the paradigm of the elite universities and almost 70% of the graduates are women. According to Zulia’s largest daily, Panorama, Chavez’ daughter, Maria Gabriela, was among the over one thousand graduates. There are already 21 publicly funded universities in Venezuela, including Bolivarian University of Venezuela

"This is very significant and I have always said it: capitalism is machista and to a large extent excludes women, that’s why, with the new socialism, girls, you can fly free," said Chavez at the first graduation ceremony, "I give my life for you, children of the homeland, because you are the standards with which the struggle against academic exclusion in this country began."

The UBV seeks not only an education for all but an education that challenges traditional frameworks in non-exclusionary and non-selective enrollment. Students are encouraged to be critical, reflective, and to participate in and lead classroom activities using the methods of popular education taught by Paolo Freire. The university has a responsibility to provide services and work for the wider community’s benefit. Thus, students of Architecture design projects to meet the huge housing needs for those who live in precarious barrios. The health centre, library and cultural spaces at the UBV are open to the community. In addition, students conduct a project which will benefit their local community, rather than simply writing a dissertation. In an interview, Maria Ejilda Castellano, the rector of the Bolivarian University of Venezuela said:

"We have always said that education is not just to create professionals. Education is much more than that. Knowledge is power, and more people with knowledge empower the whole population. Educating women empowers not only the women educated but the whole population. Creating critical thinkers, a population of intellectuals, is a much more profound project than just preparing people for jobs. This country, this world, is changing and will continue to change. Your counterargument about 'jobs' assumes a static world. We have a model of development in this country that demands a new kind of professional. If the government is trying to diversify the economy, these new professionals will have a place in the development of the country. And I am willing to bet that there will be plenty of work for the professionals we create. I am not talking about jobs. I am talking about work. Those are two different things."

While the visit to UVB presented a challenge to the group as we were directed to not speak English and not to tell people we were from the USA, I found the experience instructive. Through-out history the indigenous and immigrants have to be silent and hide the information from whence they come and who they are. I thought this an important learning experience for those of us coming from the imperialist country that had recently tried to over throw Chavez. This university represents a front in the war of imperialism and we were visitors from the belly of the beast. There were too many times on the visit to Venezuela that the anti-Chavez rhetoric dispirited my revolutionary heart as I saw how difficult it is to transform a country from the capitalist greed model to a new model of socialism for social justice. Bless Chavez for caring about the poor and oppressed and working to create this amazing university. He has even worked with the indigenous people through the Bolivariana Indigenous Studies program to frame their own constitutions in their own lands, the pueblos.


The transition to socialism has intensified the class struggle while appreciably increasing the level of the economic, social and cultural life of the people in Venezuela. The influences and effects of imperialist and anti-imperialist actions on the social structures and historical processes of the people are critical for those who want to transition out of imperialist structures in our countries. A clear understanding on the part of our delegation of the revolutionary possibilities in the process of reducing the isolation of human groups based on race, class, and gender within Venezuela by the Chavez government may have produced the very revolutionary results in reducing isolation and exclusion that we seek. Given that imperialism has fulfilled its historical mission in increasing the differentiation between the classes using race, gender, age, creed, greed, and orientation in the development of the bourgeoisie across the globe it was important to see how efforts to undo these divisions were working in Venezuela.

Is there a curtain of silence that has fallen on covering the ongoing covert operations to destroy all that Chavez has accomplished in Venezuela by mass media? It appears to me based on my experiences in Venezuela that if you stand with the Chavez revolution against capitalism and imperialism you will be silenced, vilified, and marginalized. My presence in Venezuela was itself a condemnation of imperialism and a proof of solidarity with all people who want to banish imperialism from their countries. In returning from Venezuela I am taking Eva Golinger’s advice to take off the rose-colored glasses and see revolution for what it is: the trying, alluring, arduous, demanding and thrilling task of forging a just humanity. Most certainly, that is the Venezuela that I saw in the barrios, the festivals, the agricultural collectives, and the Bolivarian University. On my return, I remain grounded in my anti-imperialist position and in solidarity with those comrades in this common struggle who further develop and remain faithful to the ethics and practices necessary for liberation.



Views from Venezuela:  From Left to Right

June Terpstra, Ph.D. 

As another fascist Franco takes the stage in the world conflict of greed versus social justice I write this report from Venezuela as a member of diverse research delegation of seven women from the USA who are visiting Venezuela to listen to the Venezuelan people about their lives in the new Bolivarian Republic.  We are here to see and experience the lush and busy capital of Caracas and satellite cities.  We represent faculty and students from Northeastern Illinois University Justice Studies program and board and staff members of the Alternative Education Research Institute which provides research and programs focused on those formerly incarcerated re-entering communities in the USA. 

Our primary research interests are the social and economic reforms of the Bolivarian Republic under the leadership of Hugo Chavez with a specific interest in how these innovations impact the lives of indigenous first nation peoples, African-Venezuelans and women.  My first informal but intense political discussions have been with a middle-class 26 year old African-Venezuelan male track professional, an upper class 24 year old woman whose family owns a clothing store and our guide, a middle class professional in tourism who also has a law degree.  We are staying at a hotel in Barlovento, Venezuela, a town whose colonial history centers on the cocoa and banana plantations of slavery and colonialism.  This is where the African-Venezuelan festival annually celebrates liberation combined with African and Colonial religions honoring San Juan.  

This country is incredibly lush and green and busy and once people learn a bit about who we are the discussion turns immediately to crime and the youth and the Venezuelan government’s new mission aimed at combating Venezuela’s problem with citizen insecurity and crime – considered a critical issue by the majority of Venezuelans who often cite crime as one of their primary concerns in polls.  According to Minister of Justice and Internal Affairs, Tareck El-Aissami, the new mission is centered on a policy of prevention, the creation of new values, addressing social exclusion and rehabilitation.  According to the young athlete I with whom I talked who summarized the problem as a policy of the Chavez government dividing people against each other he expressed a belief that racism has increased with the rhetoric of inclusion and exclusion.  He said that many of his black friends and family have been killed directly because of the hyperbolic attention to race and class divisions.   Echoing the young man’s point of view our guide is also critical of the government for supposedly ignoring the issue of crime in Venezuela and being too “soft” on violent crime.  He also cited the majority of crimes committed by youth and pointed out on our trip out of Caracas to Barlevento the youth acting out on motor cycles and cars on the road in a traffic jam caused by an accident as they forced traffic to move so their funeral procession could turn around on the highway.   However, the government maintains, and I agree, that the opposition and those expressing this opinion have a “reactionary” stance to the issue as they are seduced by capitalism and accept the models of punishment of the poor to protect the rich and “wanna be” rich. 

The focus of the new government “Venezuela Full of Life” mission is restorative and preventative according to officials in an effort to reduce the risks of young people who unfortunately end up resorting to street crime.  The mission is one more effort in a series of measures and political strategies implementing tactics in a nation wide campaign. Yet while the official sources say that the Bolivarian police are founded on a new model of policing with recruits working directly with communities and receiving classes on human rights have decreased the crime rate by 57% my young informant says the police are completely corrupt and easily bribed and these statistics are lies fabricated by the government.  He said that the only believable press is the opposition press. 

While pointing out the new rows of government housing for the poor our guide discusses the laws passed last Friday, by Chavez.  A series of 11 far-reaching laws relating to communal government, tourism and housing the pros and cons of which are a major topic of our discussions.  Our guide approves of the social equality programs and socialist efforts ending inequalities but changing the name and colors of the country was over the top for him.  One of the new laws, entitled “Law for Community Management of Functions, Services and other Powers,” opens the door for organized communities to have greater responsibility in the running of local life and access to more direct funding from the government.  In our visit to a Women’s Center in Higuerote, Venezuela today we are sure to hear more about these programs from the perspectives of working class and poor women. 

Of serious concern for social justice advocates in Latin America today is the unconstitutional ousting of President Fernando Lugo from office.  The right wing lower house of the Paraguayan Congress moved fast to impeach Lugo on Thursday in a coup.  The right wing majority used clashes last week in Curuguatay in which 11 farmers and six police officers were killed as an excuse to legally blame him of mishandling the conflict.  The Senate opened his trial on Friday and quickly reached a guilty verdict, ousting Lugo.  Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa announced that his government would not recognize another Franco as president“, referring to Frederico Franco, a name remembered historically for the fascist dictator of Spain. The government of Ecuador will not recognize any president of Paraguay other than Fernando Lugo,” said Correa, adding “true democracy is based on legality and legitimacy.”  Vice-president Elias Jaua described the attempt by the Chamber of Deputies of Paraguay to topple President Fernando Lugo as a new attack sourcing from the bourgeoisie and the United States. During a ceremony to deliver resources to the state of Miranda, Jaua denounced the sectors trying to weaken the South American revolutionary process.

“The battle of the Paraguayan people is that of the Venezuelans, and we are committed to thwart this new attempt by the oligarchies and imperialism as we did in Venezuela in 2002, and also when they tried to topple Evo Morales (Bolivia) and Rafael Correa (Ecuador),” he said.  In Jaua’s opinion, it is all about the struggle of the peoples and governments so that the will of the peoples of the region is respected and about “letting imperialism know that our Latin America is no longer their backyard,” he said.

“Here we have a people and a government ready to defend the sovereignty and independence of all the countries in the region,” stressed Jaua. (

The celebrations we attend this weekend start today and are dedicated to Saint John the Baptist.  They are a mix of  Carnival, Christianity, Paganism for three days during the summer solstice to pay homage to the Saint  and to celebrate this holiday and tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation for more than three centuries of festivals for the Afro-Venezuelan communities from Barlovento and Yaracuy. 

“During the time of slavery, in Venezuela, for three days in June, Venezuela’s slaves where allowed off.  Three days during the San Juan Festival to do whatever they pleased.  Three days to celebrate, to plan revolts, to flirt and make love: the sensuality of the dance, the power of the drums and the song, the emotion- for three days.  “So” they said “we had better make the most of it, because it will soon be over.”  The spirit has not been lost.”  (Michael Fox,



Views from Venezuela:

The San Juan Festival

in Curiepe, Venezuela

June Terpstra, Ph.D. 

“...assure them that you are made from love, that you speak from love,

because that is from where you were born...

many will laugh at you, many will brand you insane,

yet when has madness ever really mattered here...

some will listen, some will stay, and you will grow into friends,

into solidarity, into the forever we dream treasure your woman,

treasure your man, because you are all we have...

stand in the present, draw from the future and shoot with all the ammunition of the past.”  Anthony Anaxagorou: The Master's Revenge


The Festival of San Juan began yesterday in the Venezuelan town of Curiepe, Venezuela in the northeastern state of Miranda, popularly known as Barlevento.  Popular festivals in Venezuela are a traditional form of expression through which barrio residents take the public square and surrounding blocks as a community emphasizing their common history in resistance against the slavery and oppression that brought them to the Americas.   The festivals represent a combination of African traditions and colonial Catholicism initiated and mediated through African drumming and dancing announced by a shell horn across the town. The traditional dances and drums at the festival dates to the times of slavery when slaves were given three days off at Solstice. Our intent to observe the festivals here in Venezuela is grounded in our experiences using ethnography and phenomenological methods of research as a form of resistance to non-European research modes.


As we entered the town the over the past two days the local police and Federales are highly visible standing around in groups with guns strapped to shoulders, parked in official trucks, hanging around stations set in areas around the square and in apartments overlooking the square.  This presence is to prevent the gang violence of past festivals where struggles occurred when gangs prevented the festival from occupying the square and took control over the proceedings.  These past struggles have at times ended with shoot-outs and murders.  We were informed by one of the women we interviewed that there are suspicions among Chavez supporters that the US sponsored opposition is arming these gangs and encouraging violence to damage the Chavez government thus opening the door to yet another coup attempt.  Our guide informed the police of our group’s intent to observe the festival and later the police allowed us space to interview people we met at the festival. 

 In addition to the police uniformed presence are the uniformed presence of young people in t-shirts representing the government support for the festival handing out colorful posters and festival program booklets.  The T-shirts are also worn by many barrio residents.  Chavez implemented policies for funding the arts with the Project of the Organic Law of Culture in 2000 with a specific aim of preserving culture.  The Chavez government uses oil revenues to support cultural forms such as the urban festivals.   While the intent of the government is national cohesion of culture through support for festivals such as this one the distinct history of exclusion and the religious aspects remain important to the town’s people.  This was most evident in the children who were dressed in a range of cultural costumes and were waving the red flags provided by the government to honor the saints.

 In her book, “Who Can Stop the Drums? Sujatha Fernandas details how the cult of San Juan may be seen along the lines of the patron client relationship where through-out the year people make requests to the saint and then repay the saint with promises, loyalty, or the carrying of the statue of the saint on their shoulders.  The relationship of the people in the political sphere represents another level of the patron client relationship.  While for some of the barrio residents celebrating this year, Chavez is viewed as a benefactor protecting their interests, the opposition candidate, Mr. Rondanski, the governor in this area arrives at the church heavily surrounded by guards before the mass to promote his race in a festival highly associated with black identity. 

 The festival celebration represents the construction of lineages that link contemporary marginality and poverty with the oppression experienced by earlier generations.  We met two maestros/ elder teachers on our visits to the festival.  One revered elder who explained to us the importance of the two saints, San Juan Congo and San Juan Buatista.  He led us to the home of the family that houses the effigy of the San Juan Bautista who functions as the moral arbiter of purification that Catholicism imposed on the slave and explained that traditionally by being allowed in the home housing the saint we should ask the saint to grant our prayers.  In contrast, San Juan Congo is the figure of slave rebellion that helped free the slaves. The second maestro/teacher who was introduced to us by a Gambian student attending the festival, explained to us the importance of the drums in addressing the continuity of culture from Africa to the Americas and the legacy of exclusion and inequality in the Americas.  The drumming and dancing, was critiqued as distinct from African traditions while a meaningful embrace of African culture by the Gambian student studying in Venezuela in the exchange program established by Chavez. 


The fiesta, a historic tradition challenging the unjust exclusion from membership in cities and states, reflected issues of belonging and exclusion for each member of our research group. African-American participants expressed emotional associations with people in the barrio who looked like an uncle or a grandfather with tears in their eyes and voiced a longing for cultural traditions to be preserved in the USA as experienced at the San Juan festival. A Muslim participant who wears traditional hijab fascinated many residents who asked her who she was, why she was there and wanted photos of her and with her.  As the word got out quickly that we were North Americanos,or as some called us,Yankees, a group of young boys whose ages ranged somewhere between 10 -14 initiated a political discussion with her about the bad things the USA does to their country and the importance of their country’s oil. Their knowledge of history and politics was impressive.  Mexican-American students described the familiarity of the culture of the festival and said they felt at home in that regard but that the overt attention from men was very uncomfortable for them. Another participant observed the exclusion and discrimination against gays at the festival and in Venezuela generally. 


The festival reminded me ofthe many Saint festivals celebrated through-out my mother’s homeland of Italy.  The little church in Curiepe brought back memories of the church in the town square of San Pietro Magisano, Italy and even more so, of beloved family members now deceased.  The intense commitment of my Italian family to Christianity was mirrored by the town’s people crowding into the church and evoked longings for community and cultural traditions never found in the USA. The community I long for is that which Chavez is fighting for, community committed to a revolution grounded in social justice and community based on love and respect for the people.  My prayer to the Saints today was this community for us all. 


Views from Venezuela: 

The Elite University vs.

the Revolutionary University

June Terpstra, Ph. D. 



I visited two universities yesterday in Caracas, Venezuela. The translator who was assigned to our group introduced the Universidad Central de Venezuela saying: "this university is the good one, the open one, the free one, the other one; Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela is the radical one with the closed minds".   This type of negative commentary has been ongoing everyday. Thankfully, yesterday, the faculty of Bolivariana

put his claim to rest as they explained all that has actually been implemented at Bolivariana compared to centuries of oppression through unfair and elitist systems of higher education.


The UBV, Bolivarian University of Venezuelais a state university

in Venezuela which the government founded in 2003 in

the aftermath of the oil strike–indeed locating

it in the oil company’s headquarters. Ironically, these

buildings became the campuses for the new universities on

August 17, 2004; two days after Chavez won the recall referendum

the opposition had intended to use to throw him out. 

It has locations in 9 other locales around Venezuela. The UBV is a part of the Chávez government's "Mission Sucre" social programs, which aim to provide free higher education to the poor. Consequently, enrollment at the UBV is free and open to all, regardless of academic qualifications, prior education or even nationality. The UBV was created to break the paradigm of the elite universities and almost 70% of the graduates are women. According to Zulia’s largest daily, Panorama, Chavez’ daughter, Maria Gabriela, was among the over one thousand graduates. There are already 21 publicly funded universities in Venezuela, including Bolivarian University of Venezuela 


 “This is very significant and I have always said it: capitalism is machista and to a large extent excludes women, that’s why, with the new socialism, girls, you can fly free,” said Chavez at the first graduation ceremony, “I give my life for you, children of the homeland, because you are the standards with which the struggle against academic exclusion in this country began.”


The UBV seeks not only an education for all, but an education that challenges traditional frameworks in non-exclusionary and non-selective enrollment.  Students are encouraged to be critical, reflective, and to participate in and lead classroom activities using the methods of popular education taught by Paolo Freire.

The university has a responsibility to provide services and work for the wider community’s benefit. Thus, students of Architecture design projects to meet the huge housing needs for those who live in precarious barrios. The health centre, library and cultural spaces at the UBV are open to the community. In addition, students conduct a project which will benefit their local community, rather than simply writing a dissertation. In an interview, Maria Ejilda Castellano, the rector of the Bolivarian University of Venezuela said:

”We have always said that education is not just to create professionals.  Education is much more than that.  Knowledge is power, and more people with knowledge empower the whole population.  Educating women empowers not only the women educated, but the whole population.  Creating critical thinkers, a population of intellectuals, is a much more profound project than just preparing people for jobs. 


This country, this world, is changing and will continue to change.  Your counterargument about 'jobs' assumes a static world.  We have a model of development in this country that demands a new kind of professional.  If the government is trying to diversify the economy, these new professionals will have a place in the development of the country.  And I am willing to bet that there will be plenty of work for the professionals we create.  I am not talking about jobs.  I am talking about work.  Those are two different things.”


Contrary to the revolutionary methods and service model of the Bolivariana, faculty at the Universidad Central de Venezuela school of Social Work asked us to investigate the fact that Bolivarian socialism, promoted by the government, did not promote critical thinking such as the Central U does. The Central U has been abandoned by the government. One faculty expressed disdain for the general policies of the government saying “why should one bother to get an education if a professor makes the same as one without education?”  This comment said it all and represents the real goal of elitist education, making money in the capitalist system while remaining exclusive so to sequester knowledge for the benefit of the intelligentsia and the upper classes which support them. 

Conversely UBV challenges the hegemony of the globally accepted market-driven research-oriented elite model of higher education. The UBV is key to the revolutionary commitment of “constructing a Venezuela for all Venezuelans, in which social justice and equality rules”. The democratization of higher education is envisaged as being achieved through the strategy of municipalisation, which means that the state-funded university is operating in all 335 municipalities, as well as in prisons and factories, to facilitate equal access opportunities.

Indeed, there appears to be some reason to share the Venezuelan optimism. Even data obtained from the World Bank and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), cannot deny that under Chávez, participation at all educational levels has substantially increased. 


 “The UBV also signifies social inclusion and solidarity. Our students are committed, from the very first day, to work with love for their neighbor, for the community, for the neediest, all through socio-community action. This is an important aspect which differentiates us from other educational institutions. The UBV constitutes a pedagogical point of reference for social transformation,” states Angel Moros, Chancellor of the UBV.  Students are also provided with scholarships and food and transport vouchers in an attempt to address “social injustice” as a barrier to educational access.


So far the government’s efforts to create an inclusionary university education system can boast some significant achievements. Since 1998 the number of Venezuelan citizens possessing university level qualifications has risen from 785,000 to over 2,480,000. Venezuela also has the second highest university enrolment in Latin America and the fifth highest in the world after Cuba, South Korea, Finland and Greece, according to figures released by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2009.


There have been to many times on this visit to Venezuela that the anti-Chavez rhetoric breaks my revolutionary heart as I see how difficult it is to transform a country from the capitalist greed model to a new model of socialism for social justice. Bless Chavez for caring about the poor and oppressed.  He has even worked with the indigenous people through the Bolivariana Indigenous Studies program to frame their own constitutions in their own lands, the pueblos. 



Freire, P. (1974) Education as the Practice of Freedom. (14 th Edition), Mexico: Siglo XXI.

Bolivarian University of Venezuela (2003). Guiding document. Caracas.

Bolivarian University of Venezuela (2008). Popular education, strategic planning and community participation



 June Terpstra, Ph.D., Faculty at NEIU Justice Studies, Columbia College Chicago Humanities, ED of LEARN and Social Justice Activist is the website author.
  • Racism Sin Vergüenza in the Venezuelan Insurrection by the Rich
  •  It’s late morning in Caracas. February 12. From the restaurant inside the hotel around the corner from Plaza Venezuela we can hear chanting, but it’s too muffled to understand. Are they yelling “Maduro Salida” or “Maduro/burro Salida”[1] or something else? From the window, we can see people, almost all smiling white people, streaming down the street to join the first huge anti-government demonstration that signaled the onset of the current outrages in Venezuela.“Why?” I try to sound neutral.The title is “Miko Mandante”, meaning “Ape Commander” to mock the affectionate title “Mi Comandante” used by masses of Venezuelan people.[3]Revolution against RacismA significant share of the country’s patrimony, income from oil, is no longer siphoned off to the U.S. or to the old white Venezuelan elite. Between 1997 and 2011 the portion of Venezuela’s wealth going to the richest 20% decreased from 53% to 44%[8]-- a statistic that indicates more about the elite’s loss of power than impoverishment. At the end of 2013, the Guardian reported that the poverty rate had dropped by 20% , the largest decline in poverty in the Americas for 2012, and one of the largest in the world.[9] Oil revenues pay for new homes for the poor, schools where every primary student gets a free laptop, new universities with open admission, health clinics, and jobs. It also funds programs against domestic violence and transgenic seeds and a host of other campaigns for social justice.Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s first President with African and Indigenous ancestors, spoke proudly about his thick lips and kinky hair. His refusal to follow the traditional path for Venezuela’s “morenos” towards enblanquemiento[10]continues to evoke endless mockery and contempt from the white and white-influenced establishment. Rayma, a well-known cartoonist who is featured daily inEl Universal, published on July 18, 2013, another cartoon designed to evoke the same contempt and hatred as the one by Kiko Rodriguez shown above.In spite of the mockery, Chavez’ embrace of  Venezuelans’ African and Indigenous heritage included more than symbolism. He practiced solidarity with Black and Brown people on a world scale by leading an anti-imperialist struggle for self-determination of Southern nations. He also provided material aid with no strings attached to Black and Indigenous people in the United States, Haiti and Columbia and many other countries. For example, in 2011, a joint Cuban-Venezuelan project saw the opening of the first high school in Western Sahara's refugee camps. More recently, Venezuela and Cuba extended Miracle Mission International to the West Bank, Palestine to provide free eye surgery.[12]In Venezuela, the revolutionary struggle to end white supremacy and for self-determination is a slow slog, complicated by two forces: One, the white elites, backed by U.S. imperialism, and many of the middle class who support them, cling tenaciously to their power and privilege. Two, the denial by whites, “morenos”[13], and nearly everyone else that racism persists. As a result, galvanizing a mass movement against white supremacy has been difficult. On the other hand, the current counter-revolutionary movement in the streets has become the darling of the corporate press both inside and outside Venezuela. None of the coverage mentions that the racism pervading this movement could rival that found in the Ku Klux Klan or any other of the white supremacist formations that pepper U.S. history. Yet racism is one of the main engines and expression of the counter-revolution.The counter-revolutionary movement[14] that has been in the streets since early February has demonstrated that one of its main objectives is to restore unbridled white privilege to Venezuela. Cartoons, editorials, posters, graffiti continuously blame Venezuela’s economic problems—both real and distorted—on the government’s “squandering” the nation’s oil resources on the “rabble” both inside and outside Venezuela. Roberto Weil published this cartoon in one of Caracas’ major dailies, Tal Cual on March 8.Here’s a photoshopped depiction retweeted with #SOSVenezuela that recycles the trope of incompetent animals in government positions who are manipulated by crafty (white) Cuban leaders out to steal Venezuela’s wealth. Repeatedly, the privately-owned anti-government media has reflected and reenforced disregard and contempt for Venezuela’s Black and Brown people. For example, two years ago, the major daily, Tal Qual, ran a cartoon, again by Roberto Weil.Congressman Modesto Ruiz[15], an African Descendant,  was one of the main authors of the Law against Racial Discrimination. He, as well as members of African Descendant civil society organizations and other officials urged that Weil and Tal Qual’s publisher be charged in court with violating the law.  Yet, to date, the newspaper continues with it’s virulent anti-government drumbeat and Weil proceeds as one of Venezuela’s most widely reproduced cartoonists. His twitter account claims 155,000 followers and floods the twitter sphere with militant support for Maria Corina Machado (a right-wing extremist leader reminiscent of Sarah Palin) and the rest of the extremists promoting anti-government lies, racism and violence.[16]Graffiti, the twitter sphere, television and print media perpetuate a concoction of racist, anti-communist and xenophobic lies that Black Cubans have invaded Venezuela to consolidate Raul Castro’s control over the Venezuelan government and economy. Posters at right-wing demonstrations and photos of Black people in military uniform are retweeted thousands of times to arouse and manipulate fear of Black people, especially foreign (Cuban) Black people. On March 16, 2014, a woman named Alexandra Misel tweeted this photo with the caption, “Are these pure Afrodescendants from Barlovento (region of Venezuela with high concentration of African Descendants) or are they from Havana?” The next day, March 17,  she tweeted the same photo, but with a new, more alarmist caption, “Invading troops dressed like National Guard.” The photos below of mock lynchings by anti-government thugs follow in this horribly familiar white supremacist tradition. They were taken in the heart of the wealthy Chacao municipality of Caracas and posted March 5, 2014 by
     It is also important to note that white supremacist attempts to motivate and mobilize the overthrow of a legal government are far from consistent. They manipulate fear by raising the specter of the Black Cuban invaders. But if that trope isn’t enough, they also call on the traditional slave masters’ narrative of the “lazy” Black man, who is “good for nothing and might as well be dead.” On March 16, the caption on this unidentified photo was tweeted by politicon@politicono From the comments under these tweets, it is obvious that these Venezuelan white supremacists have no way of distinguishing an African descendant who is Cuban from one who is Venezuelan. Although they sometimes claim their violent, possibly genocidal intentions, are aimed at Cubans, their practice of decapitating motorcyclists and shooting their Bolivarian “enemies” indicates that the same racism that fuels anti-Cuban threats is also harnessed to galvanize their fascist putchist terror campaign against Chavistas.White peoples’ criminalization and fear of Black and Brown people date back to the first rebellions by Indigenous and enslaved people in the 1500’s. For the last decades, African Descendants  and Indigenous people have been invisible to the viewers of privately-owned TV stations, except when they appear as servants or criminals.  The Bolivarian government disbanded local police forces that used to racially profile, murder and harass African Descendants. Yet a struggle against some racial profiling continues, including that which is a product of endo-racism among African Descendants. The Bolivarian government has also taken steps to reform prisons and establish alternatives to incarceration and mobilize local communities to prevent crime.[17]  However, from the echo chamber of Venezuela’s privately-owned media and the U.S. corporate press, we hear that fear of crime and the government’s “inaction” in the face of crime motivates thousands of people to demand that Maduro resign. Given the virulence of racism in Venezuela, it is likely that many people, especially middle class whites, will continue to link crime (and laziness) with Blackness. The prolific  alexgonzalezlu, tweeted this photo on March 11 to dramatize the man’s supposed criminality and laziness.  In addition, today’s counter-revolutionary narrative manipulates racist white and middle class fear by directing it against the “colectivos”. They claim that Chavista grassroots collectives—the organizations that provide a space and structure for previously marginalized people to lead and participate in political education, cultural work and sports—are actually paramilitary arms of the “Maduro Dictatorship.” This racist myth accomplishes two counter-revolutionary objectives. First, it undermines a revolutionary institution, the communal council, that, for the first time, gives people of color a voice in politics and how resources will be spent. The second counter-revolutionary objective inverts reality. It blames the “colectivos” for intimidation and violence, rather than the middle class youth who build and maintain barricades, vandalize public property and universities and kill those who try to cross or dismantle barricades.[18]During the 1930’s, when white Venezuelan intellectuals promoted a white supremacist ideology that led to exclusion of all but European immigrants, they pointed to the Andes and Mérida as “The grand reservoir of the white race for the Republic.” [19] For some, Gocho identity as hard-working mountaineers emerged in direct contrast to the perceived laziness of coastal slaves and their pride was never fully separate from caste superiority. In the 20th century, seven of Venezuela’s presidents (including dictators) came from the Gocho region.[20]  The epitome of these white supremacist presidents was nicknamed “El Gocho”. He was Carlos Andres Pérez who imposed the 1989 neo-liberal program that forced 70% of Venezuelans into poverty and the subsequent insurrection that eventually brought Chavez to power.Yet images of macho white people, outfitted with makeshift rifles, pistols, Molotov cocktails, slingshots and other military equipment fill the screens of thousands of tweeters.  The captions brag. For example, under a photo of a muscular, military-styled white man wearing pants from a uniform and a white t-shirt and holding an automatic rifle, the caption reads, “Get back, I am Gocho” (#S.O.S.Venezuela@Alexgonzalezlu, Feb 23) Others feature flaming bulky barricades with captions like, “Caracas copying the Gocho model.”And “Release the Gocho inside you.”Solidarity with African Descendants, Indigenous People and the Bolivarian RevolutionSo far, the vast majority of Venezuelan people—especially African Descendants and Indigenous people, have rejected both the politics and strategy of the counter-revolutionary movement. It is not just that the anti-government forces are “out of touch”. They do not hide their racist agenda. A Bloomberg News article reported a bus driver’s observation, “It’s rich people trying to get back lost economic perks. The slums won’t join them.”[22]                                                               Thanks to Nelmir Guzman.THE GUSANO SPONSORS

    Venezuelan opposition shows its right-wing, racist and anti-working class character in the streets of Washington, D.C.

    A tale of two demonstrations: Eyewitness report

    February 16, 2014

    In front of the Venezuelan Embassy - Washington, D.C., Feb. 15, 2014

    En Español

    Yesterday (Sat., Feb. 15) at a demonstration in Washington, D.C., the racist, privileged and pampered character of the ultra-right-wing opponents of Venezuela’s revolutionary government revealed itself in a grotesque display.

    Vividly unmasking the true class nature of the opposition to Venezuela’s progressive government, the enraged children of Venezuela’s upper classes, who live a coddled existence in Washington, D.C., yelled insults and racist slurs against a multi-racial group of demonstrators who rallied for six hours to condemn the U.S. government and the CIA for trying to carry out another coup against the progressive government led by Nicolas Maduro.

    Standing in front of Venezuela’s Embassy in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C., the demonstration was one of many taking place all over the United States in opposition to the CIA’s effort to carry out another sabotage and destabilization in Latin America.

    “We, the people of the United States, are mobilizing around the country with a simple message: the government of the United States is trying to use the tactics of economic disruption and sabotage to overthrow the Bolivarian Revolution. The U.S. government speaks in our name but we, the people, oppose this policy,” explained one of the demonstrators over a bullhorn.

    The empowered children of Venezuela’s elite went nuts.

    “You are Cuban mother****ers” they chanted. Pointing at Black demonstrators, they yelled: “Go back to your homeless shelter.”  Stylish, well dressed and chic, Venezuela’s elite arrived for several hours in expensive cars to conduct a counterdemonstration. They brought a team of four impeccably groomed, small, purebred dogs adorned in costumes, and proceeded to pose for pictures with them.

    They reflected the typical arrogance of those who have lived with servants throughout life. They spent their entire time pouring out abuse and hatred toward the rally of working-class people who had come out because they oppose the U.S. government using its vast power in an attempt to derail a revolution that is so clearly benefiting Venezuela’s poor.

    They called the multi-racial, progressive demonstrators “stupid” and “lazy” and, of course, “communists.” Americans fighting for civil rights or an end to the Vietnam War recognize these echoes from our own homegrown right-wing bigots. But the arrogance of Venezuela’s affluent community in Washington, D.C., seemed boundless.

    These empowered rich kids from Venezuela – who go to Georgetown University, which costs over $58,000 a year to attend – screamed out at the demonstration that was attended mostly by working-people in Washington, D.C., “why don’t you get a job” and “who are you” and “go home.”

    It was a bad showing for Venezuela’s upper classes. Even though they were in Washington, D.C., they acted like they owned the place. They are an owning class and they cannot conceal their arrogance. They are convinced that they should always own Venezuela’s vast wealth while the majority of the population lives in dire poverty. Why not own the streets of Georgetown too while yelling at working-class people in Washington, D.C., that they should “go home!”

    They were dripping with class privilege. These coddled teenagers and twenty-somethings whipped themselves into a frenzy. They gave people the middle finger, and yelled and screamed things such as “Who’s paying you?” and “Come over to our side and we’ll pay you twice the minimum wage.”

    They came in shifts so they wouldn’t have to stay out in the cold too long. But it was clear that the progressive demonstration was determined to stay. The temperatures were below freezing. There was a stiff wind, making it feel even colder, and snow for part of the time. The numbers of the right wing dwindled and dwindled. At 4:30 p.m., the last of them retreated and the progressive demonstrators raised their signs and banners, and chanted: “The people united will never be defeated.”


  • [1]  This is a call for the current President to leave or resign. The anti-government media and counter-revolutionaries frequently mock President Maduro’s supposed lack of education and refer to him as a donkey.[4] Data on reduction in poverty rates, unemployment, infant mortality and inequality and increase in education, access to clean water is summarized by Derek Ide in[7][10] The process of whitening the Venezuelan race.[13] . Literally, brown or dark-skinned people—a category that makes African descendants, Indigenous people and their descendants invisible. Everyone is a “mestizo”, according to Venezuela’s hegemonic narrative and assumed equal as long as they accept European standards of beauty, behavior and value.[16] Weil’s racist attacks have made him famous. He worked with US Embassy in Caracas to memorialize Daniel Pearl[19] Miguel Tinker Salas p. 2725 of 6242 in Kindle Edition.[22] Anatoly Kurmanaev and Corina Pons. “Middle Class Protesting Venezuela Shortages Drive Poor to Maduro.” 
  • [21] . Maria Corina Machado is a daughter of one of the wealthiest families in Venezuela. She was involved in the 2002 coup attempt against Chavez and received money from the National Endowment for Democracy to run an anti-Chavez petition campaign. She was elected to the National Assembly in 2010 and on March 25, 2014, the Assembly voted to strip her of her immunity. Her arrest appears imminent. There are many recordings of her speeches that encourage violence to force the resignation of Maduro and she violated official government policy in her speech at the recent OAS meeting.
  • [20] George Ciccariello-Maher. “Venezuelan Jacobins”  3/14/2014.
  • [18] Clodovaldo Hernandez. “Colectivos are Synonymous with Organization, Not Violence”. March 18,2014, translated and reprinted by Venezuela Analysis at
  • [17] From author’s interview with Amilcar Carvagal, Director of the Office for Culture and Solidarity, BRV Ministry of People’s Power for Foreign Affairs. Feb 5, 2014.
  • [15] For an interview with Modesto Ruiz about the racism of this cartoon, see “African Descendants and Racism in Venezuelan Private Media” initially published in Ciudad Caracas,  March 28, 2012 and translated by Tamara Pearson in
  • [14] . Author’s note: After reading VA’s article by James Petras and the interview with Raul Capote, I have decided not to use the term “opposition” to identify the forces attempting an illegal coup to oust the Maduro government and overthrow the Bolivarian Revolution. It grants them too much legitimacy.
  • [12]
  • [11] For years, Rayma has received support from pro-US organizations who are convinced that the “Chavez Dictatorship threatens her life.” Yet, she endures, thrives and continues to publish viciously racist cartoons. For Amnesty International’s support of Rayma, go to
  • [9] . Mark Weisbrot. “Sorry Venezuela Haters: This Economy is not the Greece of Latin America”  See also,  for details on reduction of extreme poverty.
  • [8] Derek Ide.
  • [6] . See, for example, for a statistical overview of the economy and on accomplishments of the health care system;
  • [5]  Here’s a sample of research on white supremacy and racism in Venezuela.  Jesús María Herrera Salas. “The Political Economy of Racism in Venezuela” Latin American Perspectives. Vol 32. No. 2(March 2005) pp. 72-91 For a detailed discussion of how the foreign oil corporations, especially Standard Oil, manipulated and exacerbated racism in Venezuela beginning in 1918, see Miguel Tinker Salas.The Enduring Legacy: Oil Culture and Society in Venezuela. 2009. Durham: Duke University Press. 2009. Beatriz Aiffil, anthropology professor and spokesperson for African Descendants discussed the racism of the fascist right in Venezuela before the current upheavals. See  Also, feminist scholars have written about endo-racism among Venezuelan women. See Elizabeth Gackstetter Nichols. “Descent Girls with Good Hair: Beauty, Morality and Race in Venezuela.” Feminist Theory. Vol.14 #2  (Aug. 2013) pp. 171-185.  And Lauren Gulbas. “Embodying Racism: Race, Rhinoplasty and Self Esteem in Venezuela.”Journal of Qualitative Health Research. Vol. 23 #3 (March 2013) pp. 326-335 
  • [3] The cartoonist, Kiko Rodriguez, left his birthplace in Cuba for Ecuador in 2000. He won the First Annual Latin American Illustration Competition with this cartoon, which was widely circulated in the private press of Venezuela and other countries. This award is a step towards lucrative acceptance into the New York Art World.
  • [2] Census found that 3.5% of the country’s 27,227,930 people self-identified as Black or Afrodescendant; 2.7% as Indigenous and 49.9% as “Moreno”. On the other hand, Professor Jesus Chucho Garcia, a founding leader of Venezuela’s movement of Afrodescendants and former Ambassador to Angola insists that at least 30% or 8 million people are Afrodescendants and the number may reach as high as 60%.
  • But lack of popular support has never stopped the United States from intervening on the side of cooperative right-wing elites and white supremacists. The prevailing mass deception perpetrated by corporate media both here and in Venezuela has been much too effective. In the U.S., they have largely succeeded in putting a democratic face on the racist, essentially fascist, movement in the streets of Venezuela.  Traditionally anti-racist coalitions have ignored Venezuela. It is time we stand in solidarity with the majority of people in Venezuela and voice strong opposition to U.S. –sponsored coups or any intervention on the side of the counter-revolution. 
  • One resident of the working class zone of El Valle in southern Caracas told Ciccariello that those who burn barricades live “in the tall apartment blocks that line the main avenue and think they are better than the barrio.” They act with total disregard for the lives of poor and working class Black and Brown people by charging tolls at barricades, making it impossible for people to travel to work, school, hospital and by destroying public facilities that poor people rely on.
  • Ciccariello implies that the superiority complex of the mythic Gochos fuels the putchist actions we see today at the barricades in Mérida and Tachira.  It is also likely that right-wing extremists like Maria Corina Machado have hyped the violent courage of the Gochos for their own political purposes. At rallies and press conferences, she never fails to associate herself with the heroism of the Gochos of San Cristobal and Merida—the first barricaders and most persistently violent of the counter-revolutionary movement. Her poster features her wearing a signature white t-shirt claiming “we are all Tachira”. It labels her, “The Lady of Iron”—the woman who aims to overthrow the government and expel all Cubans from Venezuela so that real (white) Venezuelans may recover their dignity.[21]
  • To clarify: all residents of the Andean states of Mérida and Tachira are sometimes referred to as Gochos. However, the counter-revolutionary Gochos are concentrated in the cities of San Cristobal and Mérida while rural residents form the majority of the states’ voters and have elected Chavista governors.
  • 4. Distortion and Glorification of Gochismo
  • 3. Criminalizing African Descendants,  Indigenous People and their Organizations
  • It claimed, “The main activity of Cubans in their towns is hanging out.”
  • Maria Corina Machado fans these flames by repeating the lament that Venezuelans have lost their dignity to the “Cuban occupation.” They must be expelled.
  • For centuries, fear of Black men as rapists and Black people as killers has been stoked time and time again to rationalize lynching, racist repression and other genocidal campaigns.
  • Then, on March 23 a tweeter with the name “Alexgonzalezlu” pasted Misel’s photo to another one that manipulates white people’s fear of Black (Cuban) people attacking “our white youth.” This image is reminiscent of the notorious trope of the white damsel in distress, threatened with rape by a Black man. 
  • 2. Anti-communism, Xenophobia and Racism in an anti-Cuban Stew
  • The man with the beret, presumably a Chavista, declares, “Enough of white supremacy, now we have Afrodescendant water.” The cartoon ridicules and trivializes the campaign against white supremacy led by the Network of Afrodescendants in Venezuela and supported by the government. It also mocks and undermines public support for the government’s program of bringing clean water to the barrios that previously had none.
  • It not only falsely implies that masses of Venezuelans are starving. It also implies that the government prioritizes arming “criminals” on motorcycles and corrupt army officers over feeding people. It encapsulates the narrative of the counter-revolutionary forces in the battle for the minds of most Venezuelan people who currently reject their message. More importantly, it manufactures a “justification” for more decisive U.S. intervention.
  • 1. Destroying progress made by African Descendants and Indigenous People
  • The Counter-Revolution—Four Dimensions of Racism
  • She too wins mass circulation and international prizes for her racist caricatures. The Cartoonists for Peace, Sampsonia Way, Humanitarian News and most significantly Freedom House have supported her. A visit to the Freedom House website informs the public that the organization has an annual budget of $46 million, some of which comes from the U.S. State Department. Its Board of Directors includes a number with close ties to the State Department, USAID, AIPAC, Morgan Stanley and other imperialist entities.[11]
  • Venezuela’s oil money also has financed infrastructure designed to end the physical isolation and marginalization of African Descendants and Indigenous people. Set your search engine to “MetroCable San Agustín” to find photos and details of how Chavez’ revolutionary government spent $300 million to build a futuristic funicular. It eliminates hours of climbing on foot up and down treacherous mountain sides to reach jobs, schools, health clinics and other vital destinations. For tens of thousands of shack dwellers of San Agustin—most of whom are African descendants– MetroCable and new housing construction on the hill demonstrate that the Bolivarian revolution will incorporate them.
  • While the roots of white supremacy run deep,  the Bolivarian Revolution has seriously improved the lives of Venezuela’s majority—who are people of color. [6] Unlike the days of Venezuela’s dictatorships who served Standard Oil and the U.S. State Department, since 2001, voter registration is 97%. An array of legal tools—including Land Reform, a new Constitution written by a Constituent Assembly, the Organic Law Against Racial Discrimination—chip away at discrimination and promote mass participation in government, and in the various communes, councils, collectives and cooperatives. These are the structures of peoples’ power—including some 30,000 communal councils[7]--designed to ensure that once-marginalized people become the protagonists of their futures and nurture their dignity.
  • During her rant, Olga never mentioned the race of Venezuela’s poor, or the extreme poor, who in 2003 were 30% of the population and by 2011 were only 6.8%.[4]Chavismo’s accomplishments, especially in reducing poverty, are significant because of the near total correlation between class and race in Venezuela. That is, nearly all the wealthy and bourgeois people are phenotypically European, while nearly all those in poverty who live in the countryside or shacks on the sides of hills in the city are Black and Brown. Demonization, animalization  and criminalization of people of African and Indigenous descent are themes both deeply embedded and flagrantly visible in the culture and institutions of Venezuelan society. White supremacy endures in Venezuela often resembling the United States and other settler colonial countries founded on conquest and slavery. [5]
  • Olga explains that Chavismo has brought the “riff raff, brutes, thugs and criminals into the city.” She is emphatic. “Caracas is now flooded with uncultured animals who make life miserable for civilized people.” She concludes,  “Afterall, look at the crime, the insecurity, the murders!” It’s likely that Olga is one of the many Venezuelans influenced by cartoons like this one by Kiko Rodriguez. It is one of the more repulsive depictions of Chavez that not only expresses time-worn racist contempt for people of African descent, but it also foments fear and hatred.
  • Olga, the restaurant’s manager, has tan skin, died blond hair and brown eyes. She is one of the 42% of Venezuelans who self-identified as white in the latest Census.[2]  From behind the counter, she usually greets people without a smile. She barks orders to the Indigenous woman in the kitchen. Today she is laughing as she glances at a cartoon in one of Caracas’ many virulently anti-government newspapers. I ask her if there are any interesting stories in the paper. She shrugs but the question unleashes a tirade about how she hates Chavismo. 
  • TAGS

‎"Wealth inequality in Venezuela is half of what it is in the United States. It is rated the 'fifth-happiest nation in the world' by Gallup. And Pepe Escobar writes that, 'No less than 22 public universities were built in the past 10 years. The number of teachers went from 65,000 to 350,000. Illiteracy has been eradicated. There is an ongoing agrarian reform.' Venezuela has undertaken significant steps to build food security through land reform and government assistance. New homes are being built, health clinics are opening in underserved areas and cooperatives for agriculture and business are growing."





It is not possible to say enough good things about him. The bastards who hated him would have nailed him to a cross long ago, if they could have found a way. 
May he rest in peace.
Hugo Chavez (28 July 1954 – 5 March 2013)

They say we shouldn't idolize our leaders and that personality cults are for the blind masses, but what if we lose a leader who idolized his people and who was from the masses himself? From Venezuela to Palestine, the oppressed of this world lost one of their greatest and staunchest defenders. Rest in power Comandante Chavez."


Palestine has lost a good friend and comrade.
Hasta siempre Comandante.


How has Venezuela changed since Hugo Chavez took power?

It has been 14 years since Venezuela's president won his first election. How has the country changed since Hugo Chavez took power? 
• Get the data
• Explore the interactive
• More data journalism and data visualisations from the Guardian

Key indicators that show how Venezuela has changed since Hugo Chavez first assumed office. Click on the image for the full size graphic

Venezuela is getting ready for Sunday's elections when current President Hugo Chavez will face his main challenger, Henrique Capriles. If Chavez wins the vote he will gain another six years in office.

The election also brings a variety of issues to light that have caused unease for VenezuelaJonathan Watts in Caracas writes:

On a global level, Sunday's election is about who controls and distributes one of the world's biggest recoverable oil reserves. For ideologues, it is a frontline battle between Bolivarian socialism and neoliberalism. But for most Venezuelan voters, it is about safety, fairness and a character who arguably inspires more love and hate than almost any other politician in the world.

But how have things changed since Hugo Chavez won his first election 14 years ago? By looking at key indicators we can see that poverty levels and illiteracy have fallen but violent crime and inflation has increased.

Using data gathered from sources such as the World Bank, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), International Monetary Fund (IMF), Reuters, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the US Energy Information Administration (eia), theOrganization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) and theInstituto Nacional de Estadística, we have been able to gather a variety of key indicators that show how Venezuela has changed since 1999 when Chavez first assumed office. We've used the most recent data where possible.

Click on the above graphic to see a full size version. You can explore ourinteractive version of the key figures too. So what does the data show?

  • Unemployment has dropped from 14.5% of the total labour force in 1999 to 7.6% in 2009
    • Population has increased from 23,867,000 in 1999 to 29,278,000 in 2011. The annual population growth was 1.5% in 2011 compared with 1.9% in 1999 
    • GDP per capita has risen from $4,105 to $10,801 in 2011
    • As you can see in the graphic chart, Venezuela's inflation has fluctuated since 1999. Inflation now stands at 31.6% compared with 23.6% in 1999
    • Venezuela has a complicated history concerning currency exchange rates. Compared with 1999 when the exchange rate was under one bolivar to the US dollar, the latest figures from Reuters place it at 4.3 Bolivars to one dollar
    • Poverty has decreased - in 1999, 23.4% of the population were recorded as being in extreme poverty, this fell to 8.5% in 2011 according to official government figures
    • Infant mortality is now lower than in 1999 - from a rate of 20 per 1,000 live births then to a rate of 13 per 1,000 live births in 2011
    • Violence has been a key concern in Venezuela for some time - figures from the UNODC state that the murder rate has risen since 1999. In 2011 the intentional homicide rate per 100,000 population was 45.1 compared with 25.0 just twelve years earlier 
    • Oil exports have boomed - Venezuela has one of thetop proven oil reserves in the worldand in 2011 Opec put the country's net oil export revenues at $60bn. In 1999 it stood at $14.4bn

The table below shows some of the key indicators used in the graphic and in this post. The downloadable spreadsheet has the full data behind the currency exchange and inflation charts as well as all the numbers seen here. What can you do with this data?


Data summary


Venezuela - key indicatorsClick heading to sort table. Download this data







Sources: World Bank, UNHCR, Reuters, OPEC, EIA, IMF, UNODC and INE