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Venezuela: On the power of hatred

By Michael Rowan, El Universal

Either we learn to love one another, or we go into the dark W.H. Auden

On the way to hear Netherlands Ambassador Dick den Haas talk to students from six schools gathered at Colegio Internacional de Caracas last month, I came upon a white wall sprayed with blood-red graffiti that speaks volumes about the state of civility here: African lips, and the words 'Death to the Black Mole' - an obvious reference to the face of the president. In the weird world of conspiracy and cover-up in which we live, this act of racist hate could have been sprayed by an anti-Chavista, or by a Chavista who wanted to make it look like that, take your choice, but of one thing we can be certain: hatred is alive and well in Caracas.

Dick den Haas, a diplomat working for peace and human rights in Asia, Africa and now Latin America, opened the Junior Model United Nations with some thoughts about how adults have failed to solve problems because they make them more complicated than they really are. "Some of these complications are very abstract: Sovereignty, independence, honor, power, career, ambition, rivalry, respect. Ideological concepts become hindrances, frustrating the solution of a problem. A frontier dispute cannot be solved because leaders don't want to lose face; peace cannot be brokered because it is not patriotic."

He then went on to talk to the seriously attentive students about how to resolve conflicts. "Successes by force are not sustainable," he said. "Intimidation and compulsion do not work in the long term, because the losing party lives on with feelings of frustration." He spoke of the bankruptcy of "Winner-takes-all politics" and contrasted it to European integration: 15 nations with long histories of war and hatred that are integrating, and which in May will add 10 more nations including Christians and Muslims, rich and poor, big and small, all under one rubric: democracy, human rights, cooperation and peace.

He spoke of the Dutch trading practice in which "the customer is king," of a diplomacy that listens carefully to the voice of minorities, of solutions where all parties to it feel fully included and respected. And he recalled, "The greatest example ever given on how to deal with opponents was Ghandi, the father of Indian independence, the leader of a civil disobedience movement that patiently but consistently overpowered British colonial rule." For Ghandi, "It was not enough to be non-violent. The adversary had to be opposed in such a way that he would never, ever feel humiliated or defeated." This the Ambassador repeated twice, and slowly, so that it would sink into these young minds from Venezuela and a dozen other nations. "Ghandi resisted with the force of truth," the Ambassador said, "a force that would lift up, and satisfy, both sides." Both sides.

To some, tolerance and inclusion may appear to be weak strategies in the face of military power or despotism. But history proves den Haas to be pragmatically correct, not only for India and Europe, but for all people. Returning hate with hate only produces war, and encourages more killing in the next generation.

For the CIC students, this was the second time they had heard this message in a month, for Metin Goker, the Ambassador from Turkey, had previously said to them: "Tolerance can be explained as having a fair and objective attitude towards those whose opinions and behaviors differ from our own, and showing respect for and interest in the ideas and practices of others." These ideas are timeless, and can be found in all civilizations, Goker said. "Their exuberance never ceases, never scares us, but rather always caresses, provoking thought and unraveling tangled feelings." Goker concluded that every person and nation must be committed "to go beyond itself in every way," and that "Our responsibility is to humanity and the history of civilization. The last thing we need today is intolerance, misunderstanding, discrimination, division, conflict and lack of dialogue."

An hour after the den Haas talk, on BBC coverage of the United Nations human rights hearings in New York, I listened to a Tutsi woman whose entire family was murdered in the Rwanda genocide of ten years ago. The world did nothing as a million people were killed simply because they were Tutsi, for which Kofi Annan apologized in the name of all of us.

Her story was astonishing. She was buried under hundreds of Tutsi cadavers, slaughtered children among them, for a day and a night. She faked being dead when the killers returned to the killing field in the morning sun to finish off the wounded. She somehow escaped, like the Jew from the Holocaust, the Russian from the Gulag, to talk about it. Her voice was flat, and without affect. Yet even ten years later, and on TV, one could feel the inconceivable inhumanity, the power of hatred - and also the soaring spirit of one person - that characterize this species of which we are all one. And I wondered, what would have gone through her mind if she had been in my car on the way to listen to den Haas, and if she had read the blood-red racist hate scribbled on that pure white wall of Caracas. I wonder if she might have said, "Yes, that's the way it starts."

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