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Political tourism: Venezuela, the new fraudulent destination

By Gustavo Coronel

December 12, 2004 | An organization called Global Exchange, based in San Francisco, promotes political tourism to Venezuela, defined in its brochure as a country where "winds of change are blowing." The introduction to the sales pitch is full of praise for the strongman Hugo Chávez, while all references and links recommended to those who might be interested are those known to be shameless propaganda appendices of the Venezuelan regime:, and such. Chavez agenda, reads the brochure: "includes fighting corruption, redistributing national wealth and opposing the free trade area of the Americas." My laughing aloud gave way to indignation when the brochure added: "The new vision is guided by Simon Bolivar's dream."

This sale of Venezuela as a place where a true democratic revolution is taking place is just part of the Venezuelan regime propaganda machine, ran from Washington, DC by the Venezuelan Information Agency, financed by the regime through the Venezuelan Embassy. A report by the US Department of Justice (El Universal, Caracas, December 11, 2004) establishes that this machine of political propaganda for the regime of Hugo Chávez dedicates significant amounts of money, about $500,000 in a few months, to promote the "image" of the strongman. The monies involved in this effort are much greater, probably of the order of $5 million a year, since the regime also paid Patton Boggs, a Washington based lobbyist group, $1.2 million to sing its praises. The objective of this propaganda is candidly stated in the registry of the Venezuelan Information Agency to the Department of Justice: "the Mission of the Venezuelan Information Agency is to prevent US intervention in Venezuela." Paradoxically, the strategy preferred by the regime to accomplish this objective seems to be intervening in the US The Venezuelan Minister of Information Izarra has just said in Caracas that the Chávez regime is "very worried about the lack of freedom of expression in the US," clearly a tactic designed to distract attention from the Gag Law the regime has just passed in Venezuela.

The promotion by Global Exchange of the Venezuelan totalitarian regime as a true revolutionary democracy is mainly attracting young and gullible members of the San Francisco Bay area, colloquially known as a "people's republic," given its mix of strange political specimens and unorthodox life styles. An article by Brian Ellsworth ("Americans in Venezuela to support leftist leader,", December 10th, 2004) describes some aspects of the Global Exchange so called "reality tours" to Venezuela. As it happened years ago in Cuba and, later, in Nicaragua, US "political tourists" are going to Venezuela, mainly because, as Katie Leahey, one of them says: "Chávez is teaching the Venezuelan people to stand up to US imperialism." This seems to be their primary interest. If this were happening in Zimbabwe, they would flock to Zimbabwe, since their motivation is not one of love for the poor but hate for Busch.

People like Katie Lahey and Mamie Chow, two of the political tourists interviewed by Ellsworth, offer the most fragile of explanations for their enthusiasm. Chow says that she knew she was "in the right place when she watched a 75 year old woman read her first words during a Chávez-sponsored literacy program." What Mamie does not know and Global Exchange will not tell her is that Venezuela, before Chávez arrived in power already had a 93% literacy rate and that "Fe y Alegria", a Venezuelan based NGO, conducts all over Latin America one of the most successful literacy programs known in the region. But Chávez did not want this catholic NGO to run the program in Venezuela. He discarded them in favor of Cubans who are political indoctrinators in their spare time. They indoctrinate Venezuelans to abandon democracy in favor of Marxist revolutions like the one in Cuba or the one that the Ortega brothers, now frequent guests of Chávez, unsuccessfully tried to impose on Nicaraguans. Would Mamie rather have that kind of political regime than democracy? Is this the political system they have in Oakland, Mamie? Many old ladies learn to read through the Fe y Alegria program, Mamie. This is no Chávez miracle, Mamie.

I would suggest that Katie and Mamie take a real tour of Venezuela, by going to see the sub-human prisons where political dissidents are kept without legal sanctions. They should also visit Sabana Grande, the Caracas shopping district converted into a Calcutta-like horror, where people defecate in the streets and abandoned street children sell themselves. They should take a tour of the invaded areas of Carabobo and Lara, where vandals protected by the regime build their shacks in private property. They should talk to Pedro Carreno, Iris Varela and Dario Vivas, leaders of the revolution, in order to get a good idea of the average IQ of the revolutionary men and women. They should know that the regime has obtained $200 billion in six years and has very little to show for it. They should visit Zulia State, where the unemployment rate is over 25%. The poverty, the squalor, the crime rate that overpowers Venezuelans will not be shown to Mamie and Katie. These horrors are not a legacy from the past but very much a Chávez generated tragedy during the last six years of his mismanagement and grandstanding.

Real Venezuelans feel indignant about this political tourism. The tourists, say sociologist Belmonte, quoted by Ellsworth: "Appease their guilt about poverty in developing countries and then return to their comfortable lives in the first world without having to deal with any of the consequences of Chávez' so-called revolution." This is, in my opinion, one of the ugliest aspects of political tourism. Many of these people just want to see poverty and political chaos first hand for morbid reasons. They come to Venezuela for a little while and go back to Oakland or San Francisco with a photographic album: "Here I am with Pedrito, the Tupamaro. . . . This is Chávez' bodyguard, he is from Santa Clara. . . . Here I am bringing food to the old lady who learnt to read," etc. They do not give a second of serious thought to the plight of the Venezuelan people that have to endure, day after day, the structural tragedies of the fraudulent revolution: the poverty, the unemployment, the proliferation of beggary, the filth in the streets, the insecurity, the political intolerance, the abuses of power, the corruption at bureaucratic levels.

Political tourists, from Jose Saramago to Danny Glover, from Mamie Chow to Katie Leahey, add to the sorrows of the Venezuelan people, by providing uninformed moral support to a totalitarian, corrupt and inept political regime. Some of them are well meaning, some are shameless and greedy opportunists, but all do harm to the true cause of our people.

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