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A letter on Venezuela to U.S. Congressman Bill Delahunt

By Gustavo Coronel

March 17, 2005 | Dear Mr. Delahunt: I am a Venezuelan citizen currently enjoying the hospitality of your great nation and never comment publicly on U.S. politics, as a sign of respect for my host country. However, I cannot let your op-ed on Venezuela (A bright shining sign? Boston Globe, March 16, 2005) go unchallenged. If it had been written by a fellow traveler of the Chávez government it would not merit much attention, but it is written by a member of the U.S. Congress and a member of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere of the House International Relations Committee, obviously a person of influence in the political sector of your country. It is equally obvious that you write what you write because you do not seem to be fully informed about the Venezuelan situation or have been so informed by Venezuelan government official spokespersons. I would like to give you the other side of the story, easily documented by facts that I would be most than willing to put at your disposal, if and when you so desire.

First of all, let me make some comments about the op-ed itself. It is certainly good news to hear that Fenway Park will get a new $1.5 million sign, thanks to the generosity of CITGO and that the new sign will be inaugurated by the current Mayor of Caracas, Mr. Juan Barreto. For all of us, baseball lovers, anything that generally makes our pastime more enjoyable has to be good news. You add that the lighting of the CITGO sign "presents a golden opportunity to rekindle a semblance of civility between our two nations." At this point I would ask you: Is a $1.5 million baseball sign all that it takes for you to recommend that, since Chávez is making such a gesture of goodwill, the U.S. should be grateful and should correspond by "coming to terms" with the Venezuelan regime? I would think that it should take much more than a baseball stadium sign, that can well please the people of Boston, for the U.S., as a nation, to come to terms with the totalitarian regime being installed in Venezuela. Let me remind you that, after the 1999 floods in northern Venezuela that took about 30,000 lives, the U.S. tried to make a substantial gesture of goodwill by sending engineering help and equipment to alleviate this tragedy but this gesture was rejected by the current regime of Hugo Chávez, simply because it came from the U.S. The U.S. engineers and equipment were forbidden to land in Venezuela. I would also ask you: do you know that many assets of CITGO, the company that is footing the bill for the Fenway Park sign are on sale by the current Venezuelan regime, without such a move being consulted with the Venezuelan people who are the legitimate shareholders of the Venezuelan Petroleum industry? Did you hear that the argument given by Chávez to try to sell these assets is that Venezuela, by owning CITGO, is subsidizing the economy of the United States, to the extent of "maintaining a hospital where Venezuelans cannot go, having thousands of gas stations in the U.S. which are not owned by the Venezuelan government and employing mostly Americans and not Venezuelans?" After knowing this, would you consider this sign in Fenway Park an honest gesture of goodwill or just a propaganda gimmick, to be deducted from the U.S. income tax return? Did you know that the most probable reason for this sale is that the Chávez regime desperately needs more cash, in spite of having received the highest levels of oil income in Venezuelan history and, at the same time, increasing the debt of the nation, from USD $25 billion to $46 billion during the last six years?

You say that Venezuela has invested about $12 billion in CITGO. This is true. It is also true that previous Venezuelan governments, not the Chávez regime, made these investments. What Chávez is trying to do now is to sell these assets, to pocket the money and use it in some other projects that might be of non-commercial nature, certainly not in the U.S. So, what should you be so grateful for?

You say that U.S. oil companies have significant investments in Venezuela. This is also true. But, did you also know that Chávez has embarked in a strategy of harassing these companies, in order to force them out of the country, in favor of state-owned companies from Iran, Qatar, China and other countries? Have you taken the time to talk to representatives of U.S. companies? Maybe you should. For us Venezuelans, the strategy of squeezing private oil companies out of the country in order to invite state-owned companies from the third world to replace them is frankly suicidal, as state-owned companies generally do not have the technology, the skilled staff or the capital that would be required to develop Venezuela's immense hydrocarbons resources. Furthermore, the common denominator of too many of these state-owned companies is corruption. We have had too much of this tragedy already to be trying to attract more of it.

You say that the bilateral relations between the two countries have deteriorated at an alarming pace. Again, this is true. Have you heard Chávez talking against the U.S.? What he says cannot be defined as "minuscule slights," as you suggest. For Chávez, Bush is an "a**hole," Dr. Rice "has a sexual fixation on him" and the U.S. is a terrorist state. If this is slight I wonder what offense, if any, would start to molest you.

You accuse the U.S. government of endorsing a coup against Chávez in April 2002. I will not comment on this since this pertains to your internal politics. But I think you should know that in the early morning of April 12th, Venezuelan Chief Army Commander Lucas Rincon Romero, announced over national television, heard by all (including me) that they had asked Chávez for his resignation and that he had accepted to resign. Rincon Romero, incidentally, is still one of Chávez's favorites, a mystery that no one in Venezuela has been able to explain. Why had they asked for Chávez's resignation? Because he had ordered the army on the streets, to repress violently the popular protests against him. You tell me if this was a coup or not. But, there is more. The Supreme Tribunal of Justice, meeting in full, determined at the time that there had been no coup! Now, four years later, a meeting of a portion of the new Supreme Tribunal of Justice, stacked with the followers of Chávez, has determined that there was a coup after all. The original decision of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice has been annulled and replaced by a new decision made by a partial meeting of a new and politically structured Supreme Tribunal. Justice in Venezuela has become a travesty since, from now on, sentences can be changed whenever it suits the regime in control. I am sure that no one has told you this.

You say that Chávez is entitled to speak his mind and that he is the democratically elected president of Venezuela. From your own, narrow perspective, this is true. But, would not you think that the language of the president of a nation should be constructive and respectful of dissent? Have you heard Chávez speak? He is a destroyer and a divider. He is not a builder or an inspiring leader. His words are full of hate and resentment. Democratic legitimacy, dear Mr. Delahunt, cannot be guaranteed indefinitely on the basis of free elections, although this is a valid start. It has to be confirmed and validated by performance! If six years after electoral victory you have violated all your electoral promises and have led your country to social, political and economic ruin, are you are still legitimate? At least half of the Venezuelan population will say no. And this half of the population cannot be labeled as traitors and criminals if there is any chance that the nation can be defined as a democracy. Go to Venezuela and find out the truth.

You say: "I respect his (Chávez's) efforts to use Venezuela's energy wealth to improve the lives of the Venezuelan people, particularly through health and education initiatives for the poor. . . ." This is the whole point, dear Mr. Delahunt. This is not what is happening. In a previous article here ("The Venezuela of Hugo Chávez: The truth in numbers"), I listed the real Venezuelan economic and social indices during these last six years under Chávez. They are all dismal, Mr. Delahunt. Crimes, unemployment, abandoned children, inflation, are all close to the highest in Venezuelan history. Industry and agriculture have collapsed. Health and education are worse than ever. The government strategy of throwing money at us, in an effort at distracting us from our structural problems of poverty, ignorance and over dependence on the state, only serves to create an illusion of prosperity in a country filled with miserable people. If Chávez really had the intention of creating a revolution to solve the problems of the poor, would not you think that the money now going to promote political unrest in the Western Hemisphere, in paying for political propaganda in the U.S. (including the sign at Fenway Park) and for his trips all over the world to try to build an anti-U.S. coalition would be better utilized domestically, in the solution of our Venezuelan social urgent problems? The Venezuelan tragedy is that the absorption capacity the regime has for the immense amount of oil money coming into the country is so low, that waste and corruption have grown to enormous proportions. In this context, the decision by some alert Public Relations consultants to dedicate a $1.5 million new baseball sign for Fenway Park is commendable but it is peanuts, given the flood of money going without transparency or accountability into the pockets of the Chávez regime. It should not be able to buy the goodwill or support of a highly educated and responsible person such as you. I know that this is not the case and this is why I write to you.

Beyond the understandable world of partisan politics in the U.S., on which I will not comment upon, there is a wider world where partisan politics have to yield the way to global principles and values. This nation has both the wonderful privilege and the historical burden of being the champion of democracy. This privilege and this burden are being tested at every minute. They are being tested at this moment in the Venezuela of Hugo Chávez and you, Mr. Delahunt, are being called to play an important role in this process. It is up to you to follow up on this and I am at your service to provide what millions of Venezuelans consider to be the truth.

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