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Open letter to Reverend Jesse Jackson

By Alex Beech

September 4, 2005

The Reverend Jesse Jackson
Rainbow/Push Coalition

Dear Mr. Jackson,

Recently, you visited Venezuela. You boarded a private jet procured by the Venezuelan government and flew to Caracas, waving the flag of self-righteous indignation which has characterized your career.

Only days before, Pat Robertson has wandered off the sanity path, calling for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s assassination, creating a storm of media attention. Like a hound that sniffs the limelight, you ran to the occasion. Shooting fish in a barrel, you called Robertson’s comments "morally reprehensible and dangerously suggestive.” Displaying your full support for Chavez, you claimed that the U.S. government must choose "diplomacy over any threats of sabotage or isolation or assassination."

As the Robertson scandal subsided, and the light stole away, nothing better could have come along for you than Hurricane Katrina. Here was the chance to wave your flag again, this time combining your new best friend and worst enemy: Hugo Chavez and George W. Bush.

On CNN, you chastised the US government for turning away the aid which Chavez had so generously offered for Hurricane Katrina relief. Stunningly, your entire argument about the US government’s incompetent response to the crisis seemed encapsulated in its rejection of Chavez’s offer.

One has to wonder if you would call on the US government to accept aid from every single entity which offered it. Would we see shiploads of foodstuffs arriving from Libya, or the now defunct-Taliban? Should we accept the 1,100 doctors which Castro also offered? What about offers of help from rogue nations or organizations?

Shame on you, Mr. Jackson, for calling on the US government to accept aid from Chavez. It shows how little you understand of history, politics, and diplomacy.

Following the incessant rains and flooding of December 1999, which killed and devastated thousands of Venezuelans, the United States government prepared a ship loaded with foodstuffs and medical aid. As the ship neared Venezuela, Chavez rejected the aid and sent the ship back to the United States. The operation, according to one NSC source, cost the US government $25 million. Sadly, lives were lost as the Venezuelan government was ill-equipped to handle the crisis.

Why did Chavez reject the aid? Clearly, it is because a country’s political principles often guide its political decisions. For Chavez, rejecting US help perhaps sent a message that he didn’t want to owe the United States any favors. Perhaps he needed to reinforce his anti-US image among his support base. For whatever reason, the man that you hugged only days ago chose the death of his own citizens over accepting US aid. This, perhaps, was an ill-fated form of diplomacy over isolation. Chavez avoided isolating himself from support by thumbing his nose at the US.

Now, as the US faces the effects of the worst modern disaster in US History, the man who publicly called Bush an “asshole” and said that he would have sex with Secretary Rice to relieve her of her sexual frustration has offered food and fuel to New Orleans. Only a week after he offered to distribute fuel directly to America’s poor.

Clearly, Chavez cares very little about America’s poor or Katrina’s victims, because he cares very little about Venezuela’s poor and Venezuela’s violence victims. How else to explain that during the seven years of his presidency, despite astronomical oil revenues, poverty in Venezuela has increased? Katrina’s victims may have lacked food, water and medical resources this week, but most Venezuelans lack food, water, and medical resources every day. New Orleans may have been ravaged by unexplainable violence this week, but Venezuelans face unexplainable violence and death every single day. Chavez’s friend and mentor, Fidel Castro, may have offered doctors this week, but poor Cuban neighborhoods face empty clinics every day, as badly needed doctors have been sent to Venezuela.

History will one day explain why Chavez has never quite led a peaceful country. History will explain why so many Venezuelans have opposed him over the years, and why four Venezuelan million citizens signed four separate petitions for his ouster. History may even explain why Bush rejected his offers of aid. What the past and present fail to explain is why one of the most high-profile civil rights activists in US history continues to offend half of a country which opposes Chavez by continuously offering support to a man who has dismantled the country’s democracy.

May God and history forgive you for that mistake.


Alexandra Beech

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