For those of you who are wondering what the fuss is about. Why all of a sudden the hashtags like #FreeVenezuela, and now #IranVzla have become one of the Top Twitter Trending topics, and though you may not have heard of Chavez, or may have an idea about him, you may still be scratching your head asking yourself, “What’s up with that?”
Unless you live in Latin America, are from Latin America or know someone from Latin America, chances are you’re far away from the plight of the Venezuelans. Decades ago, as a kid growing up in Latin America, I recall hearing about people who wanted a fresh start and couldn’t get a visa to go to the United States, pick up and move to Venezuela. That was the neighboring country where there was opportunity and prosperity.
No doubt, like any other country, Venezuela has always had some degree of corruption, but it used to be manageable enough so that people could succeed despite it. The key question is, how much did the corruption grow in the past three decades?
In Latin America, the Venezuela of the 70′s and even the one of the 80′s, was a land that produced many Miss Universe candidates, where petroleum was abundant, where the great telenovelas, actors, singers, beautiful and successful people came from. The entertainment and news networks from Venezuela were big contenders of those that came from Mexico, Spain and the USA.
At the turn of this new century, this great country, that used to be a model of success, of democracy and capitalism, is not even the shadow of what it used to be. I’m not from Venezuela, just like I’m not from Honduras, yet, as a Latin American, I’ve been closely watching the political events of the region as I grew up, at first within the region, and now from afar.
In 1992, I’m not so sure what the political situation was in Venezuela, but you can read more on that here. Perhaps the corruption was getting out of control, perhaps the poverty levels were on the rise. I really couldn’t tell you what it was, but what I will tell you is that the timing was right for a rebellion. I invite my Venezuelan friends to comment on this and add to the events that lead to the rise of Hugo Chavez, but all I know is that this colonel, with below-average intelligence, whom –from what I hear from one of his former classmates, did very poorly in school– managed to stage a coupe, a coupe that failed and landed him in jail. Two years later he was pardoned by a new president and he begun a populist political movement that put him in office in 1999. No doubt, people were tired and voted for change. But that vote has cost Venezuela dearly.
Since 1999, Hugo Chavez has managed to remain in power, not exactly in a transparent and clean manner. He has changed the constitution to allow him to perpetuate himself in the highest office in Venezuela. He has abolished the independence of the branches of powers. The legislative and judicial, as well as the military today depend on him for approval and survival. The free press has also become dependent on him to exist.
The freedom of the traditional press is just about extinguished. Any news networks that refuse to transmit his long torturous speeches, is shut down. Venezuela, where immigrants from other countries sought opportunity, today is in the certain process of becoming another Cuba, where impoverished citizens all share the same woes, fears, looking over their shoulders and betraying one another for survival. Now, people look to leave Venezuela.
As I’ve began to make acquaintance of Venezuelans in Twitter, many of them are residing here or are in exile. In exile? I thought that only happened to Cubans. How bad things must have gotten in the past decade, since Hugo Chavez rose to power. From what I’ve learned, the political persecution in Venezuela is quite bad. The sad thing is that the OAS, which is supposed to be the international body designed to protect citizens all over the American continent, looks the other way when it comes to Hugo Chavez’ transgressions against the citizens of Venezuela, the rigging of the supposed elections that keep him in office, his alliances with terrorists and narco-dealers in the region, and his financing of the spread of his communist agenda in Latin America. I wonder what is making the OAS and its Secretary, Insulza, look so conveniently the other way, while pressing to have Cuba re-integrated into the organization. This is all certainly no coincidence.
The more I tweet back and forth with Venezuelan citizens outraged by the Chavez regime, the more I follow the Venezuela tweet-stream, the more I realize how severely endangered true democracy has become under Hugo Chavez, not just in Venezuela but in the entire Latin American region.
This video shows the dangerous rise of this new Hitler of the 21st century, and the likely implications if he’s allowed to succeed:
Venezuelans can no longer count on safety as they walk down the streets. The police and military are now considered a militocracy and commit crimes against their citizens, with impunity. They get special privileges such as a higher currency exchange rate, as compared to civilians. Venezuelans lack basic services nowadays: water, electricity both come and go sporadically. It is said Chavez blames el Niño for these events. But many smart citizens take a look at neighboring countries and realize that only countries that are friendly to Chavez and closely aligned with Cuba experience the same issues, countries like Ecuador and Bolivia. Interestingly enough, countries that are not part of ALBA (Chavez’ special country club), don’t seem to have these issues. And they are all in the same region!
So people have begun questioning. They have started realizing that the same things that happen in Cuba, are happening to them: the usual communist rationing of basic services.
At first my reaction to 10+ years of Chavez was, “well, you guys elected the guy, so…” , but the more I learn of the situation, the more I realize how dearly Venezuelans are paying for that single mistake of having voted for Chavez once, just once. For once he made it to the presidency, Chavez made sure to put in place all legalities to remain in power. It is no secret he rigs elections and referendums, including the one to change the constitution, that now allows him to remain in power without term limits. As per his latest speeches, he has expressed openly, not only that he is a Marxist and supports communism, but that he is ready to stay in power for at least another 11 years.
Many Venezuelans must regret having voted for that guy back in the late 90′s. Many people here in the United States, who voted for George W. Bush in 2000, were relieved when January 20th 2009 came around and a new president came to power. That is a democratic luxury that Venezuelans can no longer count on. For Chavez has made sure the constitution and all powers remain with him, likely until his death. It is said Chavez took the Castro model, and with the Venezuelan petrodollars, is financing a new version of it and disseminating it throughout Latin America, via a populist platform. We see it blooming in Ecuador, Nicaragua and Bolivia. It’s beginning to show signs in Brazil and fortunately enough, the seed was not allowed to take hold in Honduras via Zelaya. It wasn’t easy, but the Hondurans succeeded.
In Venezuela, however, where the root of all this spreading communism exists, Chavez has managed to remove all liberties and basic services very slowly, slowly enough that the citizenry can take it one bite at a time. Oh yes, they have come out to protest, many times during the past decade, but the world has not been watching. Just like in Iran, Chavez has turned the military against the citizens. Additionally he is known to have armed thugs blend in with the protester crowds and shoot at them. A devious mind like that of Chavez’, that once failed in school, has done very well coming up with ploys to make himself look not so harmful to the international community, all while slowly abolishing democracy in Venezuela and financing the spread of communism in Latin America. He calls it the “Bolivarian Revolution” or “21st Century Socialism.” Truth is, it is worse than that. It is despotic communism, a totalitarian dictatorship with very dangerous connections to the enemies of the United States of America, what he normally calls, “The Yankee Empire.” He claims he wants no longer be “subservient” to the “Yankee Empire”, yet all he’s done is substitute the alliance with the United States with nations unfriendly to the United States, nations like Iran.
This video below, shows the latest visit of Ahmadinejad to Venezuela, holding hands with Chavez and swearing loyalty to each other. A marriage arranged in hell, no doubt. Pardon the quality, but if you read the captions, you will appreciate the importance of the content. This was a report by Ecuadorian news network Teleamazonas, also under threat of closure by Correa, Chavez’ other pupil in Ecuador.
Coincidentially, Chavez’ close ally, Ahmadinejad in Iran, managed to pull off a supposedly successful election to remain in power, a-la-Chavez, calling a vote for his victory a little too soon, all while the electoral powers were under his control. The numbers did not coincide. It all smelled of fraud to the Iranian citizens, who went out to the streets to protest. When the Iranian regime chased out the independent media, the Iranian protesters, also known as the Green Movement, turned to the Internet to be heard and share with the world their awful plight. In the absence of reliable, independent traditional media, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook served as means to get the real story out. And they succeeded in getting their message out, but the same technology that helped them has come back to hurt them, for it was also used to trace them. And in Iran, where public executions are part of the cultural tradition, many have paid dearly with their lives. We’ll address that in more detail in a future article, for which I’m currently conducting research. Suffice it to say that technology is a two-edged weapon, but if used correctly and carefully to fight against despotic dictators, it can be very powerful. So far, Twitter has shown to be successful at making dictators like Chavez and Ahmadinejad quite uncomfortable, enough to threaten the citizens who use it.
Venezuelans, quite aware of the plight of the Iranians, and having personally seen the constant visits of Ahmadinejad to Venezuela and other countries in Latin America, having seen the presence of thousands of Castro-loyal Cubans invading their neighborhoods, form part of Chavez’ already corrupt and unfair dictatorship, are feeling the heat. The last bastion of independent press in Venezuela, Globovision, is now under severe threat of being closed or taken over by Chavez’ people. It is at this point when many are turning to Twitter to communicate their decade-long struggle to the world.
This explains tags like #Venezuela, #IranVzla, #Vzla, #FreeMediaVe, rise to the top of global trending topics at various times of the day in Twitter within the past few weeks. What is also amazing is that, similar to the alliance between Hugo Chavez and Ahmadinejad, their opposition is also working to unite their voices against both of these dictators. This great blog entry, “Twitter Revolution’s Next Stop – Venezuela” tells of the new alliance between the Green Movement of Iran and the growing opposition in Venezuela. They are well aware they are fighting the same enemy. I will also cover this new alliance more in detail in a future article.
Both dictators, Ahmadinejad and Chavez have become emboldened lately. Their repressive tactics have gotten worse. Click here for pictures of the latest demonstrations and the brutal repression. It is so similar to what is happening in Iran. Risking jail or death, citizens continue to turn to Twitter to share their struggle with the world. Chavez had the nerve last week to declare using Twitter a terrorist act. As ridiculous as that sounds, I see the danger of that declaration. If he makes it a law, he could use it to persecute mercilessly those who are caught using it. I have gotten information from contacts in Europe that Chavez has acquired a monitoring center, similar to the one the Iranian regime acquired to persecute its citizens who got the word out via the Internet. It looks like sooner or later Venezuelans will have to turn to more sophisticated ways of overcoming electronic surveillance, just like Iranians have.
In the meantime, as the rest of the world acquaints itself with the Human Rights abuses of the Chavez regime, I have no doubt the Venezuelan citizens will become more sophisticated at using Facebook and Twitter, in a manner that will protect their identities, and those of the people in their networks. It is said that the new energy minister that Chavez imported recently from Cuba, to supposedly head the energy crisis fix, is in truth an expert at brutal repression.
I have no doubt, the repressive dictatorship, which has become quite threatened by the use of Twitter, will begin to behave like a cornered animal. Enough blood has been spilled already.
As I initially stated, if you don’t live in Latin America, are not acquainted with it, or anyone from there, chances are you feel far away from all this. But I urge you to reconsider that stance. The close alliance of Chavez with Iran, and lately their talks of “nuclear power” is a clear threat to our continent and our way of life here in the United States. We need to urge our political representatives to pay close attention to what’s happening within our immediate neighborhood in America. While Iran sounds like a far-away threat, don’t put past them the chance of using their connections with rogue dictators like Chavez and his allies here in our continent, to smuggle terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. I don’t put anything past them.
Which is why it is important that we become more acquainted with the plight of the citizens in our neighboring countries, who are fighting hard to get the word out on their struggle against the Chavez dictatorship and its spread. We need to support them. The hardest struggle is in Venezuela, where the root of the problem lies. Yet there are other countries that are also fighting, these are countries we hardly hear from: Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua. Some are also joining Twitter and sharing their information with us. Let’s not ignore them. We need to be aware of their fight, because if we think it is only their problem, and do nothing about it, we may be in for a serious wake up call, that may be more urgent than our current economic and healthcare crisis.
So, let’s pay attention to those tweets, mostly in English nowadays, with the tags mentioned here. Let us give them our support, the way we have given it to our friends across the world, in Iran, for these are our immediate neighbors. We don’t have to donate our money. Simple awareness and sharing of information will do. I trust our government is well aware and paying attention. We need to do the same as well. And it is as easy as reading those informative tweets, that will only make you more thankful to live in a country like the USA, with its troubles and imperfections, it remains the land of true democracy and freedom, a luxury that does not come easy, and today is only a dream for so many around the world.
To close, I would like to invite you to view this very touching video, with pictures of the most recent events. You don’t need to know Spanish to see the struggle Venezuelans are currently facing. The background song tells of no to violence and desiring peace and freedom. You’ll see the famous Twitter tag #Tasponchao, which is meant for Chavez, that he’s struck out with the people. That’s all you need to know. Take a minute to watch. I think you’ll be as touched as I was.
I want to thank the fine tweeps, @IKching, @kakoparu, @Wtiger50, @_Gyermo, @Jose_Enrique, @agamez, and @urru_urru for sharing the pictures, videos and information for this entry. The video below is by @no_al_comunismo. A beautiful job. A special mention to @Orvex and @FreeVenezuela, long-term freedom fighters, for having allowed me to learn of their struggle. And another special mention to the newly formed team @IranVzla, led by @Fratizia of Venezuela and @lissnup of Iran, giving this movement a new momentum on line.
There is so much more, information to share and people to mention, who are a key part of this struggle, but I think for now, this should give you an idea of the gravity of the situation. Feel free, of course, to leave your comments, which are always appreciated. For now, click on the play button, and watch.