An Open Letter to Professor Noam Chomsky
Dear Professor Chomsky:
We are a group of Venezuelan citizens living in the Boston area who sympathize with your profound analysis on such subjects as imperial American foreign policy, corporate media influence and the exploitation of the developing world. However, for some time, we have noticed your participation in public events in support of the Chávez government. This has come as a surprise to us. Your strong criticism of authoritarian government structures and your advocacy for participative democracy seem to be in contradiction with Chávez's governmental policies, which are militaristic, statist, monopolistic, corrupt, polarizing, and economically and environmentally unsustainable.
We agree with you when you say that it is up to us, the Venezuelan people, to judge the Chávez government irrespective of what others might think. However, your stature in the world as a leading intellectual with an immense following among progressive-minded people cannot be overlooked. Therefore, we invite you to reflect on the issues presented below which, in our opinion, clearly reveal the contradictory nature of Chávez's rhetoric and actions. With all due respect, your statements supporting the Chávez government are unacceptable to us and cannot be considered irrelevant, as they lend international credibility to a government that not only is constantly violating the constitutional rights of its citizens, but is increasingly operating in a repressive manner.
When you declared last year in a trip to Venezuela: The exciting thing is to see how Venezuela is building another world and see this man who has inspired that, one can only wonder, if you are familiar with the realities and problems that regular Venezuelans have to confront on a daily basis. Let us give you some examples to illustrate the kind of world the Chávez government has been building over the past decade.
I.- Human Rights Abuses
Professor Chomsky, how can you support a government that ruthlessly represses any form of dissent manifested in daily citizen protests against inflation, lack of decent housing, and demands for high-quality hospitals and schools, greater safety, better public transportation services, water, electricity, and the autonomy of national universities? Did you know that the Chávez government selectively uses law enforcement as a means to eliminate political opponents by labeling them internal enemies and sending them to prison? The government used a blacklist known as Lista de Tascón (Luis Tascón is deputy member of the National Assembly) with which Venezuelan citizens were laid off as punishment for having signed a petition supporting a referendum to revoke the president’s mandate. Participation in a referendum is a legal political right established in the Venezuelan Constitution. Thus, the Chávez Administration violates these rights as well as those guaranteed in international labor treaties signed by Venezuela.
Professor Chomsky, we strongly encourage you to read the reports from different local and international human rights groups and organizations such as the Venezuelan NGO Provea, Human Rights Watch and, most recently, the report issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
II. - Anti-Worker Project
Professor Chomsky, are you aware that the Bolivarian government has implemented anti-working class and anti-trade union policies? Because of the absolute pro-government majority in the National Assembly (AN), the regime has eliminated, changed or ignored laws devoted to the rights of workers, criminalizing the right to protest and to strike (Articles 283 and 506 of the Venezuelan Criminal Code). Currently over 200 union leaders and labor activists are being subjected to criminal trials. Mr. Chávez’s so called Twenty-First Century Socialism is no more than state capitalism at its worst, headed by a leader who promotes totalitarian thinking and a radical intolerance against anyone who dares to think differently.
III. - State Capitalism
Professor Chomsky, on the fiscal side, the Chávez government has proved to be irresponsible as well. It has continuously borrowed money in a reckless manner, despite the oil boom that filled the state coffers. This negligent and unjustified borrowing is part of the neoliberal economic agenda initiated by the government of Carlos Andrés Pérez and continued by the current government. The national debt, despite the high price of oil, has skyrocketed in recent years. According to figures released by the Venezuelan Central Bank, the external debt for 1999 was $40.820 millons and by the end of 2009 it jumped to $73.847 millons.
Moreover, the national debt accounted for 48.6% of gross domestic product (GDP), versus the 29% it represented in 1999. This is an increase of 19.6% in 10 years. Today, 15% of the population has an income of about $1 daily, and 32% about $2 daily. 5% of the child population is below the normal percentiles for weight and 18% of the child population is undernourished. Unemployment hovers at 16% and the informal sector (hawkers) reaches the appalling figure of 58% (Source: Cuadernos del Cendes, # 71 Universidad Central de Venezuela, 2009.)
One might ask how this could have happened in a country where the state received a huge mass of money over the last decade. One thing we are absolutely certain of, Professor Chomsky, is that it has not been used in programs to fight poverty, the construction of new road infrastructure, hospitals, universities, schools, homes, etc. Unfortunately, this huge oil revenue, which belongs to the Republic, has been squandered not only in buying the loyalty of foreign governments, but also in extensive travels abroad by the president and his government officials. Not to mention the insane military spending which has reached levels not seen before.
The Chávez government has escalated the arms race in South America by buying weapons from Russia, China, and France as well as trying to promote armed conflicts with Colombia, rather than using diplomacy as a medium of conflict resolution. This money could be used to provide a better education system for all Venezuelans and improve the health system alike. The Chávez government justifies its arms buildup as a legitimate response to the hypothetical military invasion by the US government, a highly unlikely event due to the excellent relations between US oil companies (Chevron-Texaco, Conoco-Phillips, etc) and the Venezuelan regime. Those enterprises are deeply involved in developing our natural gas in the Delta Platform and Falcon State reserves, as well as in the Orinoco Belt (one of the greatest reserves of heavy oil in the world). To disrupt these ties goes against key economic and geopolitical interests of the US government, which has been receiving a steady supply of oil from Venezuela over the last ten years.
The Chávez government calls itself socialist, as part of a political strategy to capitalize on the discontent that prevails in important sectors of our society. However, it is fascist in practice, because Mr. Chávez exercises absolute control over Venezuelan society and actively promotes political clientelism and a grotesque cult of personality.
Professor Chomsky, you have repeatedly mentioned Bakunin's warning against the Red Bureaucracy. In Bakunin's words: Take the most radical revolutionary and place him on the throne of all the Russians or give him dictatorial power, and before a year is passed he'll become worse than the Czar himself. Sadly, Chávez and the huge public administration and military apparatus he has created are becoming just that.
There is neither transparency nor accountability from the government in public administration. The Constitution and other laws are openly violated by Chávez, his ministers and the military. The government not only controls all the public institutions such as the National Assembly, the Supreme Court, the Ombudsman and the National Electoral Council, but has been working to eliminate the political opposition. For example, the National Assembly (AN) recently approved a new electoral law which -- by gerrymandering electoral circuits to the benefit of the incumbent government party -- legally diminishes the chances of opponents to compete in open and fair elections.
In conclusion, we would like to suggest that you and the international public opinion become more fully informed about the realities facing Venezuela today. As concerned Venezuelan citizens, we strive for a democracy in which all citizens enjoy the same rights and are free to express their views. We oppose any government that is not committed to the principles of transparency, accountability, inclusiveness and respect for human rights. Hopefully, with this writing we have presented a broader picture and encouraged you to consider a greater diversity of opinions and views about Venezuela.
Photo Credit: Licensed under Creative Commons by Duncan Rawlinson