The following interview with Alison Bodine, the Coordinator of the Fire This Time Venezuela Solidarity Campaign by prominent U.S. antiwar and social justice activist and “Peace Mom” Cindy Sheehan first aired on the Cindy Sheehan’s Soapbox” radio on September 4, 2016. To hear the below interview, as well as for other interesting and informative podcasts and articles, please visit http://cindysheehanssoapbox.blogspot.ca/
Cindy Sheehan is an American social justice organizer whoise son, Casey Sheehan, was killed during the Iraq War. She attracted national and international media attention in August 2005 for her extended antiwar protest at a camp outside then President George W. Bush's Texas ranch. She has continued to be very active in many social justice movements including traveling to Venezuela and Cuba and writing the book, "Revolution, a Love Story: A Better World is Possible" about Venezuela.
Cindy Sheehan:Welcome back to the Soapbox, I’m your host Cindy Sheehan. This week our guest is Alison Bodine. Alison is an antiwar and social justice activist, writer and researcher at the newspaper Fire This Time. She also works with Venezuela solidarity networks in the U.S. and Canada. We will be talking about corporate media lies about what is happening in Venezuela and what is really happening in Venezuela.
Alison Bodine, welcome to Cindy’s Sheehan’s Soapbox.
Alison Bodine:Thank you Cindy, good morning, thanks for having me.
Cindy: No problem, tell my listeners a little bit about yourself, your background and why you are so interested in Venezuelan politics and what is happening in Venezuela.
Alison: Today, I am the Coordinator of a campaign in Vancouver, Canada we have, the Fire This Time Venezuela Solidarity Campaign. Fire This Time is a social justice movement, as well as a social justice newspaper that is distributed for free up here in Vancouver, British Columbia and sent around the world. We have been publishing for just over 10 years.
I have been involved since the beginning of Fire This Time, when I moved here from Colorado. I am originally from the United States and that is where I became interested in issues of social justice.
The U.S. invaded Afghanistan and Iraq when I was in high school and I became involved in antiwar protests. Then, I came to Vancouver, British Columbia and got involved in the movement here and began to learn that the world is not only about the death and destruction caused around the world by the U.S. government and their allies, but that it is also a world that has hope for building a better world. I found out more about Cuba and the Cuban Revolution as well as about Venezuela and the Bolivarian Revolution.
I really became involved in Venezuela solidarity work because of that hope that I believe that Venezuela offers to people around the world. That hope that we can build a more just and equal society based on social justice, based on the interests of the masses of the people, and that all of it is possible. Seeing Venezuela and Cuba as that hope, and working in solidarity campaigns here in Canada has been a big important part of my life ever since I found them.
Cindy: For my listeners this is a frequent subject on Cindy Sheehan’s Soapbox and I wrote a book about the Bolivarian Revolution called “Revolution, A Love Story.” But, tell my listeners, refresh their memories, what was the vision of Hugo Chavez and his Bolivarian Revolution?
Alison: When Hugo Chavez was elected in 1998 and took office in 1999 it was to build a Venezuela that was sovereign and self-determined, free from U.S. chains, the yoke of the United States and imperialism which had been ruling for hundreds of years. It was to reverse the ills that had been brought by colonization more than 500 years ago and to build a more just and equal society in Venezuela. This started with basic human rights: healthcare, education, the right to access to food and dignified housing, the right to work. All of these things became the goal of the Bolivarian Revolution, to fight for the masses of poor and working people in Venezuela and to build a more just and equal society. Socialism became the path towards this. Hugo Chavez said it directly.
I think that the most concrete action that we can look towards today, are the beginning of the social missions in Venezuela, which still exist today and are building and growing. They are the hallmark of the Bolivarian Revolution, social missions meant to bring people those basic human rights.
Cindy: Part of the vision also, of the Bolivarian Revolution wasn’t just to build social and economic equality in Venezuela, but it also was to unite Latin America and the Caribbean together against the United States. That was becoming very successful during Chavez’ lifetime. It seemed like he made Cuba and Fidel prominent and more respected in Latin America and the Caribbean. The OAS states finally united together and said that if Cuba is not going to be involved anymore, we are not going to be involved, except of course for the United States and Canada. But, now it looks like since Chavez’ death, the United States has re-doubled its efforts to undermine that solidarity.
Alison: It is very true; I think that has been one of the most significant gains of the Bolivarian Revolution. We can talk about the development of ALBA, for instance, and MercoSUR, .These organizations are meant to be, and have really become, a counter-balance to the free trade agreements that have been run by the United States and their allies across Latin America.
Bringing solidarity between countries, including Venezuela, is definitely a big part of the Bolivarian Revolution. Even its name, after Simon Bolivar, the great Latin American Liberator whose goal was also to unite Latin America, is definitely where they take their essence and vision as you have said.
I think that Venezuela brought what we could refer to as the “winds of change” to Latin American, with the inspiration of the Cuban Revolution and working together through that experience, the Bolivarian Revolution has also brought with it other social movements across Latin America. Ecuador, Bolivia, all of these countries. The United States is very concerned with overthrowing the Bolivarian Revolution and all of the positive changes that have taken place across Latin America, as well as breaking that solidarity.
The OAS has been part of this. The motion to except Cuba definitely was positive but as we have seen with Venezuela, especially over the last few months, the OAS, the head of the OAS, is still very much in the hands of the United States and is really making moves to break that solidarity and overthrow the Bolivarian Revolution.
Cindy: …which really has been happening since 1998. Since Chavez was elected, the United States has worked really hard to undermine that. Of course, they were not successful during Chavez life, but as I said earlier they re-doubled their efforts to get Venezuela back into the hands of the Oil-garchy and other profiteers. They have worked over-time to destabilize that country but we hear nothing but lies here in the United States about what’s happening in Venezuela. So, that is what I wanted to have you on here to talk about, the so-called food shortages, the crime, you know everything that we hear about “evil Venezuela.” We need to dispel those myths and talk about why they are happening and what’s really happening.
Alison:Thank you again for having me on here to talk about that, because I think, really, if we look around, the biggest thing that is not being discussed in media here, in North America especially or in any Western media, is what is really happening in Venezuela. Instead they are talking about Venezuela using very exaggerated terms, very “crisis” terms.
We could look at just two days ago, September 1. I will start there as an excellent example of the way that media is using lies and manipulations and really deliberately leaving out especially the role of the U.S. government in Latin America, historically, and today. The U.S. government is funding organizations that are working against the interests of the majority of people in Latin America and Venezuela.
September 1 was a day in Venezuela in which the opposition right-wing, the violent opposition right-wing which is backed by the United States, had declared a “takeover of Caracas,” the capital city of Venezuela. During these actions they attempted to bring supporters of the opposition into Caracas as well as made threats for further action against the Bolivarian Revolution and against the democratically-elected government of President Nicolas Maduro. The media two days ago showed photos of these demonstrations, they showed photos of opposition marches in the streets of Caracas and also attempted to portray the government of Venezuela as being heavy-handed against these protests.
But, they never once showed photos of the masses of people in support of the government and of the Bolivarian Revolution that marched in the streets, not only in Caracas, but in every public square in cities across Venezuela. They also never talked about the fact that these same organizers of this so-called takeover of Caracas, were also the same that organized violent riots in 2014 known as the Guarimbas which killed 43 people and injured over 700.
They didn’t talk either, of course, about the 2002 attempted coup against Hugo Chavez that was overturned by the people of Venezuela in less than 48 hours, and the various coup attempts that have taken place between now and then. They didn’t being that into the context when they talked about Venezuela arresting people with bomb-making materials, or finding someone with a sniper gun. The media completely ignored this pattern of violence from the opposition. Instead they tried to say that those people marching in the streets for the opposition were those that were “fighting for democracy,” were those that were “fighting for their right to have their voices heard.”
This is just one example of the way that media ignores, and completely refuses to discuss the role of the United States in Venezuela and in Latin America, and their support of this violent right-wing opposition. They ignore it because it helps them in their overall campaign to be the mouthpiece of the U.S. government, a government which is interested in overthrowing the Bolivarian Revolution and the example that they have set for people not only in Latin America, but also around the world. That is why Venezuela is such a threat, because it represents hope for people in the Middle East, in North Africa, hope for all oppressed people to that demonstrates that you can take your sovereignty and self-determination back and fight for a country independent of the United States.
As well, the September 1 protests took place in the context of an economic war in Venezuela. This has been another example of how major capitalist media around the world has ignored what is actually happening on the ground in Venezuela. They use words like “massive hunger” and “starvation,” they claim that there is so much of shortage that hoards of people are even “eating a horse” as one media reported. These are really exaggerated claims of what is happening in Venezuela, which is facing an economic crisis, but also taking steps to remedy it.
Currently, Venezuela’s exports largely depend on oil exports. The price of oil has plummeted, which has created problems with the economy of Venezuela. But the other thing that they don’t describe ever, is the fact that the vast majority of food distribution and production, as well as the distribution and production of basic goods, is not in the hands of the Venezuelan government. It is still in the hands of private companies and factories, multi-nationals that operate in Venezuela.
Cindy: Talk about what happened to Kimberly Clark, for example.
Alison: Exactly, Kimberly Clark is a name that is familiar to all of us because it is a company that operates in the United States and North America. It is a multi-national, gigantic company that was producing basically hygiene goods in Venezuela. They had a factory in Aragua, Venezuela that they shut down. They decided that it wasn’t making enough profit and they closed the doors, firing over 900 employees. They also claimed at the time that they didn’t have the raw materials that they needed to make their goods. This is something that different private factories have been saying in Venezuela, especially over the last two years or so.
So the Venezuelan government responded to this and investigated, of course, and found the opposite of what the company had claimed. That the warehouses were, in fact, well-stocked and that the company had just shut down the factory, like I said before, because they didn’t think they were making enough profit. In Venezuela there are very strict rules about how much goods can be sold for and this has created problems for multi-national companies and those that are in the hands of the right-wing and capitalist class in Venezuela.
Now the government of Venezuela has turned over the factory to the workers, and it has been re-opened and it has continued production. There has been a visible improvement in the availability of basic goods in Venezuela because this factory is once again producing. It’s goods are not being hoarded anymore, it is not being deliberately slowed down in production anymore by their capitalist bosses. They really have been able to take over control and continue producing what they need to in order to supply basic goods to the Venezuelan population. This one factory, for example, produced about 20% of the national demand for these sort of basic hygiene goods in Venezuela, so there is a very significant impact in getting it up and running again normally.
Cindy: See, that’s the issue. Some of us feel like that kind of thing, like the government taking over businesses and production and putting it in the hands of the people Venezuela could have been done faster, could have been done more. But, you know I have spent significant time with Chavez and he would impress that he is, he was, the President of everybody in Venezuela and if companies were price-gouging, or they were taking advantage of the people in Venezuela there would be no issue about it, they would take that industry or the stores and they would nationalize those industries.
Talk about that I little bit. The misconception here in the United States of course is that Chavez went in there with a heavy hand and he didn’t even nationalize completely the oil industry, which I feel like he should have.
Alison: I think that we all have our own ideas about Venezuela and what we think could have been done or not been done. But, I think it is important what you said, that it has to all be put in context as well.
As solidarity activists first of all, in the United States, in North America , I would say it is our main role to defend the sovereignty and self-determination of Venezuela and let them figure out their economy and how they want to run the country based on end to U.S. intervention in the country. That is our main role.
But, I would also say that that there has been moves made by both President Hugo Chavez as well as by Nicolas Maduro to really combat this price-gouging, the hoarding. But it is a balance where we have to understand more about the context. There is a violent opposition that is really attempting to overthrow the revolution, and they will use whatever means. think that the government has to take this into account with any decisions that they make about how far to take the nationalizations or the takeover of factories.
It is interesting to see the response that Nicolas Maduro has had reflected in major media in North America. The positive steps that the government has taken in the past few years, the government attempts to diversify the economy, to increase the amount of food production in Venezuela, to distribute food in a way that goes around these private companies, have all been met with complete hostility in the U.S. media.
When the government of Venezuela involves the military in helping to distribute food it is suddenly a militarization of food distribution and “no one is going to get to the food.” When we learn about the community gardens and incentives for people to plant more food it is referred in major media as “forced labour in Venezuela.”
They are still twisting what the government is doing in response to this economic crisis at every turn. They did the same thing under President Hugo Chavez and they continue that under President Nicolas Maduro. It is a very concerted campaign to make sure that people in the North America really don’t know what is actually happening in Venezuela. They don’t know about the community initiatives, the gardens and cooperatives, they don’t understand how food distribution works in Venezuela. People are meant to be confused enough so that the U.S. can make their threats against the government, can increase their military presence in the region and can even directly say, as one diplomat did a few days ago that “maybe this food crisis is going to necessitate foreign aid and intervention.” This is something that should be unheard of for the United States to be able to say when it comes to Venezuela and Latin America.
Cindy: We are running out of time, but there is one thing that I wanted you to address before we do run out of time. In your recent article in Fire This Time, called “Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Venezuela: the Economic War and Mass Media Lies and Deceptions” [see Fire This Time, Volume 10, Issue 8], you point out that , when it was obvious that the opposition was going to take the Parliament in the last elections in Venezuela in 2015, Hillary Clinton said “We’re winning, we’re winning,” or something similar. Who is “we”? I mean, this is what you are talking about. The United States and Hillary Clinton have no business about what is happening in Venezuela, so who is this “we” that she is talking about?
Alison: This “we” is the very friendly hand-in-hand relationship that the government of the United States has with the opposition in Venezuela. Imperialism in Latin America, the U.S. government and their allies, consider the opposition in Venezuela to be their good friends. You can see that through the words of Hillary Clinton as well as through their history.
Henrique Capriles is a name that people hear in U.S. media, when it comes to Venezuela, as a member of the opposition. He is part of a political party called “Justice First,” or “Primera Justicia” that began as a U.S.-funded project in Venezuela, funded through US-Aid in the 90’s. This party and similar organizations have continued to receive U.S. political and financial support. This U.S. support is the most important thing for us to discuss.
Whether it is through the U.S. Presidential election, when we have Hillary Clinton making these statements against Venezuela, or after, we know that it is the U.S. government’s interests to overthrow the Bolivarian Revolution and the government of Venezuela. Definitely we have to build and work on building more education about this. About the violent opposition, the campaign of U.S. sanctions, the campaign of U.S. military actions off the coast of Venezuela, as well as about Obama’s Executive Order. This Executive Order was first released in March, 2015 that declared that Venezuela was somehow a “threat to U.S. national security.” A country that is building social justice, and has never attacked the United States is suddenly on this list. That Executive Order was renewed one year later, in March of 2016. It continues to enable further U.S. sanctions against Venezuela and also to build that political support that they U.S. government needs to continue their attacks.
This is the context in which I believe it is our responsibility to build a solidarity movement with Venezuela. As Fire This Time in Vancouver we are working to bring Venezuela to the streets of Vancouver, to have days of information, and petitioning the U.S. government to repeal the Executive Order and to end the sanctions. I would encourage your listeners to learn more about the Bolivarian Revolution and to get involved. I have written multiple articles, especially since the December elections in Venezuela, in the Fire This Time newspaper. I encourage people to go to www.firethistime.net to see those articles and also how to get involved in the solidarity movement.
Cindy: It will be linked, the articles will be linked on the Soapbox too when I put this show up. What really gets me about Barack Obama declaring that Venezuela is a threat to the United States is that, as you said Venezuela has never attacked the United States, it has never really attacked anybody. It has not been in any wars, it is not occupying any foreign countries. That’s actually the United States. I would like to declare the United States a threat to the world.
Alison: I agree completely, the U.S. is the number one threat to the world and Venezuela is a hope for all of us. We saw that when people marched on the streets on September 1, when supporters of the Bolivarian Revolution marched on the streets in Venezuela and really prevented coup and violence and destabilization in Venezuela. We see them continuing to build.
It is our responsibility not only to talk about that, but to demand U.S. Hands Off Venezuela and exactly, to declare as you said, that the U.S. is in fact a threat to the world.
Cindy: Alison Bodine that you so much for your work and thank you so much for taking your time to be on Cindy Sheehan’s Soapbox this week.
Alison: Thank you.
Follow Alison on Twitter:@Alisoncolette
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