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 April
27, 2017. To hear the below interview, as
well as for other interesting and informative
podcasts and articles, please visit http://
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
Listen to the interview!
Cindy: Welcome back to the Soapbox, I’m your host Cindy Sheehan. This week we will be speaking with antiwar and social justice activist, writer and researcher Alison Bodine. Alison particularly is well-informed about what is going on in Venezuelan current events and trends in Latin America, so stay-tuned and we will be right back with Alison Bodine.
Cindy: Alison Bodine, welcome back to Cindy Sheehan’s Soapbox.
Alison: Thank you, very happy to be here with you this morning Cindy.
Cindy: Well, thank you. You’re what I consider my house expert on what is happening in Venezuela and what is going on, and Venezuela and the people of Venezuela are something that is very important to be and I think that it should be important to everybody because it’s kind-of a microcosm of what is happening around the world but it is also something that we who consider ourselves revolutionary socialists in the United States we can look at Venezuela, especially the beginnings of the Bolivarian Revolution and be inspired by the energy and the love of Hugo Chavez, the former President who passed away. The love of him for his people and for the history and the culture and the country of Venezuela. And then, in return the energy and love of the people towards him. So, I just really love Venezuela, but I hate what the US, and the US-sponsored Organization of American States is doing to the people of Venezuela.
Alison: Yeah, I agree with you Cindy, that is a lot about why I have been inspired by Venezuela. We are now in the 19th year actually of the Bolivarian Revolution. It really has been an incredible change for poor, working and oppressed people in Venezuela. But, that inspiration, the way that the Venezuelan Bolivarian Revolution has really joined with other countries across Latin America and the Caribbean, with revolutionary Cuba and then other countries joining in. I think that that really is the motivation for these US sponsored threats against Venezuela, for the United States’ attempts to destabilize the country, to overthrow President Nicolas Maduro today is really to try to isolate that influence that revolutionary Venezuela has had on so many millions of people, and I think that is the crux of what we are talking about when we discuss reasons for US intervention in Venezuela.
Cindy: Well, poor Nicloas Maduro. I mean he really stepped in to huge shoes. He had enormous shoes to fill from Chavez who was beloved and who did have incredible energy to fulfil the wishes of the Venezuelan people. Because the Venezuelan Constitution was written by the people, and the only way that it can be amended is by the people. So, Maduro had these enormous shoes to fill, and he really has been an embattled from within and without, hasn’t he?
Alison: Yes. It is years of an economic war. Really the United States and the capitalist class in Venezuela saw the fall in oil prices, which was dramatic which we know and we have all noticed as an opportunity to increase their attacks and to begin using the economy to try to convince the people of Venezuela to overthrow their government and reverse the gains of the Bolivarian Revolution. The economic war that President Maduro, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela and all the mechanisms of the Bolivarian Revolution have been fighting against, has manifested itself in different ways. It has manifested itself through hoarding by Venezuela’s major corporations.
One thing that the mainstream media constantly leaving out, is that when they talk about shortages in Venezuela, they do not recognize that it is the counter-revolutionary opposition and the capitalist class in Venezuela that controls most of the production and distribution of food and basic items in Venezuela. The media will talk about the shortage of corn flour in Venezuela, but not recognize that the companies that produce that have actually reduced their production and have been found to be hoarding massive amounts of this basic foodstuff in order to essentially starve the people of Venezuela. There are many reports that you can read online about, you know, in the rich areas of Venezuela you can go and find all the corn flour, cheese milk, that you would like, when at the same time there are people standing in long lines outside of government sponsored grocery stores, or just the store down the street waiting for basic goods. There has been hoarding, there has been price gouging, there is also a major issue with smuggling. In Venezuela, one of the big gains of the Bolivarian Revolution was to make these basic goods affordable to people, and so the prices went down on the shelves. There are many corrupts and opportunists who are buying these basic goods at subsidized prices, and then smuggling them into Colombia and selling them at much higher price. These corrupt people are making massive amounts of money off the backs of the working and poor people of Venezuela.
There is this economic war, which as I said is taking advantage of the drop in oil prices, in order to try to further strangle the Venezuelan economy. And then, there is the United States, which at the same time and in conjunction with these attacks, has a few years ago, in 2015, and then again in 2016, both under US President Barack Obama, issued an executive order that declared Venezuela to be an extraordinary threat to the national security of the United States.
Cindy: That’s so crazy. Just on the face value of it, it is just lunacy.
Alison: Thousands of miles away, Caracas is something like 3,000 miles away from Washington, DC, the US military is of course stationed just off the coast of Venezuela, and yet somehow Venezuela and the 30 million people there are a threat to the United States.
The real impact of this has been that it has allowed the US Congress to continue and to increase their sanctions against Venezuela because the country has been given this status through an executive order. Also, the moves of the US function to scare away international creditors. So, Venezuela is going through a crisis, they have experiences a lack of revenue due to the drop in oil prices, something that many countries around the world may experience, while that the same time they have been cut-off from international funding to help them get through the crisis, by the US government essentially. That has been another leg of the economic war against the people.
Then, I would say that Maduro has also been facing, as President of Venezuela, constant US threats. Especially in the last few months, let’s say since February. There was a letter written by US Congress, some of the most notorious, definitely, including Ted Cruz, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, people that have been fighting against the Cuban Revolution. 34 members of US Congress signed a letter in February, essentially calling on the US government to “do more.” To sanction, and to put international pressure on Venezuela to change their system. They framed it, of course, in terms of human rights, democracy, but these terms, whether we look at Libya, or Syria, or Iraq, or event the US’ own history in Latin America, is not what the US is concerned about.
Cindy: Well speaking of the US Congress. I knew I didn’t like Bernie Sanders before, but when he called Chavez a “dead communist dictator,” that was the red-line in the sand for me. I knew that I could never support anybody who claimed to be a socialist but, who denounced in the most vicious and inflammatory terms somebody who was actually working towards a socialist future. You know somebody, I wouldn’t say Chavez was, you know I don’t think Venezuela was completely socialist, but was certainly working towards that. I was so upset when Sanders said that about him. The dictator part is what really bothered me because like you said, they couch these things in terms of democracy, but I met with Chavez one time, and he said, I think it was the President of Brazil at the time, told Chavez that “Chavez has an excess of democracy.”
There are always elections there and they have always been certified to be completely legitimate.
Alison: That is what has been so hypocritical about recent events especially. Since April the Organization of American States has been especially used by the United States to further attack Venezuela. The Organization of American States represents countries in the Caribbean and Latin America, and includes the United States and Canada, so it is a regional body. It has existed since the 1940’s, really discredited throughout Latin America especially, a history of, for example, completely supporting, and actually organizing troops to support, the US invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965, turning their head the other way through all Central America’s US-sponsored wars and all of the death and destruction and disappeared in Argentina and Chile. Completely a United States tool.
And then, you have, in the last few months, the new general secretary of this organization, a man named Luis Almagro, really proving himself to be a United States puppet. He is completely obsessed with Venezuela, if you look at his social media accounts, his public statements, trying to condemn Venezuela for being “undemocratic,” for violating something that the Organization of American States created called their Inter-American Democratic Charter. This is something that is a complete affront to, like you said, the democracy that Venezuela has been building for these last 19 years. They have had multiple elections, victorious for the Bolivarian Revolution. But, they have also lost two elections, and one just in December of 2015 in which Venezuela now has a majority right-wing opposition National Assembly.
Now, what Almagro and his friends in the Venezuelan opposition are calling for is elections in Venezuela. Presidential elections in Venezuela are already scheduled for 2018, so it is against Venezuela’s Constitution, which like you said was decided upon and voted upon by the people, to call these elections early. What the real issue is, is that the opposition attempted, through a constitutional process known of a recall referendum, to overthrow President Maduro and they completely failed. They collected signatures, 30% of which were proven to be very suspicious, to come from dead people, people without identification, minors. They were unsuccessful in carrying out this referendum, and now they are saying we need elections immediately, which is unconstitutional.
It is this same right-wing opposition that is undemocratic, and that has also strangled the National Assembly. As I said before, they control the National Assembly, which has now become an organization that is incapable of passing any legislation. 15 out of the 16 so-called laws that the National Assembly has passed have been ruled unconstitutional by Venezuela’s Supreme Court. This is because they do things like try to privatize public housing, which is against Venezuela’s Constitution. So, the claims of the Organization of American States really need to be more closely examined, as far as the General Secretary calling for invoking the so-called Inter-American Democratic Charter and demands for Venezuela to hold elections immediately.
Cindy: What happened the other day when President Maduro was calling for Venezuelans to come out some kind of armed opposition.
Alison: On April 19, Nicolas Maduro and the United Socialist Party of Venezuela issued a call to the people of Venezuela to come the streets to defend the Bolivarian Revolution. Venezuela was celebrating a national holiday and there were fears that the right-wing was mobilizing violent protests. Especially in the last three weeks, the opposition is attempting to start what they did in 2014, which were violent street riots known as the Guarimbas. 43 people died during those riots. There were street barricades there were violent riots essentially calling for the exit – la salida – of Nicolas Maduro. In order to try to prevent that from happening again Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro called people to the streets and did also call on a strengthening of militias in defense of the revolution.
I think from the outside we have to completely condemn US intervention and understand that the people of Venezuela are mobilizing to defend the gains that they have made through the Bolivarian Revolution under Comandante Hugo Chavez and now today under Nicolas Maduro.
The threat of violence from the opposition are real and proven. Opposition leaders, of which there are many different factions, have been attacking government institutions regularly, Supreme Court buildings, but also buildings like the Social Mission for Housing, which has come under attack through simple bombs, fire bombs, those sorts of weapons. Opposition members have been caught with weaponry.
There was just a recent article which I think is really important talking about evidence that was released of people in Venezuela reporting that they had been paid large sums of money by different factions of the opposition to provoke violence in demonstrations. The opposition really sees it as in their favour if people die, if there is you know, some security officials died, about seven people died in the last few weeks and they really see it as further evidence that they can use of the undemocratic nature of the government of Nicolas Maduro. So, they will provoke as much violence as they can during these demonstrations.
I for one was really inspired by the mobilization of people of Venezuela, the masses were out in the streets and very peacefully showed their strength and their support for the revolution in contrast to the violence of the right-wing opposition.
Cindy: The opposition in Venezuela, and it might not be exclusive to Venezuela, is very well-funded and they have a lot of media on their side. Not only that, being well funded, because they are usually the wealthy class in Venezuela, but they are also well-funded by United States organizations. It has been proven, USAid, the National Endowment for Democracy and things like that are also funding the opposition. So, for the people of Venezuela to still be able to mobilize in a large way against that to me is almost like a miracle. They are fighting against massive forces that want to overthrow the Bolivarian Revolution.
Alison: It is incredibly inspiring to look at the photos from the April 19 and I think that those will continue. Venezuela definitely must remain on-guard. We have, for example, many of the faces of people that were taking center-stage during the 2002 attempted coup against Hugo Chavez now once again appearing. In 2002 there was a coup attempt that was overturned in only 3 days due to the power of the people of Venezuela. Chavez was immediately put back into power and the Bolivarian Revolution continued. Those same actors that tried to carry out that coup, are appearing again and again in Venezuelan media today and out in the streets in Venezuela today. That is a very dangerous signal, especially as like you said, in that 2002 coup attempt, there has been a lot uncovered about US ties directly with those coup-plotters. Those same ties can be made today, whether it is the e-mail records of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, or it is simply things like a recent announcement from the US Southern Command. This is an office that gives orders to all of the US military forces in Latin America.
Recently, at the same time at the opposition is stirring up destabilization attempts and these protests, the Southern Command is saying things publicly like “Venezuela’s relationships with Russia, China and Iran are now posing a threat to US interests in the region,” or that “the situation in Venezuela is going to most likely, cause regional intervention in the country.” Those are not veiled threats, they are direct threats coming from the mouth of the US government and there are ties directly to Venezuela’s counter-revolutionary opposition that are very clear.
It is also important to note that Trump has shown some signs of his continued attacks on Venezuela. There were some statements that he made during the election. Now, he has talked openly with the Presidents of Chile and Brazil, of course the President of Brazil came to power as the result of a coup. Both of these are right-wing governments, and Trump has openly discussed with them the situation in Venezuela. He has also met at the White House with the wife of so-called political prisoner Leopaldo Lopez, who is the leader of one of these very violent far-right political parties in Venezuela. Leopaldo Lopez is in prison because he has committed crimes of violence in Venezuela, he is not a political prisoner, but Trump has met with his wife and actually Tweeted, of course, as is his style, calling for the release of political prisoners in Venezuela.
Cindy: Wwhat about political prisoners in the United States?
Alison: There you go, the hypocrisy runs deep as we know. I know that most progressive people have no delusions about Trump, but really understanding that it is the entire US government and all of their offices and institutions that are really working against Venezuela today to try and overthrow the revolution. We have to, as people that believe in peace and justice, we really have to work to end the US government to end their intervention and to talk about what is happening in Venezuela today.
Cindy: One of Chavez’ biggest mistake I think, looking back in hindsight, was I think that he was way too easy on the people that tried to murder him in 2002. He was hours away from being executed, or assassinated, and they just didn’t spend very mush time in prison, or anything. I understand why he did it, he wanted the country to heal from it, but the blowback to me has caused more harm I think.
Alison: Yeah, well as a said those same faces are back, so it is hard to say these things in retrospect, but it is clear that for the counter-revolutionary opposition in Venezuela, the US has found their ways to continuing supporting them, and funding them and they are not going away. But, as we saw, the people of Venezuela are going to keep up their fight, not only against the opposition, but the people of Venezuela are finding ways to continue the revolutionary process to not let the stop them from providing housing, from getting around, in some ways, the economic war through community organizations and the military has now been tasked with helping to do food distribution. It is a dynamic situation, but it is one that the US has its hands all over and we have to be vigilant from here in the United States and Canada.
I will say as well that in the Organization of American States, it is the US government, but also Canada that have joined with the right-wing governments in Latin America to try and condemn Venezuela. Although the Organization of American States and Secretary General Luis Almagro are broadly seen as puppets of US interests, I think it is significant to show almost the desperation of opposition in Venezuela, that they have to go and meet with this quite meaningless organization in order to get their opinions heard on the international stage, and that they have to so directly for international intervention. This means that the counter-revolutionary opposition is facing problems in Venezuela, that they haven’t been able to establish what they want to as far as overthrowing the government without this international help. The opposition is bold and direct and violent. Even one member of the opposition, who holds a public position, he tweeted in the last few days, claiming that President Maduro’s police forces were using chemical weapons against protestors in Venezuela. Obviously this was trying to join to join in this bandwagon of the claims against Syria today to try and provoke further US direct intervention, which could come in the form of bombs as we saw in Syria.
Cindy: What kind of person would say something like that? The US has just recently bombed Syria with 59 Tomahawk missiles, dropped the Mother of All Bombs in Afghanistan, that just shows the bankruptcy and evilness of the opposition in Venezuela that would want to provoke something like that.
Alison: Exactly, I think that they are very bold in that way. We have to pay attention to these things, whom US Congress is meeting with, their travels to the United States, their meetings with President Trump. It is in the interests of the United States to overthrow the Bolivarian Revolution and the US is going to continue their intervention until they win, or until they are completely defeated. It is a lot up to the people of Venezuela to continue building their revolution, but we have to the work here in the United States and Canada to do the work we need to do.
Cindy: All over Latin America we have seen a lot of inspiring struggles against capitalism and imperialism and they are on the front lines. They are being murdered, union organizers in Honduras, environmental activists, Colombia, and we have seen a small right-wing march in some of the governments. But, recently Ecuador had a left-ish victory.
Alison: I think that is significant. I think that the ability of Venezuela to continue their building of international relations. As we were talking about at the beginning, this US assault, their determination to overthrow the Bolivarian Revolution is really to isolate the impact that the Venezuelan revolutionary process has had on Latin America, and so as much as they can to try to infiltrate these regional organizations they will continue to do. Venezuela’s ability to keep building alliances with Cuba, with Ecuador, to continue building ALBA, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, are significant components of what Venezuela is doing in Latin America and will continue to do.
Cindy: Well, Alison, we are running out of time, is there anything that you would like to add?
Alison: Thank you Cindy again, I agree with you a lot. Venezuela is important to inspire people who believe in social justice and in the process towards socialism. Venezuela is something that needs to be talked about more in media. There is a media war against Venezuela and so independent media like that you promote and build over Soapbox, or all of our different connections is really significant to fighting against this media war. The entire capitalist class in Venezuela is uniting with mass media in the United States and the US government to really lay the land for further US intervention in Venezuela. That is something that if we look across Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, that characterizes our world today in a lot of ways. The US is looking for more and more places to invade, to take their resources, and we have to unite all of allies together in our struggle against US imperialism.
Cindy: And the collaborators in Venezuela are traitors, they are traitors to the country and they are traitors to humanity. Alison, what is your website and where can my listeners, the Soapbox listeners, get more information?
Alison: To read articles I have written on Venezuela, you can go to www.firethistime.net , we are a social justice newspaper based in Vancouver, Canada. People can find us at firethistime.net, or can also find the paper on the Issuu website, or just contact me directly though Facebook.
Cindy: Well, Alison Bodine, thank you so much for being on Cinday Sheehan’s Soapbox again and for your willingness to help us understand these issues.
Alison: Thank you Cindy for your time, and thank you to all your listeners on Soapbox.
Follow Alison Bodine on Twitter: @Alisoncolette
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