HSU holds panel discussion about the Venezuelan crisis
When it comes to Venezuela, things are complicated. Nicolas Maduro is technically the “elected” president, but the elections were marked with widespread corruption and a physical force that arrested and jailed opposition leaders. Juan Guaidó, leader of the Venezuelan National Assembly, appointed himself as the interim president in January without receiving any votes, thus making the situation convoluted in the Latin American country.
Yes, Maduro is something akin to a dictator. However, he did win an election for the presidency and Guaidó did not. Guaidó is recognized as the legitimate president of Venezuela by numerous countries including the United States. However, the U.S. National Security Advisor, John Bolton, said in an interview that “it will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela,” overtly hinting at what may lie as the main reason for U.S. intervention.
HSU professors Suzanna Pasztor, Nancy Pérez and Jared Larson held a panel discussion on what is happening and what should happen in Venezuela. Approximately 50 people attended the lecture which ran for two and a half hours. The three professors are all experts in a myriad of topics when it comes to Venezuela and helped to offer some insight into the complicated situation. Pasztor said that to understand some of the current problems, one must look at former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
“I had a fair amount of family and friends that were kidnapped. The violent crimes in the barrios was out of control. I didn’t feel safe.”
“We need to understand where the Chavez revolution begins and ends,” Pasztor said.
Pasztor went on to give a brief rundown of the history in the area and what some of the complicating factors are. Pasztor said that Chavez was part of the Bolivarian Revolution movement in the early 1990s and was democratically elected as president in 1998.
“Chavez wanted to follow a third way that combined capitalism and socialism,” Pasztor said.
But problems began to manifest. In 2003 Chavez fired approximately 20,000 striking oil workers and replaced them with workers more loyal to his government and policies. Although some foreign countries saw this as problematic, Venezuelans supported Chavez.
According to Pasztor, Chavez was very popular amongst the poor and working class. He used oil revenue to bring healthcare and literacy to the poor. Under Chavez’s reign, Venezuelans saw unprecedented change in their country. Infant mortality declined, unemployment and extreme poverty shrank tremendously and oil exports reached $60 billion dollars in 2011. However even this had its problems.
“Venezuela has tried to function as a state that over-relies on oil revenue, and is not self-sufficient in food by any means,” Pasztor said.
Violence was also common during this time period with the murder rate increasing by nearly double. Elena Padrón, assistant professor of psychology at HSU, grew up in Venezuela. Padrón moved to the U.S at the age of 20 and attended university at UC Berkeley. Padrón said that she was no supporter of Chavez or the Bolivarian Revolution and that violence was common in her community.
“I had a fair amount of family and friends that were kidnapped,” Padrón said. “The violent crimes in the barrios was out of control. I didn’t feel safe.”
Chavez remained president of Venezuela until his death in March 2013. The following month, current Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro won the presidency by a slim margin. This event has essentially become to turning point for Venezuela. Two years later the opposition party to Maduro won two-thirds of the seats in the National Assembly, effectively ending the 17 year rule of the Socialist party. Since then, Maduro has not been favorable of any sort of dissenting voice.
In 2017, 73 protestors were killed and the United Nations described the event as “a picture of widespread and systematic use of excessive force…against demonstrators in Venezuela.”
The protests took place because of the Venezuelan Supreme Court’s “attempt to usurp the powers of the country’s legislative branch.”
These protests sparked the movement that would produce Juan Guaidó and his claim to the presidency. Jared Larson, lecturer in the department of politics at HSU, summed up Guaidó’s claim to power by stating that Maduro never swore in as president for his second term in 2018 in front of the National Assembly, which is required in the Venezuelan Constitution.
This brings us up to the current time and the Trump administration’s appointment of Eliot Abrams as the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs.
“[Elliot Abrams] is now being sent to Venezuela to promote the same discourse and rhetoric as before. This is not only starting a war, but it is also starting migration.”
“The appointment of Elliot Abrams was probably the third dumbest thing the Trump administration could have done,” Larson said.
Abrams has a long history in Latin America. In the 1980s he worked for the Reagan administration where he oversaw the U.S. involvement in Latin America. Violence ran rapid in Latin America and Abrams justified it by saying that it was to promote democracy and human rights. One of the most horrific incidents happened in El Mozote, El Salvador where 800 civilians were murdered by U.S. backed and trained forces.
“Elliot Abrams came into this position to conceal the role of the U.S. in these crimes,” Nancy Pérez, lecturer of critical race, gender and sexuality at HSU, said. “He is now being sent to Venezuela to promote the same discourse and rhetoric as before. This is not only starting a war, but it is also starting migration.”
Abrams was convicted of lying to Congress about his role in the Iran-Contra scandal, and was questioned by Congresswoman Ilhan Omar about why he should be trusted given his past.
The discussion Monday night was to help bring some clarity to a convoluted issue and to shine a light on how the media has portrayed the issue. Ryan Call is a senior majoring in history here at HSU and attended the event to form a more complete understanding of the situation.
“The media has played a huge role in obscuring what is going on,” Call said. “I knew that someone was president and there was a crisis, but I didn’t know how it happened.”
The event brought quite a bit of historical clarity, but left the attendees reaching for their own conclusion when it comes to American intervention. Elena Padrón does not support any sort of American intervention but wants something to be done.
“What I would like to see done is to push for fair elections,” Padrón said. “I would like to see the power of the international community push for democracy.”