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Web Letter

First, I would like to apologize for this pseudorevolutionary. I am from El Salvador and the minute I began to doubt this so-called ex-comandante was when I read that he listened to Donna Summers and Beatles music, I said to myself there has to be something wrong with this guy, now he called soap operas popular culture?


Villalobos is pissed because he gave all and could not share power in the government in El Salvador--by "all," I mean he slept with the right, sold his beliefs for money and so on.

If there is such a thing as a left prostitute, that's Villalobos.

Alberto Coto

Ottawa, Canada

Aug 12 2007 - 4:34pm

Web Letter

I wonder over and over again, what gives the right to shady characters like Villalobos to suddenly become experts on Venezuela, its history and current social and political transformation. First of all the Revolution in Venezuela has been cooking for decades and it has been anything but peaceful. Villalobos's pseudo-analysis lacks historical facts and ignores the struggles of Venezuelans to conquer real democracy and social justice.

I lead a recent delegation to Venezuela of Afro-Americans from the South Side of Chicago. On our seventh day in Venezuela we visited EL Tocuyo, Lara State; I would invite Villalobos to visit the archaeology museum next to Bolivar Square in El Tocuyo. Historian Pedro Pablo Linares could give Villalobos an extensive list of political disappearances, which included students, farmers, and guerrillas, buried in common graves during the democracy this FMLN traitor defends.

Villalobos ignores the killings of El Caracazo, in February 1989, where over 3,000 Venezuelans were assassinated by the so-called democracy and silenced by Human Rights Watch and other so-called watch dogs for human rights violations. I bet Villalobos went fishing a few times with Carlos Andres Perez and his CIA crew in Venezuela. Anyway, my point is that our revolutionary process has not been historically peaceful. Poverty caused by imperialist policies are the direct cause and effect of our movement, which did not start with Hugo Chávez, nor stops there. Chávez has awakened the consciousness of millions in Venezuela and the world. I could not think of anyone geopolitically with more influence in word and action than Hugo Rafael Chávez Frias. This is driving the ideologists of the Pentagon nuts, so they have to pay many sellouts like Villalobos to attempt to discredit the morally unbreakable leader of the Venezuelan Revolution.

Edward Mercado

Cincinnati, OH

Jul 18 2007 - 8:04am

Web Letter

So Hugo Ch´vez has committed a grave error in closing down the opposition RCTV station? This station was instrumental in the coup of 2002. To forgive a transgression against the rule of law in a democracy is easy for those who do not hold democracy or the rule of law in high regard. We can thank the military of Venezuela for having higher regard for their elected government than many so-called democracies of the West. The overthrow of Ch´vez was warmly received by the Bush Administration.

I would suggest that those who think they know better than Ch´vez how a hostile opposition should be handled should lead by their own example. The whole world would like to see how a democracy such as the United States would handle such a situation. First, in order to make this experimental example possible the US would need to allow a high-power broadcast opposition network capable of reaching the majority of its citizens to come into existence. Then this opposition network would have to openly call for the murder of its nation’s elected leader and boldly share a laugh with their viewers upon execution of their treasonous plan. The free people of the United States, meanwhile, find themselves excluded from campaign rallies and shopping malls for much more benign speech.

I am reminded of the aircraft shot down after leafleting Cuba from the sky. The terrible outcry over the injustice brought upon those innocent pamphleteers! So terrible was the impropriety of Cuba’s defense force! I waited with anticipation for a demonstration of the proper way to leaflet from the air over a foreign nation's capital. Surely America would lead the democratic nations of the world with an example of how a civilized nation would accommodate a foreign opposition’s freedom of speech.

I still wait.

Glenn Fritz

Park Ridge, IL

Jul 10 2007 - 11:59pm

Web Letter

Villalobos writes, "In Nicaragua the change was equally violent, and though mistreated, the institutions of press freedom, political opposition, elections and private property all survived." But press freedom, political opposition and elections did not merely survive the Sandanista revolution. They were created by it.

Michael Lubin

Oakland, CA

Jul 6 2007 - 9:31pm

Web Letter

Joaquín Villalobos condemns President Chávez on the grounds that the three times elected leader is less revolutionary than he claims to be, dismissing changes in Venezuela as inauthentic because they have lacked violence and austerity. The article demonstrates an uninformed eagerness to discredit the government that does not deserve to be taken seriously by progressives.

Poverty in Venezuela has fallen by about 10 percent through policies including food subsidies and social missions in health and education. Contrary to Villalobos's claim, a pro-poor orientation was the key to Chávez's ascent as a young soldier and remains a cornerstone of his popularity today.

The non-renewal of RCTV may tug at the cultural common ground of Venezuelans, but it is far from "as bad as leaving them without food," because culture simply cannot be revoked. It is constantly being renovated, and changes bring opportunity. Villalobos is narrow-minded to assume that RCTV's lewd programming would count as an irreplaceable part of Venezuelan national identity.

Just as culture is a dynamic process in which citizens are actively involved, so is politics, and the coordinates of revolution have changed since Villalobos's day. Venezuela's 21st Century Socialism provides an alternative to the status quo without bloodshed or repression. In this sense, it resembles the Zapatista movement in Mexico, a peaceful push for democratic pluralism and indigenous rights. In the face of rampant global poverty and inequality, the fight against social, political and economic exclusion has become a revolutionary cause.

As a student of politics, Villalobos should know that socialism, like any model of government, is in practice expected to deviate from its textbook definition. If Chávez's policies indeed "change some rules of the game" in Venezuela without fitting neatly into categories like "socialism" or "revolution," then perhaps the failure lies instead with Villalobos's arrogant application of outmoded political theory.

Megan Morrissey

Washington, DC

Jun 27 2007 - 11:20am

Web Letter

Villalobos's muddled counterpositioning of social transformation and elections is startling for a man who declared himself to be on the "peaceful road" for the transition from capitalism to socialism (back in the 1990s and in the pages of Foreign Policy).

Having visited Venezuela as a skeptic of the 21st Century Socialism model in 2006, I came away impressed by the genuine and extensive support that Hugo Chávez has. More important, and this is only grudgingly and obliquely acknowledged by Villalobos, millions of impoverished people, who previously did not participate in the political process, are now actors in a meaningful way. A fall in oil prices cannot change this. Indeed, it is hard to imagine the kind of state violence that would be needed to repress this now mobilized majority that consistently rallies behind the Bolivarian revolution.

As Villalobos enumerates the obvious--Chávez's relationship with the armed forces, the absence of a mass party of socialism, the need for an ideological alternative to capitalism--he fails to acknowledge the various innovations of the Bolivarian experiment, including the creation of the Bolivarian Circles and the various social missions. Instead, Villalobos appears to have a grocery list of prerequisites for social transformation that is drawn from a Soviet-era high school textbook.

His concern over RCTV is as puzzling as the rest of the article. A cursory reading of RCTV's history reveals an organization that is less concerned with the news or even entertainment and much more of a political organ to overturn the will of the electorate.

Nonetheless, there is one point that Villalobos makes and that supporters of the Bolivarian process will ignore only at our collective peril: The soft ideological struggle, like RCTV's soft porn, cannot be won without providing meaningful alternatives and outlets for the many existential concerns that cannot be addressed in ideological terms--love, death, meaning. In this too, despite his raising of the issue, Villalobos is of little help.

Suren Moodliar

Boston, MA

Jun 26 2007 - 7:06pm

Web Letter

Villalobos's comments on developments in Venezuela are based on a classic yet outmoded model of revolution that ignores the profound transformation currently underway in Venezuelan society.

The absence of revolutionary violence and rapid change do not preclude the existence of revolutionary processes. Revolution is more properly understood as a radical reconfiguration of social power. Such a process is already well under way, inasmuch as the Bolivarian Revolution aims to build socialist hegemony within civil society by peaceful means. As such, the Bolivarian model represents a sharp break with "vanguardist" models of revoutionary theory and practice.

This is a gradual yet profound transformation saturated by political struggle. The movement towards democratic socialism is given powerful impetus by the intervention of state power. Such interventions are salutary because inasmuch as grassroots mobilization is not always sufficient to break the hold of the old order. The denial of the broadcast license is but a small episode in a larger struggle.

Let's keep the big picture in mind and above all not forget that Chávez is carrying out a democratic mandate.

Marc Stivers

Philadelphia, PA

Jun 26 2007 - 1:11pm

Web Letter

Villalobos's article comes to us in the context of a larger process that is currently unfolding in Venezuela. The opposition, with the guidance of the CIA, is in the midst of a destabilization plan, modeled on the "Orange Revolutions" that have been so successful in certain other countries. This strategy uses massive demonstrations to delegitimize and destabilize governments that have minimal popular support (as in the case of the Republic of Georgia). But Venezuela is truly different, for the government has massive and enthusiastic support. Thus the strategy, called the "soft coup"--golpe suave--in Venezuela, is not getting much traction among the masses.

The campaign has taken as its cause the refusal of the government to renew RCTV's broadcasting license. An international media campaign was launched months ago, dishonestly describing this action as an attack on freedom of speech, the end of a free press. (Navasky's "balanced" assessment of this process was almost as surprising as the current article.) Washington has used a lot of muscle to try to get governments and other organizations to join in its denunciation of Chávez's supposed dictatorship, but the results have been meager. The deceptively named organization Reporters Without Borders (really a front for corporate press lords) has thundered condemnation. Recently Fox News has stepped up its coverage of Venezuela, with outright lies that are simply breathtaking in their distortion of reality.

There has been a heavily publicized "free speech" movement at the mostly upper-class private universities, and a series of demonstrations and other protests. In response, Chavista students at the Bolivarian universities offered to debate, but the leaders of the private university students walked out of a nationally televised debate organized by the National Assembly after reading a statement--not a very effective tactic. The protesting upper-class students are just as disconnected from the poor majority as their parents are, so while they can easily convince each other that democracy is dead in Venezuela, they are finding little resonance outside their own circles.

Some of the demonstrators protesting against the government have been provocative, but the police and other authorities have been restrained and careful, for it is open knowledge that the opposition are desperately waiting to pounce if and when they finally get a bona fide martyr. (A woman died of a gunshot wound in the neighborhood of a demonstration, and the press leapt into action. They turned over every stone looking for some indication that she was opposed to Chávez, but it turned out her boyfriend had shot her.) Overall, there is a lot of ferment in private universities and wealthy neighborhoods, but otherwise life goes on.

The next stage in the destabilization campaign will center on the Americas Cup, a big soccer tournament that the opposition threatens to disrupt. The authorities have agreed with FIFA, the world soccer authority, to keep demonstrations outside of a certain perimeter. Although Venezuelans are more into baseball than soccer, this is a big sporting event, and disrupting it may not play too well with people who want to get to the games, or who want to profit from the tourism. There will be plenty of opportunities for confrontations between demonstrators and police. There is some evidence that the opposition had some of their own people shot in the 2002 coup attempt so they could blame the deaths on Chávez. Maybe they will do that again. Stay tuned, but don't believe everything you hear from Fox, read in the New York Times or, sadly, in The Nation.

Villalobos's article echoes many opposition themes. One of these is the idea that the army is disloyal to Chávez, that it is corrupt and may turn on him. Another is that it is in some way dishonest and opportunistic for Chávez to redirect the flow of oil money away from the oligarchy and big oil and toward the basic needs and well-being of the poor majority. And there is the bizarre implication that the Bolivarians are not taking measures to strengthen and diversify Venezuela's economy, even as the non-oil sectors of the economy grow phenomenally, virtually every indicator is positive, from nutrition to education to employment, and businesses of all kinds are starting up and prospering.

Villalobos presents himself as a revolutionary who is more authentic than Chávez, critiquing him from the left. But in reality he is merely repeating things you can read any day in El Universal and El Nacional, the big newspapers of the oligarchy, distributed daily (without censorship, of course) across the country. It is not surprising to see this article published in the conservative El País, given the intense effort the US has put into drumming up international support for the destabilization campaign--the soft coup--in Venezuela. But why is The Nation helping the CIA spread disinformation?

Peter Lackowski

Jericho, VT

Jun 26 2007 - 12:41am

Web Letter

As a Salvadoran living in the US, I am a bit offended by Villalobos's article. His comments and analysis on Venezuela are not only inaccurate but they demonstrate once again Villalobos's ignorance about revolutionary processes such as the Venezuelans'. I am so grateful of the aid provided to the elderly and children of my country El Salvador by the government of President Hugo Chávez. Hundreds of Salvadorian had traveled without any cost to Venezuela to receive eye surgeries. In the next few months my country is going to receive oil, gasoline, and diesel. What president Chávez had done is solidarity without borders.

What Villalobos needs to understand that his rhetoric is out of contest, not up to date, and in the case of El Salvador, Villalobos is only remembered as a traitor, his involvement during the twelve years of our civil war, are only part of his résumé. As a member of the FMLN, the largest political party in El Salvador, I am eager to debate this man. However, a university student in El Salvador has more moral value and authority to tell him the awful reality the vast majority of Salvadorians are living in nowadays. Corruption up to the sky--El Salvador has the highest level of organized crime after Colombia in Latino America--money laundering, drug trafficking, gangs, poverty, unemployment tc. Six out of ten Salvadorans want to leave our country for the US.

Villalobos's distortions of the Venezuelan process are tinted with his ideological poisoning; he is a consultant to the Uribe government in Colombia, to the Peruvian, to the Mexican and all right-wing governments throughout Latino America. His CIA rubber stamp and his job as a US Pentagon adviser would not last forever, but his sleepless nights should torture him forever. How can someone live and sleep at night while remembering his comrades who were killed and "disappeared" during the war? His words now are totally obscene to those memories.

Villalobos, why don’t you speak about the truth of your participation in the killing of one of our greatest poets, Roque Dalton? Instead of keep spreading your blatant rhetoric.

Fredy Tejada

Washington, DC

Jun 25 2007 - 11:28pm

Web Letter

As long-time readers of The Nation and as organizers of several delegations to "revolutionary" Venezuela, we were shocked and dismayed to see you print the pathetic article by Joaquín Villalobos. It says more about the frayed mind of this former guerrilla turned apologist for the system than it does about any on-the-ground reality in Venezuela. Perhaps this is why Chávez wisely decided to distance himself from those former sectarian leftists in his own country whose years in armed clandestinity had isolated them from the world of complexity, from the lives of ordinary Venezuelans and from the necessity to navigate a national and international political minefield that requires constant vigilance and the dexterity of a football quarterback.

If The Nation wants to engage debate from the left on Venezuela there are plenty of serious issues that could sustain an educated discussion and many much more informed people who could be drawn upon to present the various sides in a debate, but the ill-informed, illogical and sometimes outright silly article by Villalobos is not one of them. Indeed, in our travels to Venezuela we have encountered a full range of opinions about Chávez and his government, running from the purely absurd diatribes of the political opposition to the cautiously supportive, but critical observations of veteran left activists, analysts and social scientists to the enthusiastic but not awestruck attitudes of poor barrio dwellers. By far the most common attitude we found is that Chávez's "revolution" is a work in progress, a work primarily of the people, not of one man. Chávez gives voice to the aspirations of Venezuela's majority, which is the reason he has been so often and so popularly elected. To say that he is not making a revolution because he is not overthrowing a dictator and is not operating through armed struggle is to define revolution too narrowly. His open defiance of the neoliberal agenda in his own country and his leadership in the blossoming of a new, more integrated Latin America that is resisting American hegemony are certainly earthshaking events at a time when neoliberalism seemed to have called a halt to history, with the United States as the only remaining superpower.

Let's have a real discussion about the issues that face Venezuela and its President: How does a leader committed to social reform deal effectively with entrenched corruption, crime and cultural violence and avoid becoming the authoritarian he is so often accused of being? How does a leader who is trying to create a participatory, protagonist democracy deal with a private media that was actively engaged in the attempt to overthrow his government without looking like he is curbing press freedom? How does a leader who faces constant threats from without and within--and who, for the first five years of his administration, faced several general strikes, a coup, an oil lockout that brought the economy to its knees and a recall referendum--deal with these threats without turning his country into a police state? How does a leader whose major source of revenue is oil move effectively and quickly enough to diversify his economy before oil peaks and begins to run out? How does the president of a country dependent on an industry notorious for its environmental pollution guarantee to its citizens the environmental rights that are enshrined in its constitution? How does a leader who preaches freedom from neoliberalism and autonomy from US dominance escape his country's reliance on the US as a major consumer of his oil? How does the leader of a country whose potentially rich agricultural sector had been allowed to wither for over forty years and whose population had become urbanized begin to redevelop this sector? How does the leader of a country ravaged by poverty begin to turn that situation around fast enough to satisfy the poor majority who elected him, when they had once openly rebelled against a former leader who had promised something somewhat similar?

It is both amazing and revolutionary that the Bolivarian Revolution has even begun to effectively meet these challenges! Let's have some real dialogue about the strategies and tactics, the programs and plans the Chávez administration has adopted, might have adopted or has refused to adopt to meet these challenges rather than printing the kind of drivel represented by Villalobos's article. We expect better of The Nation.

Sheila and John Collins

New Rochelle, NY

Jun 25 2007 - 9:48pm