how the world sees america

Student Leader Says Back Off, Bush

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CARACAS -- Meet Freddy Guevara. He’s twenty-one years old, studies Social Communications at the Catholic University of Venezuela, talks fast, and wears Quicksilver gear. He’s also one of the handful of young leaders to rally 40,000 students across the country to protest the Venezuelan government’s 2007 constitutional referendum.

Entering politics hasn’t been easy for Freddy. He’s been shot by water cannons and tear-gassed ad nauseum. Last week his mother received yet another anonymous phone call telling her that her son will die in a mysterious car crash. And on Venezolana de Televisión, the host of “La Hojilla” (“The Blade”), which President Hugo Chavez calls his favorite TV show, accused Freddy of conspiring with America’s Central Intelligence Agency to overthrow the president.

Freddy says he’s never set foot in the U.S. and that his passport proves it. But the host of the show, Mario Silva, broadcast a Google Earth map showing Freddy’s “suspicious” travel itinerary last year to a daily audience in the tens of thousands. Freddy went to Brussels, where he addressed members of the European Union, then to Ottawa where he met his older sister. Then he flew home to Caracas from Toronto.

“‘Why did Freddy go to Toronto?’” host Mario asked. “‘Because Toronto is near Washington DC, and Washington is near the CIA…where this boy is trained!’” Freddy recounts this episode, grinning.

He and his fellow student leaders try to laugh off these public accusations. One of their sardonic street chants goes:

“Tenemos que marchar, tenemos que marchar. Si no marchamos, la CIA no nos pagará!”
“We have to march. We have to march. If we don’t march, the CIA won't pay us!"

Freddy is convinced young Chavez supporters “don’t eat” their leader’s accusations, either (a recent one claims that the U.S. unleashed dengue fever in the country.) “I asked one pro-government student leader, Robert Cerra, ‘Do you really think I’m from the CIA?’” Freddy says. Robert responded, “‘Of course not, but maybe you don’t know you're being manipulated.’” But Freddy says that even Robert smiled knowingly through his words.

Spouting anti-American, anti-Imperialist rhetoric is just part of a big public performance, Freddy says. But that doesn’t mean it’s ineffective.

“It is a trap. Chavez wants to make this into an ideological fight. Venezuela against the imperialists, right against left, rich against poor…[Even though] the real battle is between authoritarianism and democracy.”

“I am on the left,” Freddy insists. He supports opposition candidate Teodoro Petkoff, a former leftist guerrilla. And Freddy’s parents, who actively protested the Vietnam War and worked in the oil industry, dub themselves “hippies.”

Freddy is openly critical of the U.S., too. “Two parties have kidnapped the whole democratic system there,” he says. He cites Scandinavian countries as model democracies.

Freddy-Crowd.jpg
Freddy rallying the student crowd. More here.
His disenchantment with divisive politics, and in turn the U.S., began when he was just fourteen. Armed conflict broke out between opposition groups within Venezuela and the government in 2001. Freddy saw a man get shot in the head by a rooftop sniper. He doesn’t know which side the man was on.

Both opposition and government killed recklessly, he says. “I grew up -- my generation grew up -- seeing this violence from both sides, hearing lies from both sides.” He says that this made him aware from a young age that “the world is not black and white.” Change must take place internally, within the nation, and within each individual.

His studies at the Catholic University, where students chat on cut lawns and dine at Subway and Wendy’s, further molded this view. He quotes theorist John Dewey who says democracy isn’t ever a perfect system – but that it is forever a perfectable one. Watching the Iraq War unfold in 2003 reinforced Freddy’s view that democracy isn’t an end in itself, and that it cannot be exported by force. “Foreign countries cannot save us,” he says. “The U.S. cannot save us….Thinking like that will only divide us further.”

In the struggle to overcome the dichotomies of good-vs-evil, right-vs-left, us-vs-them, he says, the black-vs-white rhetoric of the Bush administration in the White House doesn’t help him. But international media attention does.

It will take a lot to change Venezuela. “Chavez is looking for an enemy, no matter what.” Even if the U.S. "stops its rhetoric" or removes its embassy and ignores this southern neighbor, “Chavez will just find another excuse to divide us,” Freddy says. “We are fighting that division.”

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Comments (27)

Cristina:

Where is any comparison with Bush for heaven's sake???

Of course, I found it a little arrogant to establish who is rational. I was ironic because it got to my nerves to see how it can be so easy to decide on what is and what is not rational, what is a bad this and that...So I used an ironic and acid comparison between notions of what can be considered rational, and bad this and that.…but not comparing anyone since I did not cite any names.
That is judgement established from preconceived established ideas and pay attention that I am not defending any part, nor comparing anyone. Bush has no match anyway. At least, this merit is his only.

If you are kind, please specify the comparison. I would love to know what I wrote that you took as such ...funny as I even avoid naming people, except by Chavez and Bush, who were not compared to one another at no time!I think the same way you got it out of context in your comments (then someone else pointed out the issu), you are now taking me wrong!

Rick Jones, Fredericksburg, VA:

Anon was me.

ff:

Cert:

I understand (and agree with) the basic sentiment just fine (i.e., Chavez will employ divisive politics regardless of what America does). It's the assumptions implicit in the description of America "backing off" that I find puzzling, specifically the part about closing the embassy. For that matter, all of the rhetoric about wanting Bush to "back off" is counterproductive, in that it endorses the central myth of Chavismo (that America is looking to interfere with Venezuela, and that this is an overriding issue). That said, most of the material that comes off that way is not from direct quotes, but paraphrases from Amar, so maybe something got lost in translation.

Why you think it's crazy to suggest that America has ignored Hugo Chavez is beyond me. His most extreme antics make it into the press, but what reaction have they ever provoked? I can't remember the last time anyone from the Bush administration so much as aknowledged the guy. While I understand that paranoia about the United States is deeply ingrained into the Latin American consciousness (to the point where it's divorced from reality), the fact is that the only interest the United States has ever shown in Latin America was due to larger Cold War concerns, which are no longer a factor. From my perspective, the people who insist that Latin America is even on the political radar in the United States are the crazy ones.

Cristina:

Your comparisons to Bush are not relevant (much less, interesting). What purpose does it serve to go around posting screeds about how person X is not as bad as Bush? It's not as though Freddy is running against Bush for a political office. Get a grip.

Anonymous:

Good luck Freddy. Keep up the good work.

From today's WP Global Power Barometer (GPB):

The Bush Legacy will be a nuclear armed Iran and nuclear arms race in the volatile Middle East.

Yes, we have a Russia-China-Iran alliance in the making and the only question is who will jump on board. Our neocon friends have also done their best to drive Shiite Iraq into the arms of Iran, and Syria and Lebanon may not be far behind. Witness the recent unprovoked (in the case of Syria) and way out of proportion (in the case of Lebanon) Israeli strikes on Syria and Lebanon.

If the Zionist atrocities against the Palestinians continue (and for sure they will), the Suni states may be joining the alliance as well. Then they will be in ideal position to apply some “soft power” (cut of oil supplies) to the US-Israeli axis of evil.

Of course the other Bush (and neocon) legacy will be a horrendous budget scenario. From today’s WP editorial page:

“SEVEN LONG years ago, a new president submitted his first budget -- an optimistic document now relevant only as a chastening artifact of a bygone era. In that "Blueprint for New Beginnings," George W. Bush grappled with the supposed challenge of dealing with a projected surplus of $5.6 trillion over the next decade. The president proposed to pay down the debt by $2 trillion during that time, which, he said, was as much as could be responsibly redeemed. He offered lavish tax cuts. And he vowed to "confront great challenges from which Government has too long flinched," putting Social Security and Medicare on solid financial footing...

The final budget of Mr. Bush's presidency arrived yesterday, and the contrast between then and now could hardly be more sobering. Instead of being paid down, the national debt has grown by $2 trillion. The $725 billion surplus once projected for the coming fiscal year (2009) has evaporated. In its place is a $407 billion deficit -- an unrealistically rosy number that omits billions in likely war spending and is artificially reduced by including the $200 billion Social Security surplus. The explosion in entitlement costs has been left unaddressed and is therefore even more daunting. Indeed, on entitlements, Mr. Bush's legacy will be to have added to the long-term tab with the addition of an expensive Medicare prescription drug benefit...”

Vic van Meter:

My anonymous friend, I have no reason to disagree with you. I don't speak Spanish and, since Amar put boots on the ground in Venezuela, I have been attempting to assuage the situation. I've read as much of the English-translated stuff as I can, though it has to work around the rest of my schedule. But I would like to point a few things out.

Part of the reason Bush doesn't seem to hit the Venezuelan president's high notes has a lot to do with the state of the government. Bush has certainly let fly a few choice jaw-droppers (did you read recently about his line-item vetoes of parts of laws he signed but didn't like?) but he has a different enemy than Chavez. Venezuela thrives on leftism, and even Freddy here above is always talking about how "left" he is. In essence, the question is just how far to the left you would like to go, not where you sit in the spectrum.

Contrast that to our government, which has whack jobs advocating everything from theological fascism to socialism to anarchy and so on. In this country of extreme talking points, our two political parties tend towards a very strong executive federalism. But the divide seems to go in either direction from there. It depends on how much power you would like to give the president as opposed to Congress and the people.

So don't blame our poor president for not being able to compete. You seem pretty well-versed in English, and if you are Venezuelan, you've certainly seen our news enough to be very knowledgeable. Simply because our government isn't shocking to the point of Venezuela, you have to understand where we're coming from. To Americans, Bush's antics are bordering on insane. I know it doesn't seem as shocking, but take into account where the American center is. His borderline-fascist take on executive power is beyond approach considering that most Americans are generally leery of any sign of nationalizing another industry (look at how hard it is to nationalize health care, something the government regulates heavily anyway).

I won't bother comparing Supreme Court problems. We have Congressional difficulties that rival our executive ones, but I never said anything about the judges. Don't get me wrong, it's because I wasn't informed. I took a look for your singing judges. I can't even begin to counter that. We certainly have legal issues (torturing detainees at Guantanamo Bay, holding terrorist suspects without any judicial rights, infringing on territorial sovereignty without international support, you know the paper-worthy stuff). But if you think the judicial system has been completely hijacked by your leader, I wouldn't be very confident in that either.

And, in the end, don't judge Bush based on how crazy he is, but his wrongful effects. Chavez is an eye-popper, but luckily his moves are generally limited to his region. Bush might not be as shocking alone, but his gaffes have international implications (e.g. Iraq).

Like I said, Bush wishes he had Chavez's near-Godlike control over his people. And I bet Chavez wishes he could put forward a 500-700 billion dollar defense budget without even including the cost of two ongoing wars.

Oh, the pipe dreams of megalomaniacs....

Hunky Santa:

You gotta admire the cantaloupe size cojones on that dude. Although some of his neurons are not totally developed due to his youth, he hits it right in the nail regarding Chavez's intentions.

He has a bright future.

Trasteverino:


The US needs to analyze how big a mistake it has made with its Cuba policy. If Chavez did not have Castro and Cuban communism to invoke, he would be greatly diminished. The whole USA has allowed itself to be held hostage by Florida's Cuban community. How does this policy make sense, especially when the US had diplomatic and trade relations with the Soviet Union (which put the missiles in Cuba), as well as with red China? Let's encourage contacts with the Cuban people on a multitude of levels, and watch how Cuba will cease to be on the pedestal of Latin leftists.
In Venezuela today, anyone who signed the recall petition against Chavez has their name on the government internet site, and these people all lost their jobs. CNN had a piece about hunger in Venezuela, with people capturing flamingoes and other endangered birds to eat in desperation. This did not exist preChavez.
People are truly afraid to vote, since the computers at voting stations scan finger prints matched to the government ID (cedula).

Cristina:

To Cert and Antonio Mitchell:

Welcomed remarks!

I agree with Shovon that Chavez's stand point is doomed to a disastrous (and perhaps nasty) end. It is a matter of time. But always remembering being all-alert: never, never, ever underestimate your enemy (the internal one is even more dangerous -- exactly because it is internal) Some might learn valuable lessons from past failures (it remains to be seen -- if they is their merit, but others dont have the mind to do so...and certain populists leaders, who I wont name here, fit in this category. So they will resort not to direct democracy (a soft-talk that is worthless), but to totalitarian democracy, which is the case (it's my way or the runway). This is obsolete.

ANTONIO MITCHELL:


Freddy says it right, it will take a lot to change Venezuela. Don't underestimate Chavez and what he represents in Latin America. We have a saying here: ''As dangerous as a monkey with a razor''. The modern version for countries would be: ''As dangerous as a megalomaniac with petrodollars''

Cert:

Uh, FF, I think you're taking Freddy Guevara's quote entirely out of context ... and ignoring some realities as well. You say you are baffled by the sentence: ""If the U.S. stops its rhetoric, removes its embassy, and ignores this southern neighbor,"; okay, but are baffled by the sentence "EVEN If the U.S. stops its rhetoric, removes its embassy, and ignores this southern neighbor, Chavez will just find another way to divide us"? Which is what Freddy actually says? He's neither advocating a pull-out of the US embasssy nor asking that the U.S. ignore Venezuela. In addition, you're not really arguing that the U.S. has been ignoring the strident rants of Venezuela's President are you? You can't be; that would be crazy.

shovan das:

He will fade into being a non-entity soon. Just give him time. It has happened in the past and it will happen again. Venezuela will become a Cuba but with a difference - they have petro-dollars.

ANONYMOUS:

Vic,

I suspect you don't speak Spanish. If you do, then try to listen to Chavez on a daily basis. Both the state channel and Globovision (Venezuelan cable news channel) have good web sites.

I agree with you that Bush and Chavez both use similar polarizing tactics (they are not the only ones, by the way -examples abound in the developed and developing world). But Chavez is in another level. Bush, with all his incompetence, brutality and arrogance (God knows I despise the man), shows some respect for what I think is fundamental to the concept of civilization: the willingness to "convivir," live together with your enemy/adversary. The willingness to see compromise as part of the game. Maybe he is forced to by US relatively strong institutions. Whatever the case, he is much more responsive to civil discourse than Chavez.

Chavez, my friend, is a much more blatant, direct, gross attack to civilization. Again, he is in another level. Just get your suscription or go to the ministry of Information and read all his speeches. Then try to imagine Bush saying some of these things. It's not only the insults and the vulgarity and his reaction to criticism, but also his opinions on alternability, separation of powers, violence as a means of politics, the role of the Supreme Court.

And, please, don't compare you own Supreme Court problems (which you have) to ours. I've never seen all your SC judges singing in public, in front of TV cameras, Bush campaign chants.

Deep down, I respect your impulse to sympathize with our situation. Which probably drives you to think your problems are very similar. You are suspicious of power and you don't let your guard down. You succintly recognize that barbarism is everywhere. Unlike some pretentious Americans you don't feel superior, you don't feel inmune to barbarism and you know it can sprout anywhere.

But again, you have to be careful in comparing the two men.

sri-jaggu-gandhi:

Good article, Amar. I have always wanted to know what some of the young people of Venezuela think about Presidente Chavez and US Foreign Policy. And I thought that CIA marching chant was very funny!
Thanks.
-sri-jaggu-gandhi

thopaine:

Petronius;
Substitute bush for chavez in your post, and you have a well-written piece. Try it!

Guy laughing:

Wait Wait WAIT!!!!!!!...Ha Ha Ha Ha....Because Toronto is near Washington DC, and Washington is near the CIA….. .. .. is this like those terrorist that wanted to blow up the Holland Tunnel to flood Wall Street?!?! BWAAAA HAHAHAHAHAH HAHAHA AHHAHA....god stop..c..c..c.ca.cant ..b.b.breathe

Vic van Meter:

This 21 year old kid makes an awful lot of sense if you read into it. I'm particularly impressed that he's managed to grasp three difficult concepts.

A: The big question I've struggled with. To what extent should the United States government intervene in other countries? Freddy's take is that the United States shouldn't.

I find that people above who say the United States has NO interest in Venezuela and is flat-out ignoring it is ludicrous. Of course the government is paying attention. Not only is Venezuela close by, but we receive an extraordinary amount of oil from there. Bush's 'rhetoric' generally falls into his realm of nation-building jargon about throwing off the burden of Chavez and embracing democracy (which you Venezuelans don't need to point out as ironic, since probably three quarters of Americans are prepared to slap him silly over it ourselves). So Freddy somewhat mistakes the intentions of the United States. Their involvement at this point in the democratic movement in Venezuela revolves around oil. Which might sound familiar to some of you.

Hopefully Bush and Co. learned a valuable lesson from Iraq, namely, that you can't change government by removing the head of the hydra. Freddy is right. Especially so in this case, America should stay silent, watch quietly, and wait. Chavez's rhetoric is hitting Kim Jong Il-ish proportions and his people are refusing a more authoritative government. Freddy and his people ought to be just fine without the United States discrediting him. Sometimes, especially when we're the guys with the horns and pitchfork painted on us, our support doesn't do anyone a lot of good. So maybe Washington should just let the Venezuelans call bullsh** on Chavez.

B: Freddy recognizes the divisional politics line. It's crippled the United States process for a long time by creating a structure based on reactionary opposition rather than constructive dialectic. Most Americans would love to see a real third and fourth party show up on the scene to give us more options, I think.

Freddy recognizes Chavez using the 'us versus them' mentality. It should be pretty familiar. It's the Bush line. There is us and then there is them, and you don't want to be one of -them- because they aren't American (or in this case Venezuelan).

The more I read about the Venezuelan political situation, the more I feel in tune with guys like Freddy. Chavez is just a pipe dream for Bush, who can't ever have that much power over his people, and vice-versa because Chavez doesn't have the clout Bush wields due to the hard work of past American presidents. But both use similar tactics, similar campaigns, similar speeches. Straight down to dressing in military garb at strangely inappropriate moments. It's despicable.

C: The biggest enemy of any nation is itself. Venezuela has more to worry about from its own government than from its neighbor up north. A lot of people are always looking outside for the next threat when the biggest problems always arise within a nation. Never be more critical of any government than your own. Other governments have a much harder time running your life than yours.

Terrorist:

Representative democracy is obsolete.

Government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Direct Democracy

Petronius:


Chavez has been in office for 9 years now, and poverty and endemic diseases in venezuela have sky-rocketed. He has opened arms factories bought from the russians, arms Columbian rebels, and bought Argentina's debt, while ignoring the poor of his country, as the previous oligarchs did. Yet, he is trying to become dictator for life, in amending the constitution that he imposed at the start of his rule.

Petronius:


Chavez has been in office for 9 years now, and poverty and endemic diseases in venezuela have sky-rocketed. He has opened arms factories bought from the russians, arms Columbian rebels, and bought Argentina's debt, while ignoring the poor of his country, as the previous oligarchs did. Yet, he is trying to become dictator for life, in amending the constitution that he imposed at the start of his rule.

Petronius:


Chavez has been in office for 9 years now, and poverty and endemic diseases in venezuela have sky-rocketed. He has opened arms factories bought from the russians, arms Columbian rebels, and bought Argentina's debt, while ignoring the poor of his country, as the previous oligarchs did. Yet, he is trying to become dictator for life, in amending the constitution that he imposed at the start of his rule.

Jacques Ginesta:

I think this guy is wright in many issues and that liberal minds in the USA should encourage his kind to oust of power populist authoritarian characters like Chavez, Lula and the Kirchners and pursue their own democratic way of achieving the national interests of their countries

Cristina:

Irrational? Maybe, it;s rational to launch a war based on lies, who knows? Maybe it reflects a fair and wise judgement too...Bad company...with certain political aides and the company of certain politicians...alone is better.

gary:

why do you print this guy? irrational exuberence combined with bad judgment and bad company.

Cristina:

Freddy might be young, underprepared, inexperienced and so on...but what experience proved us? Bush and his aides were that unexperienced when they decided against all odds (I told you so thing) not to launch war in Iraq? What did the experienced, well prepared, wise president of USA, and all that superb, reliable US intelligence did? They lied to the American People...they cooked up histories about WMD...they invented links with AL Qaeda..etc....the list is very, very long ...taking up most of the the last decade in mistakes after mistakes...lies, after lies...all told and prepared by experienced, conscious, well-prepared and well-informed governments? Am I wrong? The day experiences count for something and the establishment is set to remain unchallenged and untouched..we are finished as human beings! Experience is only nice when it is useful to help us understand the present and prepare for the future. Only in this case...if the so-called experienced and well-prepared-well-informed (supposedly) cannot use his experience for that..then...he is as useless as a 5 years old!

This boy got it right...from the start. The problem is the division of the society, a method of ruling sort of "imported" from one well-known US tactics: "The divide to rule" . Not mentioning all the doctrines...one of the oldest the Monroe Doctrine....if I am to mention all....this post will never end. In Latin America, the populist leaders taht seek at any cost to remain in power or at lest holding the power behind the scenes are doing just taht: dividing the society in their respective country. They are doing it internally, while the US use this method externally...See the bilateral trade agreements with Latin America...and many more examples...the list is long...

Chavez is doing that with zeal and perfection. Brazil is not that different either. The name of the game is the same. Only that it is played with different pieces...like in chess. But the principles are the same.

The problem with US is that it analyse Latin America American through USA stand point. We sort of stubbornly insist in trying to understand other peoples and cultures through your eyes only. Through your values only....Let us (everybody) live...live and help live. Can you do that?

Experience...oh yes...that remind me of some failed wars, policies, etc, etc...

Barry:


Catholics are noted liberals . This guy is 21 . Who cares what he thinks ? Most Americans are not concerned how others perceive us ! We make our own path and that path has led to the economic dynamo that runs the world , along with the breadbasket of the planet . So maybe we should just leave you wackos around the world to yourselves and let you run the show ! YEAH RIGHT ! LOL !


Barry

F. Toro:


You're right, of course, FF. Freddy clearly misspoke there, but then, the kid is 21. Personally, I wouldn't want to put my country in the hands of any 21 year old, even one as precocious and sensible as Freddy Guevara.

Thankfully, that's not what the opposition Student Movement is asking: one of the many fronts on which these kids have been startlingly lucid is in recognizing that they ARE just kids, and can't do it all without help from more established political players.

Nonetheless, his blooper on the US Embassy shouldn't detract from his overall message. I find it impossible to read a story like this without feeling real optimism for Venezuela's future. These kids get it. They're wise to the polarization game. They won't be dragged into it. They understand national unity is more than a slogan, it's a way of life.

Twenty or thirty years from now, as the Chávez era recedes farther and farther back in memory, the Freddy Guevara generation will be running the country. Thank God for that.

ff :

"If the U.S. stops its rhetoric, removes its embassy, and ignores this southern neighbor,"

I'm baffled by this sentence. Last I checked, the United States has been ignoring Venezuela (and Latin America in general) for quite some time now. Along those lines, I have to ask "what rhetoric?" I can't recall any rhetoric directed at Venezuela, or even much of anything applicable to it. Lastly, I would think that removing our embassy would be a highly provocative act; breaking off of diplomatic relations is a serious matter. Look at the list of countries without a US embassy: Iran and Cuba. Does that sound like a recipe for reducing tensions?

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