Venezuela, just between friends

Views about the country’s direction are so polarized, it’s hard to even discuss it

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A friend who moved to the United States from Venezuela sent me videos recently from Twitter feeds and Facebook that people in the Venezuelan opposition use to get their messages out — messages about police and militias abusing demonstrators who are calling for an end to rampant violence, corruption and economic chaos. She asked me to please share them on social media.

I hate to say it, but I hesitated. She’s been a dear friend for many years. She’s watched my daughter grow up and we’ve shared a lot of time together with friends. Spreading the word from the Venezuelan opposition is very important to her — she believes it is a critical moment for her country, and people fighting for justice need support.

I hesitated because I anticipated the reaction of other friends. I’m not afraid of a debate. But on Venezuela I never hear a debate — only a restatement of unchangeable, diametrically opposed views of reality.

Other friends from Latin America and Spain also have been dear to me for many years. We’ve watched each other’s kids grow up. They are mostly in academia and identify left politically. In the narrative from the left, the demonstrations against the government in Venezuela are basically a media creation to draw intervention by the United States to end the socialist revolution begun by the late Hugo Chavez 14 years ago, the revolution that has used the country’s oil wealth to lift millions out of poverty and assert the independence of Latin America. Full stop.

For my friend who sent the videos, the 14 years under Hugo Chavez have led to economic disaster and one of the world’s highest murder rates. Middle-class families like hers have been decimated and many have left the country. Independent media have been shut down and intimidated to the point where the only voice heard publicly is that of the government. These are the conditions she believes are sending demonstrators into the streets.

Election numbers in Venezuela mirror the two conflicting realities. The president and heir to Hugo Chavez, Nicolas Maduro, won a very close election to succeed Chavez. Both the opposition and the government disputed the vote count. The opposition claimed fraud and intimidation. The government claimed fraud and intimidation. Neither side allows that no matter who won, it was extremely close. Either side could have won.

President Maduro was not conciliatory. He continues to denounce the opposition as reactionaries and oligarchs working for the United States — which should alarm him given that almost half the electorate voted for them. The opposition vote was higher even than the 47 percent Mitt Romney said would never vote for him.

Chavez supporters and the opposition don’t even agree on what date Hugo Chavez died. The official date is March 5, 2013 (Venezuela just marked the one-year anniversary). Opposition social media sites claim Chavez really died several months earlier in Cuba while being treated for cancer.

So I’m on Facebook hitting the “share” button for one friend and writing a note asking other friends to have civil debate. Pretty much all I can do, which is kind of pitiful.

I have no idea what the United States could do. Probably nothing. In Latin America, we are basically Russia and they are Ukraine and the other neighboring countries that Russia bullies. Even boilerplate statements by our president about respecting human rights are denounced as intervention.

U.S. policy toward Venezuela actually looks a lot more cynical than imperial. We want oil, and as long as the oil keeps flowing, the Chavistas can say whatever they want. The socialist revolution needs the empire’s money.

Brian Connelly is a writer living in Squirrel Hill (

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