Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Voice of Truth in the Belly of the Beast

Foreword to Revolution, A Love Story
(ordering info below)

A Voice of Truth in the Belly of the Beast

By Eva Golinger

I first met Cindy Sheehan when she came to Caracas in January 2006 for the World Social Forum. An event of that size and stature had never taken place in Venezuela before as Caracas became the host to tens of thousands of international guests immersed in a frenzy of politics, activism, debate, dissent, and revolution. Of all the distinguished, admired, and well known attendees, Cindy was at the top of the list.

President Hugo Chávez had spoken highly and often about Cindy Sheehan, praising her brave fight against the Bush administration and her fervent opposition to the war in Iraq, which had caused the death of her son, Casey. Before Cindy Sheehan ever came to Venezuela, the people of this South American nation had heard her name many times. We knew of her political transformation after Casey died and her unwavering commitment to peace and justice. We’d heard of her valiantly defying President George W. Bush by setting up “Camp Casey” outside his Texas ranch, demanding the United States president answer for his crimes, and advocating for an end to war. President Chávez invoked Cindy Sheehan as a symbol of good-hearted, honest people in the United States willing to risk their lives to fight injustice, despite the arrogance and hostility emanating from the US government.

So when Cindy first came to Caracas, she was in high demand by Venezuelan media. The host of one of the country’s most watched morning programs, Ernesto Villegas, contacted me about interviewing Cindy during her stay in Venezuela. While I had never met the Peace Mom personally, I figured the world of revolutionaries from the United States isunfortunatelysmall enough, so I must know someone close to her. I was right and Cindy kindly agreed to do the live interview.

Since I had helped arrange the interview, I accompanied Cindy to the special television studio, which had been set up outside the main venue of the World Social Forum. The program host was ecstatic with Cindy’s presence, particularly after conducting many shows on Washington’s illegal war against Iraq, and referring often to the US peace movement and Cindy’s own battle against Bush. One minor logistical detail had gone overlooked: Cindy did not speak Spanish and the show’s host did not speak English.

While I am not a translator by profession, I have found myself serving in such a capacity numerous times over the past decade, especially when it comes to Venezuela. I have spontaneously been whisked into the role of translator to interpret discussions and interviews for President Hugo Chávez during his many trips to New York or when visitors have come to Venezuela from the United States. And, I have also now had the unexpected honor of translating for Cindy Sheehan during her various visits to Venezuela.

So, I was Cindy Sheehan’s translator during her first live television interview in Venezuela. As I translated her responses to questions about the war against Iraq, Bush administration policies and violations of the US Constitution, and issues relating to social justice, I felt as though the answers were coming from me. (Don’t worry Cindy, I really did translate you). The words flowed from her with a sincerity, honesty, and frankness in a way that I hadn’t heard from a US person in a long time.

That same sincere, honest, and direct tone shines throughout her dialogue with readers in this book, Revolution: A Love Story. Cindy’s honesty is what sets her apart from many others in the United States who, while disagreeing with Bush’s and now Obama’spolicies, dare not to raise their voices or speak their minds for fear of reprisal. And Cindy’s fearlessness is what terrified President George W. Bush, and Washington defenders, and turned her into a role model for justice and peace seekers around the world.

Four years after my first job as translator for Cindy Sheehan, I was surprised into the role again, but this time it wasn’t for live television, it was with President Chávez.

When Cindy decided she wanted to make a documentary film and write a book on Venezuela’s Revolution and she contacted me for advice, I was more than eager to help. Cindy Sheehan has been a solid, powerful ally for Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution and President Chávez for many years, despite the attacks, threats, and criticisms she has had to bear.

Cindy’s voice, as it flows throughout the following pages, serenades readers with her stories and experiences inside Venezuela as a witness to the vibrant process of transformation taking place. The greatest value in Cindy’s words is precisely that they come from her own personal experiences. Instead of believing what media said about Venezuela and President Chávez, Cindy came to find out for herself. She met with different people and heard their stories and testimonies. She went into their communities and witnessed their lives, seeing with her own eyes whether things were better or worse. Cindy has seen, touched, and breathed the Bolivarian Revolution. She speaks truth from experience.

I didn’t hesitate to help when Cindy requested an interview with President Chávez for this important project. Arrangements were made and Cindy soon set foot once again in the land of Simón Bolívar. I accompanied Cindy during her brief stay in Caracas (where I reside) in late February 2010, and we visited some of the amazing achievements of the Revolution. Despite her fear of heights, she rode in the newly inaugurated MetroCable in the San Agustin neighborhood of Caracas.

The cable car was the first of a series being built by the Chávez administration throughout the Caracas metropolitan area, which is flanked by steep hills and mountain ranges covered in hard-to-reach makeshift homes, primarily occupied by the poor and working class. The MetroCable was a lifesaver to many in San Agustin, which is one of Caracas’ oldest and primarily Afro-Venezuelan neighborhoods. Built and run by workers from the community and paid for by the state, it services thousands who previously had to walk miles up steep and dangerous roads and steps built in the hillsides, or take shoddy jeeps and vans posing as “public transport” up the mountain, until they could go no further and the only way to proceed was on foot. The elderly and disabled rarely left their homes before the MetroCable was installed.

Cindy bore witness to this transformative project created by the Bolivarian Revolution, seeing and hearing how it changed community members’ lives dramatically. Not only were their daily lives made easier by the new and innovative transport system, but it also brought dignity and pride to their community. They built it, they run it, and they are no longer overlooked or ignored by those in power or those with more money. The MetroCable of San Agustin is emblematic of the way President Hugo Chávez’s leadership and the Bolivarian Revolution have changed Venezuela forever.

The millions of invisible people in Venezuela are now visible. The millions silenced before now have a voice, and they speak loud and clear. Participatory democracy is a wonderful thing.

When it came time for Cindy to interview President Chávez, he invited her to accompany him on a trip to Montevideo, Uruguay, for the historical inauguration of newly-elected President José “Pepe” Mujica, a former guerrilla fighter and political prisoner who had been tortured, imprisoned, and shot over a dozen times in the 1970s.

Chávez is known for preferring to do interviews with foreign press while flying or during an international trip. He’s so overly-dedicated to his work for the Venezuelan people and the future of Venezuela that he feels there is no time to spare for any other activities while in-country. So he squeezes in the interviews on long plane trips, or during brief moments between events while in another country, where often he has less control over his own agenda.

I happened to attend an event where President Chávez was speaking on the day of Cindy’s arrival to Caracas, and at the end of his intervention, I caught up with him and reminded him Cindy would be in town for a few days before the Uruguay trip. I told him she was doing a documentary on the Revolution and so I’d be taking her around to several communities to meet with different grassroots organizations and dialogue with community activists. “Tell her: Welcome to Venezuela! for me.” he responded. “Oh, and then you should come with us, too, to Uruguay”, he quickly added as an aside.

It wasn’t until we were on the presidential aircraft two days later heading to Montevideo that I realized I would once again be translator for Cindy and President Chávez. Even more surprisingly, I ended up being Bolivian President Evo Morales’ translator too after he appeared unexpectedly in the middle of Cindy’s interview with Chávez!

And even though translating is not my profession, I have been more than honored to be Cindy Sheehan’s interpreter, however many times are necessary.

Revolution: A Love Story provides readers with an easy-to-read background of Washington’s interventionist policies in Latin America and the rise of Revolution south of the border. Cindy’s words flow as though she’s talking right to you, sharing this tale over strong black Venezuelan coffee, or a delicious glass of Argentine Malbec. She provides a brief, but necessary, summary of Venezuela’s contemporary history and explains how and why the Bolivarian Revolution exists, and who the charismatic and soulful man who leads it really is.

Cindy weaves in testimonies, quotes, and excerpts of interviews with a range of important and knowledgeable voices that not only provide insight into Venezuela’s reality, but also help deconstruct US foreign and domestic policy.

I know why this book is called Revolution: A Love Story.

While you, the reader, may have only heard about Venezuela and President Chávez through international media, which tells high tales of dictatorships, human rights violations, tyrants, political prisoners, censorship, violent crime, narco-traffickers, and terrorists, I have lived in the dynamic, inclusive, open, participatory democracy in Venezuela. I have had the privilege of participating in the numerous transparent, efficient, and free electoral processes over the past decade, the majority of which Chávez and his party have won by landslide victories. I have been a face amongst the crowds of millions that frequently rally, march, and celebrate the extraordinary achievements of the Bolivarian Revolution and the policies enacted by President Hugo Chávez. Yes, Venezuelans don’t just protest when they are unhappy, they also take to the streets to show support for positive advances and gains, evidencing the people’s ongoing and important role in government.

While mass media portray President Hugo Chávez as a dictator, or an enraged demon, or a clown or a terrorist, I know the man with the largest heart I’ve ever seen. I know the man who listens to the older woman who grabs his arm and pulls him close, telling him of her woes; the man who hugs a young pregnant woman, gently cradling her belly, promising to ensure her the best care possible; the man who orders his caravan to stop on the side of the road while he rescues a stray, limping dog; the man who has given his life, his heart, and his soul to his people and his homeland and pledged to do everything in his power to help build a proud, sovereign, grandiose, and dignified nation.

And while most media ignore the millions of Venezuelans struggling to free themselves from centuries of cultural, economic, and political colonization, fighting to rescue their own identity and self-respect and to transform their country into a prosperous and flourishing nation, I know this kind, humble people that are the backbone of one of the greatest and most inspiring revolutions of our time.

During the Washington-backed coup d’etat in April 2002 that briefly and violently ousted President Chávez from powerdemolishing the country’s democratic institutions and plummetting the nation into a repressive dictatorship installed by the old school eliteit wasn’t anger that drove millions into the streets to fight back, it was love. It was love for the true freedom that had just began to blossom with the onset of the Bolivarian Revolution in 1999. It was love for the vibrant, active, and inclusive democracy being built by, for, and of the people. It was love for the dream of an independent, sovereign, and socially prosperous Patria Grande that was being attained. And it was love for the person who had given everything of himself to forge this path that in turn made the people risk their lives to rescue him from the hands of death.

As Uncle Sam sneered, President Hugo Chávez was saved by the millions of Venezuelans who poured into the streets on April 13, 2002 to fight back against the US-funded and supported coup. His life was rescued from the point of assassination by the humble, noble majority of Venezuelans who fought against the world’s most powerful empire, armed with nothing but dignity and love. And they won. We won.

That love, as cheesy as it may sound, has been the guiding force of the Bolivarian Revolution throughout the past decade. It’s the same force that has created a government of People’s Power, where social justice reigns and people’s needs are prioritized over profits. It’s not perfectthere are many problems and goals yet to be achieved. There have been many mistakes along the way, and there are many more errors to be made. Building a better world is not an easy thing.

Venezuela’s Revolution does not pretend to copy or be like any other, nor does it pretend to have all the answers already drawn up. We are building block upon block, and sometimes on circles or triangles. It is a patient, human process that accepts its errors, learns from them, and continues moving forward.

As powerful as love is, the threats against Venezuela and President Chávez are numerous and scary. Washington has been waging an aggressive campaignwhich could be considered a form of warfareagainst the Chávez administration for over a decade. The Obama administration has intensified hostility against Venezuela, channeling even more millions of US taxpayer dollars to the anti-Chávez opposition and attempting to include Venezuela on its “state sponsors of terrorism” list in order to justify military intervention. Sanctions have been imposed against Venezuela by the White House and countless statements have been made by State Department spokespeople intending to intimidate and pressure the Venezuelan government so it succumbs to Washington’s agenda.

There are critical presidential elections in Venezuela in October 2012. President Chávez is a candidate for reelection. In addition to confronting the external threats from Washington and the internal destabilization attempts executed by opposition forces, Chávez is battling the most powerful enemy he’s ever had: Cancer. While the Venezuelan President has recovered impressively from a cancerous tumor extracted from his pelvic region in June 2011, his health will continue to be a battleground.

Revolution: A Love Story is a critical book to read for people around the world, but especially those in the United States. Deconstructing the dangerous myths about Venezuela is essential to preserving not only the integrity of a nation and a political process, but also the lives of millions of people. We all saw how fast a leader was demonized in mass media, stories of atrocities were spun, bombs began, thousands were killed, a nation was destroyed, and its leader assassinated in the case of Libya.

It horrifies me to remember that, just months before the war against Libya began, I had accompanied President Chávez on a trip to Tripoli, where we met with Muammar al-Gaddafi. We walked the streets of a peaceful nation and saw children playing in parks, people going shopping, families taking walks. It’s sickening to realize just days later, they were killed and maimed by US bombs, in the name of freedom.

It terrifies me to think the same thing could happen in Venezuela. The same thing could happen anywhere.

Voices of truth, voices like Cindy Sheehan’s, are essential to prevent these barbaric acts from reoccurring.  Thank you, Cindy, for your fearlessness, for your honesty, and for your love.

Eva Golinger
Caracas, Venezuela

Eva Golinger, winner of the International Award for Journalism in Mexico (2009), named “La Novia de Venezuela” by President Hugo Chávez, is an Attorney and Writer from New York, living in Caracas, Venezuela since 2005 and author of the best-selling books, “The Chávez Code: Cracking US Intervention in Venezuela” (2006 Olive Branch Press), “Bush vs. Chávez: Washington’s War on Venezuela” (2007, Monthly Review Press), “The Empire’s Web: Encyclopedia of Interventionism and Subversion”, “La Mirada del Imperio sobre el 4F: Los Documentos Desclasificados de Washington sobre la rebelión militar del 4 de febrero de 1992” and "La Agresión Permanente: USAID, NED y CIA". Since 2003, Eva, a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and CUNY Law School in New York, has been investigating, analyzing and writing about US intervention in Venezuela using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain information about US Government efforts to undermine progressive movements in Latin America. Her first book, The Chávez Code, has been translated and published in 8 languages (English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Russian, Farsi & Turkish) and is presently being made into a feature film.


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