Written Transcript of 1/27/19
Interview with Robert Fantina
We Stand with Marzieh Hashemi and the
Empowered People of Venezuela
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Cindy: Welcome back to the Soapbox. I'm your host, Cindy Sheehan. This week I bring on journalist and activist and political commentator Robert Fantina. We will be talking about the developments in the Marzieh Hashemi case. She was detained by the United States. She's a journalist from Iran. Then we'll get right into the urgency and discussion of what's happening between the United States and Venezuela. Really it's a U.S. continuing program of trying to undermine the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela. So stay tuned and we'll be right back with Bob Fantina.
Cindy: Robert Fantina, welcome back to Cindy Sheehan's Soapbox.
Robert: Thank you, Cindy. I'm very happy to be here.
Cindy: Well, thank you. On Monday the 21st we both appeared on Press TV and we were talking about the case of Marzieh Hashemi. Of course she's a journalist from Press TV, American born, living in Iran for the past 25 years, I think.
Cindy: She came back to the U.S. to visit family and she was detained by the FBI. Well, subsequently, since we've been on the show and I asked you to come on Cindy Sheehan's Soapbox to talk about it, she has been released. Can you give us an update? Actually, I've been traveling for the last two or three days so I haven't been able to keep up to date on the current events. All my focus, when I did have time, has been on Venezuela. Can you give us an update on the Hashemi case?
Robert: Yes. She was released because she testified. Now, they aren't saying exactly what she testified for, what case that was. One of the issues with her arrest and incarceration was that of course, there were no charges. She was held as a material witness but the government wouldn't say what case she was a material witness for. One of the things that was speculated was that perhaps the government was saying that Press TV should have registered in the U.S. as a foreign agent because of alleged propaganda, although that has not been confirmed. She was held for 10 days, testified and has been released. She is free at this point.
Cindy: Has there been any statement from her or ...
Robert: She issued a statement to Press TV thanking Press TV and her supporters around the world for their efforts. She acknowledged that there were some events planned for her today on her behalf and she highly recommended people continue with those and participate in those because she said while she was one journalist was held, this is a threat that journalists around the world face. In the United States, which of course is always proclaiming its wonderful freedoms that are myths for the most part, foreign journalists are in great danger of being arrested in the United States.
Robert: She isn't a foreign journalist. She is a U.S. citizen. She does have dual citizenship with Iran currently because she's lived there for many years. She is a U.S. citizen who was held with no charges for ten days to participate in a case that wasn't announced. In her statement she did recognize that risk that people face in the United States and around the world.
Cindy: Also when I was researching her case for our interview on Press TV, I was looking at this. She was allegedly detained because they said she was a material witness and they needed her to testify before a grand journey or something like that. In my research, of course I'm not a legal authority or anything, but I can read. It said that this has been declared legal but it has never faced any constitutional challenge. We both know that since, especially since 9-11 the Constitution in the United States has been null and void, where before 9-11 if you had a lot of money or influence you can certainly get around its provisions.
Cindy: On the face value of the Constitution it doesn't seem like that should be constitutional. In fact, you can't hold people without charging them for a crime.
Robert: Right. She was never charged with anything and as you said, this is legal because a law has passed saying it can be done, but it has not as yet had a constitutional challenge which it probably would not stand up to because where is due process here? The idea of arresting anybody who has not committed a crime, not charged them with anything, just so they can testify in some unrelated case, unrelated because there's no relation. The key to it is I guess there's nothing to relate it to, but the whole concept is ludicrous. The fact that this happens in an allegedly or supposedly free country makes no sense.
Robert: Additionally, Hashemi's spokespeople said that she would have been willing to testify if someone had issued a subpoena, asked her to come in. She would have come in and testified but they said she was a flight risk based on nothing but her Iranian citizenship. They said that she would refuse a subpoena and that was based on nothing except the opinion of the government officials.
Cindy: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, definitely it smacks of harassment. Another thing that I've pointed out in our interview was that that there's two supposed qualities that set the United States apart from the rest of the world and that is freedom of the press and freedom of religion. Both of those things were violated in her detention. They foreceably removed her hijab and then they refused to feed her halal food in conformance with her religious diet. I've been in jail a lot of times. They just hand you the bologna sandwich and if you don't eat your bologna sandwich then you're eating nothing. It is a horribly oppressive system and both of those things are supposed to set the United States apart, like I said, were profoundly violated in Marzieh's case.
Robert: Yes, this is the case. You bring up a very interesting point. The United States spokespeople talk about how the U.S. democracy is the envy of the world. They talk about freedom of speech. They talk about freedom of the press. They talk about freedom of assembly and so on and so on and so on. And yet these freedoms are granted very selectively, depending on who is requesting them, who wants to speak or write. Freedom of religion is something that the nation supposedly founded on and yet as we see it in this case, but in so many other cases, that Islam is certainly discriminated against in many ways.
Robert: Donald Trump's ban of travelers from mostly Muslim countries, he said as a candidate that he was going to do that until we figure out just what's going on with Muslims. There's nothing going on with Muslims that's not going on with Catholics or Mormons or Presbyterians or atheists or anybody else. The U.S. has decided to demonize Islam and all of its followers. The case with Marzieh Hashemi is certainly an excellent example of that. As you pointed out she was incarcerated. She was incarcerated completely unfairly and unjustly. Her religious beliefs were violated. She was unable to wear her hijab. She was not given food that was acceptable for her as a Muslim.
Cindy: Right. One thing that I'd like you to cover that you pointed out in the interview was her groundbreaking work exposing U.S. lies about Iran and how oppressive they are to women, et cetra.
Robert: Yes, yes that's what I have talked about. As I mentioned on that other interview. I visited Iran in the summer of 2017. I am hoping to go back next month, as a matter of fact. We are told in the United States and in the west that Iran is a ... I visited Iran, they say Iran is a repressive country that women don't have equal rights, that people live in fear, that the military's ever present, the Islamic Republic Guard Corps is all over the place.
Robert: I was in Tehran for a few days in Mashhad, a city in the northeastern part of the country for a couple of days. During that time I saw, Tehran is like any major city in the world you might visit. It's busy. It's crowded. There's an excitement to it that I find in Rome and wherever else I've been. I saw one police officer in that whole time. He was directing traffic. I saw two soldiers who were awaiting a flight in the airport in Mashhad. They were not armed. The only time on that whole trip I saw anyone armed was at the airport in Germany when I was changing planes. There was an armed German soldier there. In Iran I saw none of that.
Robert: There were women all wearing hijabs, certainly, because that's the law in that country but they were driving alone with other women, out with men. They were walking the streets alone or with other people. They were wearing dresses, jeans, the same clothes that you would see anybody wearing anywhere else. I spoke at a conference. There were Iranian women speaking at that conference. It was at the University of Tehran and there were ... I met a number of university professors there, some of whom were women.
Robert: In Iran women, from my observation certainly, are doing all the things that they want to do and that they have all the rights that men have. As I mentioned in that other conversation, the U.S. has full diplomatic relations with Saudia Arabia where these things are simply not true. Women are definitely second class citizens in Saudia Arabia. That is not the case that I observed myself in Iran.
Cindy: Right, and also a country you describe where everybody's walking around with guns and stuff, two countries come to mind. I have been in those airports in Europe where it seems like the security walking around with submachine guns or something, I don't even know what they are but they look really scary, are the United States and Israel. I've been to Israel. There's soldiers walking around with their machine guns all over the place. We were told, "Don't look them in the eye." I'm like, "Why, what are they going to do? Are they going to slaughter us if we look them in the eye?"
Robert: And certainly in the United States where there's more gun violence than any other industrialized country in the world, the U.S. has the highest rate of civilian deaths as a result of guns of any industrialized country. We see the violence and the guns there but we don't see that in Iran, so why the U.S. chooses to demonize Iran is simply for political reasons. You mentioned Israel. I think Israel's one of the main reasons. The U.S. wants Israel to have complete homogeny in the Middle East and Iran threatens that because Iran is an increasingly powerful country. It's increasingly influential to and lent assistance to Syria during the U.S. supported revolution there and the U.S. doesn't want that.
Robert: Iran is a mainly Muslim country. That's one way that it can be demonized. U.S. spokespeople have said that Iran is the major state sponsor of terror in the world and yet the U.S., when the spokesman said that, the U.S. was bombing seven countries. Since World War II the U.S. has invaded or covertly worked to overthrow at least 30 countries and has been responsible for at least twenty million civilian deaths. Iran has not invaded another country since 1798. Now, which of those two countries could be considered the world's foremost sponsor of terrorism? Obviously it's not Iran.
Cindy: We know the answer is the United States and probably most people listening know that answer. I want to ask you if you meant to say that the U.S. was helping the revolution in Syria, because it's not a revolution.
Robert: It's not a revolution.
Cindy: It's a regime change. The U.S. was hoping that they could do to Assad what they did to Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein, et cetra, et cetra, et cetra.
Robert: Yes, definitely let me clarify that. It wasn't a revolution of the people. It was rebel groups supported and trained and financed by the U.S. with the goals-
Cindy: And our friends Israel.
Robert: Como? Excuse me?
Cindy: And our "friends" from Israel. And I say friends in quotation marks.
Robert: Certainly, certainly. The goal was to destroy Syria. Hilary Clinton in I believe it was 2012, during her term as Secretary of State, she received an e-mail from one of her advisors saying that it would be highly beneficial to Israel for the Syrian government to be overthrown and that's the course of action the U.S. should take and that is the course of action the U.S. attempted. But with help from Iran and from Russia, that plan was thwarted.
Cindy: And Hezbollah.
Robert: And Hezbollah, yes, certainly. And each one of these, Hezbollah, Russia and Iran are demonized by the U.S. What are they doing? They're helping a legitimately elected government stay in power. And they're basically, Iran is increasing its defense capabilities which it has not only the right to do but a responsibility to its people. Certainly with the U.S. saber rattling and threatening Iran all the time and Israel threatening Iran, Iran should be strengthening its defenses.
Cindy: Right. I think that's only logical and normal.
Cindy: Let's go over to another part of the world. The United States has declared Venezuela as also a state sponsor of terror. We both know that since Hugo Chavez was elected in 1998 and declared that their latest constitution null and void and the people in Venezuela elected a constituent assembly to re-write the constitution of Venezuela. It was passed by a referendum in the country. They call it the Bolivarian Constitution, named aver the liberator of Latin America, Simon Bolivar.
Cindy: Since that time Venezuela has made huge strides in improving health, education, housing, food. They have reduced income inequality in Venezuela where when Obama was president it was the biggest transfer of wealth between the poor to the rich. Here in the United States the income equality grew massively under Obama. Of course in Venezuela which has the largest amount of oil reserves in the world, Venezuela, it very, I want to arrogantly in quotes said, "that oil belongs to us and the proceeds need to go to the people of Venezuela, to help the people of Venezuela, not to enrich the oligarchy."
Cindy: Since Hugo Chavez became president and slowly implemented these reforms in Venezuela there has been a dedicated effort to undermine the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela. It didn't just start this week with Trump.
Cindy: I want you to go ahead and comment on that. I didn't really ask a question. I just laid the groundwork or what's happening in this week.
Robert: That's perfectly fine. The things you point out, the closing of the income inequality, the people taking control and electing a leader who nullified the U.S. sponsored and drafted if not written Constitution and set up a new way of doing things resulting in improved schools, improved jobs, improved living conditions. These are not things that the U.S. is interested in seeing. The U.S. fears certainly that its own citizens might see this and decide, "Well, can't we have that? Can't we have affordable higher education? Can't we have decent jobs? Can't we have better incomes? Does there have to be such a gap between the rich and the poor? Does there have to be a dwindling middle class while there is a expanding poverty class and a shrinking but extremely rich wealth class?" These are things that if people want to look at they could say, "well, Venezuela has taken control. The Venezuela people have taken control and maybe the people in the United States can too." This is very frightening to the United States.
Robert: You also mentioned the oil. I remember when Iraq was invaded. Some people said, "What on earth is that country doing on top of U.S. oil? What business?" You know, facetiously. It was kind of the same thing, the U.S. attitude is, "Well, what is Venezuela doing with all U.S. oil?" Well, it's not U.S. oil, as the Venezuelan government has said. It belongs to Venezuela and the riches that will come from its refinement and sale belong to the people of Venezuela. This is very threatening to the U.S. which is so oil dependent that it needs to have control of all the oil in the world.
Cindy: Right. They don't want just a little bit. They don't want their fair share. They want everything.
Robert: Right, right.
Cindy: Besides, like you said, the threat of the good example of what people power could really do, they have one branch of government called People Power.
Robert: Really, wow.
Cindy: They have neighborhood councils. I've been in Venezuela and seen how the neighborhood councils work with the federal government to implement things in their neighborhoods and their communities, not like what the federal government thinks people should have. They actually interact with the people in these communities to get things done in these communities. I've seen a lot of people saying, 'Oh, it's because of oil. It's because they're selling it in gold not dollars or whatever." I really think that the threat of the good example, how socialism can work in a country when income is more fairly distributed is more of impetus for undermining the Bolivarian revolution than the oil is. That's just my opinion.
Robert: And it could well be. You talked about the citizen and government cooperation in various areas and how the government works with the citizens to understand what they want and then to help them achieve it. That is something that is totally foreign to the U.S. despite any rhetoric about for the people and of the people and by the people. The U.S. elected officials, and I don't call them representatives are beholden to lobbyists.
Cindy: Well, they represent some people but not the people that go to the polls and think they're electing representatives. Like you said, they're beholden to lobbyists.
Robert: Right, right, lobbyists and those who donate to their election campaigns. I've heard not long ago that most elected officials in the U.S. spend at least half a day of their time on the phone with potential donors. Now, when you consider that it costs a lot of money to win or run an election in the U.S. which is not the case in other countries such as Canada, where I live now. If an organization's going to donate, say it's a so-called defense, a military contractor or a pro-Israeli group, if they're donating millions and millions of dollars to someone they want something in return, certainly.
Robert: In order for those campaign dollars to keep flowing that representative, that official will give them what they want which is votes in a certain way. We see in the United States lobby organization writing legislation, giving it to members of Congress who then introduce it. This is just totally wrong.
Robert: Regarding Venezuela where the people are interacting with the government to let them know what they, the people want, this is in the U.S. unheard of and cannot be heard of. I saw something not long ago that said, I'll paraphrase it. "If the people only knew how much power they actually had things would change drastically." It seems in Venezuela people do understand that and they have a-
Cindy: They don't want to go back to the time when they had no power.
Robert: Of course.
Cindy: They've been educated and empowered which is something they don't want here. The powers that be don't want us educated and empowered here in the United States.
Robert: Not at all. Part of their plan, I think, to prevent that is the expense of higher education and the cost of government student loans. You would think that the government would be interested in educating its people and allow them to have greater education, but that's not the case and so schools are very expensive. The government will lend them money to go to school but that's at a high interest rate so that once people get out of school they're not going to be politically active. They're too busy working two or three jobs trying to pay of their loans.
Cindy: Not only at a high interest rate but it's the only kind of debt that you cannot declare bankruptcy from.
Cindy: To me that seems fascist. It's banks loaning the money backed by the government. How fascist is that?
Robert: It's the definition just about, yeah.
Cindy: So anyway, in Venezuela this week, I don't know how to say his name, Guaido the person who Trump and Pence have declared the president of Venezuela, to me it's just like, Why? Bob, why is this happening? How can a president of the United States go on Twitter and say, "oh, this dude that nobody ever heard of, even in Venezuela, 81% of the people in Venezuela had never heard of him. How can he they just go on Twitter and declare that he's president. And other countries have fallen in line. Your country, or Canada has fallen in line with this.
Robert: Yes, it has.
Cindy: Of course they're in the Organization of American States and Canada has always lined up against Latin America. So they're joined by Colombia. They're joined by Brazil and some other countries and the United States in recognizing this person as president of Venezuela. I want to say that Venezuela has, this is an important, important point to let everybody know. Venezuela's has been declared the most legitimate elections of anywhere in the world.
Robert: It's far more legitimate than in the U.S..
Cindy: Oh, heck yeah. So really an illegitimate president of the United States is saying that Maduro who has been elected by the people in transparent legitimate elections is not the president. Trump is a dangerous moron in my case, in my opinion.
Robert: I agree.
Cindy: Now hopefully the military in Venezuela is saying, "We're supporting Maduro" and Russia is saying, "We're supporting Maduro." Russia, like we pointed out earlier, saved Assad and the sovereignty of Syria so I'm hoping that this will be successful in Venezuela also.
Robert: I hope so. I definitely hope so. Let's look at a similar situation, a parallel situation hypothetically. Two years ago Donald Trump lost the popular vote by three million. Imagine if Putin and Trudeau and whoever else said, "No, Hillary Clinton is the legitimate president of the United States." How would Trump have reacted? How would his supporters in Congress and in the country react to that? "What business is of theirs? This is the way the U.S. works, the electoral college," et cetra, et cetra, et cetra. There would have been horror. It would have been shock and great indignation. Yet when the U.S. does that same thing it's acceptable.
Robert: You may recall when Reagan was president he referred to Mexico as the U.S.'s backyard. Mexico is not the U.S.'s backyard. It's its next door neighbor. Venezuela is another neighbor, not next door but certainly a neighbor. Yet the U.S. sees the rest of the world as its backyard and it can do what it wants to in it's backyard. It has to respect what its neighbors want, but if it's its backyard it can do anything it wants.
Cindy: It's just appalling, but I like pointed out earlier, since Chavez was elected the U.S. has spent tens of millions of dollars trying to overthrow that government. I don't want to be looked at as a crazy conspiracy theorist but it could very well be that the United States finally gave Chavez cancer, a very aggressive cancer.
Robert: That's possible. They couldn't get rid of him any other way. Regarding the desire to overthrow, imagine again, the U.S., we talked about it supported and financed and trained rebels in Syria. It's doing the same thing in Venezuela. It has done this in many countries and in many countries it has succeeded in overthrowing legitimate leftist governments and supported brutal, brutal oppressive dictators.
Robert: Imagine, well right now, you don't have to imagine, but there's a special congressional investigation, Robert Mueller who's looking into the possibility that Russia may have influenced U.S. elections. And yet the U.S. supports rebel groups. It finances opposition parties in foreign countries. The U.S. has always, always influenced and influence is a very benign word in this case, elections in other countries. Why isn't that investigated? Why isn't Israel's influence on the U.S., APAC, and the writing of legislation that's submitted to members of Congress. Why isn't Israel's influence in the U.S. elections and the millions of dollars that they spend, why isn't that investigated?
Robert: Again, the hypocrisy of the U.S. never ceases to astound me.
Cindy: It's legendary, it really is amazing.
Robert: And now trying to overthrow and, as you said, for years trying to overthrow the government of Venezuela despite what the people want. You'll notice in all these cases the will of the people, Syria, Venezuela, wherever, Nicaragua, Chile, all over the world, the will of the people is never a concern of the U.S.. The U.S., Trump will, they have excuses. They say we have to go in for humanitarian reason or, it's too leftist and people need to be free. The people of the United States need to be free.CIndy: The U.S. doesn't even care what we think so why should it care what other people in other countries think, right?
Cindy: Bob, we're running out of time. This has been a great conversation and it's wonderful to talk to you again. Is there anything else you want our listeners to know?
Robert: I support the people of Venezuela and I support the people of Syria and I support the people of Iran and I think we've covered it all today.
Cindy: Well, Robert Fantina, thank you so much for agreeing to be on Cindy Sheehan's Soapbox this week and for taking time out of your day to do it.
Robert: Thank you. It's always a pleasure, Cindy.
Cindy: All right. Have a great weekend.
Robert: Thanks, you too.
Cindy: Thank you.
Cindy: That was the Soapbox this week and as always I hope you were informed and inspired for further study. Please stay tuned to the Soapbox because the situation in Venezuela is developing and I'm sure we'll have a further future show on it and more information. As you all probably know, Venezuela is a cause that's very dear to my heart. As always I'd like to thank my engineer Don DeBar. I'd like to thank Bob Fantina for being on the show and you for listening to and supporting the show.
Cindy: I am Cindy Sheehan. You've been listening to the Soapbox. Peace Out for now.