A historian who ignores and distorts the facts is no longer a historian; he becomes a propagandist. And that’s the role that professor Miguel Tinker Salas played in a recent symposium organized by the University of Houston on the crisis in Venezuela.
The event, which took place via Zoom, focused on the different aspects of Venezuelan migrations to countries in South America and the Caribbean. Tinker Salas, a Venezuelan professor at Pomona College (California) specialized in the history of Venezuela, was in charge of opening the symposium with a presentation about the political and social history of the country in the 20th and early 21st centuries. His presentation was full of half-truths, lies, and distortions of recent events. Ignoring historical facts, he said that the civil democratic republic turned its back on Latin American countries to align itself with the geopolitical interests of the United States, in contrast to the support that chavismo gave to the countries of the region.
Any competent historian (sources are one click away on Google) will know that this statement by Tinker Salas isn’t true. All the governments of the civil republic from 1958 onwards had a policy of solidarity with Latin American and Caribbean countries. The Betancourt government supported the struggle of the Dominicans against the dictator Trujillo, and decried the interference of the incipient communist dictatorship of Castro in Venezuela, and in other countries. The Betancourt doctrine stipulated that regimes of force, whether of the right or the left, shouldn’t be recognized by the international community.
Democratic Venezuelan governments supported economic integration initiatives in the region, like the Andean Pact and the Latin American and Caribbean Economic System (SELA). Chávez decided to remove Venezuela from the Andean Community, mind you, promoting the integration of Venezuela into Mercosur (due to ideological and financial affinity with the governments of Lula in Brazil and Kirchner in Argentina), and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), of which there’s almost nothing left.
The first government of Carlos Andrés Pérez supported the Sandinista struggle against the Somoza dictatorship, support that was decisive in the military victory that ended producing political change in Nicaragua. Later, in his second government, Pérez supported Violeta Chamorro to protect her security as president (an infamous case of secret funds that sent him to jail), and thus achieve a certain democratic stability in the Central American country.
There was also a policy of condemnation and isolation against the military dictatorship of Pinochet in Chile, and solidarity with the political refugees from the Southern Cone dictatorships (Argentina, Chile and Uruguay), who found a home in Venezuela. Luis Herrera Campíns’s government took a role in the peace process in Central America, and supported Argentina’s claim on the Falkland Islands.
Many professors in North America, Latin America, Europe and Australia prefer to ignore the facts and promote an ideological agenda when it comes to studying Venezuela.
We could cite many other facts that contradict Tinker Salas’s premise, who also ignored certain important historical nuances of the civil republic, a period he portrayed as the consolidation of a consumerist Venezuela for a few and the impoverishment of the great masses. Half-truths on the lips of a historian are problematic; the professor didn’t mention that the governments of the civil republic achieved successes in public health, such as the eradication of malaria (which has now returned), the massification of education, the building of one of the largest hydroelectric dams in the world (power cuts are now commonplace in chavista Venezuela), the nationalization of the iron and oil industries (the state-owned PDVSA is now destroyed in an oil country that has to import gasoline), the construction of the Metro public transport system in Caracas (another victim of chavista destruction), and many other material, social and cultural achievements.
There were certainly problems in the civil republic. The impoverishment of the population that began in the 1980s created the breeding ground for Chávez’s authoritarian populism. Corruption took its toll on the political system, something chavismo has surpassed at all levels with rampant impunity. There are plenty of examples, and professor Tinker Salas only has to do a little research to verify facts that he prefers to ignore.
Tinker Salas also played with the facts when he said the opposition had withdrawn the portraits of Simón Bolívar from the National Assembly in 2015, when the democratic coalition won the majority of the parliament. The portraits of Hugo Chávez and the visual representation of Bolívar that Chávez ordered to recreate were the ones removed from the premises of the parliament, replaced by the portrait that the Libertador himself described as the most accurate.
Omissions and Delusion
Many professors in North America, Latin America, Europe and Australia prefer to ignore the facts and promote an ideological agenda when it comes to studying Venezuela. The symposium in question proved this, though many of the scholars who discussed different perspectives on the migration of Venezuelans to the Andean countries, the Dutch Caribbean (Aruba and Curaçao), the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, and Brazil, did it in a fairly balanced way, with research supported by data and verifiable facts.
But it is striking that in a long symposium of more than three hours (a Zoom torture), none of the speakers, not a single one, mentioned the human rights violations of the Maduro regime, well-documented in the reports of United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet. No one mentioned the ecological, health, social and criminal devastation produced by the savage exploitation of gold and other minerals in the so-called Arco Minero in southern Venezuela. None of the academics remembered the massive exodus of university professors, the attacks on academic freedom, the underfunding of autonomous public universities, the students killed by the military and police forces, and a long etcetera of facts that should have stirred their moral conscience. Nothing. Absolute silence.
Dr. Sujatha Fernandes, a sociologist from the University of Sydney (Australia), who closed the symposium with a very “imaginative” lecture, said that the United States sanctions against the Maduro regime had forced chavistas to depend more on the “extractive economy” (the only very indirect reference to the Arco Minero), as if the entire political-economic apparatus of Bolivarian socialism wasn’t based on a deep oil dependence since the times of Chávez and long before the measures of the Obama and Trump administrations (even with the participation of North American oil and mining companies).
Professor Fernandes’s ideological delusion reached its peak when she affirmed that the future lies in an “Indo-African” socialism defined on the basis of ethno-cultural parameters. Of course, Professor Fernandes will never acknowledge that this supposed “model” has already been applied in Venezuela with disastrous consequences. Chávez presented several times his revolution as an ethnic epic to return to the roots of a supposed primitive socialism of the American aboriginal peoples.
Some of the presentations in this symposium were hollow speeches from professors who are unable to recognize the facts in front of their eyes. They fabricate “their truths” without scientific rigor and without a hint of intellectual honesty.
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