On May 10, I attended an event held at the MultiCultural Center featuring Venezuelan-American editor Eva Golinger who spoke on “21st Century Socialism.” Golinger is an adviser to Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s leader, and a critic of the U.S., her native country. Ms. Golinger spoke about Venezuela’s new socialist policies and the attacks on Chavez in U.S. media. While I don’t expect most readers to have detailed background on Venezuela, Chavez is known to many Americans for his rhetoric criticizing the U.S. This event, organized by the Campus Left among others, should have been a chance for students to see a different perspective on Latin America, a developing region long-dominated by the U.S. However, what we got was nothing short of insulting propaganda espoused by a woman on a payroll.
Unlike Ms. Golinger, I was born in Venezuela, and my family saw firsthand the changes that occurred. I grew up in California, and though my family environment was quite anti-Chavez, I was young when we left and don’t harbor as much emotional baggage as my family. When I saw the event advertised, I was first astonished, but this gave way to a certain pride that this country and UCSB are open to alternative ideas, which are often simply demonized. I decided to attend, feeling it could be interesting to hear what she had to say, and healthy for me to examine my personal opinions even though I strongly disagree with her.
While I attended expecting a differing opinion, what I got was two hours of propaganda copied straight from Venezuelan state media. She gave a sermon to the audience promoting Venezuelan policies, disparaging the U.S. and inviting us to purchase her books praising Chavez. While I follow closely what happens in my country of birth, and did research beforehand on her financial ties to the Venezuelan government, the reactions in the audience were outrageous. I believe everyone has a right to political opinions, and although I disagree with it, socialism is a legitimate model when you understand it. However, I’m skeptical that most of those attending had much context on Venezuelan socialism, so I was surprised by the nods and the gasps in the audience to her rhetoric on the revolution and America’s insidious policies. This quickly evolved to outrage when she spoke of how prosperous, free and altruistic Venezuelan society is.
I want to be absolutely clear that, to many, Venezuela is not a free society. There is little freedom of the press as the government controls licensing, and dissidents are threatened or imprisoned. Venezuela’s alliances include Libya, Syria and Iran, some of the most brutal regimes on the planet, and its government has repeatedly been incriminated in aiding Colombian drug terrorists. The expulsion of corporations in the name of reform, along with expensive and wasteful programs to bring millions onto marginal welfare has left the economy bankrupt. Businesses don’t invest, fearing nationalization, and educated, white-collar workers have long since fled. The International Monetary Fund reported that despite having some of the world’s largest oil reserves, Venezuela has the distinction of being the only country in Latin America that is still in deep recession.
As a Venezuelan-American I was open to hearing the other side, but it is outrageous and inappropriate that a professional propagandist and self-proclaimed “soldier for the revolution” could sermonize on and misconstrue a topic many are uninformed on. I left feeling insulted and concerned that people could eat up her story without context. Golinger is paid to vindicate — with twisted or outright false information — a government that uses repressive practices against its people. We have potential for discourse, but she has little credibility when she enjoys a cushy job as a propaganda outlet. Leftist groups have a right to their beliefs, but I’d caution — it’s easy to be an “armchair” socialist in California without living under the scarcity, fear and tyranny that is reality in Venezuela. I urge individuals to be informed on context, and in the age of media overload, especially wary of packaged information preached to you. I also urge the Campus Left, co-sponsors and the MCC to be more thoughtful on the credibility and agenda of whom they bring to speak.