Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Alek Boyd, the creator of Vcrisis.com who started blogging about Venezuela in Oct. 2002. Since, he has worked as an independent researcher, reporter, lobbyist, civil and political rights activist, and has experience in strategic and political consulting throughout Latin America. In 2006, he became the first blogger ever to shadow a presidential candidate in Venezuela.
FP: Alek Boyd, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Boyd: Thanks very much for this opportunity Jamie.
FP: What is Chavez up to at present and how would you describe the regime that he heads?
Boyd: Unfortunately at present Chavez is just being Chavez. That means he has not changed since he was caught leading a coup d'etat in 1992 and is very busy doing now what he couldn't achieve then. Some may ask, "what was he trying to do back then?" Apart from the military assault to power, Chavez and his co-conspirators had 18 decrees ready to be forced upon once in power: congress, legislative assemblies at the federal and regional level, the Supreme Court, and the Electoral Council were to be dissolved; police forces were to be restructured; regional authorities were to be appointed; privatizations were to be halted; foreign exchange controls were to be imposed; prices of goods and services were to be frozen. Compare that to what has actually happened, since he got elected, and one can see that Venezuela is undergoing Chavez's coup d'etat in slow motion.
The dictionary describes a man who exercises absolute and unrestricted control over government as a dictator. Chavez fits the definition perfectly and to make sure his every whim is followed through, he has appointed more than 80 military officers to civilian jobs.
FP: The Chavez-FARC connection?
Boyd: General Nestor Gonzalez Gonzalez, commander of the military garrison of La Fria near the Colombian border, produced a detailed report about FARC activities, after having conducted operations of aerial reconnaissance in that area. Gonzalez met personally with Hugo Chavez in El Vigia, on February 11 2002, to discuss the situation.
General Manuel Rosendo, Joint Chief of Staff at the time, confirmed receipt of the said investigation, on February 13 2001. In spite of the evidence gathered and the detailed locations of FARC camps identified in Rio de Oro, Casigua El Cubo, Rio Lora, Rio Atapsi and other areas of Sierra de Perija, Chavez and his high military command turned a blind eye on the situation and no further action was taken. In 2004, top FARC leader Rodrigo Granda was captured by Venezuelan military intelligence operatives in Caracas, while attending an official summit (the officer who arrested Granda was tortured by Chavez's intelligence and was imprisonned on trumped charges more than 4 years).
Granda was not only a guest of honour of the Bolivarian celebration hosted by Chavez. What's more he participated in one of the discussion tables in Monagas, he met with international figures invited to the event and with the deputy woman of Chavez's MVR party in charge of the organization of the conference. Rodrigo Granda was given Venezuelan citizenship by the Chavez regime, in contravention to legal dispositions and, at time of capture, had been living in Venezuela, protected by the highest authorities, together with his wife and daughter. Upon his capture, Chavez's reaction was telling: he broke diplomatic relations with Colombia, Venezuela's second largest trading partner.
In 2008, top FARC commander Raul Reyes was killed by Colombian forces in Ecuador. Again, Chavez not only halted diplomatic relations with Colombia. He actually sent his troops to beef up the border and referred to the slain narco terrorist as "a good revolutionary." But the explosive content of Reyes' laptops, which INTERPOL legitimised, would provide further evidence of the deep, institutional relationship between Chavez and the FARC. The data shows that Venezuela, under Chavez, has become a haven of peace, a source of funds, weapons and ammunition and an operation base for the FARC. Unfortunately President Uribe is using the information salvaged from Reyes' computers to advance Colombia's agenda, at the detriment of stability in the region.
FP: Can you talk a bit about Chavez and narco trafficking?
Boyd: This issue hinges on the previous question. FARC has replaced in some ways the old drug cartels, and it certainly counts with open sympathy, at the highest spheres of power, in the governments of Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia. As a result, it is believed that 85% of the drug produced in the region enters the international markets via Venezuela. In 2006 I wrote an article entitled "The Venezuela Connection", which details some of the huge amounts of drugs confiscated in various parts of the world and the periodicity of said seizures. But more importantly Venezuela has become the launching pad of choice, not only for the FARC, but for other drug cartels too. For instance the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) was kicked out of Venezuela on August 2005, under the spurious and unsubstantiated charges that its staff was a) spying and b) involved in drug trafficking, as denounced by Hugo Chavez himself. Since 1999, military and DEA over flights are forbidden in Venezuela. Arguing violations to the country's sovereignty, Chavez suspended monitoring of drug trade activities by US agencies. It is not a surprise then that tonnes of the stuff are being shipped out Venezuela, whose president and high authorities are in cahoots with narco traffickers.
FP: What is the state of political persecution in Venezuela under Chavez?
Boyd: Rampant, as the courts are under Chavez's thumb. Before 2004's recall referendum he ordered the construction of a database, called Maisanta, which contains details of the political affinities of the entire electoral roll, that's more than 12 million people. Such data has been used to identify political foes. Venezuelans who signed in favor of recalling Chavez have been dismissed from their jobs, refused identity documents, refused public funds, etc. That is the softer approach used on average citizens, as public institutions check people's political details before doing anything.
Then there's the tougher approach, which is to fabricate charges that are never demonstrated in court, to get rid of political opponents. This includes outright refusal of evidence on behalf of judicial authorities, the majority of which are appointed on a temporary basis. For instance, lawyers of TV network RCTV, whose broadcasting license was illegally terminated, were never able to defend their case in court. Similarly, legal counsel of Metropolitan police officers, accused after the brief coup of April 2002, disproved every single piece of evidence presented by the prosecution, though its represented were still sentenced to 30 years imprisonment. A student leader who was granted political asylum by The Vatican was refused the safe conduct to leave the country, in violation to international treaties, and when he escaped the Chavez regime immediately sent an arrest warrant to INTERPOL. The same method has been applied to Manuel Rosales, former governor of Zulia and mayor of Venezuela's second largest city, now in Peru. It is worth noting that INTERPOL is being used by Chavez as a mechanism to curtail activities of his opponents internationally, a practice whose origins can be traced to the KGB.
FP: Chavez's influence in the region?
Boyd: Substantial, as he commands unrestrictedly Venezuela's budget. This, in a region savaged by poverty and where political expediency rules supreme, goes a very long way. Chavez has exploited masterfully deep resentments against the USA shared by radicals across the region. His Bolivarian get-togethers are the perfect environment for marginalised groups and individuals that haven't had access to power, to explore synergies and work towards destabilising weak democracies.
Chavez is known to have supported Ollanta Humala, Evo Morales, Rafael Correa, Daniel Ortega, Cristina Kirchner, Mauricio Funes and others, who are yet to try reaching power in Colombia. Venezuela is also the largest buyer of weapons in the region, something that has had effects in the way other elected leaders deal with him, as no one knows for certain the final destination of those weapons or how he will put them to use. In short, the consensus is that is better to have him as a friend, and profit from his largesse, than to confront him. The Organization of American States is the perfect example of how Chavez has wielded his petro-power to gain control of hemispheric bodies.
FP: What's your view of Chavez apologists in the US? Name a few that come to mind. What's their psychology?
Boyd: In history, there have always been apologists of socialist dictators, or useful idiots as Lenin famously put it. From Sean Penn to Noam Chomsky, from Chris Dodd to Bill Delahunt or Joe Kennedy, these armchair revolutionaries are ready to agitate for Chavez and sing the virtues of communism, so long as cheap points against the Republican establishment are scored. There's a propaganda office in DC that does Chavez's bidding in the US (Venezuela Information Office). Millions of dollars have been given to this outlet and part of its outreach strategy is precisely to identify individuals that are natural allies, so that bad press is countered and policy is kept on check up in the hill. Then there are American think tanks, such as Mark Weisbrot's CEPR, that are defending Chavez's policies at every possible opportunity. Weisbrot has spoken in Congress in favour of Chavez, keeps pestering American journalists with his "independent views", travels the planet to lecture about the benefits of the Bolivarian Revolution, and we are to believe that he does so out of the goodness of his heart and on his own dime.
However it remains a concern that important academic institutions are used by Chavez's cheerleaders to promote a skewed version of democracy that would be unacceptable in the US, as is the case of Chomsky and MIT. This is the purest form of racism there is, for the message these apologists are sending is "we know better than Venezuelans what's in their best interest." Fortunately one need only to scratch the surface to find out that there's always an exchange of monies, or hospitality, or jet rides, or oil for services rendered.
FP: Is Chavez a thug?
Boyd: Most definitely, Chavez has got plenty of blood on his hands.
FP: Your view of the Obama's administration's disposition toward Chavez thus far?
Boyd: I don't see as a mistake Obama's overture thus far. In fact it has benefited us Venezuelans for various reasons. Chavez is the personification of anti-Americanism. He has sought to undermine the credibility of political opponents, by linking them to the previous US administration, calling them lapdogs of the Empire, etc. However, as the world could see, Chavez was all starry eyed in the presence of Obama and just couldn't try hard enough to grab the POTUS' attention. His anti-American rhetoric will ring hollow after Trinidad.
FP: What would be your advice for U.S. policy toward Chavez? What is the best tactic to rid Venezuela of Chavez?
Boyd: The US can easily neutralize Chavez, by simply approving free trade agreements with countries in the region. Chavez's leverage is based upon his petro-diplomacy and his capacity to dispense large amounts, which in turn are borne out of Venezuela's de facto free trade agreement with the US. It is a bit rich for Chavez to be chastising other countries, when Venezuela's sole commodity (oil) enters the US without tariff impositions of any sort. In my opinion no country south of the border will refuse the possibility to enter the hemisphere largest market over feeble ideological alliances with a tin pot dictator.
One hand gives a handshake, the other a slap in the face. The US should revise its policy towards the OAS and campaign actively for the appointment of a proper secretary general, one that will see that the Inter American Democratic Charter is actually upheld. The US should act on the intelligence regarding Chavez-FARC relationship gathered in the last decade by Colombia's government, establish responsibilities, and bring charges whenever necessary. Similarly it should share said intelligence with other nations around the world. The US should withdraw visas and confiscate US assets of chavistas that fail to conform to US regulations.
Chavez is our Frankenstein, a product of our dysfunctional political system. There are ways of ridding Venezuela of such pest, but for that to happen democratic forces within the country must understand that it is only through a selfless, concerted and joint effort that it could be achieved. The opposition is concentrating its efforts in the major cities and made important gains in recent elections - that are systematically and dictatorially crushed. However the countryside remains abandoned. In areas where tallying of votes is an all-chavista process it's a given that rigging takes place. Chavez can be defeated, but it takes intelligence, planning, courage and commitment, of which there is scarcity. If Venezuelans can't defeat Chavez, capitalism, and market forces, will take care of him.
FP: Alek Boyd, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.