A panel discussion on democracy and human rights in Venezuela was held March 12 in Ottawa that featured Wilmer Omar Barrientos Fernández, Ambassador of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to Canada and two other speakers. The event generated considerable interest and every seat was quickly filled. The program opened with a screening of the film “Carbon Copy: The Economic War in Venezuela,” comparing the Venezuelan experience to the attacks on the Chilean economy before the U.S. backed coup on September 11, 1973.
The first speaker was Dr. George Sorger, a Venezuelan living in Canada for many years and former McMaster University Professor of Biology. He spoke about his childhood in Venezuela and the extreme poverty he witnessed around him; how malnutrition and lack of adequate housing led to a high number of deaths of infants and children. Dr. Sorger spoke of the lack of opportunities for the vast majority of the population that lived in extreme poverty and how the Bolivarian Revolution has changed things for the people and given them pride of place in the country. He said that in the old Venezuela the economy was simply seen as a way to make money and serve U.S. interests rather than an instrument to provide for the people. He explained how the democratic institutions present in Venezuela have grown deep roots. Everyone is organized into neighbourhood councils to set priorities and make the decisions on health care, education and infrastructure to meet their needs.
The next presentation by journalist Sam Heaton discussed how U.S. and Canadian intervention and coup attempts in Venezuela are justified on the basis of the Anglo-American imperialist definition of rights. The concept of rights promoted by the U.S. imperialists, Canada and the oligarchy is the one they imposed through the so-called Paris Charter in 1991 which declares that any country which does not have a market economy, human rights and elections of a kind which suit the U.S. is a pariah state and requires regime change. This was a declaration to oppose the countries which are building socialism which is the condition that guarantees people’s rights and the aspiration of the Bolivarian Revolution. He pointed out that the requirement to have multi-party elections in order to be considered democratic is problematic for the U.S. because it props up dictatorships all around the world, while in Venezuela everything is done democratically and the U.S. does not like the results.
What the U.S., Canada and the Venezuelan oligarchy speak of is not rights, but privileges, said Heaton. He pointed out that it is the Venezuelan government that upholds the rule of law, while the law is rejected by anti-Bolivarian forces because it is not based on their former privileges. Claiming these privileges are their rights, U.S. aggression is aimed at restoring these privileges through nefarious means. Heaton also explained the recent history of Canadian intervention and undiplomatic activities in Venezuela including those of Canada’s ambassador-designate, Ben Rowswell.
The final presentation by Ambassador Wilmer Omar Barrientos Fernández consisted in part of an in-depth survey of the state of Venezuela and its progress in the social, economic, political and cultural spheres during the Bolivarian Revolution. He showed how the gains of the revolution are being attacked through economic warfare and presented evidence of widespread hoarding and attempts by the rich to sabotage the production and distribution of goods. He showed how for the first time in Venezuela’s history the Bolivarian Revolution has invested oil revenue in health care and education and how the people have gained access to necessities previously available only to the upper classes. Ambassador Barrientos asked why these dozens of statistics are not spoken of in the media, which paint a desperate picture of the country. He invited people to go to Venezuela and see for themselves. It was pointed out that in the 1980s when oil prices collapsed the people had no support from the government and there were food riots and massacres. The difficult economic situation of Venezuela now with sabotage of the economy and the drop in world oil prices has not led to any hunger or food riots despite the scarcity of certain products. Despite the difficulties, he said, Venezuelans support the revolution and are determined to overcome.
Ambassador Barrientos said he was glad that many Venezuelans had come to the event and that he was happy for the opportunity to discuss with them. He urged people not to fall prey to divisions. He pointed out that Venezuelans who are concerned for the future of their country should involve themselves in solving problems and contribute to building unity. He presented extensive evidence of disinformation and lies on the part of U.S.-backed forces involved in attempts to overthrow the democratically-elected government. He also refuted spurious claims made by opposition figures before the Canadian Parliament.
Ambassador Barrientos spoke of his working class upbringing and how one of the biggest difficulties in getting an education was lack of transport to the schools. He said this inspired him to open up educational opportunities for the poor and working class in Venezuela and millions of people are now attending university. The Ambassador also discussed his experience as a comrade-in-arms of the late President Hugo Chávez as far back as 1992 and how he and Chávez agreed to meet with opposition figures to prevent the country being split by U.S. imperialism.
The Ambassador presented evidence refuting the claims that unrest following the opposition defeat in the 2014 presidential election was a result of repression of peaceful protests. He said there should not be violence between Venezuelans and that this is not an acceptable response from a minority of the population in opposition to the democratic process.
A lively discussion followed the presentations with many people making a point to thank the Ambassador for his participation. A variety of questions and comments were made by participants, some rejecting the Ambassador’s remarks and others asking for clarifications or more information. Ambassador Barrientos gave everyone the opportunity to state their positions and then systemically responded to each point or query.