How Can Americans Respond to Maduro and Venezuela?

On Tuesday, March 17, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela published an “open letter” to the American public in the New York Times. For the American people, the letter is more than a genteel communiqué; it is an invitation. Venezuela’s words invite us to believe many things that our politicians and mass media purposely and regularly omit or mystify about Venezuela, its government, and its people. Additionally, the letter presents us with an opportunity to assume our international civic duty as global citizens. We can explore this letter, recognize and even adopt what is agreeable, and we can go a step further: We can reject certain things about our own government we think disagreeable. We can reply, and we can reply with change.

A civil letter deserves a civil response. So, how might we, the American public, respond to Maduro and Venezuela in words? Can we collaborate and author a letter that reflects an earnest and democratic affirmation of Venezuela’s message in our own terms? We can at the very least try. In the process, we can also let the White House know just what we think of Obama’s latest absurd actions that treat Venezuela as a threat to our national security. What is more, we might demand that Obama read our literature himself so that Venezuela and the whole world may know that the American president and government both serve us, the people, the true sovereign of the United States.

There might be many things to explore in our response. Maduro’s letter begins with a statement about the Venezuelan people, their belief in peace, and their “respect for all nations.” It recalls that Venezuela’s founders instituted a republic based on legal freedom and equality for all. Not only did Venezuela seek freedom for itself as a republic, but also Venezuela “made the greatest sacrifices to guarantee South American people their right to choose their rulers and to enforce their own laws today.” Perhaps in response, the American people might acknowledge at least some of the good in Simon Bolívar’s historical efforts. He was not perfect, but he certainly fought to free Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru from imperial Spanish control. And, like Bolívar himself, many Americans have fought throughout history for the abolition of slavery, for the education of all, and for the rights of the indigenous.

Per Maduro and Venezuela’s letter, per their invitation, we might also recall how our government, despite popular efforts big and small, sided with slavery, limited access to education to many Americans, and waged genocidal wars against indigenous groups for centuries. We, the American public, can respond and reject any hangover from these egregious waters of our history and embrace a future, not without memory or address of such things, but without a propensity to repeat them or carry them into the future with us. This would surely benefit Venezuelans and Americans as much as the world.

Our response to Maduro and Venezuela might also recognize that Bolívar’s dream—a collective of free Latin American states—collapsed under the weight of big landowners. We might acknowledge that, where property has historically trumped people, we also note tragedy to have been present. To go a step further, we might recognize how the sovereignty of other nations today (including their economies and ecosystems) have also been suffocated by the American global capitalist system, which amasses and controls so much of the world’s capital to the detriment of billions. We might agree that Venezuelan oil has, for example, for too long been subject to domination by North American oil companies, and we could pledge our support for a future without such creeping inroads on Venezuela’s sovereignty or its resources.

Of course, the American response should recognize the late and former Venezuelan President, Hugo Chávez, who both Republican and Democratic regimes endeavored to bully and derail. The American public might invoke Chávez’s words from years ago, asking how a nation like Venezuela, “with oil, gold, the Caribbean Sea, vast forests, fresh water, fertile land, iron, bauxite, precious stones and diamonds and with a democracy” could become a country in which poverty would affect 80 percent of its population. Subsequently, our letter might recognize one of Chávez’s greatest virtues: reaching out to the most economically and politically marginalized in Venezuela. Chávez invited and encouraged Venezuela’s marginalized to participate more and more, a hallmark of his leadership.

Like Chávez asked of Venezuela, the American people might ask how a nation, such as the United States of America, with all its resources and industrialization and economic means, could create some of the greatest instances of economic disparity the world has ever known. We might ask how (if American leaders are elected to office by the people they serve) some entities, such as corporations, organizations, and industries, have an easier time surviving the twists and turns of the free market than the American people do.

In our letter to Venezuela, Obama might also read that Americans remember Chávez for acknowledging the power he had was not his own, but that it belonged to the Venezuelan people—and that his leadership reflected as much. Obama might read our doubts as to whether he himself esteems the power we have granted him quite as Chávez once did. And, Obama might read that his recent actions against Venezuela are precisely what fuel such suspicions about his stewardship of our democracy.

Maduro and Venezuela have written us to say that they believe in peace, national sovereignty, and international law. They remind us that Venezuela is a peaceful nation, which, in two centuries of independence, has not attacked another. Venezuelans live free of weapons of mass destruction; they have freedom of religion; and they respect international law and the sovereignty of all the world’s people. Would we, as Americans, be eligible to say the same in our response to Venezuela? Or would something have to change in order for us to even approach claiming the same?

Of course, our people perhaps subscribe to peace, sovereignty, freedoms like that of religion, and international law; but if we incorporate the American state in our response, then the answer would be an unfortunate “no.” If we include our state, we would be unable to respond in kind that we maintain an open society in which immigrants from around the world live among us without fear and whose diversity our government respects. It seems we would be unable to say that our state respects Venezuela as a friend, or that it truly values freedom and independence as fundamental to the development of all nations.

We might acknowledge, however, that when we respond to Venezuela as Americans, we highlight common motifs without forgetting that we are also comparing apples and oranges. This is only to acknowledge that we are different, and that our cultures and societies can be so while also sharing vital and parallel democratic values. Yet, this does not mean that we must refrain from admitting that, where we do differ with Venezuela, it is because we might have something to learn from Venezuela or its people, that we might need to emulate something Venezuelan in order to be better, freer Americans. We can therein admit that learning about development and freedom does not stop with super industrialization or the ability for a roguish political branch to act unreasonably against another nation on our behalf, such as Obama has done.

We might also thank Maduro and Venezuela for being responsible and trustworthy in providing energy to the American people. Maduro reminds us in his letter, that, since a decade ago, “Venezuela has provided ‘heating oil’ through subsidies for low-income communities in the United States, thanks to [Venezuela’s] company CITGO.” Venezuela’s generous contributions have, as Maduro says, “…helped tens of thousands of American citizens survive in harsh conditions, giving them relief, and necessary support in times of need, evidencing how solidarity can create powerful alliances across borders.” We can respond with not only a message of gratitude, but also one of commitment. The American people can commit to solidarity and collaboration with the Venezuelan people so that the future remains free of threats to either nation or its sovereignty and that our cooperation engenders good works and the leads to the elimination of poverty in the region.

If we do not feel that Obama truly acted on behalf of virtually all 320 million Americans, then we do not need to apologize for his labeling of Venezuela as a “threat to national security.” Rather, we need to reaffirm that we do not believe or support his grave error. And, how refreshing it would be to have Obama himself read that in our letter to Venezuela. Think of it. Of course, there are those Americans who would never support such a letter in the first place. In addition to their predictable jingoism and xenophobia, they would have us all accept that the president of the United States of America must be credible, if not feared, throughout the world. They would push this point even if they were Obama detractors themselves. But, that is precisely why we should recall that our letter is a response to an invitation. We do not seek to embarrass our president, but rather to construct a society, a world, in fact, where we as a people are accountable and credible, not just our too often corrupt representatives and officials.

We might start down this path of democratic dialogue with our letter to Venezuela. We might begin by agreeing that Obama’s issuance of a “National Emergency,” which declared Venezuela a threat to our national security, was, yes, a “unilateral and aggressive measure taken by the United States” government against Venezuela. We can agree with Maduro that, yes, it was a “violation of basic principles of sovereignty and self-determination under international law.” We might further emphasize the fact that, we, the American people, agree with all thirty-three nations of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), along with the twelve members of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), who have unanimously rejected Obama’s coercive and imposing measures. Finally, we might agree that these measures do not, as Maduro avers, “contribute to the peace, stability and democracy in our region.” And, we might write to Venezuela that we will ensure Obama revokes his unilateral order.

In our letter, we can openly reject the American state’s unilateralism and interventionism in Venezuela and elsewhere. We can also advocate, as Venezuela does and has done, for a multipolar world. We might concur with Maduro and Venezuela that, we, the American people, are also convinced that “the relationship of respect between all the nations is the only path for strengthening peace and coexistence, as well as for ensuring a more just world.” We can pledge our popular support for honoring Venezuela’s right to uphold its democratic freedoms, and that we do not support any regression in US-Latin American relations or accept that US presidents seek to govern Latin American or Caribbean countries simply to tighten the imperialist grip of the American state.

Ultimately, we can reassert that we appreciate and receive this last “alert” from Maduro and Venezuela. We can reassure our friends in Venezuela that we are, as Maduro labels us, their “brothers and sisters,” and “lovers of justice and freedom.” In our response, we can stand with Venezuela, and denounce Obama’s latest illegal aggression that does not pertain to us, the true sovereign power of the United States. We can communicate to Maduro and Venezuela that we also demand our government “immediately cease hostile actions against Venezuelan people and democracy,” that Obama “abolish the Executive Order that declares Venezuela a threat to U.S. national security, as has been requested by the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR),” and, finally, that our government “retract its libelous and defamatory statements and actions against the honorable Venezuelan officials who have just obeyed our laws and our constitution.”

Through our response, then, Venezuela will perhaps have some reassurance that we reject what is undemocratic about our state, and that we, too, believe Venezuelan sovereignty to be “sacred.” We can accept Venezuela’s invitation to remember how ultimate our power as a people is, and how our democracy requires that we keep vigilant watch regardless of the representative officials we elect. The world deserves this much from us, and we can begin with collaborating on a response to Venezuela’s highly important letter and invitation. We can, as Venezuela has done, reassert our belief that freedom is a right no nation should forfeit and that the future of humanity, yes, also rests with Venezuela and its people. Indeed, Maduro is right: “Venezuela is not a threat, but a hope.” We can at least respond that, despite Obama’s unseemly actions, we believe very much the same. Venezuela is not a threat. It is a hope.