On March 5, 2019, a public letter signed by “124 academics from around the world” appeared under the title “An Open Letter to the Washington Office in Latin America (WOLA) on its position on the United States’ effort to overthrow the Venezuelan government. ” As I will try to demonstrate in this text, this communication is a good example of a type of thought that I have called, provocatively, “left-wing colonialism”.
To clarify from the beginning, I do not consider that all progressive intellectuals and activists in the United States suffer from “left-wing colonialism.” On the contrary, I have met many people from that country, from leftist ideologies of all currents, genuinely interested in the Venezuelan situation and, to inform themselves, make the effort to read what is generated from within the country, dialogue with local actors and support their efforts.
In our opinion, left-wing colonialism is characterized by 4 core ideas:
1) The United States is the political, economic, social and cultural axis of the world.
2) Their criticisms and allegiance on world conflicts has little to do with the real situation of the territories, being subservient to and dependent on their position on the internal politics of the United States.
3) To comment on the conflicts of the so-called “Third World”, they opt for the “debate between peers” and hierarchize the knowledge about the conflicts generated by the academic centers of the First World.
4) The democratic, utopian or revolutionary aspirations are only legitimate, in all their extension and amplitude, for the developed territories of the member countries of the “colonial matrix of power.” For the rest of the planet there is folklore.
We repeat what we have said on other occasions: the protagonism of the most conservative forces, like the government of the United States, takes place due to the abandonment that the progressive international forces have made of the democratizing demands of the Venezuelan people
Colonial matrix of power
The reflection on the coloniality of power was impelled, at the beginning of the 90’s, by the Peruvian sociologist Anibal Quijano, in his reflexive effort from Latin America and its particularities. According to Quijano, the idea of race was decisive to legitimize the characteristic relations of domination during the Colony, based on Eurocentrism, with a tendency to consider Europe as the center of history and the protagonist of human civilization. The idea of race assumed “a supposed different biological structure that placed the ones in a natural situation of inferiority with respect to the others (…) Based on this, consequently, the population of America was classified, and of the world later, in said power pattern.” Therefore, “race and racial identity were established as instruments of basic population classification.”
Quijano develops three dimensions of what he describes as a complex process by which the colonizers configured a new universe of intersubjective relations between the center, which was Europe, and the other regions and populations of the world. In the first place, the expropriation of cultural discoveries from the colonized populations of what was useful for the development of the European center. Secondly, the repression of the forms of production of knowledge of the colonized, their patterns of production of meanings, their symbolic universe, their patterns of expression and objectification of subjectivity. Finally, the imposition of the learning of the culture of the dominators in everything that was useful for the reproduction of the own domination. “Europeans,” he says, “generated a new temporal perspective on history and re-located the colonized peoples, and their respective histories and cultures, in the past of a historical trajectory whose culmination was Europe.” The founding myths of Eurocentrism would be 1) The idea-image of the history of human civilization as a trajectory that starts from a state of nature and culminates in Europe; 2) Give meaning to the differences between Europe and Non-Europe as differences of a (racial) nature and not a history of power.
Following what Quijano described as the “Colonial Matrix of Power” has generated a fruitful discussion that has given way to a movement of research in different directions, the so-called “decolonial studies.” However, its members have taken the work of deconstruction to the rationality of the centers of thought located in the liberal spectrum of political thought. Is it possible to apply this methodology to the opposite side, generated within the world power centers and, specifically, the United States? We think so.
Open letter, minds rotating on their own axis
The first thing to say about the Open Letter of March 5, 2019, is that it is not representative of “the whole world”, as its introduction assures, but of an academic sector that makes intellectual life from and in the United States. Of the 124 firms, at least 83.8%, or 104 signatures, are from people from academic centers or organizations in the United States. 4% of the signatories, 5 signatures, come from Latin American academies. While, of the territory of the subject of discussion, Venezuela, there is only 1 signature, 0.8% of the total. This composition is not casual. Of all the adhesions, Noam Chomsky’s signature is the one that heads the statement.
When the Open Letter appears, according to the statistics of the Venezuelan human rights organizations, the most serious situation in the democratic institutions of the Latin American country had already occurred: the imposition of a president as a consequence of electoral fraud; the forced departure of more than three million Venezuelans in a relatively short period of time, configuring the worst migration crisis in the region; the most critical social situation in the country in the last 60 years, with more than 46% of people living in poverty and with 7 million Venezuelans depending on state aid to eat the minimum necessary and, as if that were not enough, the murder of 35 people for protests in the popular sectors, a balance of a week of repression in February 2019. None of this, the situation of the Venezuelan people that should be the center of the concerns of any “progressive” sensibility, is named in the missive. The main idea of the letter is to refute the opinion about Venezuela that has been expressed by someone considered an equal: an NGO based in Washington. One can discuss the previous emphasis, but finally it is legitimate within the possibilities of democratic debate and the exercise of freedom of expression. What is not, however, is to simplify the situation until it distorts the nature of the Venezuelan conflict, blatantly lying.
As we stated at the beginning about one of the characteristics of left-wing colonialism, is that its criticisms and allegiances to world conflicts are functional and subservient to its position on the internal politics of the United States. The adopting of this position, therefore, is independent of the concrete situation of the territories on which they comment on. If the facts coincide with the criticism of the American influence in the conflict zone, good. If not, too bad for the facts: the explanation is infantilized until it is in sync with that criticism.
The Open Letter revolves around two main ideas: 1) Donald Trump’s government is promoting a change of government in Venezuela and 2) WOLA is not strongly rejecting this pretension of the US government. The second idea, really, is a consequence of the first. In contrast to the main assertion, without the meddling of the White House, there was no demand for transformation in the Caribbean country. Thus, neutralizing the North American actors who are perceived as allies of the interference, the Trump government initiative would be weakened and, with it, the pressures on Nicolás Maduro and his government. The 104 American intellectuals are not really interested in the situation of the Venezuelan people and their own aspirations – whatever they may be – but in using the issue of Venezuela for their own political interests: antagonize with the Trump administration. Curiously, the same type of action one can criticize of the current government of the United States.
Noam Chomsky, the archetypal intellectual on the list of subscribers, has commented on in several opinions about Venezuela. Since the Bolivarian project came to power in Caracas, at the end of 1998, he has only paid a visit, and for a few hours, to the South American nation. Being a subject of interest, or at least one in which his opinions are made with the authority of someone who presumes to have greater and better knowledge than the average citizen, his sources about the Venezuelan reality are not the field work or the data generated by the Venezuelans themselves, but the information generated by other progressive intellectuals, to use the codes of Quijano, located in the colonial matrix of Power. The sample is in the number of Venezuelans adhering to the communication.
This contempt for the intellectual production from within Venezuela, considered as a lower form of subjectivity, I suffered myself. In 2009 I was contacted by an anarchist publisher in the United States, See Sharp Press, to write a criticism from the left to the government of Hugo Chávez. At that time Noam Chomsky was an open promoter of the so-called “Bolivarian Revolution”, so as a strategy to try to dialogue with the potential reader of the book, I was precisely going to contradict, with data, the reasons for his enthusiasm. The result was the book “Venezuela, The Revolution as a Show. An Anarchist Critique of the Bolivarian Government”, with 274 pages and 600 footnotes. The first thing the editor, Chaz Buffe, did was to send a copy to Chomsky himself, who gave acknowledgment by e-mail in which he showed his displeasure for being the most quoted author, in negative, in the text. How much did he read it? At least enough to recognize the answer to his claims about the government of Hugo Chávez. However, nothing that he had written, from the terrain in Venezuela, would have been enough to show the MIT linguist that in Caracas the sky is blue: it is red because of the American empire. On March 2, 2019, three days before the appearance of the Public Letter, Noam Chomsky during a radio interview repeated each and every one of the assertions about Venezuela that I refuted, more faded and imprecise, by repeating them from memory. Would it have been the same if I had been a university professor at any university in the United States?
The simplifying distortion of the Open Letter on the Venezuelan situation is such that the International Group of Contact (GIC) of the European Union is described in two sentences: The first “dominated by Washington” and, almost at the end, “ally of the Government of Trump. ” It is intentionally omitted that the rest of the international community, actually, is trying to counterbalance the Trump administration’s protagonism. The GIC, for the Eurocentric mentality of left-wing colonialism, would be the only international protagonist worth of mentioning – and not Russia, China or Turkey – who are also part of the same colonial matrix of Power. Another reason does not explain the omission on the Lima Group that, like it or not, has had greater international prominence than the Europeans and, regionally, equal to that of the United States. The quality of the information of Chomsky and his group reaches the point of affirming that the “mediation offers of Pope Francis” have been rejected, something that really happened in a dialogue table that took place … at the end of 2016!
Criticisms of WOLA, on the other hand, are not only poorly argued but based on false claims. And it cannot be otherwise. As 123 organizations and 509 Venezuelan academics and social activists recalled in another communication to thank for their work on the Venezuelan crisis, WOLA -unlike Chomsky and, you could bet, 90% of the American progressives who support the letter- has built its position based upon a permanent presence on th eground and constant visits to the country, where they have built a solid relationship with those they recognize as their peers: Venezuelan human rights organizations. WOLA’s position on Venezuela can be discussed until the end of days, but it is at least based on empirically verifiable assertions.
The current left-wing colonialism, lacking a promise for the future, cares little about the real situation of the Venezuelan people. An example of this is the feminist organization Code Pink, which starred in a temporary occupation of the Venezuelan embassy in the United States to reject the “imperialist interference”, because its problem is the government of Donald Trump and not the scandalous and systematic violations of the rights of Venezuelan women and the LGBT community in the country, something that has happened since the days of Hugo Chávez and that could not be awarded, with honesty, to economic sanctions.
We repeat what we have said on other occasions: the protagonism of the most conservative forces, like the government of the United States, takes place due to the abandonment that the progressive international forces have made of the democratizing demands of the Venezuelan people. These demands need international support, but from one that listens attentively to the demands of Venezuelans themselves to make them their own, and in the best of cases dialogue with them. The current conflict is not the supposed confrontation between Miraflores and the White House, but the antagonism of a majority that wants democracy, with all the promises linked to it, and a minority that today from Caracas has been transformed into a dictatorship.