Strange Fruit: Venezuela has an Opposition that Nobody Should Support

Chris Gilbert addresses the racism and white supremacy of the Venezuelan opposition, in light of recent burnings and lynchings against Black and Brown Venezuelans accused of being "Chavistas" or "thieves" by opposition militants.

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Orlando Figuera was set alight in Altamira on May 20. (archives)
Orlando Figuera was set alight in Altamira on May 20. (archives)
By Chris Gilbert - Venezuelanalysis
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Bolivarian University Professor Chris Gilbert addresses the racism and white supremacy of the Venezuelan opposition in light of recent lynchings against Black and Brown Venezuelans accused of being "Chavistas" or "thieves" by opposition militants. The most emblematic of these cases was the public lynching of Afro-Venezuelan Orlando Figuera on May 20. Figuera was stabbed six times, doused in gasoline, and burned alive by opposition protesters in the eastern Caracas neighborhood of Altamira. He died in hospital ten days later. Other prominent cases include that of Danny Subero, Pedro Josue Carrillo, as well as a pair of youths in Lara state. 

No American, if that means a person from the United States, should support the Venezuelan opposition. Why? The question can be made this simple: Which side in the Venezuelan conflict produces "Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees… a fruit for the crows to pluck"? 

I refer, of course, to the fact that in a number of well-documented instances Venezuelan opposition forces have burned black people alive. This horrible fact should be enough to decide the issue for those in the United States when they think about which of the two sides to support in the struggle.

Yet it seems to be not so clear for some people. For them perhaps (paraphrasing the claim that Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza was "a son of a bitch, but our son of a bitch") the Venezuelan opposition is made up of "our" racists, "our" lynchers, and "our" neo-Klansmen. For them perhaps, these racist-lynchers-neoKlansmen are just doing what needs to be done to bring democracy to Venezuela. 

I don’t see it that way, of course. Perhaps it is somewhat easier for me, since I live in Venezuela. Who would want to have such people running the show where you try to make a home? 

Years ago, in an effort to combat the double standard and bad faith by which people ignore the impact of events in a distant place, contemporary artist Martha Rosler made montages that put the US’s Vietnam War atrocities right in people’s living rooms. Proper housewives and even stuffy First Ladies stand by while children are shown burned by napalm and mangled by bombings. 

(One of Martha Rosler's montages)

Rosler's method was perhaps naïve, but it still serves to get the point across. No one in any country should endorse a group that employs such terror. Yet this point should be especially clear for those in a country that has its own well documented memories of strange fruit – memories that are continually revived through vivid echoes in the present. 

Many who favor the opposition will cite President Nicolás Maduro’s unpopularity and allege his incompetence. Yet this, too, is to employ a silly double standard and strong dose of bad faith. Supposing Maduro and his government were unpopular and incompetent, how, then, would they differ from any number of governments that nobody ever thinks of bringing down through lynchings and burnings? 

They will also say: But Venezuelans don’t have access to the medicine and food they need. This is true but sadly also applies to the people of Haiti, Yemen, Chad and even many parts of the United States. Yet the real question is: What makes one think that the lynchers, racists and their apologists are going to bring food and medicine to the people of Venezuela? 

Venezuela has real problems, no doubt. It has been hit by a severe economic crisis. Its government is not socialist, so it cannot distribute resources evenly through central planning, meaning that rich people are the only ones who live completely at ease. 

Generally, the government has tried to muddle its way through the crisis, getting funds through deals with international corporations and distributing large numbers of food bags. This is not a very pretty picture, but it is actually considerably better than the practices of most governments worldwide. 

Most important, the Venezuelan government is not white supremacist, it does not employ terror tactics, and it does not lynch people. That is where the real red line is, which nobody should cross. We should also not let the media, the US government, or any important international institution cross it. And we should criticize the hell out of them when they do.