Friday, December 25, 2009

Hugo Chavez's Cynical Use of Native Americans

Background: I was reading up on the Warao, who live in northeastern Venezuela and are probably best-known outside that country for having a language with a rare word-order (object-subject-verb; that is, "Pizza I eat.") Recently they've made news for more unfortunate reasons, as people are dying from a virulent rabies-like disease.

The point of this background is that, for once, I was actually not reading up on Venezuela to find the most recent outrage or incompetence committed by Hugo Chavez. But all roads lead to Rome. A group from UC Berkeley visited the Warao home territory in the Orinoco Delta, and when they came back to the capital to inform Chavez's medical officials that there was an outbreak, they were largely ignored. It turns out that Chavez's government considers Indians to be subhumans not worth treating medically:

"We traveled by bus 16 hours to Caracas to make the authorities aware of the situation with the hope of getting some response," said Norvelis Gómez, a Warao paramedic who was one of four community leaders in the group. "And we are met with disrespect on every level, as if the deaths of indigenous people are not even worth noting."

Here we have another example of how unquestionable state-power attitudes inevitably translate into categorizing some individuals as less worthy than others. The reasons are never stated openly (because to decent people, they couldn't be) but they're always the same - because the people are the wrong color, the wrong religion, or the wrong social class. A powerful state with no accountability lets these base animal instincts that all humans share run wild. And running wild they are in Chavez and his medical ministers.

It's worth noting that Chavez has not exactly acted as the modern-day uniting Bolivar, since he's been caught twice by international organizations supplying weapons to rebel groups in a neighboring country. And it's further worth noting that an administration ingoring plagues spreading within its borders is anything but "populist".

What's interesting is that the Berkeley researchers take great pains to soften their criticism (not wanting to "smear" Chavez's government?); I hope this is for purely pragmatic reasons, that they want to come back to work more with Warao and keep Chavez from punishing them, as opposed to Berkeley people feeling a need to justify leftist oppression. Notice that indigenous people in the U.S. and Venezuela are now seeing through Chavez's use of them as political tools.

Next time you see a progressive reserving criticism of Chavez because he was so brave to blow hot air about Bush at the U.N., it's worth mentioning that he is one of the only national leaders who supported China in their smashing of Tibetan dissidents, and that he has no time for indigenous people unless the state's cameras are rolling.

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