By Yanis Iqbal
On 6 August, 2020, Juan Guaidó, the US-backed puppet attempting to destabilize the legitimate administration of President Nicolas Maduro, announced the opening of a “virtual embassy” in Jerusalem. This action is one of the first measures initiated by the anti-Chavista opposition to restore diplomatic ties with Israel, severed by former President Hugo Chavez a decade ago. Guaidó is a pro-Israel ideologue who had told the mass-circulation Israel Hayom daily in 2019, “I am very happy to report that the process of stabilising relations with Israel is at its height,”.
Palestine and the Bolivarian Revolution
The current process of rapprochement is in direct opposition to the anti-Israel and anti-imperialist foreign policy established by Chavez when he came to power and initiated the Bolivarian Revolution. The Bolivarian Revolution occupies a distinct space in the Palestinian struggle and in the words of Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Maliki, “Since the arrival of the Bolivarian Revolution in 1999, Venezuela has become a voice for historically marginalized peoples, reclaimed social struggles and raised the banners of justice, including for those in Palestine,”.
In 2006, Chavez condemned Israel’s war against Lebanon, leading him to recall his ambassador to Israel and expel the Israeli ambassador. On August 8, 2006, Chavez stated: “Probably we will sever diplomatic relations [with Israel]. I have no interest in maintaining diplomatic relations, nor offices, nor commerce, nor anything with a state such as Israel, that commits such madness against Palestinians and Lebanese…We feel indignation to see how the State of Israel continues crushing, bombarding, assassinating, dismembering so many innocent people using ‘gringo’ aircraft and using its high military power with the support of the U.S.”
On April 27, 2009, Venezuela recognized Palestinian statehood and began formal diplomatic relations. In a letter written to the United Nations in support of the recognition of the Palestinian state, Chavez stated: “I address these words to the United Nations General Assembly…to ratify, on this day and in this setting, Venezuela’s full support of the recognition of the Palestinian State: of Palestine’s right to become a free, sovereign and independent state. This represents an act of historic justice towards a people who carry with them, from time immemorial, all the pain and suffering of the world.” The liberatory rhetoric used by Chavez has been labeled by many as “anti-Semitism” in order to stop the emergence of a pro-Palestinian support base within Latin America. Outlining the contours of “anti-Semitism”, Chavez had said: “It is one thing to denounce anti-Semitism, and an entirely different thing to passively accept that Zionistic barbarism enforces an apartheid regime against the Palestinian people.” Building on this crucial distinction, he continued to orient his administration in the direction of anti-Zionism. Speaking on the “Venezuelan Television” – a state run television station based in Caracas – Chavez had forcefully asserted, “I take this opportunity to condemn from the bottom of my soul, from the bottom of my guts: Dam you State of Israel! Damn you! Terrorists and Assassins! Long live the Palestinian people! Heroic people! Good people!” Similarly, Venezuelan representative Marco Palavicini had declared at the UN in 2007 that Israel’s excesses have “led to a new holocaust against the Palestinian people,”.
With the formation of close relations with Palestine, the socialist administration of Chavez began offering assistance to the Palestinian Authority (PA) through myriad methods: it allowed Palestinians to enter Venezuela without visa; developed links between Telesur (a Latin American television network primarily funded by the government of Venezuela) and Palestinian broadcasting; and started a student exchange scheme called the “Yasser Arafat Scholarship Program” which provides educational opportunities for 20 new students from the occupied territories and refugee communities in Lebanon and Jordan each year to study at the Chavez-associated ‘misione’ (mission) universities in Venezuela. The ideological interlinking of Yasser Arafat with educational initiatives is an indication of the emancipatory and cultural relations crafted between Venezuela and Palestine. In addition to the scholarship program, a public square in the capital of Venezuela has been named after Yasser Arafat; in 2019, the Embassy of the State of Palestine in Venezuela marked the 71st anniversary of the Nakba by erecting a statue of former PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) Chairman and PA President Martyr Yasser Arafat in Liberator Simon Bolivar Monument Square. All these aesthetic-ideological interconnections exceed the limits of Arafat’s personality and in Palestine it is not hard to find posters of Hugo Chavez smiling alongside the towering images of Hassan Nasrallah and Gamal Nasser. Furthermore, in a famous mural painting called “Freedom Fighters”, located near the city of Dora, in the southern part of the West Bank region and created by a Palestinian visual artist Youssef Kattlo, the face of Hugo Chavez features along with Yasser Arafat, Che Guevara, Fidel Castro and Houari Boumédiene.
Chavez’s pro-Palestinian policies have been continued by his successor Nicolas Maduro who assumed presidency in 2013. In July 2014, during the Israeli army’s “Operation Protective Edge” attacks on the Gaza Strip, Maduro launched an “SOS Palestine” campaign to demand an end to Israel’s bombardment. “The Palestinian people have the right to live in their ancestral lands in peace…our international position over the issue of Palestine is just and follows the policy of comandante Hugo Chavez”, said Nicolas Maduro while launching the campaign. In addition to this campaign, the government of Venezuela also sent 50 tons of humanitarian aid to Palestine and donated funds for Palestinian child refugees.
Maduro has continued to economically assist Palestine through various joint endeavors and diplomatic initiatives. In 2014, Venezuela created a new corporation, Petro-Palestina, through which Venezuelan state oil company Petroleum of Venezuela (PDVSA) will send subsidized oil to Palestine. In 2018, Venezuela and Palestine set up a bi-national bank to fund technological and industrial initiatives. A year after, both the countries signed a production agreement involving a Palestinian company and 154 small diamond production alliances, operating in the area of the Orinoco River. On top of providing economic assistance, Maduro has also lent symbolic support to the Palestinian liberation movement. On August 24, 2020, Maduro commemorated late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on his 91st birth anniversary and said: “In Venezuela, we are celebrating the 91st anniversary of the birth of our friend, Yasser Arafat. Eternal leader who left us a legacy of firmness and dignity for the cause of freedom and peace. Today, we continue with his people raising our voices for a free and independent Palestine!” While extending fraternal greetings to the People and Government of the State of Palestine on the occasion of the 72nd anniversary of the Al Nakba in 2020, Maduro’s government released a statement explicitly expressing its stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “Venezuela once again manifests its firm support to the noble Palestinian Cause, condemns and strongly rejects the illegal annexation operations announced by the new Israeli coalition government to establish new Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the Jordan Valley, intending to implement the illegal Century Agreement promoted by the imperialism of the United States of America.”
As a result of the open advocacy of Palestinian liberation, Maduro’s government has been supported by Palestinians in its fight against US imperialism. In January 2019, many Palestinians demonstrated in the Gaza Strip to show solidarity with the Maduro government. Demonstrators chanted pro-Maduro slogans, such as, “Greetings from the revolutionaries … to the symbol of freedom”. In those days of agitation, Nisreen Abu Amra, a member of Gaza’s Central Committee for the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), said, “There is a similarity between the Palestinian people and the Venezuelan people,”. Expressing the sentiments of Global South solidarity, she further added: “We are in the same trench, facing a reactionary, imperialist conspiracy led by the United States of America and Israel.” In a similarly clear-cut manner, PLO Executive Committee member Ahmad Majdalani criticized the destabilization strategy followed by USA in Venezuela, saying: “The barefaced American intervention in the affairs of countries, as is happening in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, is an extension of the Trump administration’s policy of denying the will of peoples,”.
Reciprocal support for Venezuela’s anti-imperialist struggle has also come directly from PA, headed by Mahmoud Abbas. On 28 February, 2019, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sent a team of 16 doctors to Venezuela on a month-long mission to perform free surgeries. The medical team includes physicians specializing in general surgery, vascular surgery, orthopedic surgery, pediatrics, and gynecology and obstetrics, in addition to anesthesia and recovery specialists and is planned to carry out six specialized surgeries per day. Referring to Maduro’s pro-Palestinian stance, Osama al-Najjar, a spokesman for the PA Ministry of Health in Ramallah, said: “The medical delegation’s mission comes as a message of loyalty to the Venezuelan people, and the leaders who stand with the Palestinian people,”.
In 2009, Chavez had noted that no one from the Venezuelan opposition had expressed outrage over the Gaza Massacre. According to Chavez, the lack of statements from the opposition meant, “The owners of Israel, in other words, the Empire, are the owners of the opposition.” The current opposition, too, is owned by the American Empire and is willing to comply with Zionist ideology. If this Venezuelan opposition comes to power with the help of American imperialists, the current pro-Israel and rightward shift in the political dynamics of Latin America will get further consolidated. The governments of Guatemala and Paraguay had announced in 2018 that they would follow in the footsteps of Washington and moved their embassies in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Shortly afterward, Honduras announced that it was considering a similar move, as did Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on the eve of his 2019 inauguration. Now, to cement that Zionist shift, Venezuela – a country which has been considered by PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki as “Palestine’s most important ally” – is being subverted by the US and their lackeys. It is increasingly important that we resist this imperialist onslaught and save Venezuela from becoming another ideological outpost for the decimation of Palestinians.
This article was also published at ZNet.