Archive for December 11th, 2008

Round Table discussion at the White House on Human Rights Day

December 11, 2008

Today I participated in an event with the President of the
United States who invited eight bloggers from different countries to tell him
how we use blogging and Internet technologies to tell the world our message of
what is happening in our respective countries where Human Rights are constantly
being violated. While Human Rights is not the sole subject of my blog, someone
thought my discussion of such topics in my blog made me an appropriate
representative of the Venezuelan blogosphere on Human Rights Day, which celebrated today on 60th.
Anniversary of the of the UNís Declaration of Human Rights.

I accepted this invitation immediately, because I began this
blog six and a half years abroad in the belief I had an important story to tell, which I believed would be
much shorter in time, and I was willing to tell it to to anyone that wanted to listen to me. Never did I believe
that so many people wanted to listen and least of all, that I would be heard,
or as you will see below, attempted to be heard, at such heights of power in the

The other people invited simply humbled me, not only because
they devote most of their time to human right activities, but also because some
of them have faced dangers and threats, including prison and exile, which are
far from the experience I have lived here so far.

Each of them told a different story;
all dissimilar, of how they have fought for what they believed in and how they
used technology to convey their message.

There was Qiang Xiao from China, a
name I have known for too long, for reasons beyond the scope of this post and
who blogs at Rock n Go. Xiao has not been to
his country in a long time and has been at this longer than the word blog even
existed. There was Alexander Klaskovskiy and Olga Kozulina from Belarus,
the first a journalist, the second the daughter of Alexander Kozulin who has
been both a candidate and a prisoner in that country and I must apologize
because I have not followed Belarus as close as I could have if days had 26 or
30 hours.

There was, of course, Val Prieto, who runs Babalu blog, from Miami, we are that strange category of virtual friends, never met, but somehow have this cosmic affinity that can never be explained.Val covers
every breadth of Cuban life, with emphasis on human rights. You want to learn
about Cuba and human rights, please read and talk to Val.

There was Maung Maung Win from Burma and who
is in exile in San Francisco where he spends his time coordinating information
in and out of Burma.  Finally there
was Arash Sigarchi, an Iranian blogger, jailed and now in exile and a winner of
the Human Rights Watch Hellman/ Hammett Award in 2007. And there was Mahmoud Saber from Egypt, who nlogs from that country promoting democracy and freedom in Egypt as well as the Middle East.

And then there was me, certainly not in the category of
those above, but with a story to tell. Six and a half years of reporting the
abuses and violations of the Constitution by Hugo Chavez and his cronies from within
and in English. I have felt cowardly intimidated but never threatened, certainly not
like those above.But maybe I am in the end an optimist, which is why I blog.

The meeting was quite informal. I must confess that when I
saw the President of the United States come out I got nervous and was certainly hoping I
would not be first. Now I wish I had. The meeting was truly private, only one person was allowed
in the room with me. The President of the US was quite informal and asking
questions as each person told his/her story. The questions went from how to they used blogs and technology to promote human rights, to specifc issues about each country. The informality made the jitters disappeared, as I
was about to tell my storyÖ

And then technology, the same stuff we were there to talk
about, played a trick on us, as President Bush asked where I was (in Spanish)
and I tried to answer, there was no sound. Nothing, zippo, niente, total

So, I guess from their side they saw me making gestures that
we were checking things out, as the President kept calling my name and trying to
make things work.

But it was not to be, I was last and the problem was never
traced and I did not get to tell my story. 

Even with the sound problem I was by then fairly relaxed and
my story would have been something like this:

I began blogging six years ago, intrigued by this simple
technology that my brother, who had a blog, introduced me to. Blogging was
relatively new then, my blog was the third blog of any kind in Venezuela and I felt
starting a blog in English to relate what was going on in Venezuela both
politically and economically was appropriate. I had planned to talk mostly
about how President Hugo Chavez was walking a very fine line to abuse the
Venezuelan Constitution and violate the rights of the almost half of the
country that did not agree with him. Democracy is not electing someone every so
often. Democracy for a Government should be  a way of life and Governmentís have a
higher responsibility towards human and democratic rights.

I chose a name that I knew would somehow shock readers from
abroad, but it was a good selection and the name itself intrigues those that
come to visit my blog.It is also a tribute to Juan Pablo Perez Alfonso a Venezuelan visionary, who somehow I feel I have partly stolen a copyrighted name from.

I had originally planned to talk about many other things,
but soon events took over my blog and in some sense my own life. Little did I know
that I was getting a night job when I began to write here.

I also was intrigued by the power of the Internet and its links. What I say daily is more than my opinion, I can link to sources like the Constitution, a document I opposed, but accept as the law of the land as long as it is valid. But Hugo Chavez., who promoted it, does not. Or I can link to news stories, sources, opinions. It is not only me writing, it is me communicationg, integrating and distributing.

Within three months after I started my blog, there was a
general strike in Venezuela, which increased attention to my blog. But it was
the use of images that really made readership go up to the point that I begin
to feel I had a responsibility to my readers. Readers from abroad began
understanding the Venezuelan story when they saw that the peaceful demonstrations
were composed of young and old, maklee as well as females, who cheerfully went out to
march and demand for and their rights.And women, with no more weapons than the country’s flag, were repressed violently by heavily armed National Guardsmen and cops.

And as we were met with violence, we soon became accustomed
to our rights being violated.

Since then, I have reported on too many issues, from the
deaths of people, to their illegal jailing, to the illegal firing of 20,000 oil
company workers, to the creation of a fascist (The Tascon/Chavez list) and discriminatory list containing
the IDís, names and addresses of 3.4 million Venezuelans who signed a
petition to recall President Hugo Chavez. Media outlets have been shutdown and
others threatened repeteadly and I myself have felt the threats, which I optimistically
interpreted as more as cowardly attempts to intimidate me.

On the way, I was joined by Daniel, Alek Boyd and Quico with a very similar message, none of which I knew
at the beginning, and who together and with no other tools than our personal
time and effort, managed to provide a good counterweight to the money thrown around by
the Chavez Government on worldwide lobbying for promoting the image of Hugo
Chavez and his fake revolution.

And it is a battle that I believe we helped win in the Court
of international opinion. Most of the world knows and understands what Hugo
Chavez stands for by now, and it is not human rights, democracy and/or the poor.

It is all about Hugo Chavez and how to keep him in  power.

And as we celebrate this day, little has changed internally
in Venezuela and, as I said in the first few months of my blog and would have
said today if I had had the chance to, nobody is going to come from the
outside and solve our problems. We have to do it ourselves.

And as Chavez ignores the results of the 2007 referendum,
proving once again he does not believe in democracy his comradesí block
democratically elected Governors and Mayors from taking office these days, removing hospitals and responsibilities from their jurisdictions and our the fight

And rather than worrying about the poor, or the upcoming
fiscal crisis or the fact that he has spent an amount (US$850 billion) larger
than the US bailout plan (US$ 700 billion) with little real effect on the
countryís citizens and their well being, Hugo Chavez continues to pursue his autocratic agenda. It
is all about HIM, it is all about pushing a doubly illegal Constitutional
amendment to allow him to stay in power forever.

But forever is too long a time.

And we plan to be there fighting it and telling the world
about it!