October 17, 2007


(photo by Jesse Spector of NYC brownstone housing Venezuelan consulate)

A recent interview with Venezuela’s ambassador I did for New America Media.

U.S. Latinos Very Important to Latin America: Venezuelan Ambassador

New America Media, Q&A, Roberto Lovato, Posted: Oct 16, 2007

The National Latino Congreso draws Latino leaders from across the United States to discuss policy and electoral strategy. But the presence of representatives of Latin American governments alongside the U.S.-based Latino groups and community based organizations at the meeting raises intriguing questions about Latino and Latin American identity. NAM Contributing Editor Roberto Lovato spoke with Venezuelan Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez Herrera at the National Latino Congreso in Los Angeles.

What draws you, a representative of the Venezuelan government, to a meeting of U.S. Latinos?

It’s very natural. There are longstanding and deep cultural, economic and political ties between Latinos in the United States and Latin America. We support the agenda in Latin America and we support the Latino agenda in the United States.

Do you feel or are you treated as someone foreign to this kind of meeting?

Even three years ago, it was strange to see people coming from South America at these kinds of meetings (i.e. Latino Congreso). Now, we’re seen as a close reality, as not so distant. There are commonalities and there is even a common agenda developing. It’s very exciting.

Where do you see these commonalities?

I look at the facial expressions here and I see meetings I’ve been to in America Latina (Latin America). I listen to the issues they discuss and they are the same issues: housing, employment, the environment, women’s issues, community development and others.

How do you respond to those who say that, through your work with Latinos and other groups in the United States, you are helping create a fifth column subverting the “American Way”?

In order to understand these kinds of statements and what’s happening today, you need to understand the Cold War. It’s like a 50-year-old man who can no longer read well, one who doesn’t want to accept that he needs glasses. This (U.S.) Cold War vision is blurred and negative and has been an abject failure. It looks for terrorists and finds them wherever it looks.

And where do you see this playing out here in the United States today?

Immigrants in the United States are being looked at as terrorists. First they (the government) began criminalizing them. Now, immigrants are viewed through the lens of “National Security” because the primary threat in the world is now defined as international terrorism. There seem to be good and bad terrorists. It seems that some use the words “terrorism” and “terrorist” when it suits their interest.

Any specific examples?

Take the case of (Cuban-born Venezuelan) Luis Posada Carriles. He planted a bomb on a civilian (Cuban) airplane and killed more than 70 people. That is a clear act of terrorism, but the (U.S.) Department of Justice and the Bush administration refuse to extradite him as we have requested. Meanwhile, we are watching how national security is increasingly being used to deal with domestic, internal issues like immigration. As in the Cold War, national security is used with foreign countries and with people inside the country.

Do you think U.S. Latinos will form part of the integration processes taking shape in Latin America?

The Washington Consensus (U.S. trade and economic policy in Latin America in the 80’s and 90’s) was a failure. We’re developing a new vision of integration. The first priority is to take care of the needs of our people. Then, the priority is integration with our neighbors. And then integration of the cultural base. In the case of the United States, we’re not just talking about Latinos, but African American and other communities as well. For example, we produce energy and we cooperate with families in Venezuela and other countries with different programs. We also cooperate with low-income families in the United States through our heating oil program.

Do Latinos in the United States fit into this integration and, if so, how?

Latinos in the United States are very important to Latin America. They send billions of dollars in remittances to almost every country. Latinos in the United States need to pay close attention to economic policies. Right now, the United States is promoting neo-liberal trade through Free Trade Area of the Americas (ALCA in the Spanish initials). We have joined Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, Haiti and Nicaragua to start a different mechanism, the Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America and the Caribbean (ALBA in the Spanish initials). U.S. Latinos should follow what the United States government is proposing through ALCA and what we are proposing with ALBA.

What’s the difference and why should U.S. Latinos care?

It’s just being decided by a small cabal, but seeks consensus between governments and between social organizations and people. Because of their history in this country, Latinos in the United States will easily understand why the main difference between the proposals is that ALBA is not just about the integration of markets. It is also about the integration of people.

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