Battle for the Nation (2)

Dear Male Democratic Candidates for President:

To the pulse of Mr Trump’s mantra, Make America Great Again, our internal divisions continue to deepen and by now it is evident that the president has no desire – or capacity – to mend our rifts.

Mr Trump’s behavior toward women and his inability to apologize means that a deep wound has been inflicted on the American woman’s psyche. That the electorate overlooked such behavior and still voted for him reflects a profound disregard for women’s contributions to the nation.

But women are responding. They have become more and more vocal and are running for office in greater numbers than ever before.

Since inception women have fought to have parity with men. They have had to fight hard for their right to get an education, the right to vote, to have an abortion, the right to equal pay.  The struggle goes on. And yet there remain many women today who, having internalized the contempt in which some men have held them over the years, continue to undervalue themselves.

The vote that some women gave to Mr Trump in 2016 epitomizes the denial of such contempt.

How else could these women make light of this man’s open mistreatment of their sisters, mothers and daughters?

Without a doubt, and in response to wave after wave of feminist movements, men have made strides to counter their propensity to see women as sexual objects. Today such attitude still persists, but as we interact and discover that they are human beings in the female condition – to borrow Simone de Beauvoir’s phrase – we discover that we are them and they are us.

Even as our capacity to identify with the plight of our sisters, mothers and daughters continues to grow, the fact is that no one can speak for them as well as they themselves.

The wounding of the American woman’s psyche has had such enormous repercussions that I hold that the divisions that now beset the nation exist, in large part, because we have not allowed women all the freedoms they are entitled to as fellow human beings.

Had the nation long ago heeded their voices, had the nation allowed them to be present at the table in full body and mind, our country’s decisions, in matters at home and abroad, would most certainly have been wiser.

As I write, a predominantly white and male cabinet is backing the Trump administration’s increasingly war like stance against Iran. A predominantly white and male cabinet stands passively while the president rattles the financial markets with ill conceived tariffs that threaten the health of the world’s economy.

The lack of women’s full participation in the affairs of the nation represents the most significant block in the effort to fully integrate America and release the powers that lie within.

There are no signs today of any national healing underway. Instead, instances of our mistreating ourselves remain part of the daily news. Again and again, the headlines are filled with yet another episode of cruelty, of Americans killing Americans, of Americans hating Americans. These acts are overwhelmingly committed by men, toxic men, poorly integrated men who are symptoms of the power imbalance in our midst.

With our collective despair growing I ask, where is the leader that can halt this mindless tearing apart of our spirit? I ask, where is the leader that can take command and speak to us as a nation and say ‘Stop! Please! Let us find a way to be kinder to each other, for there has to be such a way and I assure you that it is within us to find it.”

Alas, in this hour of protracted national grief, when the need is great, we cannot look to the White House for guidance because the House is empty. Oh, yes, there is someone living there, eating there, tweeting there. But there is no one there to which the collective nation can turn and ask, “Where have we gone wrong?” and expect an answer.  There is no one there who can hear us. There is no one there with the emotional capacity to grasp the depth of the deepening national anguish.

America needs now such a person. Someone who can bring us together, someone who can remind us that our powers lie in our connecting to each other and to ourselves, not in pulling away. There is no task as important.

I contend that, at this critical juncture, a qualified woman candidate would have the political and spiritual reach to bring forth the parts of America that have not felt included and thus profoundly enrich the national debate.

And so I propose, that to make that more likely, all male democratic candidates bow out of the race.

Having as we do, among the current candidates, highly qualified, battle tested women who have achieved their political stature on their own, let them vie for the nomination free of male interference. They do not need to be retested against male democratic rivals. They have had to do so, time and again, to reach and maintain their current positions.

This next election is unique. It offers the opportunity to bring to center stage the grave matter lying at the heart of our national divisions: the imbalance of power between men and women.

It would pit Mr Trump, the embodiment of male privilege, against a strong woman candidate who came into her powers on her own.

Withdrawing from the quest for the nomination for this one election, male democratic candidates would make it easier for the electorate at large to clearly see what these strong women candidates have to offer. It would spare much needed resources for the final battle.

It is a concession that you would be making but also a gift to the nation. A gift to your daughters, to your wives and to your mothers.

For this one election, and in the interest of the future unity and healing that it portends, I ask that you consider deferring your presidential ambitions and instead throwing your support behind the woman candidate of your choice.

I have no doubt that, in doing so, one of you would be chosen as vice presidential candidate, making good on that old saying, that behind every good woman stands a good man.

The nation is counting on you.

Oscar Valdes

Open Letter to Kim Jong Un

Dear Kim:

With your people facing greater scarcities at home and you not being able to provide, it follows that you are getting anxious again. Will North Koreans see you as a failure? Will the growing unease spark a revolt?

Knowing that the mounting distress could turn explosive, you have gone back to doing what you do best – making noises with your rockets.

It doesn’t help, of course, that you’ve painted yourself into a corner and antagonized the international community, although you’re still able to reach out to other iron fisted rulers (Putin and Xi Jinping) and beg for assistance.

But since the pattern keeps repeating itself, I think the US and the international community have to get more imaginative in addressing the problem.

The fundamentals are clear: you will not give up your nuclear weapons and you will not surrender your leadership. But it may be possible that, with a little effort, you might be willing to embrace the state capitalism that has worked so well to lift up China.

Here’s how I think the US and the international community could take a fresh approach. They could say to you, “Kim, let’s accept the facts, you are a nuclear power. Your cunning and persistence have outwitted every American administration and all the sanctions they have set up and you are now an undisputed nuclear power. We give you that. You are nuclear, baby. You did it.”

But that is not going to feed your people and you and I know North Koreans deserve a great deal more.

So here’s a deal for you. The US lifts all sanctions and we start doing business.  How would that work?

In exchange for the lifting of the sanctions, you would grant American businesses the exclusive right to set up ventures in North Korea for a period of 10 years. This may include technology transfers with appropriate payment for patents. This will stir up the spirit of entrepreneurship in your people and be good for both countries and for the world.

Look, as a capitalist nation, we know how to make money, and we can help you learn how to do it, too.

Should this idea take hold, very soon North Koreans would be raising their standards of living, and if you keep a good system of surveillance in place – the technology is amazing – like the Chinese do, you will be able to stay comfortably in power.

Only 10 years, Kim. After that your land would be open for you to do business with whomever you would like.

During those 10 years we would invite you over to the White House and to Mar-a-Lago (while Trump is president) so you can get to meet all kinds of interesting men and women.

We’re all grownups here, so you should know that our intentions are clear. We, in America, would like for you to become more like us. And make money as you go. You don’t have to give up being communist, but you would be a money making, high living communist, like Vladimir and Xi (Trump could even get you started in the hotel business, building towers and the like. Imagine yourself building a ‘Kim Tower ‘ in Moscow?)

This idea may not be easy to sell but it’s worth a try. Trump may be initially resistant because he’s surrounded by some people who still believe that America can change another nation’s way of governing themselves. But those ideas are fast going out of fashion.

To make it easier for Trump to consider this lifting of all sanctions, you could tell him, “Look Donald, during those 10 years during which America would have exclusive rights to doing business with us, I promise that I will not sell my nuclear weapons to other nations. I won’t because there will be no need for it. My people will be properly clothed and fed, well educated and happy, and I will enjoy international recognition.”

Mind you, Trump may be reluctant to accept this promise – because you have made so many and broken them all – but the thought of lifting all sanctions is so radical that he just might go for it. Remember, he prides himself on being different.

One more thought. We know that you would like a unified Korea. I think that may be possible, down the line, and having a strong economy with a rising GDP will be a great incentive to persuade your brothers and sisters in South Korea. But for the foreseeable future, America should keep South Korea well armed with nuclear weapons, in keeping with the concept of MAD (mutually assured destruction).

How’s your golf game? We can help you with that too. We’ll be glad to send Tiger Woods over to teach you some moves. He’s the best.

Oh, before I forget, I think your sister should be given more authority. Equality for women is just good for business. We haven’t yet elected a woman president but it may happen soon.

Here’s my very best to the North Korean people.

Oscar Valdes

PS: I know that Trump has spoken in favor of tolerating torture but, for most Americans, that’s not a cool idea. So, please, don’t torture your enemies.

Battle for the Nation (1)

Recent talk has it that Mr Trump has got his reelection well in hand, his supporters contending that the economy is strong (by other accounts it is slowing), and with unemployment low what else is there to care about?

Behind this hubris is the implicit – and sad – belief that “money is what it’s all about, so carry on, please,” and to mind comes the often quoted line “Money, money, money, makes the world go round,” which was part of a song in the film “Cabaret” (1980), a story of Germany’s descent into Fascism. 

Mr Trump is, undoubtedly, a savvy politician, able to persuade a lot of folks that what he offers and represents is what the country needs. He is very lucky too. He inherited a sound economy, an economy that took a lot of effort and patience on the part of the Obama administration to bolster, so we could pull out of what could have been a catastrophe (the credit crunch of 2007-2008).

The economy that Mr Obama bequeathed to Mr Trump was in such good shape, that it has managed to withstand the latter’s efforts to wreck it, as with his vaunted trade war with China, the renegotiating of NAFTA 2 (the trade agreement with Canada and Mexico) and his continued assault on the Affordable Care Act.

All of what Mr Trump has done so far is to make a lot of noise – loud noise – to keep people and himself from paying attention to what really matters, which is not his deification but the designing and creation of social, training and educational programs necessary to boost the productivity of the American worker so they can compete effectively in today’s demanding world.

Not knowing how to go about it – without risking a hint of disapproval from his supporters – he prefers to bang his drum louder and louder instead.

Mr Trump’s strategy is not difficult to decipher, but it will take much discipline on the part of democrats to mount an effective campaign against him.

To think that America is all about the money is for Mr Trump to profoundly underestimate us.

To ignore the great need to build bridges between us is for the president to bury his head in the sand.

Building bridges is no easy task but it is the grand task now before the nation.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s (FDR) intellect and vision led us out of the Great Depression, and then we went on to lead the effort to win World War II, ushering in a long period of economic and cultural expansion. 

Today we are in the midst of another great depression, not economic but of values – a depression of the spirit – as evidenced by our deep national divisions and the inability to overcome them. When WWII brought us together, we could point to someone outside of us and brand them the enemy. Today, however, the obstacle in our path lies not without but within, and it is none other than the intolerance we have for the dissenting view, the unwillingness to pause and reflect on our differences and to dare start a dialogue.

Tolerance does not mean approval of an opposing view, but instead signals the need to examine its roots. In a nation like ours, where plurality is a strength, such tolerance is essential.

Extremist views cannot be excised, as you would a tumor, but they can, with great patience and understanding, begin to be dissolved. It can be done by meeting and talking, confident as we should be that all extreme positions, whether on the right or the left, are fortresses of fear.  

An effective campaign against Mr Trump must offer a clear alternative, and a key part of it ought to be an invitation to establish such dialogue in the hope of finding common ground.

Why, then, not abstain from calling people racists, and instead express our disapproval by saying that such view is unkind? Isn’t that choice of words less likely to ruffle anyone’s feathers? If I behave in a prejudiced way, I would much prefer for you to say to me that I’m being unkind rather than labelling me one thing or another. Labels stir up anger and close doors. Even truly racist people are not without kindness. Using words that lead to reflection open the path to possible change. Since we are now at a damaging standstill, couldn’t that be one alternative to try?

With the world in a period of transition fostered by massive technological change, the call is out for exemplary men or women with the ability to heal and lead.  Mr Trump is lacking on both counts. An opposing democratic candidate must have such credentials to counter him effectively.

We are not about the money alone and never have been. We are about the struggle for our freedom. Tolerance of the dissenting view does not mean we approve of it. Instead it must be seen as an invitation to seek clarity in the quest for truth. Our privileged geography and the bounty of resources that nature bestowed upon us, have put us on a favorable position for such endeavor, so let us not be timid in this crucial pursuit. We Americans are much better than what Mr Trump wants us to be.

As FDR once said, “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.”

Oscar Valdes             Oscarvaldes.net

Trump and White Supremacy

By Oscar Valdes 4/26/19

One of the issues at the core of Mr Trump’s turbulent presidency has been and remains his unwillingness to take the lead in confronting the resurgence of white supremacy in our nation. His inability to do so defines him as a man who is not integrated, a person that although intelligent and energetic, appears unable to confront his fears. Therein lies the great paradox of his presidency, that the leader of the free world is not a free man himself.

Free men will have prejudices – it comes with being human – but truly free men are willing to question themselves and struggle to resolve such prejudices. More than two years into his presidency we have yet to see evidence that Mr Trump has such ability.

Racism is a false belief, born out of a desire to prematurely close the inquiry into what makes each of us human. At the root of such desire is fear – fear of knowing the other – and when such fear is unexamined it leads to their devaluing and opens the door to their mistreatment.

Members of the white race have done wonderful things for humanity. Their accomplishments have been there to be enjoyed by all. The great men and women of science, industry and the arts, who happened to be white, never did think that what they had accomplished had anything to do with the color of their skin. Rather, they were well aware that their contribution to their fellow human beings rested solidly on the capacity to conceive and imagine the fullness of ideas, and then to muster the tenacity to carry them out.

Members of the white race have also done horrible things to humanity; the Holocaust, the torture and enslavement of Black Americans, the cruelty to Native Americans. And yet, through it all, the majority of the white race strives on, willing to examine themselves, determined to reach the higher ground that comes from greater self knowledge.

But where is Mr Trump? Where is the leader of the Free World? Where is the leader of the evolving consciousness that lies at the heart of what means to be free?

The great performer, the entertainer, the great seeker of attention, is sadly silent on the issue.

Not willing to confront his own fears he is thus unwilling to take on white supremacists, and so ends up encouraging them.

Mr Trump seems to believe that sitting in the White House absolves him of his flaws. Alas, it has  magnified them. What his followers fail to see, so far – for eventually they will – is that our president is a distraction leading us away from the path to greater achievement, which comes from our full development as human beings and is only possible when we accept our flaws as a necessary first step to understanding them.  

The hatred of others is incompatible with the path to self realization. And it is so because ‘the other’ lies within us – deep in our breast – ingrained in our soul, ceaselessly yearning to be embraced. Each one of us is all of humanity, containing at least a sample of nature’s plenitude, at least a grain of the misshapen, the ugly, the restricted, the divine, the beautiful and the gifted. And so with colors, for whiteness, a beautiful color indeed as all colors are, is but a variety in the garden of nature and not a reflection of supremacy.

To hate the other is to hate ourselves. The self aware struggles with such hate, day in and day out, for it is the price of calling ourselves free.

Mr Trump has been unable to grasp this essence and so he is not a free man. He cannot or will not perceive the larger picture. He cannot or will not say to his base, ‘let us join hands and overcome our fears and we shall seek real freedom, the freedom that comes from the quest to find our truth and which will lead us to genuine achievement’.

That more than 2 years into his presidency Mr Trump has been unable to do so, is a grave flaw of character and a blatant shirking of responsibility, the responsibility that comes from being the leader of the most powerful free nation in the world – a country that remains a beacon to the hopes of mankind – and a fountain of ideas to remedy some of the most difficult problems humanity is facing.

America – all included – the white, the black, the brown and the yellow; the blue, the red and shades in between; the fully developed and the developing, the clear headed and the confused, the open hearted and the presently bigoted, all deserve a better president.

Nicolas Maduro’s Mirror

By Oscar Valdes 3/17/19

A Short Short Story.

He awakened early in the morning and the news was that the national blackout was still going. He had hoped that, overnight, by some stroke of good luck, the power would be restored. But things had not been going well lately, so he knew it was too much to ask. Even though he had personally spoken to the head electrical engineers and made it clear that the nation would be forever grateful for their extra effort. Special honors would be coming to them to be awarded in a public ceremony broadcast nationwide. Venezuelans would revere them as national heroes.

He didn’t tell his engineers that he had already called Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping and asked them for emergency technical assistance, just in case. The technicians were in flight. He had thought of calling Diaz Canel, also, the new Cuban president, but he reasoned that the problem at hand would be beyond Cuba’s capabilities. They were mostly good for intelligence, i.e. spying and sowing intrigue to keep everyone in line. But he appreciated what they did, which was well earned since he kept sending oil to Cuba – at cost. Where could they get a deal like that? But they were his socialist brothers and sisters and he had made a promise to Hugo Chavez, as he lay in his deathbed, that no matter what disagreements he and the Cubans would have he would stick to the agreement.

Maduro went into the bathroom and stood in front of the washbasin but closed his eyes.

He didn’t want to look at himself in the mirror. Not this morning. He took a deep breath. He reached for the hot water tap and opened it. Ah. The water was hot. How fortunate he was. And he thought of the poor people, how they didn’t have the powerful generators that he had in his presidential residence. And he felt sad for them. The whole thing was a conspiracy, of course, the Americans sending in special agents to get the grid to malfunction and destabilize the country. Those Americans, always plotting to take over Latin America. And he wondered how they managed to find special agents that not only spoke perfect Spanish but perfect Venezuelan. You could not tell them apart, and yet they were foreign agents. Amazing.

Maduro cupped his hands under the hot stream of water and splashed it on his face. But he didn’t open his eyes just yet.

The country was falling apart. He knew it. His days were counted. He knew that, too.

He thought of putting on a helmet, like Salvador Allende had done in Chile before the presidential palace was bombed to pieces. But he didn’t want to scare the poor people who still believed in him. And, in truth, he still thought there was some hope left for him. Somewhere.

He now opened his eyes and stared at himself.

Why had Chavez chosen him as his successor? There were obviously other people better prepared to handle the responsibility, so why him?

Chavez had been in a hospital bed in Havana, agonizing from the pain he was in, when he had called him in. The fabled comandante had become so paranoid that he didn’t trust Venezuelan doctors, men and women with a tradition of excellence and an outstanding reputation, and so, against his better judgment he had gone to Cuba so he could be treated by Cuban doctors, and be close to Fidel and Raul, his mentors. Chavez had reasoned that their emotional support was critical.

In spite of all the good efforts to rid him of his ailment, things had gone from bad to worse and so, as he lay in his room at the VIP hospital in Havana, the comandante had called for Maduro. Chavez was staying in the same room where Fidel Castro had stayed when he had had his last brush with death.

While in the hospital, other very important people had been called in for secret one on one meetings with Chavez, so Maduro didn’t know exactly why he was being summoned. As he waited he felt apprehensive and his hands had turned sweaty. Maduro had wanted to go in alone but the minute he was called, he had looked at his wife and seen how desperately she wanted to accompany him, for it was such a historic moment and she didn’t want to miss it. So he said okay.

Alone in the room with Chavez, the dying man gestured for Maduro to pull up a chair. The man looked wan and ghostly, like he already had a foot on the other side. Maduro had remained standing. With great effort, and barely a whisper, Chavez again motioned to Maduro, “Sit, Nicolas.”

“It’s okay, comandante, this is a historic moment, so I want to be on my feet,” Maduro had finally replied, his words filled with emotion and the love he had for Chavez. His wife stood right next to him as she held his hand, and both saw how Chavez grimaced from the deep pain he was in.

The efforts from the Cuban surgeons had been in vain. The surgeons had opened and closed him, the rumor went, and nothing had changed inside Chavez’s belly.

Chavez reached over, slowly, and took Maduro’s hand in his. Pausing dramatically, he then looked up at him and said, “Nicolas… I want you to succeed me.”

A tremor shot down from Maduro’s head to his feet. He felt his knees almost buckle under him and he thought how lucky he was that his wife was there to prop him up. Still, he could not manage to reply, even as the comandante kept staring at him and waiting. Maduro knew what the comandante wanted from him, but what he really wanted to say to Chavez was, ‘Me? Me, succeed you? But why? I don’t understand, comandante, just what is it that you see in me?”

And he was about to say those words in that great historic moment when his wife pinched him in the butt and Maduro had blurted out, “Si!”.

Oh how that pinch in the butt had changed history.

The day before that fateful moment, with Chavez lying in his bed and nearly delirious, Fidel and Raul Castro had approached him and, in the strictest confidence, had said to him that in order to maintain the extraordinary bond of brotherhood between Cuba and Venezuela, and the steady supply of cheap oil, selecting Maduro as his heir would be the most appropriate choice. In the midst of his agony Chavez, whose love for Venezuela was unquestioned, had replied that he worried that Maduro was simply too loyal. Chavez didn’t remember a time when Maduro had disagreed with him on anything, and it concerned Chavez that, given that circumstances on the ground were ever changing, a better choice would be a man with a more independent bent that could deviate from the rule book. Fidel and Raul had listened solemnly to his argument, then replied, “We can work with Nicolas, and we’ll help him.”

Chavez still had doubts, and he asked Fidel and Raul to step out and let him consult with Simon Bolivar before making a final decision. Chavez and the long dead Bolivar had a history of  chatting but, of late, the comandante had not been able to make contact. It may have been interference from the weather, as stormy clouds had gathered over Cuba. Chavez was very open about his special relationship with Bolivar and just the day before, both Fidel and Raul had been invited to listen in on the comandante’s earnest attempt to reach the Venezuelan hero.

Seeing that Chavez was determined to try again, both Fidel and Raul bowed respectfully and left the room.

Chavez was a stubborn man and he was confident that in that hour of great need, Bolivar would not fail him.

Being all alone in his ample suite, he touched his fingers to his temples and focused his concentration.

“Simon…?” began Chavez, “are you there?”.

There was complete silence for a moment. “Simon…?” again intoned Chavez with what little strength he had left. “Do not fail me in this historic moment…”. And then, miraculously, and with a clarity that Chavez had never heard, a voice from who knows where came to him. “Yes, Hugo?” It was soft but so clear, the clearest he’d ever heard Bolivar speak to him, and he had spoken to Bolivar a lot. And not only was the voice clear but it was filled with compassion and understanding. So this was unprecedented, a miracle in fact.

The pain in his abdomen shot through once again and the comandante almost cried out, but he pressed his lips together in one valiant effort and retained his composure. He did not want to complain while speaking to Bolivar.

What clarity, though, the comandante reflected. He did think that the voice had a very slight Cuban accent, but he also knew that Bolivar had been a multitalented and well traveled man and was able to adapt to his environment. So he dismissed it.

“Simon… I’m dying,” said the comandante. Bolivar did not reply. “Fidel… and Raul… want me to choose…” And the pain shot through again, only harder, and Chavez gasped as his eyes filled with tears. After a moment to recover, he continued, “Simon… I love my Venezuela… I love my country… is Maduro the right choice?” And Bolivar had replied, “Si.”

Chavez closed his eyes slowly and let out a long breath, the final approval from Bolivar bringing him a sense of peace. “Gracias, Simon… I will soon be with you… at your side.” And Bolivar had answered, “Si.”

Chavez turned his head in the pillow and tried to get a little rest from the pain.

Meanwhile, Fidel and Raul had stood in the hallway outside, drinking a little Cuban coffee. They both had been up since before dawn to make sure they didn’t miss the historic moment. Just then, a middle aged man emerged from a room next to where Chavez lay. The man approached Fidel and Raul and, stopping a few feet before them, he bowed deeply. “As per your instructions,” the man said.

And Fidel had opened his arms and gestured for the man to come closer. “Gracias,” he had said to him softly as he shook his hand. “I will be sure not to miss your next performance at the National Theatre.”

The man smiled appreciatively, bowed to Raul, and left.

Of course, Maduro had not known that any of this had transpired before he had been summoned in a great hurry and had travelled from Caracas to Havana in a middle of the night flight, his airplane flanked by Cuban and Venezuelan fighter jets. He just knew that it was one hell of a responsibility that Chavez was entrusting him with, and he wasn’t sure he could deliver.

He was a socialist to the core, Maduro reminded himself, and he truly loved Venezuela, but he just didn’t think he was presidential material. But if Hugo Chavez, the great comandante, wanted him to step up, he would do it.

Chavez was now drifting as Maduro remained standing in front of him, still holding the comandante’s hand.

“Work with the Cubans…”said Chavez with a barely audible voice, “…no matter what.”

Maduro then reached over and kissed the comandante on the forehead. He stared at him. He was not sure he would see his great mentor again. But how would anyone know of the man’s final wishes, he wondered. He turned to his wife, and they both exited the room.

Just outside, Fidel and Raul stepped up to him and shook his hand. “Congratulations, Nicolas.”

“How did you know?,” he asked, bewildered.

“Due to the extraordinary circumstances,” began Fidel Castro, “we have the room wired.”

Castro removed a small microphone from his ear. “It’s such an historic moment that we wanted to capture every bit of it. For posterity. For those who will continue the heroic socialist fight against imperialism after we’re gone.” Fidel Castro then leaned in a bit and added, “Vladimir,  Mugabe, Daniel Ortega, all have asked to please send them a transcript for their personal libraries.”

Maduro did not know what to say, but both Fidel and Raul Castro proceeded to embrace him and his wife. “Congratulations, Mr President,” had said Fidel as Raul smiled.

Back in his presidential residence, six years after that encounter, (Chavez had returned to die in his own country), in a Venezuela that was falling apart, Maduro stared at himself in the mirror as he felt the overhead light flicker. Maybe the generators were about to fail at his presidential residence too.  

How had Venezuela become such a mess?

Maduro shook his head slowly, the mood despondent and at a loss for words.

And where were the Cubans, anyway? How had they let this happen? Had they learned anything since they took over in 1959?

Maduro felt a deep bitterness come over him. And the bitterness turned into anger. More than that, the anger became sheer loathing. And he glowered at himself in the mirror as it occurred to him that the Cubans had learned nothing at all about running a country successfully. He had had his doubts all along but had been too afraid to bring it up to Chavez, but now it was coming to him, full blown. Just what kind of expertise in nation building did the Cubans really have? Nothing. Nothing at all. Where did Cuba rank among Latin American nations in productivity? Near the bottom, that’s where, and they had been in power since 1959, that was 60 years! A country as wealthy as Venezuela, how could you trash it? It took some major bungling to accomplish that, and the Cubans had been right there from the start, with their so called ‘seasoned’ advice. Malarkey is what it was. Self serving bunk. The Cuban government didn’t give a damn about Venezuela and never had.

And Maduro stared at himself harder in the mirror and realized that he hadn’t been doing his own thinking. That his own teacher, Hugo Chavez, the great comandante, had been dead wrong about forging an alliance with Cuba. An alliance that, in the name of socialism, had meant shipping lots and lots of oil to Cuba and other countries, while failing to educate and train their own people.

A cold shiver run through him as he dared think his own thoughts.

Maduro felt his heart sink from the crushing shame.

It had taken for Venezuela to come to the edge of the precipice for him to see the light. Damn it! Carajo! Cabrones! He cursed loudly. Having surprised himself with his outburst, he turned to peek into the bedroom to see if his wife was still there. She wasn’t.

He returned to the mirror. The one theme that ran through the entire Cuban ideology was that it was the Americans keeping them for thriving. Mind you, the Americans were no angels, they were in it for themselves and they had done their own share of meddling too, but no, there had to be more to it. Look at the Chinese, look at the South Koreans, even the Vietnamese. Those people had pulled themselves up or were pulling themselves up and where were the Cubans compared to them? Nowhere. If it weren’t for tourism they’d all be starving to death. If it weren’t for Venezuelan oil they would have nothing to run their meagre industry. Even their sugar production, the Cubans had managed to wreck. The height of incompetence. So no, that system did not work and Chavez had been wrong to ally himself with them. Yes, he was saying it now. Chavez, his much admired mentor had been dead wrong and he, Nicolas Maduro, had not dared raise his voice to question him. Ever. How can you be the leader of a nation if you don’t dare question the great heroes?

Maduro sighed. He felt defeated.

There was no one to turn to. No one at all, not even his wife. He was on his own.

He had copied Chavez and the Cubans in blaming Americans for all his country’s problems but where had that got them?

He loved his country but there it was, falling apart, and he was their leader. The responsibility was ultimately his.

How was he going to lead Venezuela out of the mess it was in?

And now there was this character, Juan Guaido, a nobody who had come from nowhere and was daring to challenge his legitimacy. What audacity.

But just as he thought this, he acknowledged that he felt a twinge of envy.

What?

Yes. He was a little envious of Juan Guaido.

Yes, he was, ‘admit it’, he told himself. Be honest.

But what did he envy, exactly?

The guts. The courage. And Nicolas Maduro now thought that he would like to start all over again and be more like Juan Guaido.

He paused.

No, he wanted to start again and be more like whatever Nicolas Maduro had to offer. He wanted to start again and discover who he really was. He loved his country but had allowed another nation to meddle in Venezuela’s battle for its own identity.

And maybe he was a true socialist after all and maybe he was not, but what had now become very clear to him was that he would not stand by as his country self destroyed with him as their leader.

And Nicolas Maduro felt that what was clamoring now in his heart and soul at that very instant was a yearning to be himself, to be a true Venezuelan. And that it should be for Venezuelans themselves to decide what they needed to do with their country.

And as he stared at himself in the mirror, his saw his jaw drop, just as a sly smile began to show in his eyes and the corners of his mouth. There was hope, dammit! Yes, there was! He was not defeated! He would make a comeback! He would stand up for Venezuela and for himself!

He would go on national television, while giving no advanced notice at all of what he would say, and declare to the nation that he was ordering all Cuban nationals to leave the country immediately. And that meant everybody! And no, there would be no more oil shipments to Cuba. Work it out on your own, carajo! You’ve had 60 years to figure it out.

Venezuela might be in tatters, but they were a resourceful people, and they would work things out by themselves.

And he, Nicolas Maduro, would go on the history books as the man who dared lead his nation to achieving true sovereignty.

Maduro didn’t even shave. He kept smiling at himself in the mirror as he splashed some cold water on his face, the generator having stopped heating the water. But he felt great. He would have himself driven directly to the government’s main television station and make his announcement.

He stepped out of the bathroom and sent for his driver and his bodyguards. His wife, alarmed at his sudden determination, wanted to know what was up, could he please tell her, but he didn’t say a word to her. It was his move. He was the president. She could sit in the audience while he made his short speech. And it would be short. But it would be a Venezuelan’s speech, proud of his heritage, and finally fully aware, that Venezuelans could chart their own course.

His wife, now in a panic that maybe an American agent looking and speaking like a Venezuelan had slipped a drug in her husband’s morning coffee, immediately called the Chief of Staff of the Venezuelan army but the man could not be found on such short notice and instead one of his aides, a high ranking officer, came to the phone to speak with Maduro.

Maduro glared at his wife as she handed him the phone but he took the call anyway. At the other end, the high ranking officer asked Maduro what he would be saying to the nation, that he needed to know because it was his responsibility to have the troops ready, just in case, and anyway, governing Venezuela was a cooperative effort and decisions needed to be made after proper consultation with the socialist brotherhood. Maduro listened, then asked, “General, are you Venezuelan or Cuban?”

The high ranking officer at the other end paused for a second, then said, “I’m a socialist, Mr President.”

And Maduro had smiled and said, “See, that’s the problem right there, we have to be Venezuelans first.”

He hung up, walked out of the presidential residence, boarded the special bullet proof vehicle he travelled in, and went directly to the television station where he was to make his address.

On the way there he reflected, that he had never felt better in his life.

The Juan Guaido Effect

Oscar Valdes. oscarvaldes.net 3/7/19

Earlier this year Juan Guaido seized the moment when, as head of Venezuela’s legislative assembly, he proclaimed himself president after Nicolas Maduro, the preceding president, had coerced the supreme court of the land into approving his sham reelection.

Garnering the support of more than fifty nations worldwide – from Latin America, North America and Europe – Juan Guaido then led a multinational effort to bring sorely needed humanitarian aid to the Venezuelan people.

The valiant effort has been blocked but has not been defeated. It is waiting for the next Juan Guaido, the Juan Guaido than will come from within the military.

That the Venezuelan military has not yet risen against the brutal dictatorship of Mr Maduro does not mean that plans for his overthrow are not being hatched.

At this very moment there are military officers, in every part of the nation, hard at work conceiving or planning actions that will lead to toppling the government.

And it cannot be otherwise.

The absurdity of a regime that has led to the exodus of more than 10% of the population, that has ravaged their oil industry, that has empowered bullies and drug dealers, cannot go on.

The few countries that support Mr Maduro are all examples of the repression of free speech. Cuba, Russia, Nicaragua, Turkey. How can they be models for anyone but thugs?

How can that be lost on the conscience of the educated career officers of the Venezuelan military?
The military officers with conscience cannot turn away from the effects of the violent repression of their brothers and sisters, the malnutrition owing to the food shortages, the lack of medical care.

They cannot because it hurts deeply.

And that pain will fire up the Juan Guaido that exists deep in the heart of every decent Venezuelan officer. That pain will spark the courage and resolve that is needed to take the fight to those who, having divorced themselves from the plight of their countrymen, lend their cowardly support to a regime bent on destroying the soul of the nation.

Venezuela’s history demands the insurrection of the military against the forces of despotism.

Venezuela’s history demands that brave officers step front and challenge the corruption that is destroying the country.

This is the time to act.

Right now.

Juan Guaido himself, could consider declaring a national strike in the nation, to further erode Mr Maduro’s hold on power and facilitate the necessary military uprising.

Venezuela Rising

2/23/19 By Oscar Valdes. oscarvaldes.net

The push to deliver humanitarian aid to the desperate Venezuelan populace is working.

Nicolas Maduro’s opposition to allowing the aid to go in has stirred protests that have begun to fracture the military. Defections are mounting.

Venezuelan soldiers are being asked to restrain or shoot their countrymen because they are begging for food.

The conditions are given for a mass revolt to follow.

Will the military slaughter the hungry people?

I do not remember another instance in Latin America when there has been such strong solidarity with the turmoil in a sister nation. This is unprecedented.

Mr Guaido, the newly proclaimed president of the country has been bold and put himself in the front lines against the repressive forces of Mr Maduro.

The presidents of Colombia and Chile have joined Mr Guaido, standing shoulder to shoulder on the ground in the border town of Cucuta in Colombia, supporting the humanitarian aid. The British financier Richard Branson has lent his effort by sponsoring concerts in support of the resistance.

Lawmakers in the opposition have joined the people in the fray, lending their guidance to the unrest.

Brazil, on the southeast corner, has given the opposition to Mr Maduro’s regime full support, and the first truck filled with aid to push in broke through its border with Venezuela.

Carnage may still happen, but the military will be digging its own grave because the international pressure is sure to continue to mount.

Obtuse military leaders may choose to not look at the reality of the nation’s worsening tragedy, and still decide to defend a corrupt elite that, in the name of a false socialism chose to enrich itself and ravage a nation. But their days are counted.

There will be no respect in Latin America or elsewhere, for members of an armed force, that using their superior power, intentionally, coldly and brutally, murder their brothers and sisters.

The message is out, a new cohesiveness among betrayed people is gathering force.

In this collective effort, the Trump administration and Senator Rubio deserve credit for helping orchestrate the humanitarian aid and for putting sanctions on the purchase of Venezuelan oil.

Oscar Valdes is a self published author and blogger. Oscarvaldes.net

Open Letter to Mr Smollett

2/23/19

From the evidence disclosed to the public, it appears that you staged the attack on your person.

As it stands, the case against you seems daunting.

You were not counting on your accomplices to turn against you but they did.

It was a brazen plan, taking advantage of public sentiment to further your own aims.

All of it was utterly absurd and yet,

You may not be completely trapped,

For there could be a way out, if you come to your senses.

The world may still forgive you, if you own up to the truth.

No one got physically hurt and the greater damage is to you, to your possibilities and credibility.

It is sad to see a person self destroy, publicly.

But just what would coming to your senses entail?

Accepting your guilt.

Stepping out from the lies you’ve invented and still vaunt and own up to the grand deceit.

Doing so will bring you freedom.

Maybe not from the courts and maybe not from a possible prison term,

But if you bare your soul to all of us,

And acknowledge the personal flaws that made you turn to trickery to satisfy your hunger for greater stardom,

You will then be asking the public for mercy,

You will be getting on your knees to ask for sympathy and forgiveness.

You will be asking for understanding,

That no matter the riches bestowed upon you,

In talent and money,

They could not be enough to help you think of yourself as a full human being,

A human being, sir,

Who could accept his limitations as he tried to overcome them by dint of hard and honest work.

Dear Mr Smollett, unless you have something to prove your case,

Then all of this was a grand charade, in which you tried to fool us all,

But ended with you being the fool.

So be bold while there may still be time,

Be bold and embrace the truth,

Step forward and own up to your folly

And limit the damage you’re inflicting upon yourself.

Good luck.

Humanitarian Aid to Venezuela

2/21/19

Humanitarian Aid to Venezuela

By Oscar Valdes

The crumbling socialist regime in Venezuela is kept alive by the military’s allegiance. And, on Nicolas Maduro’s orders, they are to block any shipment of humanitarian aid for the country’s population, no matter how desperate their need.

For the Venezuelan government, accepting the aid is seen as accepting failure, and in spite of the profound need for it, their pride is greater.

Meanwhile, Venezuelans are continuing to flee to neighboring countries, at great cost to themselves and the receiving countries.

The situation on the ground is complex, but it seems critical that the push to get the humanitarian aid into the country not lead to a military clash with the Venezuelan armed forces. If that were to occur it would shift the focus of the struggle from internal to external and delay the continuing internal degradation that will eventually lead to revolt, driven or aided by a faction of dissident military.

It is tragic that the Venezuelan leadership does not acknowledge their failure and the pain inflicted on the population, but the crisis is also a reminder, that the inefficiency and corruption of previous administrations created the conditions for such regime to rise and govern.

Eventually, the Maduro government will fall, and though external pressures by other nations will be a factor in the process, the greater force to overthrow the Maduro regime must come from within. No matter how great the pain, Venezuelans will endure, and they will live to write their history.

Which Way Will the Military’s Guns Point? The Juan Guaido Effect.

2/6/19

By Oscar Valdes.  Oscarvaldes.net

As head of the Venezuelan National Assembly, on 1/23/19, Juan Guaido made the bold move of stepping into the void and assuming the presidency of the country, a void created when Nicolas Maduro, the previous president, fearing defeat at the polls, chose to grab power instead by pressuring the Supreme Court justices into authorizing a sham election.

But Venezuela and the world would not be fooled.

Three million Venezuelans have left the country, an exodus that represents 10% of the population, an emigration forced by the lack of work, food and medicine.

Abhorred by these events, the great majority of Latin American nations, along with Canada, the United States and leading countries in the European community, have raised their cry of protest and the US has imposed economic sanctions.

What continues to prop up the regime is the guns of the military, a military that has been given a strong hand in running industry, to their enrichment, and which has contributed to wrecking the country’s vital oil production.

Juan Guaido has stepped up while Nicolas Maduro refuses to exit. Which way will the guns of the military point?

It is a day of reckoning for that institution, a moment to look at itself and decide how do they want to make history.

The Venezuelan military institution has a noble past, having played a critical role in supporting democracy before allowing itself to be corrupted.

Will they now not see what is clearly before them, a regime that has fallen because of its own actions?

Will they now not see that the Cuban system, which Nicolas Maduro and Hugo Chavez before him sought to emulate, stands as grand failure of statehood?

Will they now not be moved by the pain and misery that most of their compatriots are now enduring?
Sometimes, for a myriad reasons, institutions lose their way, but there’s always a time to find the way back.

Now is such a time.

Now is the time, for the Venezuelan military to recapture its noble past by taking a stand to help their country find its own way.

Now is the time, for the Venezuelan military to redeem itself, by declaring its independence from Cuba, from Russia, from China, and by supporting the actions of men and women who want nothing for themselves but the freedom and wellbeing of their countrymen.

So rise, noble warriors, rise!

This is your time.

Seize the moment and point the guns towards those who oppose Venezuela’s march to freedom.