Dear Prime Minister Harper,
I know that you are extremely busy researching that book you plan to write about hockey, but I hope you can spare a few minutes to read this letter and to consider the heartfelt advice that it offers. I was moved to write you when I heard the news that
Mr. Prime Minister, the best way for you and the rest of us to learn about the exciting developments taking place in Latin America is for you to immediately extend a long overdue invitation for
First and foremost, this Hugo fellow has been in power for over 8 years and he just keeps getting more popular, winning election after election by ever-wider margins. In December 1998, Chavez was elected with 56% of the vote; last December, he was re-elected with 63% despite implementing all sorts of socialistic policies and – believe it or not – openly advocating for something he’s calling “socialism of the 21st century”. He’s also easily survived a recall referendum, won another one to adopt a new Constitution (something
I admit that your electoral job in
Secondly, you and Hugo, despite decidedly different relationships with President Bush, have in common the fact that your countries are key suppliers of energy to the
Finally, Chavez could give Canada some lessons on foreign policy. You are always talking about how you want Canada to be a factor on the world stage and to be respected by the international community. Venezuela has in recent years become a major factor in international affairs, and won respect by providing real humanitarian aid. While Canada can’t even live up to its aid pledge of .7% of GDP, Chavez has been spreading the wealth around his region and even North America. For instance, through its subsidiary Citgo, Venezuela has been providing cheap heating oil to poor and disadvantaged Americans; in cooperation with the Cuban government, Venezuela has been helping fund free eye operations for thousands of Latin Americans; they have also been providing cheap oil to impoverished and long exploited regional allies like Nicaragua and Haiti; and Venezuela has even begun building an alternative to predatory World Bank policies with the “Bank of the South.”
Also on the world scene, Chavez has won friends and influenced many people in the Arab World, in the Middle East and Central Asia by vocally opposing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and by loudly condemning Israel’s bombardment of Lebanon last summer. Canada’s maple leaf has been, in contrast, painted increasingly blood red by your government’s shamelessly “un-measured” backing of Israeli occupation and by your hawkish rhetoric about the counter-insurgency in Kandahar. You should have seen the reception the kids of Port-au-Prince gave this guy when he visited Haiti – it was like he was bringing the Stanley Cup to a high school in Kingston! In sharp contrast, most Haitians view Canada as being guilty of an old-style coup against their elected president back in 2004. When you are in Haiti, perhaps you could visit the impoverished residents of CitÃ©-Soleil or another besieged slum and find out from the people themselves what they think of recent Canadian foreign policy.
So there you have it, Steve, the case for inviting Hugo Chavez to Canada. In lieu of an official state invite, some determined members of “civil society” or other pesky activists in Canada might decide to organize an unofficial “people’s visit” by Mr. Chavez. This happened in Great Britain, when opponents of your good friend and foreign policy co-thinker, Tony Blair, hosted Chavez in London last year. The Venezuelan leader rode the huge wave of anti-war sentiment in England and was warmly received by the Mayor of London, among others.
Whether it gets done through official channels or not, it’s high time to bring the Bolivarian Revolution, in the person of its elected leader, to Canada for all of us to learn from their experiences.
Derrick O’Keefe Vancouver, British Columbia