Skip to main content

Seize this moment to forge ties with Venezuela

By The Rev. Jesse Jackson, Special to CNN
updated 8:38 AM EST, Fri March 8, 2013
Venezuelans line up to pay their last respects to the late President Hugo Chavez in Caracas on Thursday.
Venezuelans line up to pay their last respects to the late President Hugo Chavez in Caracas on Thursday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jesse Jackson: Chavez's death an opportunity for U.S. and Venezuela to heal relations
  • He says we have demonized Chavez, but this rhetoric serves no good purpose
  • Jackson: U.S.-Venezuela bond will be beneficial to both countries, in trade and oil
  • Jackson will be talking with religious, political leaders to rebuild diplomatic ties

Editor's note: The Rev. Jesse Jackson, a longtime civil rights activist, is the founder and president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and was an aide to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

(CNN) -- On Thursday night, I returned to Caracas, Venezuela, to participate in the funeral and mourning of Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela from 1999 until his passing this week. Chavez's death has captured the world's attention front and center with renewed vigor and interest.

He first burst onto the world scene with his presidential victory in 1999. Since then, through his fourth re-election in January -- and while he was in Cuba fighting the cancer that would take his life -- his focus was on forging a new socialist Venezuela.

This won many friends and advocates at home and abroad, especially among Venezuela's and the hemisphere's poorest populations. Other world powers demonized Chavez and sought to ostracize him, a la Cuba's Fidel Castro, on a global scale.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson
The Rev. Jesse Jackson

But I believe peaceful, constructive negotiation should carry the day over isolation and demonization.

That's why I visited Venezuela in 2005, just after the Rev. Pat Robertson called for the assassination of Chavez. He inflamed a chorus of extremist voices in seeking a way to "deal with Chavez."

That type of hot rhetoric serves no productive purpose.

I went to talk with Chavez; I talked with Jewish religious leaders in Venezuela. I talked with Afro-Venezuelans. I learned about the transition taking place from the old banana republic regimes to the new leaders, with new ideas, such as Chavez in Venezuela, Luiz Lula da Silva in Brazil and Juan Manuel Santos in Colombia. I looked not to exploit differences and fuel division, but for common ground.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



That's why I went to Iraq to talk with Saddam Hussein in 1990 as he invaded Kuwait and convinced him there was no value in holding hundreds of people from the United States and other countries as "human shields." He released them.

That's why I went to what remained of Yugoslavia amid the flames of war in 1999, to talk with Slobodan Milosevic to persuade him to release the three U.S. soldiers being held hostage. He did.

And that's why I went to Cuba in 1984 -- long under a senseless U.S. blockade -- to talk with Castro and persuade him to release dozens of political prisoners.

In each instance, the U.S. had a no-talk policy with these leaders and nations.

It's been my experience that talking, keeping lines of communication open to friend and foe alike, can reap dividends. Nations cannot always agree, but we can always talk. That does not require a sacrifice of principles or signal weakness.

Paying last respects to Hugo Chavez
Chavez' social media dominance
What is Chavez's economic legacy?
World reacts to Chavez's death

I believe in the Gandhi principles, favoring peaceful negotiation over military confrontation. He called the doctrine "satyagraha" -- and explained the "pursuit of truth did not admit of violence being inflicted on one's opponent but that he must be weaned from error by patience and compassion.

"For what appears to be truth to the one may appear to be error to the other. And patience means self-suffering. So the doctrine came to mean vindication of truth, not by infliction of suffering on the opponent, but on oneself."

It works. In my view, it's always more productive and mutually beneficial to talk things out and not fight things out.

As the world mourns the death of Chavez, it's time to go beyond divisive rhetoric and historical fears that leave all of us in the dark.

Where is our common ground?

We are neighbors; we live in the same hemisphere. There are 200,000 Venezuelans living in the U.S. -- including nearly 70 Major League baseball players in 2012, among them Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera.

We are trading partners. Venezuela surpassed Saudi Arabia as the nation with the largest oil reserves in the world, and the U.S. is the largest importer of Venezuelan oil. That oil is four days away, compared with four weeks away in the Middle East. There is a huge potential to expand our market and Venezuela's. And with stronger economic ties comes political stabilization.

It's time to turn crisis into opportunity, to fulfill the unfinished business of realizing to the fullest potential the relationship between the U.S. and Venezuela. Seize this moment to heal the wound and bind the ties.

It won't be easy, but nothing is. And nothing will be accomplished with a no-talk policy.

No doubt, Venezuela's relations with the U.S. have been strained -- diplomatic relations were severed for a time in 2008 when Venezuela accused the U.S. of plotting the overthrow of Chavez. Just last week, days before Chavez died, Vice President Nicolas Maduro expelled two U.S. military officials, accusing the U.S. of trying to destabilize the government.

The good news is that President Barack Obama has sought to restore relations, saying in a statement that the United States "reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with Venezuela's government. ... As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history, the United States remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law and respect for human rights."

The U.S. is sending an official delegation to Chavez's funeral. And Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have expressed their desire to forge a more positive and productive relationship with Venezuela.

As I meet with political, religious and community leaders in Venezuela, this is the message I bring.

Let's put an end to hot rhetoric, demonization and policies of isolation. It's time to forge a practical, productive relationship that will lead to normalization of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Venezuela.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Robert Hickey says most new housing development is high-end, catering to high-earners.
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Alexander Motyl says as Russian President Putin snarled at Ukraine, his foreign minister was signing a conciliatory accord with the West. Whatever the game, the accord is a major stand down by Russia
updated 8:29 AM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Les Abend says at every turn, the stowaway teen defied the odds of discovery and survival. What pilot would have thought to look for a person in the wheel well?
updated 7:04 AM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
updated 1:37 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
updated 8:56 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
updated 1:08 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
updated 8:55 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 2:25 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT