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 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:16 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 9:40 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 9:05 PM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT