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 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT