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Me, Hugo and George

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When I was growing up in Bellflower, California, I never, as a child with a good imagination, could have ever imagined that my life would take the peculiar turn that it has. I could not have foreseen giving birth to a child who would eventually be wrongfully and devastatingly killed in war or that I would be meeting with world leaders or be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Along with the vice president of Spain, foreign minister of Ireland, attorney general of Australia and countless parliamentarians from all over the globe, one of the world leaders that I have met and spent a good amount of time with on my journey is President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Due to the propaganda media and the ignorance of many of my fellow Americans, I have been heavily criticized for my visit. I would like to remind my neighbors all over the country that we do have diplomatic relations with Venezuela and we are not at war with that country.

On a recent appearance that I made on MSNBC's "Hardball," which was being guest-hosted by Norah O' Donnell, she introduced me as someone who has been photographed with "dictator" Hugo Chavez. After the introduction and in a very short subsequent break, I looked at her and said: "You know, President Chavez is not a dictator. He has been democratically elected to his office 8 times."

To which she replied: "We had a big discussion about that and we decided that he ruled like a dictator." That statement really shocked, yet irritated me, because I can't believe that MSNBC and Norah O'Donnell would perpetuate the myth that President Chavez is a dictator and mislead and misinform their viewers, because contrary to facts, they "decided that he ruled like a dictator."

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"Then you should call George Bush a dictator," I said, right before we were given the signal that the interview was beginning.

During the segment, which Norah called an interview and I would like to better term as an "attack," (I gave her a hug after the attack: it seemed like she really needed one) we got on the subject of Hugo Chavez, and I ended up admitting that I would rather have him as a leader than George Bush. Since this truthful admission, which comes from experience and research, my life has been threatened several times and the hate mail to the GSFP web site has increased dramatically.

There are many brilliant pieces written from a more scholarly point of view defending the administration of President Chavez and trying to educate our corporate-owned, media-misled citizenry about the politics, economics and civil society of Venezuela. Most recently and notably, an article by Jeff Cohen entitled "Go to Venezuela, You Idiot." So, instead of writing a scholarly piece, I would like to make some personal observations about the regimes of George Bush and Hugo Chavez.

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First of all and most importantly and as far as I can recall, Hugo has not invaded any countries in baseless wars of aggression justified by lies. George has. As a matter of fact, instead of using "Cowboy Diplomacy" and "Bring 'em on" rhetoric, President Chavez has skillfully used his country's resources as a diplomatic tool to make friends and coerce good behavior from other countries. George uses our children in the Armed Forces to strong-arm his way into other countries, making enemies for the USA and leaving death and destruction wherever he goes.

Secondly, Hugo is an effective orator who can lecture on any topic for hours (believe me!). He is smart, personable, has a great sense of humor, and takes the time to get to know people on a human level. (He never called me "Mom" once the entire time I was with him - unlike George). I was with him three times in Venezuela and each time he gave lengthy speeches about American (North and South) history, never using a single note - tying our histories together with the present in very meaningful ways. On the other hand, George Bush can barely speak when he is reading from a teleprompter and looks like a deer caught in headlights when he has to speak off the cuff or answer a question that he hasn't been well prepared for. He thinks that people want to put food on their families and if he doesn't know a word, he can just make one up.

When Ms. O' Donnell called President Chavez a dictator, I bet she didn't even know that our CIA orchestrated a coup attempt against President Chavez in 2002 and in the last electoral referendum that Chavez agreed to submit to in 2004, he was re-confirmed as president with 60 percent of the vote, which was certified by an international election commission headed by "left-wing nutcase" Jimmy Carter. George Bush attained his office by two heavily tainted elections that should more rightly be called coups. From stealing two elections and saying and acting like you have a mandate to destroy the world; to circumventing Congress at every turn with "signing statements" and just not telling them things; to wiretapping Americans without proper warrants; to reading our emails and looking at bank records without warrants; to illegally detaining people and torturing them; to insisting on staying a course in Iraq that is killing nearly more innocent people per month than were killed in our country on 9/11; to authorizing the leak of covert agents' names; to selling our democracy to the highest bidders, such as the likes of Jack Abramoff; to appointing avowed UN hater John Bolton to the UN in a recess appointment because he knew that a normal confirmation process would fail; to allowing the neo-cons to take over our foreign policy to the detriment of our nation; to etc., etc. - I ask Norah O' Donnell and MSNBC, who is the dictator here? George or Hugo?

The media is far freer in Venezuela than it is here in the US. Station after station is hostile to the Chavez government, even openly calling for his overthrow at times. Our corporate-owned media are either very ill-informed about world affairs or current events, thereby keeping us ill-informed, or they are complicit propaganda tools of this administration. Heaven forbid that one of the outlets, such as the New York Times, should truthfully report that BushCo did something illegal; then the outlet will be accused of doing something wrong! Conversely, we have cheerleaders in the same outlet such as Judith Miller who conspired with Scooter Libby to out CIA agent Valerie Plame. I would love to see a segment where MSNBC show hosts are brought together to discuss such subjects as the high-jacking of our democracy and/or George's lies and war of terror on the world, instead of me.

One of the reasons that President Chavez is demonized and threatened by BushCo is that he has forced American companies in his country to pay their fair share of taxes and do business properly in Venezuela. Hugo is resisting the corporate colonialism that has characterized US forced relations with South America since the USA has been a country. And one thing that we all know, or should know: BushCo is especially beholden and subservient to the corporations.

Hugo Chavez also wants to finally realize Simon de Bolivar's vision of a united South America that together can be stronger, to live more peacefully with the US and stand in solidarity against the constant meddling of all of our regimes in their affairs. North Americans should know about the despicable history of US interference in South America before they throw stones at people who want to have fully autonomous countries with control over their own natural resources.

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Hugo is also doing something that George would never think of doing: he is taking from the rich to help the poor. Literacy is currently almost 100% in Venezuela, and social programs in health and education have dramatically improved since he took office, and while the poverty rate is still high, vast improvements have been made. George is a reverse Robin Hood and even steals from our grandchildren's future to further enrich the already obscenely rich of the present. I would rather live under a president like Hugo who tries to improve living conditions in his country than someone like George who is demolishing our social structures and making the poor poorer.

I will readily admit that I did say that I would rather have President Chavez than President Bush, but I didn't say that I would rather live in Venezuela. I am an American, and I love my country which I believe is on a distinctly disordered course right now. I also believe that my country can do better, and I am willing to fight to realize a vision for America where the rich share with the poor and we achieve 100% literacy and schools, day care centers, parks and clinics are built instead of prisons and the already bloated military industrial war complex.

While the world seems to be coming apart at the seams, it is also important for our mainstream, corporate-owned media to get their facts straight and report the news truthfully and with integrity instead of being tools for war and greed. Thousands of people are dying while the media are carrying out vendettas for Karl Rove.

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Cindy Sheehan is the mother of Spc. Casey Austin Sheehan, who was KIA in Iraq on 04/04/04. She is a co-founder and President of Gold Star Families for Peace and the author of two books: Not One More Mother's Child and Dear President Bush.

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