From rebel to truth-teller
The rebelliousness and street smarts I developed early on in my life became a fundamental part of me. I honed my distrust and questioning of all authority into critical thinking skills later on while at Sarah Lawrence College, my alma mater. My travels across the United States throughout the heartland, rust belt, deep south, midwest and coast to coast had deepened my understanding of the vast diversity coexisting in my country, as well as the ingrained racism, misogyny, social decay, despair and egocentrism.
The summer after I was 18, I volunteered at MADRE, a Latino legal clinic in Washington DC that was aiding Central Americans to apply for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and political asylum in the US. TPS had been extended to citizens from El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua due to the role the US government had played in the wars in those nations during the 1970s and 1980s. Tens of thousands of people had been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced, in addition to all those tortured, raped and persecuted by their US-supported regimes. TPS was a way for Washington to redeem itself by mitigating the collateral damage of its foreign policy. After arming and supporting murderous rightwing mercenary armies that violently suppressed and destroyed any leftist, socialist or communist influence south of the US border, Washington decided it could wash its hands by providing refuge to the thousands of terrified and traumatized families forced to flee their homelands.
While filling out their asylum and TPS applications, I learned the horror of their stories, the indiscriminate torment suffered by women, children and men who were beaten, tortured and robbed of their safety and stability. It was humbling to witness the fear that had driven them to leave everything they knew behind and head northward on a treacherous and dangerous journey, risking their lives to escape warfare, landing in a nation not their own, immersed in a different language and unfamiliar cultural norms. One after the other, the stories of hardship, terror and suffering filled the pages of immigration paperwork. I did my best to write down their experiences as vividly as if they had been my own.
Comprehending that my own country had caused their turmoil and pain was disconcerting, but it only further affirmed my inherent distrust of authority and my suspicions about the real intentions behind the CIA and its covert activity. I had seen injustice up close, both inside and outside of the United States, and the burning anger and passion within me began to transform into a determination to fight the system.
All the same, I little imagined that, around 20 years later, I would become a close confidante of one of the world’s most controversial presidents, who professed to be leading a real revolution. Spending almost a decade in the inner circle of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela gave me a privileged, insider view of the real world of power and politics, for good and for bad. I saw the struggles of an unconventional, nonconformist president who genuinely desired to change the system. I witnessed how he came up against the impenetrable obstacles of bureaucracy and corruption, and ultimately was overcome.
The rise and fall of his movement, which has deteriorated dramatically since his untimely death in March 2013 from an aggressive cancer, holds undeniable and essential lessons for any and all movements that seek to change the establishment and transform a traditional, power-locked political system. The trend of unexpected electoral results breaking with established elite structures has appeared to reach even the United States, with the election of Donald Trump.
Eva Golinger is author of Confidante of Tyrants (New Internationalist)