On Wednesday, regime change advocate and former Venezuelan diplomat and politician Diego Arria will be speaking in Sarasota. The talk, titled “Venezuela: A Real Threat in Our Backyard,” is being held at Mildred Sainer Pavilion at New College of Florida. It will be the first lecture in this year’s high-profile foreign affairs lecture series, which Sarasota World Affairs Council (SWAC) has hosted annually since 2014.
SWAC is a member of World Affairs Councils of America (WACA), a national organization devoted to influencing foreign policy and public perception about international affairs. WACA is sponsored by the Western military alliance NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), the private intelligence firm and “shadow CIA” Stratfor, the weapons manufacturer Orbital ATK, the oil and gas giant Chevron and other powerful groups.
Although SWAC’s guests have included former Defense and State Department officials, among other pro-Washington functionaries, Arria is arguably the most blatant pro-war figure to speak in the Sarasota lecture series to date.
Arria, a former UN diplomat for Venezuela before the revolution, falsely tries to portray the government of President Nicolás Maduro as a dictatorship. He is also known for filing charges accusing late President Hugo Chávez of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court in 2011, one year after Venezuela’s government expropriated his private ranch.
“Diego Arria represents the most radical fringe of the discredited Venezuelan right wing. In a desperate bid to pave the way for the oligarchy’s return to power, he is siding with imperial intervention by arguing that Venezuela is a risk to the United States. The reality, however, is that Diego Arria is a risk to Venezuela,” said political theorist George Ciccariello-Maher, whose books include “We Created Chávez: A People’s History of the Venezuelan Revolution”, “Building the Commune: Radical Democracy in Venezuela,” and “Decolonizing Dialectics”.
Liberation News also heard from New College students and alumni about Arria’s upcoming lecture.
“To say that Venezuela is a threat to the U.S. is absurd,” said Juliana Musheyev, an anti-war activist who graduated from New College in 2015. “The U.S. has been waging an economic war on the people of Venezuela, causing severe food and medicine shortages. People are dying because of these policies. By allowing this lecturer to speak on campus, New College is supporting this violation of international law. I am outraged, and all current students and alumni should be outraged.”
“The presence of such blatantly imperialist ideology on campus under the guise of a humanitarian expert is infuriating. The Venezuelan government is legitimate and democratically elected. We need to stand with it and the Venezuelan working class for the sake of international socialism and solidarity,” said Travis Burkes, a sophomore at New College who joined a caravan from Sarasota to DC in March for the ‘National March on Washington – US Hands Off Venezuela!’
“Venezuela is a country that the U.S. only has an interest in because of its oil. Venezuelan people have the right to determine their future without fear of a war with the U.S. The CIA literally tried to assassinate Maduro in front of his people and I think we should talk about that more. The U.S. government thinks it’s okay to try and kill the leaders of socialist movements,” said Lola Whitworth, a prison abolitionist activist, painter and senior art student at New College.
“Supporting the Bolivarian Revolution is supporting the right of the Venezuelan people to political self-determination, and to sever their subjection to neoliberalism,” said Jimi DePriest, a senior at New College studying the radical intersections of art, music and computer technologies. “By giving vacant analyses of both Chavez and Maduro, Arria’s purpose is to generate deceptive beliefs about the dynamics at play in international relations, fear-mongering us into complacency with oppression rooted in the actions of the U.S.”
Liberation also heard from investigative journalist, writer and filmmaker Ben Norton, who has covered Venezuela extensively for the website The Grayzone, the podcast Moderate Rebels and other outlets:
“Diego Arria is an unabashed right-wing coup monger who has been credibly accused of being involved with plots to overthrow the democratically elected Venezuelan government and even kill Presidents Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro.
“He is an example of how the right-wing, US-backed Venezuelan opposition, which is led by wealthy elites like Arria, claim to be committed to democracy and the rule of law, but will throw any pretense of this out of the window if they have the chance to exercise political power over their country once again.
“Arria is an archetypal example of the filthy rich capitalist who is rewarded by the so-called ‘international community’ and uses institutions like the UN and NGOs to push political warfare against his own nation when it is politically expedient.
“Ever since 1998, with the democratic election of Hugo Chavéz and his ushering in of the Bolivarian Revolution, rich right-wing elites have been trying to retake control of the Venezuelan state, by any means necessary. Arria has mastered the diversity of tactics, employing lawfare on one hand, and warfare on the other,” said Norton.
Liberation also heard from Ruben Ferrer, an outspoken Chavista activist from Venezuela who lives in Sarasota.
“Diego Arria is part of the old political elite who brought the country to the brink of destruction in the 80s and 90s by applying the policies of the Washington Consensus and the neoliberal agenda of the IMF. Much the same way the current opposition has as they hold Venezuela hostage from progress by continually refusing to dialogue about their manufactured constitutional crisis and supporting sanctions.
“Arria has no political relevancy in Venezuela, having been thoroughly discarded by the political parties currently opposing the democratically elected government. He represents the “Cuarta República,” elites whose time has passed — as is evident in Venezuela and in many countries in Latin America like Ecuador. The people of Latin America are roundly rejecting these leaders attempting to set policy by “paquetazo” and govern in the interest of foreign investors.
“Whatever Diego Arria has to say about Venezuela should be considered as relevant to today’s politics as inviting someone like George Wallace to talk about civil rights,” said Ferrer.
On Wednesday, local activists will protest outside the Sainer Pavilion in solidarity with Venezuela and against Washington’s continuing illegal economic sanctions and diplomatic war.