by Fernando Arce
On May 8, 2014, one of Venezuela’s most prominent opposition leaders, Maria Corina Machado, was hosted at an event in Toronto at which she thanked Harper’s right-wing government and Canadian-Venezuelans for their ongoing support.
The event, organized by the Canadian Council for the Americas, was presided by boardroom chair and event moderator, Kenneth N. Frankel and it purported to want to bring stability to the country. Machado spoke to about 60 staunch opposition supporters at the offices of Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP, a law firm in Scotia Plaza, on the corner of King and Bay, in Toronto.
So the few critics who were willing to pay the $60 fee to get in were not exactly amongst welcoming company.
This was particularly true for Julian Ichim, who stuck out like a sore thumb wearing jeans, a white t-shirt, black leather jacket and green army cap. When he rose to demand accountability from Machado, Ichim, who had a limp and walked with a cane, was quickly escorted out by five big guards.
“Over 40 people have died as a result of the actions of the opposition,” he said as he held up a cardboard that read “MARIA CORINA IS A LIAR” in big, bold letters.
“You refuse to sit down in peace…You refuse to negotiate. What you are doing is illegal, you have blood on your hands…” he was saying as he was dragged away.
Most booed him, hissed and yelled at him to leave, even Machado, asserted “This is only what they have, they don’t have nothing…”, in a manner as If she was enjoying seeing Ichim was dragged violently away. Not surprising, as Julian probably recognized he was behind enemy lines.
The accountability Ichim demanded referred to the fact that Machado recently lost her seat in the National Assembly for accepting a position, without the National Assembly’s authorization, as alternate envoy for Panama in the Organization of American States. Not to mention that she’s been at the forefront of advocating on behalf of and stoking the violent protests in Venezuela, and prior to that she was one of the signatories of the Carmona Decree, signed by supporters of the U.S.-backed coup against Chavez’ government in 2002.
Ignoring Ichim, Machado regained her composure and continued her speech amid cheers and applause from the crowd.
In fact, this crowd, which filled up on champagne, Heineken and expensive wine, could have cared less about Machado’s record of inciting violence. Or the fact she violated the Venezuelan Constitution after accepting the position with Panama without consent of the National Assembly or of the president, as stipulated by articles 149 and 191, respectively.
Or about her work with Súmate, a “civil society” organization that passed itself as an election-monitoring organization, and which was charged with treason and conspiracy for receiving funds from the US-backed National Endowment for Democracy.
During question period, the only two other people who were critical of her and the opposition were interrupted, booed and ultimately not allowed to ask everything they wanted to.
Maria Paez Victor, a prominent sociologist, was quickly interrupted.
“An attempt to represent the government of Panama in the Organization of American States is an example of your lack of loyalty to the constitution of Venezuela,” said Paez Victor, adding that no one in the Canadian parliament would, or even could, act in such a disloyal way.
The hissing and booing resumed, and Frankel demanded she get to the question or “we’ll have to go on.”
Victor continued with her explanation, but Frankel interrupted again and instead just gave her the question. “So why did she join Panama is your question,” said Frankel in an annoyed tone.
When Victor protested, Frankel protested back. “No, no, that is your question, thank you,” he said.
Another critic, Raul Burbano, who said he had been an international observer in the 2010 Venezuelan parliamentary elections, noted that many international observers have praised Venezuela’s electoral system.
“So it is…ridiculous that you would complain of corruption in the (election process),” Barbano said. He, too, was abruptly cut off and his question was deflected by Frankel once again.
Aside from sidelining the critics, the rest of the event unfolded with much fanfare amongst the corporate crowd. Despite Machado being an hour late, her half-hour speech riled up the troops, many of whom by now, probably half-drunk, cheered on loudly. Yet, none of what she said was original.
It was more of the same uncorroborated and inflammatory facts peddled in the media about inflation rates, violence, shortages, censorship in Venezuela, without an ounce of scrutiny to the violence and deaths attributable to the rightwing protests in Venezuela.
But this attitude is, at least, consistent.
At a similar event on Wednesday in Ottawa, a group of peaceful anti-Machado protesters outside another Machado event were violently pushed from the auditorium and assaulted by Machado supporters.
In the past, these same type of opposition supporters have threatened if not assaulted Toronto Anglican priest Father Hernan Astudillo, who expressed support for the Chavez and Maduro governments in the past.
By the end of the event, no concrete suggestions toward stability, dialogue or even semblance of peace were put forward. Just photo ops with one of the Venezuelan right wing’s leading figure.