[guest post by Dana]
Recently, three Chicago teachers and a union representative crowdfunded a trip to Venezuela this summer. . The group, which identified themselves as a Chicago Teachers Union delegation, met with officials in the Venezuelan government and with fellow educators. The group is now facing a barrage of criticism for their simultaneous praise of the socialist country and its government while at the same time condemning the United States in comparison:
They wrote online about wanting to connect with Venezuelan teachers, students and unionists, criticized U.S. economic sanctions against the South American nation and wrote admiringly of its socialism, its communes and high literacy rates.
But critics say the group glossed over Venezuela’s ongoing political and economic crises and were excessively complimentary of President Nicolás Maduro, whose administration has been accused in recent United Nations reports of “grave” human rights violations and violence against dissenters.
There seems to be some disagreement about whether the group went under the auspices of the Chicago Teachers Union:
And though the four travelers regularly called themselves a “CTU delegation” online, the union representing close to 25,000 people has sought to distance itself from the trip, stating the CTU did not endorse, sponsor or fund the trip.
Asked on WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight” last week about “some controversy” surrounding the excursion, union President Jesse Sharkey said: “Members go all kinds of places in the summer. This was neither an official trip nor something that was funded by the union. This is a group of people who are members of the CTU who decided to go to Venezuela.”
While that might be so, it doesn’t explain then why CTU would follow the group’s trip and retweet updates and observations made by the group on their official webpage:
Yet, the official CTU Twitter account retweeted some of the group’s updates, including a blog post titled “Introduction to CTU Delegation to Venezuela.”
CTU also retweeted another post by teacher Sarah Chambers, one of the travelers and a member of the CTU executive board, which read: “While staying in #Venezuela, we didn’t see a single homeless person. USA is the richest country in the world; yet, there are homeless people everywhere. Over 17k CPS students are homeless… This is why @CTULocal1 is fighting for fair housing #CTUAgainstVezIntervention.”
[Ed. Are you kidding me? “We didn’t see a single homeless person”? Yeah, I don’t think so… Perhaps there is a massive void on the streets of Venezuela now that 3 million Venezuelans have been driven out of the country by their freefalling government. Of course, Potemkin villages certainly wouldn’t have homeless people milling around…]
Taking the group to task, a union member pointed out the dishonesty of the group:
[T]he Delegation fails to acknowledge is they used the CTU name to raise the funds, to set up meetings, to blog their ‘findings.’ This was never voted on. They don’t get it. Irresponsible and reckless.”
In another article about the trip written by Chambers, former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s name came up – and not in a favorable way:
“Through major economic hardships, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro never closed a single public school or a single health clinic. This stands in stark contrast to our experience in Chicago, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed 50 public schools and several mental health clinics in a single year,” Chambers said in the story for Fight Back! News, a publication that bills itself as “News and Views from the People’s Struggle.”
Imagine coming up short next to Maduro!
The group has received criticism from colleagues and fellow union members among others, for their political advocacy:
Ana Gil-Garcia, who co-founded the Illinois Venezuelan Alliance and teaches in the College of Education at Northeastern Illinois University, said the trip was unacceptable, though it would be different if they’d gone on their own, without using the CTU brand.
“Once you go there as a delegation of a very powerful union like the Chicago Teachers Union, it’s questionable,” Gil-Garcia said, adding the trip could come off as the union endorsing the Maduro regime, which she said has killed and imprisoned opponents and contributed to widespread food shortages in the country.
“That’s what makes me really upset about it,” she said. “The Chicago Teachers Union should be very objective because the membership is formed by people with different ways of thinking.”
Gil-Garcia said more than 50 people, many CTU members, contacted her, displeased by the group’s actions.
Further, 18 year veteran of Chicago Public Schools system and union member, Karen Moody saw the trip as a propaganda tour:
“I am appalled a delegation representing themselves as CTU went to Venezuela, not to support striking teachers, not to object to human rights violations, but to go on what appears to be a state-chaperoned propaganda tour… called the resolution’s “pro-Maduro” tone “heavily biased.”
“Both the resolution and the trip reflect the personal politics and world view of (CTU) leadership and their inner circle — not the majority of rank-and-file teachers,” Moody said.
Saying she’s not anti-socialist and leans “pretty far left” politically: “What I personally object to is not the word socialism — but the support of an extremist anti-democratic autocratic lunatic who rules by fear. “
And yet another Chicago Public Schools teacher criticized the trip:
Rebecca Testa-Ryan, said she found out about the trip when a fellow CTU member showed her the fundraiser.
“My first thought was, ‘Why would you voluntarily go to Venezuela when so many Venezuelans are fleeing the country?’” Testa-Ryan said.
Testa-Ryan said she recently returned from a trip to her native Panama, where she “had the chance to speak to many Venezuelans about the horrific conditions” there. Noting her own family had to endure the dictatorial rule of Panama’s Manuel Noriega, she said the Venezuela trip was disrespectful to Latino people and their history. She also took issue with the union resolution.
“CTU has no business involving themselves in foreign policy,” she said, adding that should be left to groups like the United Nations “and experts who have a handle with what is occurring on the ground in Venezuela.”
As a union member, Testa-Ryan said, “I did not vote for this type of representation nor am I comfortable (with) delegates supporting a dictator.”
Here is CTU’s resolution opposing US military intervention in Venezuela, and to advocate for the suspension of the current sanctions against Venezuela.
Takeaway: Bad U.S. Good Venezuela.