The following open letter is addressed to Jim Karygiannis: Liberal Member of Parliament for Scarborough-Agincourt.
I would like to bring to your attention my grave concern over your actions and comments that undermine the sovereignty of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and contribute to the political polarization in Venezuela. By neglecting the facts you are doing a disservice to Canadians and Venezuelans alike, and adding fuel to a conflict that can only be resolved internally.
Your position as an elected member of the Canadian Parliament is a privilege that comes with great responsibility -- a responsibility to ensure that you undertake due diligence when advocating for or against issues or, at a minimum, present them in a manner not overly biased as is evident in your works around Venezuela.
It was a delight to hear that you had travelled to Venezuela to witness the presidential elections as this would afford you the opportunity to see participatory democracy in action.
In looking at your initial on the ground report the day of the elections, it would appear that the democratic process in Venezuela worked very well: "I witnessed democracy in action as I visited polling stations in Caracas."
This would further be validated by all 170 international observers on the ground that day, who also praised the transparency and integrity of the Venezuelan electoral process, "What we found was an election system which was transparent, inherently reliable, well-run and thoroughly audited."
Upon your return to Canada it appears you've taken a radically different view, by coming out attacking and criticizing the Venezuelan government and its electoral process -- going as far as saying it is "reminding us of dictatorships" in your emergency session request to the House of Commons on April 17.
That same request also referenced the point that people were killed on the streets, alluding to them as innocent opposition members merely asking for a recount. This is inaccurate and deliberately misleading, because a simple scan of any news source would have provided you with the fact that those seven innocent people killed were Nicloas Maduro supporters, and all evidence points to the perpetrators of those crimes coming from the Henrique Capriles ranks. Not coincidently, the actions of these perpetrators also included the burning down of the the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) offices, attacks on a medical clinic run by Cuban doctors, and even attacks on the home of the president of the National Electoral Council (CNE), Tibisay Lucena.
Being unaware of supporting the propagation of misinformation could mistakenly happen to anyone; however, when one looks a little closer into where your motivation is coming from, we start to get a clearer picture of the motives behind your actions, driven in large part by the Venezuelan right-wing diaspora here in Canada who are closely linked to defeated opposition candidate Enrique Capriles.
In a recent radio Canada international, interview, you clearly outline this fact for us. When asked by the radio interviewer to clarify in more detail which groups you are working with, you describe them as the Venezuelan diaspora in Canada, "mostly one-sided, Capriles-supportive against Chavez and Maduro." In addition to being invited by that "one-sided Venezuelan diaspora" to partake in the observation mission, it's no coincidence that of the 100 international observers invited by the opposition, you were one of the lucky 20 to be given observer credentials by Capriles.
While back in town you also spent the majority of your time questioning and casting doubt on the legitimacy of the electoral system and parroting the message of Capriles of the need for a recount and potential fraud.
What you neglected to mention is that the CNE conducts substantial pre and post-election audits via its electronic system. This means that 54 percent of all votes have already been audited and 14 audits were carried out before and during the process, ensuring accuracy and transparency by an independent institution. Also the sophisticated nature of the Venezuelan system has voting machines that produce a paper receipt which each voter receives as validation of their vote and in turn can be reconciled with the machine count. Therefore, fraud or manipulation of the Venezuelan electoral system is highly unlikely if not nearly impossible. This validates the opinion of another elections observer former Guatemalan President, Alvaro Colom, who referred to the system as “secure" and easily verifiable.” All these accounts appear to contradict your version of events and align with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter's observation mission when he called Venezuela’s electoral system "the best in the world."
It is important to note that Caprilles, hours prior to the electoral results being announced, attempted to discredit the electoral process by claiming on his Twitter account that the government was planning to "change the results." After the results were announced he publicly and irresponsibly rejected the official results and called on his supporters to take to the streets in protest which lead to his supporters causing destruction and violence. We should recall that it was this same person who during the coup d'etat against President Hugo Chávez in April 2002 led the assault on the Cuban Embassy in Caracas.
If you decided to side with the opposition and voice their propaganda as an individual, that would be your prerogative, but as an elected representative, it's disingenuous of you to present yourself a neutral observer whose aim is to safeguard democracy in Venezuela and abroad. If indeed you stand for the Liberal Party's vision of "open, fair, and strong democratic representation" it is incumbent on you to reassess your position on Venezuela or change parties as you are doing justice to neither.
The Conservative government has done enough to tarnish the image of Canada abroad; they do not need support from Liberals like you to build on their legacy. It's no coincidence that Canada has become increasingly marginalized in Latin America in particular amongst its regional institutions like the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). Your actions appear to reinforce the fact that that trajectory is a wise one. The people of Latin America have grown weary of jet setting Canadians who travel down south promoting the interest of elites in their countries and at home.
If indeed you care and share the same values as the Venezuelan people who today are struggling to uphold their democracy, peace and respect for their sovereignty, I ask that you reconsider your misguided stance on Venezuela and to seek council outside of the right-wing Venezuelans in Canada with close ties to Capriles who are leading you astray.
Until then, I demand that you stop propagating misinformation about Venezuela and that you rectify the false information that you have already distributed.
Raul Burbano, Common Frontiers
Sabrina Johnson, Latin American Solidarity Network
Raul Burbano is the program director of Common Frontiers (Canada).
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