The following is an email exchange between Matilda Corral of Caracas, Venezuela and Jennifer Fasulo regarding Falulo's article, Chavez's Shameful Embrace of Ahmadinejad. Corral sent her response to Women's Enews where a revised version of the article appeared.
On Chavez from Caracas, Venezuela
by Matilda Corral
Sept. 29, 2006
To the editor,
Jennifer Fasulo's critique of the Venezuela's record on women's rights under President Hugo Chávez raises several important issues worthy of debate, not the least of which is the proper response we should have to President Chávez's warm relationship to Iran's President Amadinejad. However, the piece contains one serious error and fails to fully recognize the accomplishments of the Bolivarian Revolution in relation to women's issues.
Fasulo is wrong to say that President Chávez has a strong anti-abortion stance and initially advocated for making abortion unconstitutional. During the 1999 deliberations on the Constitution President Chávez initially supported but ultimately backed away from a constitutional right to abortion. The lack of a provision in the Venezuelan Constitution for legal abortion is an obvious void in what otherwise is a groundbreaking document. Criticism may be warranted on this issue, but keep in mind that Chavez also resisted pressure from the Catholic Church to make abortion unconstitutional.
However, a full appreciation of Chávez's record should acknowledge the following impressive accomplishments as well:
• During President Chávez's administration a woman (Adina Bastidas)served for the first time as vice-president. Current, Tibisay Lucena serves as president of the National Electoral Council.
• The language of the new constitution is consciously gender neutral(e.g., "venezolanos y venezolanas"), something the president himself triesto practice in public speeches. This doesn't seem like such a big issue for English speakers, but by having to constantly say "ellos y ellas" instead ofjust "they" really raises the equality of women up again and again.
• The constitution has several progressive clauses on women's rights. For example, article 88 "guarantees the equity and equitable treatment ofmen and women in the exercise of the right to work. The state recognizeswork at home at an economic activity that creates added value and produces social welfare and wealth."
• Although some women's organizations have rightly criticized the government for failing to adequately respond to issues of violence against women, the Chávez government has established a National Institute for Women (Inamujer) that promotes education about abuse and also social and economicinclusion of women. Several other new laws, available at the Inamujer website, promote gender equality. A development bank for women (Banmujer) is an important part of this effort.
• The great majority of participants in the Misiones (social programs for education, culture, new cooperatives) are women. Likewise, those working to organize the "consejos comunales" in their communities are mostly women. For the first time, many women are getting out of their homes in the barrios, participating, organizing, leading and getting involved.
We welcome debate over Venezuela's record in regard to women's rights, but we hope that accomplishments as well as shortcomings will be taken intoaccount.
Actress and Theater Directress
Jennifer Fasulo responds:
October 04, 2006
Dear Ms. Corral,
I believe I did recognize the merits as well as short-comings of Hugo Chavez's presidency. ("He has pushed economic initiatives for women and has recognized the financial contribution of women's unpaid labor in the home. Recently, he initiated an signed a bill that would compensate women for their unpaid housework, something that socialist feminist have been fighting for several decades.")
I think it's accurate to say that Chavez takes a strong anti-abortion stance when he has repeatedly made public statements to this effect (referring to himself as a " 'pro-life' Catholic," stating his "abhorrence" for abortion and his agreement with Canon Law that those who practice abortion should be ex-communicated, etc) If he privately feels differently than I hope he will remand the statements he's made to the contrary and take some public action. Venezuela's lack of provision for legal abortion is more than a void-- it's a major cause of death for young women ages 15 to 19. 200-to-300 deaths by botched abortions per year are registered in Venezuela. When women are demanding reproductive rights and justice world-wide, including in many Latin American countries, I see no reason why in revolutionary Venezuela, Chavez should be given a free pass on this issue from feminists and leftists around the world.
I am not anti-Chavez-- I have been a supporter of the Bolivarian revolution. I have closely followed its gains and victories, and reported favorably on its pro-feminist initiatives for international feminist news. But frankly, Chavez's public lauding of Ahmadinejad was completely appalling to me and has caused me to call into question his commitment to women and revolutionary politics. I would like to know why so few others are outraged by this. Have we so little solidarity with the women's rights struggle in Iran? Where is our support for the women who have tirelessly and fearless fought the Islamic Republic's persecution of them for 27 years? On International women's day, Iranian women once again set an example for the women of the world-- turning out by the thousands to demonstrate for their rights, despite prohibitions and threats from the Islamic Republic. Whose side was Chavez on when Ahmadinejad and his religious police ruthlessly beat the women protesters, including an 80 year old feminist poet? What does he think of his friend Ahmadinejad's brutal suppression of the transit workers strike in Tehran this past December-- the arrest and illegal detention of not only hundreds of bus workers, but their wives and children as well! Is he really unaware of the tens of thousands of communists and radicals who have been jailed and executed by the theocratic regime that he calls "heroic'?
Venezuela has so much more to gain from uniting with the vital women's and workers' movements in Iran than with the virulently right-wing forces that oppose them. I can't make that point any more clear. I wrote the article because I believe that Chavez should be confronted on this-- I think it's up to all feminists and leftists of conscience to demand that he get on the right side of the fight in Iran.
Yours in Struggle,
Below are links to sources documenting some of the Islamic Regime's recent repression of women and workers in Iran.
"I want to live!" Open Letter from Kobra Rahmanpour
July 11, Worldwide Anniversary Day Against Stoning.
Six women on the verge of being stoned in Iran
Iran's Brutal Assault Yesterday on Women Celebrating International Women's Day
Iran: Amnesty International Calls for Release of Bus Workers
Iran: Release Workers Arrested for a Strike
Hundreds Detained for Planning Protest
Even children are not spared! Interview with Mahdiye Salimi, 12 year old daughter of union member who was beaten and arrested.