Netfa Freeman discusses the unique perspective of the Embassy Protection Collective’s work through the lens of the Black working class and their connection with Venezuela
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: This is Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network.
A delegation of US members of the Embassy Protection Collective have returned from spending ten days in Venezuela, meeting with community leaders, social organizations, and government officials, including a private meeting with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. If you recall, for 37 days and with the permission of the democratically-elected government of Venezuela, members of the Embassy Protection Collective held the space in the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, DC, and refused to hand over control of the buildings to the US-backed and selected President, Juan Guaido, and his ambassador, Carlos Vecchio.
Here to talk to me today in the studio about this trip is Netfa Freeman. Netfa is a member of the Black Alliance for Peace Coordinating Committee, and is also an organizer with Pan-African Community Action here in Washington, DC. Netfa, thank you so much for joining me in the studio today.
NETFA FREEMAN: Well, thank you for having me.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Talk about this trip. Give me just your general overall impressions of this trip, just as a member of the delegation.
NETFA FREEMAN: Well, it was a pretty fantastic trip, in my opinion. One, we went there to not only meet with the others, and I think you might have mentioned, I’m not sure. We went and we participated in the Sao Paolo Forum, which is a forum of grassroots movements and organizations of Latin America. They’re the Latin American left. It’s been going on ever since the first one in Sao Paolo Brazil, and it’s adopted the name Sao Paolo Forum because of where the first one was. This year it was in Venezuela, following actually the meeting of the Non-Aligned meeting. A Non-Aligned meeting is an alignment of governments in the South that are opposing US hegemony and European and US hegemony. That was the governments, and then following that is the grassroots organizations all in Venezuela.
We also met with, like you said, a number of grassroots movements or people’s organizations or people’s projects. We say people-centered projects that Venezuela has been supporting where people are organizing communes, people’s communes, on the ground to deal with their regular, everyday life and their basic human needs—childcare, healthcare, those kind of things. We even visited places that constructed their own apartments and then created bakeries and healthcare centers and childcares in there and are working together to maintain the facilities and everything, or the commune for themselves.
We met with the Human Rights envoy to the United Nations, Larry DeVoe of Venezuela, the Venezuelan Human Rights envoy, and he talked about the whole issue of human rights and how skewed and what – really issues they’re dealing with. It’s a number of things that we did, and then of course, like you said, we had the private meeting with President Nicolas Maduro. Also, one of the things we did was we participated in the Sao Paolo Forum. We participated in a session of Afro-descendants in the Sao Paolo Forum, which came up with a number of declarations or resolutions that were their contribution to the Sao Paolo Forum.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: I want start, I think, with your meeting with the human rights representative, DeVoe, and his perspective on the US narrative on the “human rights abuses” that officials in this country are frequently accusing the Maduro government and the government before him of committing against the people of Venezuela. What were his comments about that, and what are your perspectives on that?
NETFA FREEMAN: It was very refreshing to get that take, and I think largely his comments and also our criticisms of the US imperialist media, there’s a lot of stuff that’s left out. Some of the things … Well, they leave out the opposition’s atrocities against people, particularly people of African descent, burning a young man alive in the streets. Or anybody who is suspected of being a Chavista, they would commit all kinds of murders.
Now, some of the things that the US envoys accuse countries of is the police coming down, the agents of the state coming down on the opposition and beating them and doing certain things. Now, he was careful to make sure we didn’t say that that didn’t happen, but what is also missing from the imperialist narrative is that they’ve prosecuted police for these things, and people have been up against trials and one person was even jailed, a police officer. So it’s not like they’re not aware of it. These things are not things that are sanctioned by the government. These are people … Things get out of hand or maybe somebody else has just taken it upon themselves to do things, and they’re not denying those things, but that’s not what you hear in the media.
And then, how the sanctions are a violation of the human rights, how they’ve affected food and medicines and those kind of things and how the media pretends that those aren’t the things that they’re affected by.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: I’m glad you raised the issue of sanctions because recently there was another round of sanctions imposed on Venezuela by this administration, and apparently a report was released that a Venezuelan official had personal sanctions issued against him after meeting with someone in this administration. And of course, we just heard about the shipment of food that was intercepted and denied to be delivered to Venezuela because of the sanctions from this administration.
Why is it that people in this country do not equate those kinds of sanctions and food blockades and medicine blockades— which this administration claims it does not stop medicine from entering into these countries, but we have seen that that’s not true—why do people in this country not equate those actions with violations of the human rights of the people of Venezuela?
NETFA FREEMAN: I was saying, and one, it’s largely because of the low level of political understanding and the culpability of the media in that understanding, so they don’t talk about the effects of sanctions. They often spin sanctions. The media often spins sanctions as targeted sanctions or targeting individuals, those kind of things, and they don’t deal with the impact that it has on countries. We saw it in Iraq when Madeleine Albright was even smug about how many sanctions, how many people in Iraq the US killed, how many children. But normally, people just don’t pay attention to the details of politics, and the media doesn’t help people understand things like that.
They spend a lot of time demonizing an individual, and this is also about individuals. They also make it all about individuals and they’re not showing the mass demonstrations that are against the imperialism and against the US aggression. We don’t hear from people on the ground unless they can pick some person and just even sometimes taking their comments out of context. Things like sanctions and reports, like the Center for Economic Policy Research came out with a report. So since 2017, over 4,000— was it maybe 40,000— people died as a result of the sanction in Venezuela as a result of the sanctions the United States has imposed. This happens all the time.
Also, the sanctions always accompany, and this is another part that shows that a lot of times the corporate media operates, as I say, as the fourth branch of the government, is that they’re always accompanied by propaganda, and by also the using of usually the white, rich privileged class as proxies on the ground, and they’ll either interview them or, like in the case of Juan Guaido and his cohort, be positioning them to be able to take over when these are not people that really represent the interests of the masses of people in a country, but they’re presented as doing so. People never see the regular, black and brown Venezuelans on the ground and the protests that they have and hear what they explain about their country and their process of democracy. We never hear about, how’s voting taking place? What kind of mass assemblies? Do they have mass assemblies where people talk— Because this is really what happens in Venezuela and a lot of places.
But we don’t even … One, they don’t have it here. There’s no mass assemblies talking about things that are binding and the government officials and whatnot have to implement, so that’s not even something people can understand or wrap their minds around, normally. And then also how the voting process happens is often very convoluted and complex in this country, and then in other countries they just don’t even cover it. It’s just they will always throw, following the results of an election, a loser in question. People question those elections and “The results aren’t—And then “Maduro is not legitimate because there was something,” and they don’t even explain what. They don’t go into details, and that’s all people got to hear.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: You just raised the issue of people in this country not seeing the black and brown, mostly black and brown working-class citizens in Venezuela who are basically living out a democracy that we don’t even have here in this country in regard to elections. Going back to why you were there, you were there as a member of the Embassy Protection Collective. There was a specific dynamic that we saw outside of the embassy during that 37 days that was raised pretty immediately, I think after two or three days when the counter-protesters finally began to show up. And we noticed that the makeup of the counter-protesters was pretty specific. And then it was raised, the point that you just made, that the counter-protesters outside of the embassy in Venezuela don’t actually represent the body of the population in Venezuela, and certainly doesn’t represent the political backbone of the people of Venezuela who are Chavistas and who are defending their electoral process and their right to determination.
Let me ask, did President Maduro speak to those issues about representation, how his country’s people, how the people of Venezuela are represented in this country, and what that means for how Venezuela is seen, and how he’s seen?
NETFA FREEMAN: Yeah. He did speak to that and we did have a meeting with President Nicolas Maduro that was just the Embassy Protection Collective. Myself and Vanessa Beck were there also part of the collective representing the Black Alliance for Peace. Our particular mission was to present or to advance our principle of building a people-centered human rights project against imperialism, war, and repression. That’s why we were there, so it was a little bit slightly different in the sense that it overlaps with the other people that were, but we’re representing black people and we’re not doing so thinking that we’re trying to hold our government accountable.
We see the repression that Venezuela and the people of Venezuela face as the same thing we’re facing here, domestically inside the United States and around the world. We’re identifying with the people who are the targets of that oppression because we are of them, versus people who have some relationship to the oppressor but don’t agree with their policies. That’s a little different. I want to answer – get to your question and just also to conclude is that our reason for supporting Venezuela is the same reason we have for supporting Haiti and our people in Honduras and Africa or anything. And so we have to see it that way, that we’re building our people’s movement and that we have to also hold people to try to make people see the connections.
President Nicolas Maduro raised something very interesting. He’s a very astute person I think. A lot of times you hear all this stuff about people. They focus so much on individuals. And he was very humorous and talked about murder and all these kind of things, things that don’t really pan out. But one of the things he raised was the reviving of, and I think it’s very instructive for us to understand and know about this, the reviving of the Monroe Doctrine and anticommunism.
He’s looking at it mostly from the lens, which is what government officials from another country do, their responsibility is deal with their own country. But what I saw is like, “Oh, this is also the foreign policy that mirrors the domestic policies we’re facing.” Monroe Doctrine, white supremacy, anticommunism, our struggle as black or brown people, working-class black and brown people in the United States, facing austerity, gentrification, increased police repression, mass incarceration, all that kind of stuff is what we’re facing here that mirrors the foreign policy that the United States and the Western governments are leveling against Venezuela and other countries, particularly countries that are trying to chart their own path and exercise their right to self-determination.
It’s like we live in a world that they’re trying to take us down a neoliberal path that offers nothing to anyone except the disregard for people’s human rights and self-determination. Diminishing resources that they want to keep and hold to themselves for upper-class oligarchy of the world that is largely white and Western and European.
For us, we have to build something that’s more conservationist in terms of resources and the environment, and also cooperation as opposed to competition. Theirs’s is competition and appropriation. Ours has to be cooperation and conservation. We got to see that foreign policy and the domestic policy mirror each other and they’re bipartisan in their approach, because right now we ain’t seeing any of the candidates talking about—They’re claiming they’re against Trump, but nobody’s really talking about the racism reflected in this foreign policy against Venezuela. The blatant gangsterism of seizing, I think you mentioned, a food shipment going through Panama. They seized that shipment claiming that they’re for the people of Venezuela, but you’re going to take the food. This is blatant stuff. We have progressive policy makers that everyone wants to lift up, and that’s fine, but they got to take a position. It’s their responsibility to because you have a lot of media attention, and we don’t get media attention. The real mainstream media, they got to use that platform.
This is what we’re up against. I think this shows that when some people end up either pledging allegiance or putting themselves in a position to have to demonstrate allegiance to United States, it comes with strings attached that means you have to in some way embrace or be quiet about the policies, some of the most blatant policies of repression—war and imperialism— that the country characterizes, that’s characterized by the country.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: But Netfa, what about people whose criticism of your participation in the Embassy Protection Collectives and Black Alliance for Peace’s participation, and these kinds of events where you are taking a meeting with someone that they will say is a dictator and who is a criminal? And they use that to say, “You met with a dictator and a criminal, so that invalidates anything else you have to say about criticism of the United States.” How does people’s response that you know is that way, how does that factor into this whole argument of anti-imperialism?
NETFA FREEMAN: One, we have to understand that capitalism and imperialism comes with propaganda. They’re trying to tell us what to think without any critical analysis. No information. We also are not supposed to consider that they lie. Kwame Ture used to say, “They didn’t lie some of the time. They lie all of the time.” And so, they will always bandy around. They bandy around terms like dictator, terrorist, communism.
We’re just supposed to accept those things without any critical analysis, without any information that we’re able to research and follow up on, refute or confirm these things, so I’m not going to—But there are things that we do know that should inform our understanding so that we’re not fooled or duped by or hoodwinked by what they say. You’re not going to come and tell me I’m supposed to believe that Nicolas Maduro is a dictator, but yet domestically you know and don’t do anything about the propaganda that says our movements are influenced by the Russians.
And that’s what’s out there in the media right now. They’re saying we’re influenced by Russian propaganda. We don’t have sense enough to understand, so that’s what’s motivating our fight for self-determination and liberation against police and those kind of things, or that we’re black identity extremists, we’re fostering—These are things that are meant to undermine our movement, not bring truth. There used to be a time when we would know and people like Malcolm X warned us that we have to think for ourselves, that they will tell us that we should be going west. If we listen to them, we’ll be going west when we should be going east. We’ll be going right when we should be going left, those kind of things. We have to be able to see through that.
And there’s another question at stake there that you mentioned. Yes, we sat and we met with Nicolas Maduro. One, the people of Venezuela, when we should be able to go and find out things for ourselves, that was part of the mission, the people of Venezuela were so grateful, not just Nicolas Maduro. The people were so grateful for us standing in the embassy and protecting the embassy. Everywhere we went. Sitting with Nicolas Maduro and anyone else in Venezuela is to hear for ourselves what they have to say. To be able to sit, stop and scrutinize for ourselves, not to be told what it is about them.
That also goes along – it’s related to the principle of the right of self-determination. The right of self-determination, of national self-determination, means Venezuela has that right and we got to respect that right. We can’t be aiding and abetting the imperialist narrative that says, this is a dictator and that’s why they’re going on—They don’t care about human rights. There’s nothing about what they do that cares about human rights when you support Saudi Arabia that doesn’t even have elections and is a monarchy or you bomb innocent children in Yemen and in Syria and those kind of things, and you prop up dictators and depose democratically-elected people in Honduras and Haiti.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Just to be clear, when you say “they” you mean the United States government.
NETFA FREEMAN: United States government and all its oligarchy that they work for and the propaganda machine that aids and abets their policies.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Let me circle back to what Maduro said about the representation of the people of Venezuela, and connecting it to the representation or the lack of the representation of Afro-Venezuelans, and the Sao Paolo conference. Explain why the Sao Paolo conference is so important, not just to the representation and the voices of Afro-Venezuelan, Afro-Latino people, Afro-Caribbean people, but also to black people in the United States.
NETFA FREEMAN: This was, and I thought it was really important that they both came on the heels of, one, that Sao Paolo came on the heels of the Non-Aligned Movement too. But the Sao Paolo Forum is a chance for us to connect with people, grassroots movements in Latin America, of the left and find out “What common interests do we have? How can we cooperate with each other across international lines?” It wasn’t just the Sao Paolo Forum. I don’t know if you were saying this, but just to be clear, it wasn’t just about Afro-Latino. That was a component of the broader forum.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Ah. I see. I see.
NETFA FREEMAN: There was the Afro-Latino forum. There were different sessions. One for women, youth, all kind of things, and everyone contributed to the larger forum’s declarations against imperialism and those kind of things and their interests.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So they had a communal, democratic process for coming up with policies for their own self-determination?
NETFA FREEMAN: Yeah, and declarations of what are we going to pursue as grassroots movements and organizations? And people meeting with each other and all those kind of things to figure out, what can we do when we go back to our respective countries? A lot of countries were represented. Even though the Sao Paolo Forum generally is focused on this hemisphere and Latin America, there’s also invariably people from South Africa or other countries around the world. You can’t have-
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: What a fascinating concept!
NETFA FREEMAN: Yeah. But you can’t have those—So it was really good to hear, and in fact the Afro-descendants actually kind of had to— and I’ll just be real—had to wage a little protest to make sure that African descendants were included in the declaration. There was something in it. They didn’t completely omit it, but they were like, “No, we have something more pronounced and we can’t be this footnote, and there’s a loophole,” but, which is not something you hear, it was embraced and they had them come up and they held the Brother Chucho Garcia’s—He’s one of the people really known and they lifted up each other’s hand, you know how you do with – and then they allowed them to read the full Declaration of African Descendants into the record with all the other declarations. Instead of saying, “Oh … ” There was this chant, “What about the African descendants? Where are the African descendants?” Then as the chant grew, to me I was really – we’re coming as a British colony. We’re in there and I’m expecting people to look at them like, “Why are they disrupting things,” and whatever-
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Which is what is done here, what we’re used to.
NETFA FREEMAN: Right. Instead, the whole room started chanting with them. White people, everybody.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Interesting.
NETFA FREEMAN: Yeah. So it was, right? And then they end up addressing it. So it was a little, “We still got to push our own interests and everything,” but it’s great to be in a space that will accommodate and recognize and acknowledge the oversight. They did that. They made an apology.
Anyway, to get to your question, this is the kind of thing also, it’s very seldomly that people from the United States, and we have to really be organized here that we actually connect with movements and formations and congregations like that, gatherings like that. We have to be part of that. It’s a little bit unique here because we’re actually in the belly of the beast. We are living in a country that is the citadel of the capitalism and imperialism in the world, and sometimes people come when you come there, and they look at you sideways like, “Why are they here?” That kind of thing. So we have to be able to show up and show we are in it, but we not of it. Same thing that hap-
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Hold on just a second. When Americans attend these conferences or these gatherings of people who are fighting the imperialist system we live in, we’re seen with that kind of imperialist—Our motives are questioned because of our American-ness, and then we sort of have to prove ourselves that, “No. We are fighting the same thing that you’re fighting.” Is that what you’re saying?
NETFA FREEMAN: Well, let me make it a little bit more clear. Any gathering like that, you’re going to have some people that question. You have some people with different levels of political sophistication and understanding. There are people who have been in a struggle for a long time in other parts of the world that know there are anti-imperialist liberation struggle is going on within the United States, and there are people that represent that.
But then there’s also, you can imagine here, if we have a space that we want to be of black people trying to organize and then somebody comes and they’re not black, sometime our people do that. “What they doing here,” right? Then some of us have to explain, “Well, that’s an ally.” We have to kind of put the record straight and let a—And then it’s also up to us to be in those spaces to articulate our position, to show that we have a clear position and that we also have to teach people or at least let more people know, and this also happened in – we were in Cuba. A lot of times it’s looked at as the people in the United States, there’s not—How do I put it? For us, I’m going to say Pan-African Community Action, we look at black people in particular, and we’re not just talking about black people, but us in particular. We’re a domestic colony in this United States, so if we look at things from a political science point of view, everything that characterizes colonization, we face. It’s not about the geographic distance between the colonized and the metropole. It’s about the conditions of power and exploitation, and we face that here.
Sometimes people don’t understand that. They get all kind of other propaganda. We don’t have a voice and we don’t have media that allows us to articulate what we’re up against. We have to go places sometimes and spread whatever means of media we do have, but also to explain that we are also facing repression. As one of the things with the Afro-descendants, in one of the things I brought up, and they know, because some people they know stuff, but I brought up that the declarations might need to say something explicit about African people in the United States. They embraced it, but it just didn’t occur to them right away, and they also, rightly so, criticized me because I was out of the room when it was time to raise that issue.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: I’m glad you brought that point up, the connection between this forum on Afro-descended people and Venezuela at the Sao Paolo conference, and the colonized condition of African Americans and making this connection there and bringing that connection here, because I want to end on this. Why is this development important that happened at the Sao Paolo conference at the forum on Afro-descendants in this conversation that we are having in this moment with the ADOS movement and their view, a very dim and dismissive view, of Pan-Africanism in particular?
NETFA FREEMAN: Well one, that what happened in the Sao Paolo Forum, and part of the resolution was explicitly talking about Pan-Africanism, revolutionary Pan-Africanism. So it’s a digression for is to get away from that. We have a movement that goes back quite some time and has been attacked in so many ways. Now they’re trying to revive and re-embrace the Pan-African movement, particularly on making connections with our brothers and sisters on the continent of Africa, so it’s explicitly mentioned in their resolutions, and we have to do the same thing, and realize that anything else, when we call ourselves American descendants of slaves, that means everything started after the Middle Passage, and that our allegiance is to this capitalist imperialist system that represses us right here in the United States and doesn’t want us to have connections and make the links between the repression that they level against our people in other places.
So it’s very important they operate on a global level and are very sophisticated and very clear about their interests of full-spectrum dominance, is what they actually term it. We have to be just as clear and just as sophisticated and struggle to win.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Thank you so much, Netfa, for joining me in the studio today and bringing this incredible knowledge with us. And thank you as always for your tireless work. I appreciate it. Appreciate everything.
NETFA FREEMAN: Thank you.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And thank you for watching, for joining us. Continue to watch our coverage of not only the unfolding events in Venezuela, but around the world where people are continuing to fight for self-determination in the face of capitalism and imperialism. This is Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network. Thank you for watching.