Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr., civil rights leader and former presidential candidate, traveled to Caracas on Thursday to attend the funeral of Hugo Chavez, the flamboyant, anti-American, socialist leader of Venezuela who died on Tuesday. Jackson is surprisingly not a member of the official U.S. delegation sent to attend Chavez’s funeral. However, he has a history of getting things from hostile foreign leaders, especially Americans held captive abroad.
Jackson explained in a special op-ed piece for CNN, “Seize this moment to forge ties with Venezuela,” that while the socialist leader gained support from many of the region’s poorest communities, other world powers ostracized him and his socialist regime. However, Jackson strongly believes “peaceful, constructive negotiation should carry the day over isolation and demonization.”
The use of the term “demonization” may be referencing Chavez’s 2006 speech, in which he referred to George W. Bush as “the devil.” Jackson has been particularly invested in Venezuela and the Chavez regime. In 2005, he visited the country after Reverend Pat Robertson called for the assassination of the socialist leader.
Jackson values diplomacy and communication above all else, saying, “It's been my experience that talking, keeping lines of communication open to friend and foe alike, can reap dividends. Nations cannot always agree, but we can always talk. That does not require a sacrifice of principles or signal weakness. I believe in the Gandhi principles, favoring peaceful negotiation over military confrontation.”
Jackson concluded his op-ed by discussing the “common ground” between the U.S. and Venezuela. For one, there are 200,000 Venezuelans living in the U.S., including 70 major league baseball players. Not only do Venezuelans have a strong presence in Major League Baseball, Venezuela has surpassed Saudi Arabia as the holder of the world’s largest oil reserves. The U.S. remains the largest importer of Venezuelan oil. For this reason, both countries can and will benefit economically from peaceful relations.
President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have both expressed a desire to forge a more positive relationship with Venezuela. Jackson’s calm approach to diplomacy and communication may be exactly what the United States needs to secure ties with Venezuela.