This week a Twitter troll with the typically (and typically cowardly) anonymous handle of @Jesus78773335 came after me online.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro had just rammed through his project to rewrite the country’s constitution and set himself up in a dictatorship, à la Cuba. I had just tweeted about it – and then Troll Jesus accused me, falsely, of being “an earlier supporter of [Hugo] Chavez,” the late founder of the socialist “Chavista” revolution that’s ruled Venezuela since 1999.
“I remember it,” Troll Jesus warned me, apparently aiming for a public shaming.
Though flattered that Troll Jesus remembered my journalism from so far back – you must be pretty old, Troll Jesus! – I replied that, like most correspondents in those days, I had credited Chávez with reducing poverty but criticized him for subverting democracy. To which Troll Jesus shot back, “Like most leftists who always have a soft spot for communist [sic].”
I smiled and thought: Now it starts.
The Venezuelan Revolution has trashed whatever doubt remained that it’s become the Cuban Revolution. Thus, witch-hunting Venezuelan exile trolls look set to trash whatever doubt remains that they’ve become witch-hunting Cuban exile trolls – the ones who scream “comunista!” at anyone they judge insufficiently anti-Castro.
Dear Venezuelan-American community: Don’t let that happen. Not if you want to keep Venezuela’s dictatorship from lasting more than half a century like Cuba’s.
I assume Troll Jesus is Venezuelan, though I don’t know for sure since he doesn't identify himself. But the moment Venezuelans, and especially Venezuelan expats, let clods like him hijack their outreach to the world, they’ll find they’ve burned the very bridges they need to smartly – and I emphasize “smartly” – isolate the Chavista regime.
Which is why the Venezuelan political opposition here and in-country needs to step back and learn from the Cuban exiles in their muddled and failed quest to topple the Castro regime.
The Cuban exiles' major success of course was galvanizing Washington to back their anti-Castro crusade – chiefly with a U.S. trade embargo against Cuba that’s still in effect after 55 years. Granted, it’s not hard to get U.S. politicians to punish a dictatorship that once urged the Soviets to fire nuclear missiles at us. Still, the Cuban exiles’ impressive voter turnout has helped keep the Beltway engaged decade after decade – a lesson Doral needs to embrace if it wants the clout of Little Havana.
But in reality, that’s the easy part. For Republicans and Democrats alike, it’s a no-brainer to show up at Versailles, drink café cubano and shout, “Cuba libre!” And, especially as Venezuelans’ numbers keep burgeoning here, they’ll now show up at Arepazo Dos, eat arepas and shout, “Venezuela libre!”
FEEL YOUR PAIN
Here’s the harder part: getting regular Americans – and more important, the rest of the world – to feel your admittedly justified pain with a modicum of the urgency you do. And, believe me, you won’t accomplish that by trolling social media and recklessly labeling people comunista just because they don’t feel it as urgently as you do. Or because they might have once conceded – and fairly – that Hugo Chávez did once help Venezuela’s poor in ways Venezuela’s ancien régime had not.
You will accomplish it by patiently, diplomatically and convincingly engaging people outside your Weston echo chamber. Not just getting them to listen to you about Chavista tyranny in Venezuela; but also listening to them when they may not agree with you about how best to dislodge that tyranny.
Mostly, that means persuading the international community, especially the Latin American street, to pressure the Chavistas in ways the Cuban exiles (who managed to alienate Nelson Mandela) failed to do vis-à-vis the Castros. (You may have noticed the embargo is still unilateral.)
I’m all for conservative Florida Senator Marco Rubio stumping against Maduro. But a more important ally may be Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. Rubio holds Santos in contempt for negotiating what he deems too lenient a peace with Colombia’s Marxist guerrillas. But Santos, who has also come out against Maduro’s dictatorial power grab, probably wields more influence in engineering an eventual exit for the Chavistas than Rubio does.
So, Venezuelans, choose your brokers in this campaign…smartly. And maybe unfollow Troll Jesus.