Three teachers and a union organizer flew to Venezuela to study the country’s successes in government and education in person, and now they’re taking heat for using the union’s name “on what appears to be a state-chaperoned propaganda tour.”
Chicago teacher and member of the Chicago Teachers Union, Karen Moody, is among dozens of union teachers who are complaining about a self-described “CTU Delegation to Venezuela” last month that’s distorting reality in the failed South American state to tout the alleged successes of socialism.
“I am appalled a delegation representing themselves as CTU went to Venezuela, not to support striking teachers, not to object to human rights violations, but to go on what appears to be a state-chaperoned propaganda tour,” Moody told the Chicago Tribune.
The trip was organized by members of a union faction that calls itself the Radical Educator Collective, which raised funds through a GoFundMe campaign titled “Send CTU Strikers to Venezuela” – some of the “delegation” participated in charter school strikes last year, according to the news site.
A blog titled “Introduction to CTU Delegation to Venezuela,” is dedicated to “the members delegation of the Chicago Teacher’s Union that are currently in Venezuela to learn from educators and activists on the ground.
“We are three rank and file charter school teachers and one CTU organizer,” it read. “We organized this delegation ourselves and fundraised for the trip independent of the CTU.”
The “independent” group donned CTU gear for their fundraising photos and regularly touted the union affiliation throughout the trip to the country’s communes. The group also promoted the country’s social welfare programs, spoke out against U.S. intervention, and ignored the widespread famine and violence.
Throughout the trip, the CTU’s official Twitter page re-tweeted updates from the Radical Educator Collective, though CTU President Jesse Sharkey downplayed the delegation as “a group of people who are members of the CTU who decided to go to Venezuela,” the Tribune reports.
Only one of the teachers on the trip, CTU executive board member Sarah Chambers, responded to the new site’s request for comment, and she pointed to a resolution approved by the union in March to oppose the “invasion of Venezuela” as the impetus for the trip.
The resolution condemns the Trump administration for “menacing pronouncements against the sovereign state of Venezuela by discrediting the result of the May 20, 2018, Venezuelan presidential election of Nicholas Maduro, and have backed the self-declared ‘Presidency’ of Juan Guaido.”
“While staying in #Venezuela, we didn’t see a single homeless person. USA is the richest country in the world; yet, there are homeless people everywhere,” Chambers posted to Twitter. “Over 17k CPS students are homeless … This is why @CTULocal1 is fighting for fair housing #CTUAgainstVezIntervention.”
Chambers also insinuated that Maduro – who is believed responsible for thousands of extrajudicial killings, tortured political opponents, and corruption that crippled the economy – is a much better leader than former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
“Through major economic hardships, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro never closed a single public school or a single health clinic,” she told Fight Back! News, the “News and Views from the People’s Struggle.” “This stands in stark contrast to our experience in Chicago, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed 50 public schools and several mental health clinics in a single year.”
Many Chicago union teachers aren’t impressed.
Ana Gil-Garcia, co-founder of the Illinois Venezuelan Alliance, told the Tribune more than about 50 Chicago teachers have contacted her to complain about the trip, which she said is unacceptable.
“Once you go there as a delegation of a very powerful union like the Chicago Teachers Union, it’s questionable,” Gil-Garcia said, sending the message the CTU endorses a Maduro regime alleged to have killed and imprisoned political opponents.
“That’s what makes me really upset about it,” she said. “The Chicago Teachers Union should be very objective because the membership is formed by people with different ways of thinking.”
“What I personally object to is not the word socialism – but the support of an extremist anti-democratic autocratic lunatic who rules by fear,” Moody said.
Chicago teacher Rebecca Testa-Ryan told the Tribune she’s from Panama and recently spoke with Venezuelans there about the “horrific conditions” in their homeland.
When she came across the fundraiser for the trip to Venezuela, “My first thought was, ‘Why would you voluntarily go to Venezuela when so many Venezuelans are fleeing the country?’” she said.
“CTU has no business involving themselves in foreign policy,” Testa-Ryan said, adding that she opposes the CTU resolution on intervention in Venezuela and would prefer the union deferred to “experts who have a hand with what is occurring on the ground.”
“I did not vote for this type of representation nor am I comfortable (with) delegates supporting a dictator,” she said.