The recent trip to Venezuela by a group calling itself a Chicago Teachers Union delegation has upset some union members and expats who question the point of the tour and take issue with the group’s praise of the country’s disputed government.
The four travelers, who crowdfunded the July trip under the banner of the CTU, met with Venezuelan government officials and educators, visited a commune and were featured in local media.
They wrote online about wanting to connect with Venezuelan teachers, students and unionists, criticized U.S. economic sanctions against the South American nation and wrote admiringly of its socialism, its communes and high literacy rates.
But critics say the group glossed over Venezuela’s ongoing political and economic crises and were excessively complimentary of President Nicolás Maduro, whose administration has been accused in recent United Nations reports of “grave” human rights violations and violence against dissenters.
“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,” said Karen Moody, a teacher and union member.
And though the four travelers regularly called themselves a “CTU delegation” online, the union representing close to 25,000 people has sought to distance itself from the trip, stating the CTU did not endorse, sponsor or fund the trip.
Asked on WTTW last week about “some controversy” surrounding the excursion, union President Jesse Sharkey said: “Members go all kinds of places in the summer. This was neither an official trip nor something that was funded by the union. This is a group of people who are members of the CTU who decided to go to Venezuela.”
Yet, the official CTU Twitter account retweeted some of the group’s updates, including a blog post titled “Introduction to CTU Delegation to Venezuela.”
In the photo accompanying the campaign, the three educators are wearing CTU hats. In comments, some donors expressed solidarity. One $50 donor wrote of admiration for his colleagues: “Proud of the CTU for their brave and visionary anti-imperialist resolution and enactment of ‘teacher-to-teacher’ solidarity between Chicago and Venezuelan teachers!”
Ana Gil-Garcia, who co-founded the Illinois Venezuelan Alliance and teaches in the College of Education at Northeastern Illinois University, said the trip was unacceptable, though it would be different if they’d gone on their own, without using the CTU brand.
“Once you go there as a delegation of a very powerful union like the Chicago Teachers Union, it’s questionable,” Gil-Garcia said, adding the trip could come off as the union endorsing the Maduro regime, which she said has killed and imprisoned opponents and contributed to widespread food shortages in the country.
“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.”
Gil-Garcia said more than 50 people, many CTU members, contacted her, displeased by the group’s actions.
Adding its own spin, the conservative Breitbart News picked up the story using the headline, “#RedforEd Activists from Chicago Teachers Union Go to Venezuela in Support of Maduro’s Socialist Regime.”
As U.S. sanctions continue against the country estimated in 2018 to have almost 32 million citizens, recent reports indicate millions have fled the country in recent years. Earlier this month, President Donald Trump issued an executive order freezing all Venezuelan government property in the U.S. and saying he “is directly targeting those who enable the illegitimate Maduro regime and undermine the National Assembly of Venezuela and Interim President Juan Guaidó.”
And despite the United Nations’ criticism of the Maduro government, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said the sanctions were too broad, could hinder humanitarian aid and “fail to contain sufficient measures to mitigate impact on most vulnerable people.”
Maduro and his supporters have claimed that Guaidó’s attempts to declare himself president were part of a U.S.-led effort to oust Maduro, and the resolution passed by the CTU House of Delegates echoes that sentiment.
The resolution calls out the Trump administration and other world leaders for “menacing pronouncements against the sovereign state of Venezuela by discrediting the result of the May 20, 2018, Venezuelan presidential election of Nicolás Maduro, and have backed the self-declared ‘Presidency’ of Juan Guaidó.”
Moody, who has taught in CPS for 18 years, called the resolution’s “pro-Maduro” tone “heavily biased.”
“Both the resolution and the trip reflect the personal politics and world view of (CTU) leadership and their inner circle — not the majority of rank-and-file teachers,” Moody said.
Saying she’s not anti-socialist and leans “pretty far left” politically: “What I personally object to is not the word socialism — but the support of an extremist anti-democratic autocratic lunatic who rules by fear.”