A group that called itself a delegation of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) took a trip to Venezuela during their summer break where they praised the socialist country.
While in Venezuela, the teachers met with educators, activists and government officials and appeared on local media, according to the Chicago Tribune. They also posted glowing compliments to the country, with one teacher claiming that she “didn’t see a single homeless person.”
The travel group, composed of three unionized teachers and one CTU organizer, raised money for their trip via the crowd funding site GoFundMe, where they openly connected themselves to the CTU, according to the Tribune. The teachers also identified themselves as a “CTU Delegation to Venezuela” on their blog, the Radical Educator Collective. Despite this, the group was also forthcoming that it had no official endorsement or support from the union.
The CTU members posted frequent updates to their Educator Collective blog, often praising Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro. Since his election in 2013, Maduro has persecuted his political opponents, ordered extrajudicial killings and approved acts of violence and mass arrests against protesting citizens as the socialist country descends into economic ruin, according to Human Rights Watch.
In a blog update titled “Meeting with the President of the Union CBST” the teachers published a quote from a local union leader who praised Maduro. “Luckily, having a leader like Maduro, who was a worker, a union leader, and a lefty his whole life, you know the direction the country is going in,” the quote reads.
The blog also criticized how “the United States and nearly 50 of its client countries have recognized the cartoonish Guiadó,” as the head of Venezuela instead of the “democratically elected president, Nicolas Maduro.” (RELATED: Firefights In Venezuelan Capital As Military Uprising Ensues)
In addition to sharing updates about their experiences and their take on Venezuelan politics via their blog, members of the group also posted to Twitter. One delegate, Sarah Chambers, claimed to not have seen a single homeless person in the country, earning her a retweet from her union.
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. Over 17k CPS students are homeless & it’s ⬆️. This is why @CTULocal1 is fighting for fair housing #CTUAgainstVezIntervention ⬆️ pic.twitter.com/YdBtMIYhQ2
— Sarah4Justice (@Sarah4Justice) July 15, 2019
The union also retweeted a link to the delegation’s blog.
— Sarah4Justice (@Sarah4Justice) July 9, 2019
Despite visible connections between the travelers and their union, both parties have disavowed official affiliation. The travelers’ blog states that the group “organized this delegation ourselves and fundraised for the trip independent of the CTU.”
The union’s president Jesse Sharkey stated during a TV interview with local Chicago media last week that “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,” he concluded, according to the Tribune.
These denials of involvement have not, however silenced critics of the trip. “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 CTU member Karen Moody, per the Tribune.
The CTU first became involved with Venezuelan politics last spring when it “unanimously passed a resolution condemning Donald Trump and U.S. intervention in Venezuela.” The union saw fit to speak out on this issue because they believe “resources that never seemed to find their way to our classrooms are being used to intervene in the democratic processes of other countries instead,” as the U.S. doesn’t recognize Maduro as a head of state, according to the delegation’s blog.
Venezuela has been in a state of slow decline for years as its socialist economy fails to provide even a basic standard of living for its people. Conditions have become so poor that butchers are now selling cow hooves instead of meat, and citizens have taken to literally burning the country’s hyper-inflated currency which is now worth more as tinder than money.