Media, Propaganda and Venezuela

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  • by Anup Shah
  • This Page Last Updated Saturday, September 02, 2006

In April 11 2002, there was a military coup in Venezuela, whereby president Hugo Chavez was deposed by a military dictatorship. This lasted just three days, as forces friendly to Chavez regained power and reinstated him.

Politically, for some time now, Chavez has been seen unfavorably in the U.S. For example,

  • He has been an influential member in the OPEC oil cartel of oil producing nations;
  • He has criticized the U.S.’s bombing of Afghanistan in retaliation for the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks;
  • He has stopped the Venezuelan military taking part in naval exercises in the Caribbean;
  • The U.S. military has been denied access to Venezuelan airspace, hampering Washington’s war in Colombia;
  • He has been friendly to Cuba’s Fidel Castro;
  • He has sold oil to Cuba;
  • He has tried to implement economic policies that are not always in line with the Washington Consensus/Neoliberalism ideology;
  • He has made Venezuela a potential alternative to the IMF for other Latin American countries for funding and loans, signifying a major loss of influence of the United States in the region;
  • And, Venezuela is also home to the largest currently known oil reserves in the world outside the Middle East.

In supporting opposition groups, raising concerns about human rights issues from Chavez only and reporting only on anti-Chavez demonstrations, the U.S. has invited criticisms yet again of interference in a democratically elected government (Chavez won with overwhelming support) by another country (the United States). These issues are introduced below.

U.S. Involvement in Venezuelan Coup

U.S. officials and media were quick to praise the coup as a victory for democracy, as Chavez had for months been increasingly portrayed as a human rights violator, turning to dictatorial policies etc. Yet, for example, journalist John Pilger pointed out that instead, his policies were actually helping reduce poverty and improving rights for the 80 or so percent of people that are poor in Venezuela.

The speed at which the U.S. supported the overthrow has made many suggest that the U.S. were involved in the coup in some way. In that respect, and the human rights concerns have been criticized as a cover for other agendas. The previous link, an article in the British newspaper, The Guardian notes that “In the past year [2001], the United States has channeled hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to US and Venezuelan groups opposed to Mr Chavez, including the labour group whose protests sparked off the coup. The funds were provided by the National Endowment for Democracy, a nonprofit agency created and financed by the US Congress.” The United States denies this.

In September 2003, VHeadline.com, an independent pro-democracy Venezuelan e-publication reported that the CIA backed a plan to bring down Hugo Chavez’s plane en route to the United Nations head-quarters in New York to deliver a speech. Sources in Venezuela’s Military Intelligence Directorate, VHeadline.com reports say “they have ‘overwhelming evidence’ of a CIA-backed plan to ‘bring down’ the Chavez Frias' airplane during the scheduled flight to the United States from Caracas.”

In March 2004, it was revealed again that the U.S. had been secretly funding opponents of Chavez. Reporting on this, the British paper, The Independent noted that “Washington has been channelling hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund the political opponents of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez—including those who briefly overthrew the democratically elected leader in a coup two years ago.” Furthermore, “documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that, in 2002, America paid more than a million dollars to those political groups in what it claims is an ongoing effort to build democracy and ‘strengthen political parties’.”

The above information was obtained by Jeremy Bigwood, a freelance journalist. He told The Independent, “This repeats a pattern started in Nicaragua in the election of 1990 when [the US] spent $20 per voter to get rid of [the Sandinista President Daniel] Ortega. It’s done in the name of democracy but it’s rather hypocritical. Venezuela does have a democratically elected President who won the popular vote which is not the case with the US.”

Unfortunately these revelations are not as shocking as it could be, because as well as Nicaragua, many other nations have experienced this. One of the more recent includes Haiti. See this sites section on the Middle East resources for more examples.

The evidence of U.S. funding of Venezuelan anti-Chavez organizations has enraged Venezuelan authorities. As a result, on June 22, 2004, Venezuela asked the U.S. to stop funding opposition and coup supporters. Bernardo Alvarez, Venezuela’s Ambassador to the United States, had requested that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell ask the U.S. Congress-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED) to respect Venezuela’s election laws and stop funding coup leaders.

While the US has denied some of the above allegations, Philip Agee, former CIA operative in the 1950s and 1960s (now attempting to expose CIA and US policies for overthrowing and destabalizing goverments around the world), has noted that various front groups are funnelling money from the US to Venezuelan opposition groups. Rather than the hundreds of thousands of dollars mentioned above, it has been more like a few million.

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Media Reporting

But it would be hard to get this information from the mainstream media. At some media outlets the reporting has been partial to say the least. Even New York Times editorials for example, portrayed the coup as a resignation by Chavez, rather than as a military coup, as criticized by media watchdog, Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR).

Reporting on the ongoing issues, such as the protests and Chavez’s economic policies in Venezuela have shown similar signs of one-sidedness, from both the mainstream media of western countries such as the U.S. and U.K., and from Venezuela’s own elite anti-Chavez media, which “controls 95% of the airwaves and has a near-monopoly over newsprint, and … played a major part in the failed attempt to overthrow the president, Hugo Chavez, in April 2002…. The media is still directly encouraging dissident elements to overthrow the democratically elected president—if necessary by force.”

Charles Hardy, who lived in Venezuela for some 19 years and worked with the poor notes that “A great difference exists between what one reads in the U.S. newspapers and what one hears in the barrios and villages of Venezuela, places where the elite do not tread. Adults are entering literacy programs, senior citizens are at last receiving their pensions, and children are not charged registration to enter the public schools. Health care and housing have improved dramatically.” Reading mainstream versions, you would not get this picture. Hardy also notes a number of themes of the Venezuelan and U.S. elite that both do not like Chavez:

In 1998, Hugo Chavez was elected president with almost 60 percent of the votes, incredibly overthrowing the entrenched and well-financed elite that had controlled the country for decades. That elite has never forgiven him and today is doing everything possible to tumble him. Sadly, the U.S. government and mass media have joined in this very undemocratic effort.

Their accusations have some common themes. First, Chavez is a communist because of his close association with Cuba. Is George W. Bush a communist because the U.S. has close ties with China?

A second accusation is that Chavez is a dictator and will limit freedom of expression very shortly. This has been said since 1998 when he was just a candidate for the presidency. To date, there is not one deprecating word against Chavez that has not been printed or spoken.

But I have government-censored Venezuelan dailies, before the time of Chavez, with blank pages.

Third, it is said that Chavez opposes the forthcoming Aug. 15 presidential referendum that could oust him from power. The reality is that it is the opposition that rejected the idea of the referendum and has done everything possible to avoid it: the two-day coup; a two-month lockout/strike by big business and by many well-paid executives and workers in the national petroleum industry; and, millions spent on media campaigns against him.

Chavez himself proposed the idea of a presidential referendum midway through the term and has constantly voiced it as the constitutional way to remove him.

Fourth, international news releases often refer to Chavez as “a former lieutenant colonel who led a failed bloody rebellion in 1992.” This would be similar to continuously identifying President Bush as “a former National Guard captain who avoided service in Vietnam and had a bout with alcoholism in his youth.”

About 12 militants died in the rebellion. What is not mentioned is the multitude that had been shot down on the streets by the Perez government before and after that attempt. Perez was impeached in 1993 and now lives in New York.

Charles Hardy, Picture of Venezuela’s Chavez twisted, Venezuelan Views, News and Analysis, June 26, 2004

Sandy Landau also notes similar media contradictions in an article in the Progreso Weekly, where he also provides some additional economic and political context.

And, somewhat surprisingly, Channel 4, one of UK’s main media channels, often regarded as one of the best in terms of liberal media and wider viewpoints, has also appeared to report in a manner similar to what is described above, portraying Chavez as a dictator going mad. Their March 2006 broadcast had many problems which I was going to comment on here, but John Pilger did the same in the British paper, the Guardian, noting that Channel 4’s reporting was a “disgrace”, and also appeared to be contributing to the “softening” up of Venezuela. That is, if there is future foreign policy decisions by the US and others to increase hostility towards Venezuela, then these types of media reports would help justify the demonization of Chavez and Venezuela in order to gain support.

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Venezuela’s Economy and Poverty

A number of people have claimed that under Chavez, the economy has worsened. However, Mark Weisbrot is worth quoting at length:

It is sometimes asserted that Venezuela under President Hugo Chavez Frias (1999 to the present) has been an economic failure, as compared with the past. For example, a recent news article in the Washington Post referred to “Hugo Chavez, the populist Venezuelan president whose giveaways to the poor have slowed economic progress.” Such claims are not supported by the evidence. From 1970-1998 per capita income in Venezuela fell by 35 percent. This is the worst economic decline in the region and one of the worst in the world—much worse even than what happened to Africa during this period.

Since the present government took office, per capita income growth is about flat, and will likely be positive at year’s end. So the Chavez government can at least claim credit for reversing the terrible long-term economic decline in Venezuela, according to the standard reference sources on economic growth.

But there are other considerations. First, it would not be fair to hold the government accountable for the loss of output due to opposition actions aimed at toppling the government. The oil strike of 2002-2003 caused enormous damage; one might also include the military coup and other de-stabilizing actions. If not for these efforts, economic growth would almost certainly have been substantially higher and well above the average for the region. But the first point, about reversing the country’s long economic decline, holds true even if one ignores the effect of opposition actions on the economy.

Also there has been a significant improvement in the lives of the poor—the majority of Venezuelans—in terms of access to health care and other services, as well as subsidized food.

It is therefore very difficult to construct an economic argument that the majority of Venezuelans are worse off as a result of the present government.

Mark Weisbrot, A Note on Venezuela’s Economic Performance, Center for Economic and Policy Research, June 2005

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Venezuela as alternative to IMF/Washington-based Influence in the Region

In another report by Mark Weisbrot, note is made of the significance of Venezuela helping other countries in the region resolve many debt and other financial problems. The significance of this is enormous, as Weisbrot has identified, for it signifies the weakening of IMF and US influence in the region. Weisbrot is quoted extensively, to highlight these important developments in recent years:

… the cumulative results [of Washington Concensus economic policies for over a quarter of a century] have been an economic disaster, and so it is not surprising that presidential candidates who campaigned explicitly against “neoliberalism” have in recent years won elections in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Uruguay, and Venezuela. … it should be clear that what we are now witnessing is a response to this epoch-making economic failure, and—following a series of revolts at the ballot box, and some in the streets—a number of governments looking for more practical and effective ways to make capitalism work.

… What really defines this as a new era is that the influence of the United States in a region that was until very recently its “backyard” has plummeted so rapidly, drastically, and probably irreversibly, that the current situation is truly unprecedented in the modern history of the hemisphere.

This is a dramatic change, especially if we consider that Washington in the 1980s spent billions of dollars, and supported the murder of tens of thousands of innocents, just to keep control over a few small, economically insignificant countries in Central America. President Clinton issued a rare public apology for the United States’ role in what the United Nations determined to be genocide in Guatemala, and Washington’s participation in the mass slaughter of El Salvador and the destruction of Nicaragua was even greater and more direct. Yet in the last few years these same people—literally in the case of such current and recent administration personnel as Elliot Abrams, Otto Reich, and John Negroponte—have watched almost helplessly as the bulk of the region, in population and economic terms, has slipped out of their grasp.

Mark Weisbrot, Latin America: The End of An Era, International Journal of Health Services, Vol. 36, No. 4 (2006)

Usually, the IMF has been a lender of last resort, and if it denies loans and credit to a nation, that signifies disaster for that nation, for other nations, institutions and businesses will likely not provide loans or want to invest. However, for almost a quarter of a century, under IMF/Washington policies of “neoliberalism” and Structural Adjustment have been widely criticized in the region, and elsewhere around the world, for increasing inequality and poverty, and making conditions for economies even worse. But events recently have seen a change in this arragement of unequal power, and this is where Venezuela has come into it:

The [International Monetary] Fund has lost its influence in middle-income countries, and that includes almost all of Latin America. Although it has received little attention in most of the media, the collapse of the IMF-led creditors’ cartel is by itself probably the most important change in the international financial system since the end of the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates in 1973. This is especially true for developing countries.

In Latin America this has coincided with a major and unanticipated change that, combined with the IMF’s loss of influence, has helped usher in the new era of independence. A new international lender has emerged: Venezuela. When Argentina decided last December to say its final goodbye to the IMF by paying off its remaining debt of $9.8 billion (5.4 percent of GDP) at once, Venezuela committed $2.5 billion to the cause. “If additional help is needed to help Argentina finally free itself from the claws of the International Monetary Fund, Argentina can count on us,” Chávez announced on December 15. Kirchner’s statement announcing the decision was even harsher: “[the IMF has] acted towards our country as a promoter and a vehicle of policies that caused poverty and pain among the Argentine people,” he said. Last year Venezuela also committed to buying $300 million of Ecuador’s bonds; in December, it turned out that Ecuador had sufficient demand for its bonds that it only needed to sell $25 million to Venezuela, but the latter’s commitment was there as a lender of last resort. Chávez has proposed to formalize this new relationship by establishing a “Bank of the South,” to finance development in the region, and offered to start it off with a $5 billion contribution. In the meantime, Venezuela is also providing discounted oil financing for the Caribbean countries under its PetroCaribe program.

… Venezuela has more than $30 billion in foreign exchange reserves; whatever Bolivia might need will be pretty small relative to Venezuela’s capacity for lending and aid. In just the last month (May), Venezuela has announced a $100 million loan to Bolivia and a similar amount to support the proposed land reform, as well as numerous other forms of aid. And Venezuela’s lending and aid programs, unlike that of the international financial institutions or the G-7 governments, do not have economic policy conditions attached to them. This makes all the difference in the world.

Mark Weisbrot, Latin America: The End of An Era, International Journal of Health Services, Vol. 36, No. 4 (2006)

This can go a long way to explain US hostilities towards Venezuela. Borrowing terminology from the Cold War era, Venezuela presents the threat of a good example, or Domino Theory, whereby if Venezuela succeeds, then other countries in the region may follow suit, and be weaned away from the US sphere of influence.

Viewed through the Cold War lens of official Washington and the foreign policy establishment, these disbursements and initiatives are either as part of an attempt to build an “anti-American” axis, or, as Chávez simply buying friends in the region. Chávez himself, who has named his revolution after the 18th century liberator Simon Bolivar, sees it as freeing South America from the grip of the U.S. empire. But regardless of how it is seen in ideological terms, the impact of this alternative source of financing has already had an enormous impact on the ability of governments to ignore pressures from Washington. This trend is likely to continue unless there is a sudden and very severe collapse of oil prices.

There are two other important economic changes that will reinforce Latin America’s drift away from the United States in the coming years. One is that the United States will no longer provide a rapidly growing market for the region’s exports, as it has in the past.

… At the same time, just as the growth of the U.S. import market will be slowing to a standstill, another market to which Latin American countries can export is expected to grow by about $1 trillion Euros over the next decade: China. This will reinforce the decline in the United States’ relative economic importance to Latin America. Perhaps even more importantly, China has the potential to be an enormous alternative source of financing for investment in Latin America.

Mark Weisbrot, Latin America: The End of An Era, International Journal of Health Services, Vol. 36, No. 4 (2006)

Weisbrot goes on to note how so many Latin American countries have attempted to take control of their own economic destiny, something that was usually in the hands of the IMF (or US, by proxy). This has been one of the reasons for dissent in the international press, and reasons why popular leaders like Chavez, or Bolivia’s Evo Morales, seem to be demonized:

It is common to attribute [Venezuela’s] successes [of free health care for the first time to 54% of the mostly poor population, subsidized food for 40%, and increased access to education] to high oil prices, but oil prices were even higher in the 1970s in real terms, and the country’s GDP per capita actually fell during that decade. Chávez is best known—and reviled—in the international media for his confrontation with the Bush administration, but at home his unshakable popularity derives mainly from delivering on his government’s promise to share the country’s oil wealth with the majority of Venezuelans. And even aside from distribution, it must be recalled that the Venezuela suffered one of the worst economic declines in the region (and the world)—a 35 percent drop in per capita income from 1970-1998, prior to Chávez’ election.

… Although both the Morales and Chávez governments are accused of authoritarianism by their detractors—which in Venezuela’s case includes almost everyone who has access to large media outlets—from a more objective viewpoint, what we are witnessing is a revival of democracy. This is most obvious in the sense that people are actually getting what they voted for—in terms of social and some economic policy. It is for this reason that Venezuela came in first last year when one of Latin America’s best polling firms, Latinobarómetro, asked people in each country how democratic their government was. On the question of how satisfied people were with their country’s democracy, Venezuela came in second, after Uruguay.

Mark Weisbrot, Latin America: The End of An Era, International Journal of Health Services, Vol. 36, No. 4 (2006)

Mainstream American politics looks at Latin America’s turn to these alternative models with cynicism, fear and a “failure” of the Bush Administration for forgetting their “backyard” while concentrating on the Middle East, though much of the criticism appears based on a reversal of reality, or engineering of an alternative history:

The foreign policy establishment also divides the elected leaders of the left into “market-friendly” vs. “populist,” or a “Right Left versus Wrong Left,” in the words of Jorge Castañeda in the May/June 2006 issue of Foreign Affairs. The “Wrong Left” is Chávez, Morales, and Kirchner—coincidentally the ones who have delivered most on their electoral promises; the “Right Left” is Lula, Michelle Bachelet of Chile, and Tabaré Vásquez of Uruguay.

And it is Chávez that has become Washington’s main enemy, even eclipsing Cuba as the demon to be overcome. Although it is recognized that the Bush administration has mishandled Venezuela, the Chávez government is still portrayed across most of the political spectrum, and especially in the press, as “anti-democratic,”“authoritarian,” and a threat to the region. … much [of] is simply based on ignorance and some of the worst U.S. foreign policy journalism in decades.

In fact anyone who has been to Venezuela in recent years can verify that it remains, despite the extreme political polarization and the turmoil that wracked the country until recently, one of the more open and democratic societies in the Americas. The vast majority of the media, including the largest television stations, are controlled by the opposition. It is the most anti-government media in the hemisphere, and carries on political campaigns that would not be allowed in most western democracies.…The Venezuelan state is anything but authoritarian—in fact it is more of an anarchistic state, a weak state that suffers from all the problems that plague the rest of Latin America, in terms of enforcing the rule of law. That is why the main victims of political repression in Venezuela are not opposition partisans, even those who have tried to overthrow the government, but rather the pro-government activists organizing for land reform in the countryside, who have been murdered by the landowners’ hired guns. The state cannot enforce the law even against murderers, even to protect its own supporters.

No reputable human rights organization would claim that Venezuela has deteriorated in terms of democracy, human rights, or civil liberties under the Chávez government; nor that it compares unfavorably with the rest of the region in these areas. But the Bush administration has created an image of undemocratic government in Venezuela and has managed to frame it that way for the media.

Mark Weisbrot, Latin America: The End of An Era, International Journal of Health Services, Vol. 36, No. 4 (2006)

The Bush administration’s attempts appear to isolate Venezuela have actually “succeeded only in further isolating itself in Latin America,” Weisbrot notes.

More recently, another issue that seems to highlight US’s weakening influence is the possibility of Venezuela becoming a member of the UN Security Council taking one of the rotating (non-permanent member) seats that is open to voting every few years. The U.S. is vehemently against it backing Guatemala instead. However, Wesibrot (again!), this time interviewed by Democracy Now! radio show notes that most Latin American countries, China, Russia and many countries in other parts of the world have all endorsed Venezuela bid to join the UN Security Council. China had epxpressed supporting Venezuela’s bid showing increasing relationship between the two, as China seeks out more oil sources, and Venezuela of course is a big source.

Why would Venezuela’s seat be important? Because it comes at a time when the US may be looking for support when possibility increasing hostility toward Iran, and other issues of US interest in the world that Venezuela could quite easily be vocally opposed to.

The US-supported coup attempt, and other events that clearly show US backing anti-democratic forces in Venezuela are largely ignored by the media. Chavez agreed to a recall referendum (discussed further below) which he won, signifying his popularity. When the coup is mentioned, Weisbrot notes that it is spun as though it were a not-so-credible accusation from Chavez. The accusations of an authoritarian or one-state party in Venezuela is also engineered:

Last December, the Venezuelan opposition boycotted national elections, despite statements from the OAS and European Union observers that opposition demands had been met and they were expected to participate. Once again, Washington was tacitly supportive. This more than any other recent action—beyond the economic sanctions, the blocking of military aircraft and patrol boat sales from Brazil and Spain, and a host of other provocations—shows how firmly the Bush administration, along with its allies in the Venezuelan opposition, is committed to a strategy of destabilizing and overthrowing the Venezuelan government. The opposition could have won an estimated 30 percent of the National Assembly but—with Washington’s blessing—gave that up just to establish the pretense that Venezuela is a one-party state. And so they have constructed an Orwellian reality, with help from the media, which now reports that “the [Venezuelan] Congress is completely controlled by President Chávez.” The reader is not informed that this is only because the opposition deliberately and without any legitimate reason—according to OAS and European Union observers—refused to participate in a democratic and transparent electoral process.

… These details are important because they show how mired Washington remains in the strategy and tactics of the past, how divorced our leaders are from the changed reality in the hemisphere. Indeed if one looks at the report of the U.S. Senate’s Church Committee from 1975, on the CIA’s destabilization efforts leading to the overthrow of Chile’s elected government in 1973, it reads remarkably like the events of 2001-2003 in Venezuela.… In both cases, there is opposition control of the media so as to blame the government for any and all economic problems, even those caused by the opposition; and manipulation of the international press to portray an elected social democratic government as despotic and Communistic.

Mark Weisbrot, Latin America: The End of An Era, International Journal of Health Services, Vol. 36, No. 4 (2006)

Recently, Wiesbrot also writes, the U.S. media has tried to exaggerate the significance of some disputes between Latin American countries, and while those need to be resolved, there are already strong signs of unity amongst the countries of the region. Argentina has publicly expressed gratitude and solidarity with Venezuela, and Brazil’s Lula “has repeatedly defended Chávez and his government in public statements. ‘A president that wins elections, passes a constitution and proposes a referendum on his own presidency; holds a referendum and wins the election again—nobody can accuse such a country of not having democracy,’ he said last September. ‘Indeed it could be said that it has an excess of democracy.’”

Weisbrot concludes by noting that these are still early days, and nothing will run completely smoothly, which the Washington-influenced international institutions are likely keen to capitalize on.

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Pro/Anti Chavez Demonstrations

Travels of a Gringo, a documentary by Britain’s Channel 4 aired on the night of July 6, 2003. This second of a three-part documentary followed journalist Sean Langan in Venezuela, who also added the globalization dimension to this issue, pointing out that globalization was having a negative impact on many parts of Latin America, and the majority of Venezuelans were not benefitting. The protests against Chavez were largely by the elite who would benefit from the current form of neoliberal globalization, while the majority poor were supportive of Chavez for trying to introduce reforms and other policies that might help the poor.

Opposition groups have organized various protests against Chavez, some of which have been violent, and resulted in violent opposition. The human rights concerns raised by the U.S. have typically been only on the latter, and furthermore, mainstream media in countries such as the U.S. have only focused on demonstrations from the opposition groups, even if they are not as popular as pro-Chavez demonstrations.

Hugo Chavez Is Crazy!, by investigative journalist, Greg Palast, June 25, 2003, also raises this issue. In addition, Palast takes note of the color of the pro and anti Chavez marchers, and notes a racial line too. In a very brief overview, he states, “For five centuries, Venezuela has been run by a minority of very white people, pure-blood descendants of the Spanish conquistadors. To most of the 80 percent of Venezuelans who are brown, Hugo Chavez is their Nelson Mandela, the man who will smash the economic and social apartheid that has kept the dark-skinned millions stacked in cardboard houses in the hills above Caracas while the whites live in high-rise splendor in the city center. Chavez, as one white Caracas reporter told me with a sneer, gives them bricks and milk, and so they vote for him.”

As noted further above, Chavez’s policies have been to aid the poor, and some of those policies are actually working. The elite however, are finding that some of their wealth is indirectly being redistributed to the poor, or that their potential wealth is going to be redirected. Where there is already some inequality, any threat to that inequality for those who are in advantage is not always going to be warmly welcomed. In Venezuela, the elite have therefore tried various ways to discredit Chavez.

In a global sense, since the end of the Second World War, the powers such as the U.S. and Europe have long feared successful independent development by former colonies, and in effect have thwarted such efforts, be it by destabilizing countries, through war, or through international economic rules that maintain the historic unequal trade. (See this site’s sections on poverty and geopolitics for more on these angles.)

In that context, the U.S.’s open hostility towards Chavez would appear to predictably follow these historic trends. Things like the international oil politics mentioned above, and Chavez’s policies that have been in an effort to benefit the 80% poor Venezuelans have been met with opposition. One recent example of redistribution that has also perhaps angered the U.S. has been increasing the taxes of oil companies. Greg Palast, mentioned further above, notes in another article how major oil companies working in Venezuela would keep 84% of the proceeds of the sale of Venezuela oil, while the nation gets only 16%. Chavez wanted to increase his Treasury’s take to 30%. “And for good reason,” Palast said. “Landless, hungry peasants have, over decades, drifted into Caracas and other cities, building million-person ghettos of cardboard shacks and open sewers. Chavez promised to do something about that.” One of the many ways the elite tried to discredit him was to encourage a recall, even though Chavez was clearly popular.

Various attempts to get Chavez out of office by the US have failed, including the referrendum to recall Chavez (see below). Yet, for Chavez and his supporters Philip Agee, mentioned further above, warns that they will continue to face outside interference in their internal political processes:

One thing that is very important for the Chávez movement, the Bolivarian movement here, to keep in mind always, is that the United States will never stop trying to turn the clock back. US interests are defined as the unfettered access to natural resources, to labor, and to the markets of foreign countries. It is countries like the Latin American countries that assure prosperity in the United States. The more governments with their own agendas, with an element of nationalism, and that oppose US policies such as the neoliberal agenda come to power, the more of a threat these movement are seen to be in Washington, because what’s at stake is the stability of the political system in the United States, and the security of the political class in the United States. So the Venezuelans are going to have to fight for their survival [to avoid] these US programs … which essentially are divide and conquer.

Philip Agee, The Nature of CIA Intervention in Venezuela, Interviewed by Jonah Gindin, Venezuelanalysis.com, March 22, 2005

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Chavez Recall Referrendum Fails

The attempts to recall Chavez, have apparently been marred with corruption, as Chavez noted himself in a piece in the Washington Post:

Having failed to force me from office through the 2002 coup, my opponents shut down the government oil company last year. Now they are trying to collect enough signatures to force a recall referendum on my presidency….

Venezuela’s National Electoral Council—a body as independent as the Federal Election Commission in the United States—found that more than 375,000 recall petition signatures were faked and that an additional 800,000 had similar handwriting. Having been elected president twice by large majorities in less than six years, I find it more than a little ironic to be accused of behaving undemocratically by many of the same people who were involved in the illegal overthrow of my government.

Hugo Chavez, Ready for a Recall Vote, Washington Post, May 26, 2004

In the middle of August, 2004, the referrendum went ahead, after sufficient signatures were gained. Venezuelans went to the polls in record numbers to decide whether or not Chavez should be removed from office. Chavez won some 58% of the votes.

The Venezuelan vote was endorsed by international observers, such as former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, and the Organization of American States.

As well as the observers noting that the process was fair, Carter also noted this was the largest turnout he had ever seen. It was reported that people queued for hours in order to vote.

Predictably, the majority of the votes came from the poor. Chavez has long supported attempts at reforms that would benefit from the country’s 80% poor, while the rich lambast him for doing that.

Also predictable, elements of the extremist opposition insisted that major fraud had occurred, even though the opposition’s only proof of fraud seemed to be their own flawed exit polls, as Gregory Wilpert detailed.

And by August 21, 2004, international observers had endorsed the results three times, with the Venezuelan electoral authorities and the international observers saying there was no proof of fraud, despite opposition group’s insistence there was.

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Pat Robertson Calls for Assassination of Chavez

Pat Robertson is an American televangelist, staunch conservative Christian, founder of organizations such as the Christian Coalition of America and Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). He also hosts The 700 Club, a TV program airing on many channels in the US and on CBN affiliate channels around the world.

On August 22, 2005, on the 700 Club show he called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez:

There was a popular coup that overthrew him [Chavez]. And what did the United States State Department do about it? Virtually nothing. And as a result, within about 48 hours that coup was broken; Chavez was back in power, but we had a chance to move in. He has destroyed the Venezuelan economy, and he’s going to make that a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism all over the continent.

You know, I don’t know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It’s a whole lot cheaper than starting a war. And I don’t think any oil shipments will stop. But this man is a terrific danger and the United … This is in our sphere of influence, so we can’t let this happen. We have the Monroe Doctrine, we have other doctrines that we have announced. And without question, this is a dangerous enemy to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil, that could hurt us very badly. We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.

Pat Robertson, Quoted by Media Matters for America in Robertson called for the assassination of Venezuela’s president

Robertson has been quite influential amongst the “Religious Right” in the US in recent years. In 1998 he failed in a bid to become the Republican Party’s Presidential candidate for the US elections. His latest remarks calling for Chavez’s assassination has led to many from the American evangelical movements distancing themselves from him.

He initially denied he called for assassination, but had to subsequently apologize. “I spoke in frustration that we should accommodate the man who thinks the U.S. is out to kill him,” he later said. However, the underlying theme remains, that Chavez is a danger. For example, the first paragraph cited above contains almost lie after lie in each sentence:

Robertson described the coup that temporarily overthrew Chavez as “popular.”
It was nothing close to popular. It was a coup engineered by the right wing elite, and it was massive popular protest that helped him regain his power. (In fact some of the shows of popularity of Chavez is greater than popularity of leaders seen in countries such as the United Kingdom and United States.)
In the next sentence he claimed the US did “virtual nothing” about the coup
There has been a lot of criticism that the US had some hand in this in some way or another, as detailed further above.
In the sentence that followed, Robertson claimed Chavez “destroyed the Vebezuelan economy.”
Again, this seems to be completely wrong and misleading, because, as mentioned further above, under Chavez, the economy has actually improved, and he has inherited a poor economy after years of dicatorship and corruption.
Robertson them claimed that Chavez will make Venezuela a “launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism all over the continent.”
This seems to be propaganda using fear and employing the war on terror. While he has no doubt been socialist in policy and friendly to Cuba’s Fidel Castro, 98% of all Venezuelans are Catholic or Protestant, WikiNews reports (August 23, 2005).

In other remarks, Robertson has indirectly likened Chavez to Hitler and also described him as a dictator:

In his apology statement, Robertson then indirectly compared Chávez with Adolf Hitler
This, as on-line encyclopedia Wikipedia describing Pat Robertson notes, was done “by remembering German evangelical pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s opposition to the Nazi regime and support for the assassination of Hitler. He quoted Bonhoeffer’s words: ‘If I see a madman driving a car into a group of innocent bystanders, then I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe and then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.’”
He also refers to Chavez as an “out-of-control dictator”
Wikipedia also says that this reference was “despite the fact that Chavez won the presidential election of Venezuela on December 6, 1998 by the largest percent of voters in four decades, and defeated a recall vote in 2004 under observation of the Carter Center and the Organization of American States, after an unsuccessful coup against him in 2002, which he maintains was supported by the United States of America. The Constitution of Venezuela calls for a presidential election every 6 years, with a maximum of two terms of office, and also provides for a unicameral legislative branch and a judicial branch. It is unclear why Pat Robertson refers to President Chavez as a dictator.”

Chavez is a former colonel, not current, even though Robertson also referred to him as “Colonel Chavez.” It is likely he did this for proprganda effects.

It certainly looks like Robertson employed standard propaganda techniques, and for his audience the initial impact remains the same:

  • He appears as a concerned citizen so incensed by the supposed evilness of Chavez that he is driven to call for his assassination, something Christians should not be doing;
  • Retracting the “assassination” bit but leaving in the criticism and mis-characterization thus leaves people with the impression that Chavez is nonetheless worse than he might really be.
  • The subtle comparison to Hitler, as most demonization attempts recently seem to require, then adds a final touch.

Furthermore, many have likened his remarks to terrorist threats. For exampe,

  • In the United Kingdom, following the London Blasts, there have been controversial bills and laws passed or discussed. One for example is the deporting of any extremists that encourage hatred and violence. Pat Robertson, it would seem, if he were living in the UK (the country most friendly to the US) would find himself branded as encouraging violence and hatred.
  • The Wikipedia article mentioned earlier even notes how some newspapers have editorialized Robertson’s assassination calls as equivalent to a fatwa (a legally binding pronouncement made under Islamic Sharia law).

Whether Pat Robertson’s comments are inconsequential (because he is not an official spokesman for the US government—who called his remarks “inappropriate”), or whether they are part of the beginnings of some movement in religious circles, or the more fundamentalist Christian right in the US (for remarks such as “communist infiltration and Muslim extremism all over the continent” are surely targetted, in part, at such groups), is hard to say at this time.

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Claims That Chavez Supports Terrorists

It appears that a few months on from calling for Chavez’s assassination, Robertson now claims Chavez has supported terrorists. Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) notes that Robertson “recently claimed on CNN (10/9/05) that Chavez ‘sent $1.2 million in cash to Osama bin Laden right after 9/11.’ When asked for evidence, Robertson could only claim that ‘sources that came to me’ told him of the transaction.”

FAIR also noted how a columnist in the US’s most widely distributed magazine (with some 34 million subscribers), Parade magazine, “published an inaccurate smear against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez” claiming that Hugo Chavez is the, “Marxist” president of Venezuela, and in addition to “shoring up Castro, he’s funding revolutionaries and terrorists throughout Latin America.”

FAIR notes that he is not Marxist, but a Bolivarian, a follower of the 19th Century Latin American independence leader Simon Bolivar. And, in regards to being a terrorist, FAIR notes that not even the US State Department (which is not exactly friendly to Chavez) claims he is a terrorist, and that the columnists claims are baseless.

When in the UK, some British journalists criticized leaders in the British government for “sexing up” the threat of Iraq to the rest of the world, they lost their jobs amidst pressure from parts of the mainstream media with pro-establishment views. Yet, when people from other countries who are not seen as favorably are criticized in a way that clearly seems to be propaganda, it comes under less scrutiny in the mainstream. With the circulation that Parade commands, a columnist with his or her own agenda can reach a large portion of people where the initial impact of such statements are often quite lasting.

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More Information

This is quite a deep topic, one which can’t be easily covered here in a short amount of space, so the following links may be of interest:

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Where next?

Other options

Author and Page Information

  • by Anup Shah
  • Created: Saturday, April 20, 2002
  • Last Updated: Saturday, September 02, 2006

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Document Revision History

DateReason
September 2, 2006Notes added about Venezuela’s growing influence in the Latin American region as an alternative to IMF/Washington-based influences helping countries on their way to aleviate many external debt and poverty woes, and about support for Venezuela’s possible position on the rotating seat of the UN Security Council which the US is against.
March 28, 2006Small note added about a British media outlet’s report on Venezuela.
October 12, 2005About Pat Robertson and others claiming Chavez helped terrorist such as Osama Bin Laden and various groups throughout Latin America
August 28, 2005About Pat Robertson’s call for Chavez’s assassination, and a small note about poverty and economic situation
March 27, 2005Small additions regarding US funding opposition groups against Chavez
August 21, 2004Chavez won a referredum to recall him convincingly
July 3, 2004Venezuela have been requesting the U.S. to stop funding undemocratic opposition groups and undermining Venezuela’s constitutional and democratic processes; More added on media reporting; Additional source of information also added.
May 30, 2004A little bit about faked signatures for a Presidential Recall
March 14, 2004More on U.S. secretly funding opponents of Chavez; one sided media reporting;

Alternatives for broken links

Sometimes links to other sites may break beyond my control. Where possible, alternative links are provided to backups or reposted versions here.