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US Media & Venezuela: A consistent pattern of distortion

Caleb T. Maupin

Nov 1, 2021

Mainstream media is working overtime to justify US efforts to destabilize Venezuela. The picture presented in US newspapers and TV broadcasts simply does not match the facts.

On Sept. 24th, 2009, top US TV host Larry King interviewed Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela. The CNN interview was a rare opportunity for the Latin American leader, described in overwhelmingly negative terms in US media to speak for himself to the US public. Larry King pressed Chavez on whether or not his rhetoric was helping spread peace in the world: “ But don't you add to it when you call President Bush a devil or you call -- as you called President Obama once -- an ignoramus? Don't you think that insults, Mr. President, don't harbor peace?”

Chavez replied “Well, if you talk about insults and name calling -- well, if we withdrawal the insults on those name calling, then we can have peace? Well, we need to do that, but all of us. Now, how Bush called me? The U.S. -- the -- the Bush government toppled me. They asked for my assassination. They disrespected us.”

King turned to Chavez with a perplexed look on his face: “How do you know -- know -- how do you know they tried to assassinate you? How do you know that?”

Of course, what Chavez was referring to was well documented fact. A military coup that involved the kidnapping of the Venezuelan President in 2002 by US backed forces in the military was widely covered by the international press. Chavez described the events: “I saw my assassins. At dawn, I was a prisoner in Venezuela, being a president. They took me to the seaside. I was debating with those who wanted murder me. They received the order to kill me. However, at this very moment, a group of soldiers refused. They did not kill me, but I saw those who wanted to kill me and the order came from the White House.”

However, by responding to the Venezuelan President as if he was a lunatic for suggesting that attempted coup of 2002 even happened, King was able frame Chavez in a certain light. To average viewers who are not familiar with Venezuela’s history, or the broader history of US coups in Latin America, this foreign leader whose words are delivered from the monotone voice of a translator as he uses excessive hand gestures, could be portrayed as a paranoid delusions. Factual statements could be presented through innuendo as the ramblings of crazed despot.

“Brutal Dictatorship” without the Death Penalty

Not much has changed since 2009 in how US media discusses all things related to Venezuela and its government. In 2012, former US President Jimmy Carter, whose Carter Center monitored Venezuelan elections said “As a matter of fact, of the 92 elections that we've monitored, I would say the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.” UN observers and others international voices have agreed. Public opinion polling showed the policies of the United Socialist Party to be quite popular. However, US media insisted that somehow Hugo Chavez was a dictator, and in many cases a “brutal dictator.” Maduro, Chavez elected successor has received the same label.

The “brutality” of the Venezuelan government is vaguely defined in US media, despite being treated as undisputed fact. Venezuela abolished capital punishment in 1863, and no one, under Maduro or his predecessor has ever been sentenced to death. When visiting Venezuela in 2015, I was shocked to discover that in order to ensure electoral participation by those locked up awaiting trial or sentencing, the government has voting machines inside the prisons. According the CNE (National Election Center) only those who are serving sentences in Venezuela’s prison are excluded from voting, not those awaiting trial or sentencing, and not those who have been released.

Those who oppose Nicolas Maduro and the United Socialist Party (PSUV) are not marginalized in Venezuela, but highly visible throughout the country. They are represented in the National Assembly. They have advertisements on television and entire broadcast networks that are sympathetic to them. Juan Guiado declared himself to be the interim President of Venezuela with US backing, and has travelled throughout the world trying to drum up support for the violent removal of Maduro from office, yet he roams freely throughout Venezuela, not being arrested for what would be considered blatant treason or sedition in any other country.

New Definition of Democracy: A leader cannot change society

If Venezuela is in any way a “brutal dictatorship” it must be extremely cunning and crafty in doing so, as all of the obvious signs of autocracy are largely absent from Venezuelan society. Venezuela’s government enforces its will through a highly organized population. Bolivarian circles in neighborhoods, community militias and collectivos that rally the population are the real source of the PSUV’s power, as documented in the 2013 Duke University Press book “We Created Chavez” by Dr. George Ciccariello-Maher.

In a 2019 article from the Wall Street Journal entitled “The Global Crisis of Democracy” Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, lays out the prevailing wisdom of western political science. He argues that if elected leaders enact popular will by changing society, this is inherently un-democratic. Diamond writes: “In one country after another, elected leaders have attacked the deep tissue of democracy – the independence of the courts, the business community, civil society, universities and sensitive state institutions like civil service, the intelligence agencies or the police. Whether the agent is a right-wing nationalist like in Russia or a left-wing Bolivarian socialist like Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, the effect is the same.”

According to the logic of Diamond’s article, it does not matter if the people of Venezuela wanted the nature of their economy (“business community”) to change, or if they wanted dramatic reforms in the way the police, courts or universities operated and voted to do so. Any figure who changes the nature of society, moving it away from the “independence” i.e. the status quo and defacto-subservience to Wall Street and London, is a dictator. The fact that a new constitution was ratified and the policies of the PSUV received widespread support due to reducing poverty and building infrastructure does not matter. If a leader changes the nature of a society and its institution, even with popular mandate, it constitutes “democratic regression.” It is only with deranged interpretation of the entire concept of democracy that the USA can proceed to sabotage Venezuela in the name of “human rights” and “freedom.”

The Alex Saab Case: More Lies & Distortions

“An alleged financier to embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has been extradited from Cape Verde” CNN reported on October 17th. The article and headline themselves were inaccurate. Venezuelan diplomat Alex Saab is not accused of providing funds or performing services for the Venezuelan head of state to personally enrich himself. He is accused of working around US sanctions in order to ensure Venezuela can import food, medical supplies and other key imports for its population.

The piece goes on to refer to the CLAP program in Venezuela, in which food is provided to low income people amid the ongoing crisis of shortages as “a government-subsidized food program called CLAP that allowed Maduro and his allies to steal hundreds of millions of dollars from the Venezuelan people while also using food as a form of social control.”

There have been scattered reports of alleged abuses of the homeland card system which is linked to the CLAP food distribution program, but overall the program does not involve any political discrimination or coercion. All Venezuelan citizens are permitted to get a homeland card and not enrolling in the card system does not prevent them exercising any of their constitutional rights.

UN Special Rapporteur Alena Douhan pointed to the US sanctions and covert sabotage efforts as the primary obstacle facing the CLAP program. She described the results of US sanctions including “The unavailability of resources, including the frozen assets, for buying vaccines and supporting family planning programs has resulted in outbreaks of malaria, measles and yellow fever and opportunistic infections.”

International bodies have estimated that US sanctions on Venezuela, freezing state assets, preventing food and medicine imports, have resulted in tens of thousands of preventable deaths. This information is left out of US media discourse, where Venezuela’s hardships are routinely just blamed on “the failures of socialism.” The allegation that Saab was somehow helping the Venezuelan government to maneuver around these sanctions that have taken such a humanitarian toll is notably absent from media coverage surrounding his arrest in Cape Vedre and subsequent extradition to the United States.

After having backed several attempted coups, and engaging in years of sanctions and covert operations, the US continues its efforts to prevent Venezuela from asserting its economic independence. Mainstream US media continues to present a distorted reality to justify these actions, despite the facts not matching up. As Alex Saab remains in US custody awaiting trial, US media deception is expected to continue.

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