Media lies about Venezuela's democratic revolution

November 17, 2007

The US-backed right-wing campaign to destabilise the democratic revolution in Venezuela, lead by socialist President Hugo Chavez, is escalating again. The upcoming December 2 referendum on proposed amendments to the constitution is prompting a new drive from US-backed capitalist elite to undermine the elected Chavez government. Crucially, the international corporate-owned media's distortion of events is reaching new heights, with false allegations of government repression of opposition protesters a key component of the campaign to demonise Chavez and the process of change his government is leading.

Over the last two weeks, a former military and political ally of Chavez has defected to the opposition, student-led demonstrations against the constitutional reforms have turned into violent riots, and massive demonstrations, involving hundreds of thousands, have occurred in support of the proposed constitutional reforms.

A demonstration on November 4 in favour of the proposed constitutional changes attracted hundreds of thousands of people. Although peaceful and massive, it remained mostly ignored by the international media.

Three days later, a widely covered but relatively small student demonstration against the reforms ended in violence and gunfire. Over 120 pro-Chavez students and staff were trapped inside the social work building on the Central University of Venezuela (UCV), surrounded by a mob of oppositionists throwing rocks and tear gas grenades. Nine students were injured, one critically.

Confrontations between opposition students and police have continued since then, with a Reuters article that day reporting that opposition protesters opened fire on police, with four officers shot.

Chavez proposed the constitutional changes on August 15, arguing that the changes were necessary to bring about "21st Century socialism" and "to remove the old oligarchic, exploiter hegemony". The changes have been widely debated in thousands of mass meetings across the country, with the outcome being an additional 36 proposed changes to the constitution — on top of Chavez's initial 33 — being adopted by the National Assembly. The 69 proposed reforms, in different blocs, will be put to the referendum.

The current outbreak of conflict — driven by an elite terrified of losing more of its power and wealth through increasing moves towards socialism — is aimed at creating a false political crisis, and through this the conditions for counter-revolution.

Without a significant support base that can be mobilised after suffering a series of defeats, the opposition have failed to develop a comprehensive strategy to defeat the revolutionary movement led by Chavez — which has won 11 straight national electoral victories since 1998. The opposition has relied on a narrow layer of privileged students based on the old elite universities. (Under Chavez, free university education has been massively expanded to incorporate hundreds of thousands of the previously excluded poor, largely through the new Bolivarian University, with the government currently constructing 18 new universities.)

The traditional social base of the opposition in the middle class is being eroded not just by demoralisation caused by repeated defeats, but by economic changes that are benefiting that vast majority of Venezuelans, bolstering support for Chavez and undermining opposition.

According to a 2007 AC Nielson and Datos study on behalf of the Venezuelan American Chamber of Commerce and Industry, 97% of the population make up the three poorest (of six) income brackets, and all have experienced significant increases in income between 2004 and 2006 a result of pro-poor measures of the Chavez government. The poorest bracket makes up 58% of the population, and their income has increased 130% after being corrected for inflation. These gains don't include the benefits associated with the Chavez government's social missions, that have provided free health care, education, subsidised food, housing and other benefits.

Struggling for a way forward, opposition parties remain split over whether to vote "No" to the reforms, or to abstain from voting. Previous attempts at destabilisation have all failed — such as the April 2002 coup that briefly overthrew Chavez but was defeated by a popular uprising.

An October 4 piece by opposition blogger Francisco Toro entitled "Who are we really?", which was posted on, revealed the dishonest methods used by the opposition have helped lead to repeated defeats. He reveals how the opposition use the private media, largely owned and controlled by anti-Chavez elites, as propaganda machines that provide distorted and selective information to present a false picture of the Venezuelan reality. The international media, taking its lead from Venezuela's private media, repeat these distortions.

Toro points out the figures in the private media openly stated as far back as 2002 that they would abandon impartiality, which meant news would "no longer be judged by the normal standards of journalistic ethics. Questions of newsworthiness, impartiality, confirmability and public interest would be set aside" in favour of a new guide — will it assist in the goal of overthrowing Chavez? "Henceforth", he wrote, "the media would serve as a trick mirror — reflecting only those parts of reality that it judged would further an ulterior end. That the image such a mirror produces is deeply distorted is tautological: in this context, the distortion is the point."

"We were systematically deceived", Toro said, arguing that all forces in the opposition, himself included, went along with this deception.

Toro argued this backfired on the opposition, because "all we did was fatally undermine our own ability to understand the society we live in", leaving the opposition's support base confused and demoralised by repeated defeats that could not be comprehended if you took pro-opposition media propaganda as good coin.

The coverage in the international media continues to follow this same pattern, with heavily distorted and outright false coverage of opposition student riots. The most dramatic was the November 7 UCV violence. According to eye-witnesses, the anti-government protesters were armed with tear gas and masked in balaclavas as they laid siege to the building containing trapped Chavistas. In response, officers from the Venezuelan Protection Unit entered the scene after one hour to release the hostages, with shots fired into the air by way of warning.

Yet, the Venezuelan and international corporate media reported that pro-Chavez supporters violently attacked their opponents, a lie repeated by US state department spokesperson Sean McCormack at a press conference on November 8. The Sydney Morning Herald, on November 9, ran the same picture that appeared in a number of international media outlets of an alleged Chavista pointing a gun at an alleged oppositionist — the identity of both having never been confirmed. The article reported that "opposition members have in the past accused pro-Chavez militants of being behind similar incidents", something that Chavistas also claim about opposition supporters, although only the opposition claim was reported.

US-Venezuelan author Eva Golinger, author of The Chavez Code, which exposes the extent of US funding of the Venezuelan opposition, wrote on her blog () on November 7: "The Venezuelan government is doing everything in its power to allow [opposition] students to freely enjoy their rights to protest without permitting them to destabilise the country, create chaos, and place in danger the lives of citizens." She points out that in the US, those responsible for similar acts of violence "would be jailed and subjected to severe repression. Venezuela, on the other hand, is overly permissive with these protests and despite the ample freedom enjoyed by all sectors in this country, the international media distorts the scenario and attempts to paint a portrayal of the Venezuelan government as repressive. Repressive is the US government, permissive is the Venezuelan."

Many aspects of the proposed constitutional reform directly conflict with capitalist interests. Political power will be decentralised, with the institutions of popular, direct power, given formal recognition. Venezuela's key natural resources will be protected against future privatisation. Venezuelans who work in the informal economy or are self-employed, most of whom currently have no benefits or guaranteed working conditions, will be ensured a pension, a retirement fund, holiday pay and maternity leave. Workers in the formal economy will have their working week reduced from 44 to 36 hours with the same pay. The impact is clear: the US-backed Venezuelan elites will lose power and wealth should the constitutional reforms be adopted.

The reforms are democratic and progressive in nature. For instance, the voting age will be lowered to 16 years, rights of gays and lesbians will be recognised (a first in South America) and the rights and culture of Afro-Venezuelans further protected.

Political participation of the people has been vital at every step of the reform process. The proposed reforms have been debated widely by the Venezuelan population — between August and October, over 9000 public meetings between National Assembly representatives and citizens were held to discuss the reforms. Workers', women's, students' and other social groups were also consulted. Contrary to mainstream media representation, dissent to the reforms has not been repressed, rather, lively debate has been expressed in the media, in the National Assembly, the constituent assembly and in all aspects of society.

Even the aspects of the reform that the international media have misrepresented as an attack on democracy — for instance, the proposal to allow the reelection of a president for more than two terms (Australia, for its part, has unlimited prime ministerial terms) and the extension of terms from six to seven years — must be approved by the majority of Venezuelans at a referendum on December 2. Also in Venezuela any elected official, including the president, can be recalled before their term finishes if 20% of electors sign a petition calling for a new vote.

Venezuela is continuing along the course of profoundly democratic change it has been carrying out of the last few years, driven by and relying on the participation of the working people. It is becoming increasingly apparent that a major confrontation with powerful interests is inevitable, as the gains and intentions of the revolution and the interests of the US-backed capitalist class continue to clash. There is no possible convergence of democratic, rationally planned socialism, and the profits-first, neoliberal agenda of Venezuelan elite (to say nothing of significant US and European corporate interests in Venezuela).

"The people of Latin America have reached a level of maturity about the politics of the empire", quoted Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro as saying on November 9. "We have no doubt that, as the surveys show, a huge majority of Venezuelans will vote 'yes' on the reform."

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