Venezuela: Media attacks part of US-backed coup

Venezuelans march in Caracas against the 'economic war' on January 23.

There is a coup underway in Venezuela. The pieces are all falling into place like a bad CIA movie.

At every turn, a new traitor is revealed, a betrayal is born, full of promises to reveal the smoking gun that will justify the unjustifiable. Infiltrations are rampant, rumours spread like wildfire, and the panic mentality threatens to overcome logic.

Headlines scream danger, crisis and imminent demise, while the usual suspects declare covert war on a people whose only crime is being gatekeeper to the largest pot of black gold in the world.

Media attacks

The New York Times showcased a January 26 editorial degrading and ridiculing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, labeling him “erratic and despotic”. The next day, Spanish newspaper ABC accused Venezuela’s National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello, the most powerful political figure in the country after Maduro, of being a narcotics kingpin.

The accusations stem from Leasmy Salazar, a former Venezuelan presidential guard officer. Salazar, who served under late president Hugo Chavez, was recruited by the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and is becoming the new “golden child” in Washington’s war on Venezuela.

On January 29, the NYT, ran a front-page piece shaming the Venezuelan economy and oil industry, and predicting its downfall.

Blaring omissions from the article include mention of the hundreds of tons of food and other consumer products that have been hoarded or sold as contraband by private distributors and businesses. The hoarding aims to create panic and discontent with the government, and justify large price hikes.

Simultaneously, an absurdly sensationalist and misleading headline ran in several US papers linking Venezuela to nuclear weapons and a plan to bomb New York City.

The headline leads readers to believe Venezuela was directly involved in a terrorist plan against the US, but the actual text makes clear that no Venezuelans were involved at all. The whole charade was an entrapment set up by the FBI, whose officers posed as Venezuelan officials to capture a disgruntled nuclear physicist.

The same day, US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki condemned the alleged “criminalisation of political dissent” in Venezuela. Psaki was asked by a reporter about fugitive Venezuelan general Antonio Rivero’s arrival in New York to plea for support from the United Nations Working Committee on Arbitrary Detention.

Rivero fled an arrest warrant in Venezuela after his involvement in violent anti-government protests that lead to the deaths of more than 40 people, mainly government supporters and state security forces, in February last year.

His arrival in the US coincided with Salazar’s. This suggests a coordinated effort to debilitate Venezuela’s armed forces by publicly showcasing two high profile military officers — both former Chavez loyalists — that have turned against their government and are seeking foreign intervention.

These examples are just a snapshot of growing, systematic negative and distorted coverage of Venezuelan affairs in US media. This coverage paints an exaggeratedly dismal picture of the country’s current situation and portraying the government as incompetent, dictatorial and criminal.

Intensifying campaign

This type of coordinated media campaign against Venezuela is not new — media consistently portrayed Chavez, elected president four times by overwhelming majorities, as a tyrannical dictator. It is clearly intensifying at a rapid, and concerning, pace.

The NYT has a shameful history when it comes to Venezuela. Its editorial board blissfully applauded the violent coup d’etat in April 2002 that ousted Chavez and led to the deaths of more than 100 civilians.

When Chavez was returned to power by an uprising of millions of supporters and loyal Armed Forces two days later, the NYT did not recant its previous blunder, rather it arrogantly implored Chavez to “govern responsibly”, claiming he had brought the coup on himself.

But the fact that the NYT has now begun a persistent, direct campaign against the Venezuelan government with one-sided, distorted and aggressive articles indicates that Washington has placed Venezuela on the regime change fast track.

The timing of Salazar’s arrival in Washington as an alleged DEA collaborator, and his public exposure, is not coincidental. This February marks one year since anti-government protests violently tried to force Maduro’s resignation.

The leaders of the protests, Leopoldo Lopez and Maria Corina Machado, have both been lauded by the NYT and other “respected” outlets as “freedom fighters”, “true democrats,” and as the NYT recently referred to Machado, “an inspiring challenger”.

Even US President Barack Obama called for Lopez’s release from prison after he was detained for his role in the protest violence during a speech last September at a United Nations event. These influential voices wilfully omit Lopez’s and Machado’s involvement and leadership of violent, undemocratic and even criminal acts.

Both were involved in the 2002 coup against Chavez. Both have illegally received foreign funding for political activities slated to overthrow their government, and both led the lethal protests against Maduro last year, publicly calling for his ouster through illegal means.

Using a figure such as Salazar, who was known to anyone close to Chavez as one of his loyal guards, as a force to discredit and attack the government and its leaders is an old-school intelligence tactic — and a very effective one. Infiltrate, recruit and neutralise the adversary from within or by one of its own — a painful, shocking betrayal that creates distrust and fear among the ranks.

No evidence has surfaced to back Salazar’s claims against Cabello, but the headline makes for a sensational story and another mark against Venezuela in public opinion. It also caused a stir within the Venezuelan military and may result in further betrayals from officers who could support a coup against the government.

Economic situation

Venezuela is suffering from the sudden and dramatic plummet in oil prices. The country’s oil-dependent economy has severely contracted. The government is taking measures to reorganise the budget and guarantee access to basic services and goods, but people are still experiencing difficulties.

Unlike the dismal portrayal in the NYT, Venezuelans are not starving, homeless or suffering from mass unemployment, as countries such as Greece and Spain have experienced under austerity policies.

Despite certain shortages — some caused by currency controls and others by intentional hoarding, sabotage or contraband — 95% of Venezuelans consume three meals a day, an amount that has doubled since the 1990s. The unemployment rate is less than 6% and housing is subsidised by the state.

Nevertheless, making Venezuela’s economy “scream” is without a doubt a rapidly intensifying strategy executed by foreign interests and their Venezuelan counterparts. It is very effective.

As shortages continue and access to dollars becomes increasingly difficult, chaos and panic ensue. This social discontent is capitalised on by US agencies and anti-government forces in Venezuela pushing for regime change.

A similar strategy was used in Chile to overthrow socialist president Salvador Allende in a bloody coup in 1973. First the economy was destroyed, then mass discontent grew and the military moved to oust Allende, backed by Washington at every stage.

Lest we forget the result: a brutal dictatorship led by General Augusto Pinochet that tortured, assassinated, disappeared and forced into exile tens of thousands of people. Not exactly a model to replicate.

This year, Obama approved a special State Department fund of US$5 million to support anti-government groups in Venezuela. Also, the congressionally-funded National Endowment for Democracy is financing Venezuelan opposition groups with more than US$1.2 million and aiding efforts to undermine Maduro’s government.

There is little doubt that millions more for regime change in Venezuela are being funnelled through other channels that are not subject to public scrutiny.

Maduro has denounced these ongoing attacks against his government and has directly called on Obama to cease efforts to harm Venezuela.

Recently, all 33 Latin American and Caribbean nations at the January 29 summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States in Costa Rica expressed support for Maduro and condemned US interference in Venezuela.

Latin America firmly rejects any bid to erode democracy in the region and will not stand for another US-backed coup. It is time Washington listen to the hemisphere and stop employing the dirty tactics against its neighbours.

[Abridged from TeleSUR English.]