Venezuela: Media lies seek to undermine vote

As if straight out of a Cold War era movie, US corporate media outlets such as the Miami Herald ran headlines on September 18 claiming scientists from Albuquerque “tried to sell classified nuclear data to Venezuela”.

Readers were no doubt shocked to read in the Miami Herald that “an elderly maverick scientist who battled the scientific community for decades over laser fusion was indicted Friday in New Mexico, charged with trying to sell classified nuclear weapons data to Venezuela”.

Unfortunately, unless you read the whole article, you would have missed the fact that not a single Venezuelan, let alone a Venezuelan government representative, was involved in this bizarre scandal.

The “Venezuelan contact” was actually an undercover FBI agent.

This is one of the more extreme cases of misinformation in the mainstream media in relation to Venezuela. But it is only one part of the international media and US government offensive against the left-wing government of President Hugo Chavez.

This campaign reached a crescendo in the lead-up to the September 26 National Assembly elections, which polls predicted would return a pro-Chavez majority. The campaign will no doubt continue after the vote.

Another example of this campaign was the US government’s announcement on September 15 of its list of countries deemed to not be complying with its self-declared “war on drugs”.

The world’s number one destination for drugs and the largest marijuana producer — the US — failed to make the list. However, Colombia, the largest drug producer in the hemisphere, did.

The Colombian government, which has received more than US$6.5 billion in US aid as part of Plan Colombia, nonetheless received special mention for its “efforts” in fighting the drug trade.

The fact Colombia has handed seven military bases over to the US in a deal ruled unconstitutional by a Colombian court might explain why the US is so happy with it.

Venezuela, which booted the US Drug Enforcement Agency out of the country in 2005, has increased drug-related arrests from 6836 between 2002 and 2005 to 22,833 between 2006 and 2009.

It also made the list, but unlike Colombia, the US report said it had “failed demonstrably during the previous 12 months to adhere to [its] obligations under international counternarcotics agreements”.

Presumably, Venezuela should have instead followed the lead of the Afghan government, whose anti-drug efforts were also highlighted in the US report.

Under US military occupation, Afghanistan has become the world’s biggest opium producer.

The recent Afghan elections were held up as an example of the thriving democracy emerging from the barrel of the gun (despite more than 3000 official complaints of fraud having been lodged). But we can confidently predict the media will find “evidence” to justify predictions of fraud and intimidation in “undemocratic” Venezuela.

Never mind the fact that, since Chavez came to power in 1998, there have been no less than 16 electoral contests and Chavez continues to maintain an approval rating between 55 and 60% (depending on which polls you believe).

Most heads of state would be envious of such a figure six months into their terms, let alone 11 years after taking office.

And never mind that, at each election, despite the shrill cries of a fraud in the making, international observers from many organisations have time and again ratified the Venezuelan electoral system as one of the fairest and most transparent in the world.

None of this will matter, whatever the result on September 26 (and even the more serious opposition polls are showing the pro-Chavez forces will get more than 50% of the vote).

The reason is two-fold.

First, if, as the polls predict, pro-Chavez forces win a majority (and possibly two-thirds of all seats), the Venezuelan people will have once again given Chavez a mandate to deepen the Bolivarian revolution.

This revolutionary process has gone against the principles of the free-market neoliberal orthodoxy that gave us the global financial crisis. Instead, it has put people before profit, whose gains, among many others, include:

• Extreme poverty dropping from 29.8% in 2003 to 7.2% in 2009;
• Unemployment fall from 16.8% to 7.5% in the same period;
• Illiteracy being eradicated; and
• University enrolments jumping 193% between 1999 and 2009.

None of which makes for sexy headlines about spies buying secret information. But it does poses questions as to why US government officials and their friends in the corporate press hate Chavez so much.

Second, these same media, and the US government, hope to convince the world of the “fact” that, just as US wars are about promoting democracy, Afghanistan is leading the way in the global anti-drug crusade, and capitalism really does work, Venezuelans don’t like Chavez or his government’s anti-poverty programs.

This will no doubt help alleviate the impact of a likely defeat for the US-funded opposition groups, who will be able to console themselves that, even if most Venezuelans don’t agree with them, most of the world does.

It will help the Venezuelan right wing keep its dream alive of a Venezuela without Chavez.

For those who believe that another world is possible — free of neoliberal governments and corporate media lies — Venezuela sets an example in the struggle to build a global movement for change.