Yes, there is a media blockade against Venezuela

April 30, 2017
Venezuelan women march in Caracas in support of the Bolivarian Revolution and against right-wing violence.

Venezuela is in flames. Or at least parts of it are.

Since April 4, right-wing opposition militants have carried targeted acts of violence, vandalism and arson. They are deliberately clashing with security forces in a bid to plunge the country into chaos and forcefully remove the elected socialist government.

It is the continuation of an 18 year effort to topple the Bolivarian revolution by any means necessary — although you may have seen it miraculously recast in the mainstream media as “promoting a return to democracy.

Catalogue of violence

A catalogue of the violence since early April is shocking. Schools have been ransacked, a Supreme Court building torched, an air force base attacked, and public transport, health and veterinary facilities have been destroyed. At least 23 people have been left dead, with many more injured.

In one of the most shocking cases, women, children and more than 50 newborn babies had to be evacuated by the government from a public maternity hospital, which came under attack from opposition gangs on April 20.

Anywhere else in the Western world, this would have given way to horrified international and national calls for an end to the violence, and for the swift prosecution of those responsible. But these incidents have been ignored or misrepresented by the international press.

The international media has opted to uncritically parrot the opposition’s claims that the elected government is violently repressing peaceful protests. The government is held responsible for the growing number of deaths in connection with the demonstrations.

This is not an even remotely accurate interpretation of the facts.

  • To date, three people (two protesters and one bystander) have been killed by state security personnel, who were promptly arrested and in two cases indicted.
  • A further five people have been directly killed by opposition protesters. One person also died as an indirect result of the opposition roadblocks in Caracas when they were prevented from getting to a hospital.
  • Five people have been shot in separate incidents near protests under unclear circumstances.
  • Nine protesters appear to have died as a result of their own actions (at least nine were electrocuted in the recent looting of a bakery).

A cursory look at the reality reveals the government is clearly not responsible for most of these deaths. However, to paraphrase a remark recently made by Venezuelan author Jose Roberto Duque, the “truth has suddenly become useless”.

The media has failed to go into too much detail surrounding the exact circumstances of these deaths. The truth presents a serious obstacle to their narrative that these people were killed during pro-democracy peaceful protests at the hands of a repressive authoritarian regime.

Take this deliberately misleading paragraph from the New York Time’s on the April 19 protests: “Protesters demanding elections and a return to democratic rule jammed the streets of Caracas and other Venezuelan cities on Wednesday.

“National Guard troops and government-aligned militias beat crowds back with tear gas, rubber bullets and other weapons, and at least three people were killed, according to human rights groups and news reports.”

The NYT omitted the fact that none of those three deaths have so far been attributed to security forces, and that one of the victims was an army sergeant killed by protesters.

Moreover, those on the receiving end of the “tear gas and rubber bullets” are not quite the “peaceful protesters” he disingenuously implies.

Anyone in the east of the city on April 19, when both opposition and pro-government forces marched, could see how opposition supporters gathered in total freedom in Plaza Francia in Altamira, even buying anti-government T-shirts and caps. They freely marched along the main highway linking the east of the city to the west.

Police “repression” has occurred in two specific scenarios. Firstly, when opposition gangs have set-up burning barricades and carried out violent acts of vandalism, including the targeting of public institutions. Such actions are deliberately aimed at provoking photo-op worthy clashes with security forces.

In the second instance, it has occurred when opposition marchers have tried crossing police lines blocking them from getting to the working class municipality of El Libertador in the west of the city — where government support is concentrated.

Again, this action is a deliberate attempt to provoke clashes with security forces and their supporters. The opposition are well aware they have not been granted permission to march into El Libertador since a short-lived opposition-led coup in 2002 triggered by an anti-government march diverted towards the Presidential Palace in the west that left 19 dead by opposition sniper-fire.

It is hard to see how the police would not respond to these violent actions in a similar way, or even more violently, in the rest of the world. I can only imagine what would happen if armed and violent protesters consistently tried to march on the White House in Washington, or Westminster in London.

What if they assaulted police lines outside the White House, or attacked hospitals and looted businesses in London? Not only would they not be granted permission to continue, but protesters would likely be shot, or end up in jail under anti-terror laws for a long time.

But in Venezuela, the opposition can rely on its carte blanche from the mainstream press as its get out of jail card.

Details of the undemocratic actions of opposition leaders and their supporters — ranging from these latest attacks to support for a violent coup in 2002 — are glaringly absent from virtually all news reports.

This is despite the fact that the opposition’s current protest leaders were active players in the 2002 coup.

Ignoring government supporters

The NYT article is not just a case of one isolated news agency. The British Guardian, for instance, provided its readers with an image gallery of the opposition’s April 19 march and “ensuing violence”.

But it failed to acknowledge that a pro-government march of similar, if not greater, size was held the same day. They simply erased the actions of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people.

Whichever news agency you check, be it the BBC, the Washington Post, CNN, or any other corporate outlet, you find the same, uniform consensus in their Venezuela coverage. The only way to describe this is a total media blockade.

The last time the country witnessed unrest on this scale was in 2014. Then, opposition militants unsuccessfully tried to force the “exit” of President Nicolas Maduro using similar tactics, leading to the deaths of 43 people.

Most victims of the violence were innocent passersby or state security personnel, who were given the near impossible task (like today) of refraining from responding with violence to people who are deliberately trying to provoke, maim and kill them.

The latest opposition protests began in early April after the Supreme Court issued a ruling granting the court temporary powers to assume the legislative functions of the National Assembly. It came in response to the Opposition-controlled parliament having been declared “in contempt of court” for more than six months.

The opposition refused to heed a Supreme Court order to remove three of its lawmakers whose election was subject to investigations over electoral fraud.

This is similar to the legal case hanging over the 30 Conservative MPs in Britain. In Venezuela, the legislators were suspended from being sworn into parliament pending the results of the investigations. The opposition declared this an attempted “coup” by the government.

The media swallowed this version hook, line and sinker. Although the ruling allowing the Supreme Court temporary legislative powers was almost immediately overturned, the opposition took to the streets denouncing a “rupture of the constitutional order”.

This soon morphed into a hodgepodge of ultimatums that have dominated the opposition’s agenda since it won control of the country’s National Assembly (one of the five branches of the Venezuelan government) in December 2015. After its electoral victory, it promised to depose the national government “within six months” – something beyond the power of Venezuela’s legislative branch.

Its demands include the release of what they call “political prisoners” (largely in jail for crimes associated with the 2014 wave of violence), opening-up a “humanitarian channel” to receive international aid and, most importantly, immediate regional and general elections.

Squandering chances

The street protests were an unmissable opportunity for the opposition, which was suffering from steadily decreasing popularity after an entire year of squandering its legislative majority.

Evidently, long term strategy is not the opposition’s strong point. History testifies that they tend to go for maximum amount of damage in the minimum amount of time, no matter the cost.

This brings us to why this kind of violence, which has been employed several times throughout the last 18 years by Venezuela’s well-seasoned opposition, is being used once again. If the government is so unpopular, as the opposition claims, why not just wait for the presidential elections in 2018?

The opposition’s only goal, far from promoting a “return” to democracy, is to step right over it. They want to remove the elected government more than a year ahead of scheduled elections.

But they don’t want to stop there. As one opposition marcher told me on April 19: “Get your stuff together Maduro, because you’re going to jail.” The opposition’s goal is the total annihilation of Chavismo.

Whatever the Maduro government’s many errors and faults, progressives across the globe must defend it against the opposition’s onslaught and the international media's blockade. The alternative is the same savage neoliberalism — currently being mercilessly unleashed by Brazil’s unelected government — that squeezed blood from the entire continent throughout the 1980s and ’90s.

The slogan “No Volveran” (they shall not return) has never been more urgent.

[Abridged from]


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