Media omits key information to demonise Venezuela as recall referendum suspended

October 26, 2016
Graphic by TeleSUR English.

The announcement from Venezuela's electoral authority on October 20 that it would head a court ruling and not proceed with a recall referendum has unleashed yet another wave of critical articles and opinion pieces throughout the English-speaking media, labeling Venezuela government as “authoritarian” or even a “dictatorship.”

It is a tired tune that people who follow political developments in the South American country have heard consistently throughout the 18-year process known as the Bolivarian Revolution. Despite the fact that the Venezuelan government's democratic credentials have been affirmed repeatedly — including by groups who cannot be considered to be partial to the government, such as the Carter Center set up by ex-US president Jimmy Carter — private media outlets insist on labeling the socialist Maduro administration “undemocratic.”

Media outlets are fully aware that if they were to be honest in their reporting about Venezuela, the narrative that the country is not a democracy would collapse under the weight of its own insincerity Thus private outlets have consistently and deliberately omitted critical information about recent developments in Venezuela.

Many outlets, such as ABC News, have completely failed to mention that the opposition-controlled National Assembly is currently in noncompliance with a ruling from the country's Supreme Court, therefore its actions have no legal standing.

The right-wing leadership insisted on swearing-in three lawmakers despite the fact that their elections are in dispute over several serious fraud allegations. In a de-facto acknowledgment of the court's authority and ruling, the leadership of the Venezuelan parliament first respected the order and withdrew the three lawmakers, only to turn around and re-seat them later.

Those that do mention the assembly's contempt of court, such as Al Jazeera, are quick to point out that the Supreme Court has overturned a few bills the parliament has passed. What they fail to mention is that some of the bills passed by the right wing are so flagrantly in violation of the constitution that one would be hard-pressed to find a legal scholar who would argue in favor of their legality.

As an example, in its mission to oust elected socialist President Nicolas Maduro, the right-wing leadership of the assembly tried to retroactively shorten Maduro's term. One need not be a constitutional expert to see how that would run contrary to the will of the Venezuelan people who elected him to serve a six-year term in 2013.

In March, the assembly approved a highly controversial bill aimed at granting amnesty to a wide range of crimes committed by supporters of the US-funded opposition, including violent protests in 2014, known as guarimbas, that left dozens dead. Relatives of victims of right-wing political violence denounced these efforts to pass such legislation that would essentially absolve the perpetrators of violence. The bill never became law due to its unconstitutionality.

Outlets also fail to mention that despite the name of the opposition umbrella groupo (Democratic Unity Roundtable, or MUD), Venezuela's opposition is deeply divided, with different factions pursuing radically different strategies. In reality, the only thing that unites the MUD is opposition to the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).

It is this disunity that led to their delay in initiating the recall referendum, making it all but impossible that a recall vote would occur this year.

The opposition is no position to plead ignorance over the regulation of the recall process. It attempted a recall once before in 2004 against former President Hugo Chavez (which Chavez won in what was the first example inthe world of a recall vote agaisnt a sitting head of state). That is to say, the opposition was fully aware that the process takes about eight months.

Yet the opposition insisted the recall happen in a rushed manner, and as a result, they submitted a high number of fraudulent signatures. These fraudulent signatures have now led to the suspension of the entire process. Had the opposition faithfully followed the requirements of the recall process, the government would have been powerless to stop the recall vote taking place.

This a fact that always goes unmentioned by the private media when they report on the recall referendum. On top of this, they ignore the fact that Venezuela is only one of three nations in the world (along with Boliva and Ecuador) to even have a mechanism to democratically recall a sitting head of state.

Disinformation and manipulation are the modus operandi of the Venezuelan opposition and their media lackeys, both domestic and international. Recent events in the country mirror the lead-up to the 2002 military coup against Chavez, which ulitately was defeated by an uprising of poor supporters of Chavez and loyal soldiers. Before staging the short-lived coup attempt, media outlets demonised the Venezuelan government, utilizing the very same language now being used against Maduro.

In 2002, the right-wing opposition also tried to delegitimise the Chavez government, staging protests calling for his ouster, and asking for international bodies to intervene.

The role of the media in setting the conditions for the coup attempt was instrumental, so much so that one of the coup supporters even went on television to thank the private media for their role in the coup. In fact, it was that very same manipulation by the media that led Chavez to create more publicly owned media outlets, such as TeleSUR.

The resolution issued by the opposition-controlled National Assembly has parallels to another dark episode in the political history of Latin America. That is the 1973 coup in Chile against democratically-elected socialist President Salvador Allende, that installed the brutal US-backed Pinochet dictatorship

Only months before the violent military coup on September 11, 1973, the Chilean parliament approved a resolution accusing the Allende government of acting unlawfully and calling for the armed forces to act to restore the constitution. In recent days, Venezuela's oposition has done the same.

Like Venezuela today, international outlets jumped on this resolution, offering it up as proof that Allende was the head of a totalitarian regime. That media manipulation helped lay the groundwork for the coup.

The opposition coalition appears to be following that script, calling for a major protest Wednesday, dubbed "The Takeover of Venezuela"—something that government supporters view as an effort at destabilization and a precursor to the kind of violent protests seen in 2014 or even another coup attempt.

Why Venezuela suspended the recall referendum against Maduro

Venezuela’s electoral authority suspended the referendum to recall President Nicolas Maduro on October 20, citing an order from the country's Supreme Court regarding allegations of fraud on the part of the right-wing opposition during the initial signature drive.

The National Electoral Council (CNE), specified that the lengthy recall process cannot continue and the next phase in the referendum process — the collection of 4 million signatures to trigger the vote—is canceled.

Several states have now annulled the results of the first phase after the opposition submitted a large quantity of invalid signatures. Of the 1,957,779 signatures submitted during the first phase, over 30% — or 605,727 — had irregularities, including signatures from more than 10,000 deceased persons.

The submission of false signatures is a major offense and allowing the recall to proceed under those circumstances would have undermined the credibility of the entire Venezuelan electoral system.

The country's right-wing opposition responded to the suspension of the recall referendum process with indirect calls for a military coup. However, government officials warned as early as June that the  huge amount of irregularities could spell doom for the recall process.

“It is very serious that these right-wing politicians have again submitted to the electoral authority a package with 600,000 fake, fraudulent, signatures. The proponents of the referendum said they conducted an audit and declared that all the signatures presented were spotless,” said Maduro in June.

Nonetheless, the opposition is crying foul and has called for street protests, claiming the constitution has been violated. In a press conference on October 21, the opposition announced that a delegation from the assembly will travel to the Organization of American States, or OAS, to denounce the suspension of the referendum and demand the OAS apply the Democratic Charter against his country.

The opposition is striving to portray themselves as helpless victims who have been thwarted by the socialist government. However, the opposition's narrative is at odds with the facts on the ground. 

The opposition was well aware that there would be intense scrutiny at every stage of the recall referendum. The MUD, as the opposition is known, submitted its initial petition for the recall referendum on May 2, many months after they took their seats in the National Assembly after winning parliamentary elections in December 2015. 

That delay is now widely attributed to the arrogance of the right-wing leadership of the National Assembly, who overplayed their hand thinking that their parliamentary victory meant they were now the dominant political force.

In January, the opposition boasted that they would oust Maduro within six months and tried several, ultimately unconstitutional, efforts to achieve that aim, such as trying to retroactively shorten Maduro's term.

Henry Ramos Allup, head of the National Assembly, himself admitted in an interview in February with Colombia's El Tiempo newspaper that the constitution sets a high bar to hold a recall. “(The recall) itself is cumbersome,” said Ramos Allup. “It is enough to just read the Constitution to see that. It is a deceptive proposal that looks very nice, but when you start to look at the details, you see it is very difficult to implement.”

It was only after exhausting other efforts that the opposition finally sorted out its differences and settled on initiating a recall referendum. That delay proved to be costly for the opposition as it meant it was all but impossible that a recall vote will occur this year. 

That is significant, because under the Venezuelan constitution if Maduro is in office on the fourth anniversary of his four-year term — January 10, 2017 — his vice president would serve the remainder of his five-year term in office in the event that voters did recall him. Had the process been initiated by the opposition in January of 2016, it would have most likely ensured the recall vote occur in 2016.

This was a fact that the opposition was perfectly aware of, since the recall they launched against the late Hugo Chavez in 2004 took approximately eight months. When examining the presidential recall vote in 2004, a span of eight months took place between the opposition submitting the signatures at the end of November 2003 and the vote being held in mid-August of 2004. Chavez ultimately remained in power after the recall was rejected by a wide margin.

Knowing full well that the timelines were tight, the opposition then rushed to collect signatures during the first phase. That hurry is believed to be partially responsible for the high number of fraudulent signatures that have now led to the suspension of the entire process.

Ultimately, the inability to meet all the requirements of the recall process is a failure that rests on the shoulders of the right-wing opposition.

[These two articles by Lucho Granados Ceja are reposted from TeleSUR English.]

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