Americans might be fooled by mass media misinformation, but Venezuelans know what is really happening in their country.
The misinformation in most of the media about the protests in Venezuela is astounding. Often the opposite of reality is repeated as if it were true. Americans who rely on the corporate mass media, politicians and corrupted nonprofits might fall for these tales, but Venezuelans know what is really happening.
Venezuelans have gone through 14 years of abuse and lies, including a coup attempt. They know what is really occurring in their economy and political system and are aware that their government is in a battle with the power of money both internally as well as with the US empire. In every election since 2002, Venezuelans have shown that their deep political education, participatory democracy and experience will overcome the falsehoods of the opposition. The violent actions of the opposition and intentional undermining of the economy are signs of an oligarch class that has lost power and is desperate. It must work outside of democracy to try to retake control of the government.
“These violent tactics have no hope of succeeding because, unlike 1999, the Venezuelan people are now organized into many groups: the communal councils, the communes, the thousands of health, security, militia, sports, educational, cultural committees. The Bolivarian Revolution has fostered, not a mass of people, but an organized organic population that makes decisions about its living conditions along with its government because Venezuela is now a fully functioning participatory democracy.”
Polls show President Nicolas Maduro is the most popular president in Latin America and the people of Venezuela are not fooled by the oligarch protests. According to a poll by International Consulting Services (ICS), 85.3 percent of Venezuelans disagree with protests mounted by sectors of the ultra-Venezuelan right. The poll found 81.6 percent of Venezuelans say that it is the opposition protests that have been violent, and 91.3 percent replied that preserving Venezuelan democracy is very important. The people of Venezuela do not want their democracy undermined by a mob demanding regime change.
Maduro knows that the real source of these protests come from the United States trying to put in place a government friendly to US interests. On February 22, 2014, Maduro made an offer to President Obama, saying: “Let’s initiate a high-level dialogue and let’s put the truth out on the table.” As you will see below, the United States is a primary player in the opposition to the Maduro government, but we know Obama does not want the US role exposed, so don’t expect talks between Maduro and Obama anytime soon.
This article seeks to address many of the common statements heard by the opposition and the US government about Venezuela because there are so many obviously false statements being made by both. The United States wants Americans to be confused because it does not want us to know that participatory democracy is possible, that people can be empowered to manage their lives and that there are alternatives to the big finance capitalism model that is failing in the United States.
Below are responses to four falsehoods followed by one truth you will not hear in the US media.
Falsehood 1: The Maduro Government Is a Dictatorship.
Venezuela is one of the most democratic nations on Earth. Here are some facts about democracy in Venezuela:
“Regarding the supposed ‘democratic deficit of the Venezuelan regime,’ the facts speak for themselves. Since 1998 there have been four national plebiscites, four presidential elections, and eleven parliamentary, regional, and municipal elections. Venezuela is the Latin American country with the highest number of elections and it also has an automatic electoral system (much more modern than Chile’s), described by Jimmy Carter, who has observed 92 elections in all continents, as ‘the best system in the world.’ “
The real “democratic deficit” has been shown by the United States and the opposition. In particular, Secretary of State John Kerry has flown his anti-democracy flag repeatedly when it comes to Venezuela. As Mark Weisbrot recently wrote “when Maduro was elected president and opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles claimed that the election was stolen, Kerry refused to recognize the election results. Kerry’s aggressive, anti-democratic posture brought such a strong rebuke from South American governments that he was forced to reverse course and tacitly recognize the Maduro government. (For those who did not follow these events, there was no doubt about the election results.)”
In December 2013, the Maduro government showed even greater strength in municipal elections. It won 58 percent of the country’s municipalities. Maduro and his allies gained more than 49 percent of the total vote share, versus 43 percent for the opposition. This means that the right-wing opposition coalition had now lost four national elections in the past 14 months then lost the most recent municipal elections.
The opposition now knows it cannot win elections, so it has taken to trying to remove Maduro and his allies through non-electoral means. Why doesn’t the United States criticize its right wing allies in Venezuela for being anti-democratic? The oligarchs are the ones who have a “democracy deficit.”
In fact, while Venezuela continues to have a representative democracy with the election of a president, legislatures, governors and mayors, the exciting democracy development in Venezuela is participatory democracy. This is what many Americans would like to see in the United States. As Maria Paez Victor writes the Venezuelan “government is a participatory democracy that enjoys a very strong majority, the backing of all key institutions under the rule of law, and the support of its regional neighbors.”
Democracy in Venezuela is deeper than elections. It includes-worker owned cooperatives that give workers democratic control over the places they work and promotes solidarity, equality and dignity for workers. Former President Hugo Chavez created 100,000 worker-owned cooperatives in two years. In addition, democracy goes down to the community level, as Venezuelan law empowers local citizens to form community councils to solve problems in their community.
If the United States was not so busy demonizing Venezuela, we could actually learn a great deal about how to improve our democracy and evolve an 18th century-based model to the 21st century.
Falsehood 2: Maduro and Chavez Have Destroyed the Economy. Markets Do Not Have Essentials and Inflation Is Out of Control
It is important to understand that the oligarchs, in league with the United States, have been at war with the Chavez-Maduro governments since Chavez was first elected in 1999. One of the consistent strategies they have used has been to undermine the economy. This is a common strategy used by the United States in efforts to foment regime change throughout the world, as it has been doing since the 1950s.
In fact, documents released by attorney and journalist Eva Golinger in November 2013 show a plan by the United States, Colombia and the oligarchs in Venezuela to undermine the economy to remove Maduro. The document, “Strategic Venezuelan Plan,” was prepared by the Democratic Internationalism Foundation, headed by the conservative ex-Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who is closely aligned with the United States, together with the First Colombia Think Tank and the US Consulting firm FTI Consulting. The plan was developed during a meeting between representatives from these three organizations, leaders of the Venezuelan opposition; J.J. Rendon, an expert in psychological operations; and Mark Feierstein, director of the US Agency for International Development for Latin America.
The plan includes a variety of steps to undermine the Venezuelan economy. They put forward strategies “to maintain and increase the sabotages that affect public services, particularly the electrical system that will enable responsibility to be placed on the government for supposed inefficiencies and negligence.”
Regarding the scarcity of goods, Golinger writes:
“Throughout the year, Venezuela has experienced problems with the supply of basic products, such as toilet paper, sugar, milk, oil, butter, flour and other food staples. Venezuelan authorities have confiscated tons of these products illegally held inside warehouses belonging to opposition businesses. They have also captured large quantities of these items on the border with Colombia, where they are sold as contraband.”
“A double blow of outrageous overpricing of goods plus artificial food scarcity started just as people were beginning their Christmas shopping. Wealthy merchants proceeded to hoard essential goods: corn flour, sugar, salt, cooking oil, toilet paper, etc. placing them in hidden warehouses or spirited off to Colombia through a well-planned smuggling operation. The military discovered an illegal bridge built for motorcycles that carried the smuggled goods. Thousands of bags of foodstuffs were discovered simply left rotting on Colombian byways: this was not smuggling for economic reasons, but for political reasons.”
The purpose of the shortages is to create chaos, social unrest and lack of confidence in the government. In the leaked “Strategic Venezuela Plan,” it describes their goal as “generating emotion with short messages that reach the largest quantity of people and emphasize social problems, provoking social discontent. Increase problems with supply of basic consumer products.”
Inflation has been a long-term problem in Venezuela, one that preceded Chavez. Inflation peaked at 103 percent in 1996; its average during the years of Chavez’s government, between 1999 and 2012, was 26 percent. Inflation is occurring in part because Venezuela is an oil-dominated economy that imports a lot of its goods rather than manufacturing them in Venezuela.
The Chavez-Maduro government has been trying to build other sectors of the society so Venezuela does not have to rely on imports, which would be a long-term solution to the problem. In addition, when there is scarcity of products – created in part by the opposition storing products in warehouses or selling them in Colombia – prices go up as the law of supply and demand dictates.
But, as Victor writes, even the currency crisis is part of the strategy for undermining the economy: “This started with run on the currency, the manipulation of the black market dollar, obtaining dollars at preferential price from the government under false reasons.”
In December, Maduro attacked the illegal business practice of requesting official rate dollars then selling these dollars on the black market for a profit, or importing goods then selling them for far higher than the import price. He describes this as part of the “economic war” by business interests and political opponents to destabilize the economy of Venezuela. Victor says, “Maduro did not hesitate: he regulated prices and changed the monetary exchange rules and 70% approved of his response.”
The media fail to discuss the strengths of the Venezuelan economy. Keane Bhatt of the North American Congress on Latin America tells The Real News that inequality has been reduced rapidly, so that it is now the lowest in Latin America. Beyond that he points out:
“If you look at unemployment, it’s at a very low point. It’s about, you know, 6%. If you look at poverty from 2011 to 2012, Venezuela presided over the sharpest decline in poverty throughout the entire region. So it fell by 19% in 2013. Despite the problems of inflation and so on, you have further reductions in the rate of household poverty. So that fell by an entire percentage point over 2013, despite the inflation.”
“The Venezuelan economy is doing very well. Its oil exports last year amounted to $94 billion while the imports only reached $59.3 billons – a historically low record. The national reserves are at $22 billion and the economy has a surplus (not a deficit) of 2.9% of GDP. The country has no significantly onerous national or foreign debts. These are excellent indicators that many countries in Europe would envy, even the USA and Canada. The multinational bank Wells Fargo has recently declared that Venezuela is one of the emerging economies that is most protected against any possible financial crisis and the Bank of America Merril Lynch has recommended to its investors to buy Venezuelan government bonds.”
Falsehood 3: The Maduro Government Controls All of the Media, so the Opposition Has No Freedom of Speech
Another argument that is being constantly repeated is the supposed lack of freedom of expression and freedom of the press in Venezuela. Once again the numbers speak for themselves:
“80% of the media is private. The three national newspapers (El Universal, El Nacional and Ultimos Noticias) are opposed to the government, especially the first two, and they bring together 90% of the readership. Of the four television channels with national coverage, three of them (Venevision, Globovision, and Televen) are opposition, and likewise bring together 90% of the audience, according to information provided by the company AGB.”
Mark Weisbrot did an analysis of Venezuelan television coverage to test whether statements by the The New York Times (and others like it) are accurate. The Times begins its news report on Friday from Venezuela with “The only television station that regularly broadcast voices critical of the government was sold last year and the new owners have softened its news coverage.” Weisbrot found the statement to be completely false. He provided links to major private TV coverage of recent events that were all supportive of the opposition and critical of the government. The interviews included all of the leaders of the opposition.
Weisbrot also pointed to a report done by the Carter Center of coverage of the last presidential election campaign in April of last year. It found that the private media has 74 percent of the audience for news and that:
“A breakdown by channels shows that private stations devoted a greater proportion of coverage to candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski, his campaign events and his followers (73%), with a much smaller percentage (19%) devoted to the governing party’s candidate, Nicolás Maduro, his campaign events and his followers. … In private media, candidate Henrique Capriles received 60% positive coverage (with 23% negative and 17 percent neutral), while candidate Maduro had 28% positive (with 54% negative and 18% neutral).”
On Friday, February 21, Venezuela revoked the accreditation of CNN’s Caracas-based reporter, Osmary Hernandez, and those of two other CNN journalists sent to Venezuela to cover a wave of opposition marches. While this will be used to paint Maduro as anti-press, what it really is, is an effort to curtail the false reporting in the corporate media in the United States and Venezuela. CNN continues to report from Venezuela.
Falsehood 4: The Maduro Government Is Reacting With Violence Against Nonviolent Protesters
As part of the plan described in the leaked “Strategic Venezuelan Plan” the opposition seeks to: “Create situations of crisis in the streets that will facilitate US intervention, as well as NATO forces, with the support of the Colombian government. Whenever possible, the violence should result in deaths or injuries.” What is being seen on the streets of Venezuela is consistent with that strategy.
After the last presidential election, won narrowly by Maduro, Eva Golinger reports that his opponent called for violence: “Capriles refused to accept the results and called his supporters to take to the streets in protest, to ‘get all their rage out.’ During the two days after the elections, 11 government supporters were killed by Capriles’ followers.”
Professor Steve Ellner of the Universidad de Oriente in Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela, argues that the cause of the violence is the opposition, not the government. He points out the opposition has been caught killing Venezuelans in the past, describing the juxtaposing of images during the 2002 coup against Chavez. The opposition tried to make it look like Chavez was killing Venezuelans, and the US media, including CNN, reported these false images. Later, the full images showed it was actually the opposition murdering Venezuelans.
Ellner points to violence used by the opposition in the current upheaval – including attacking grocery stores, banks, buses and government buildings. Other commentators also have described specific incidents of violence by the opposition, including killing people. Maduro ordered the arrest of a retired general who tweeted how to use wire to decapitate people (in fact people have been killed and injured by such tactics) on motorcycles and how to attack armored vehicles with Molotov cocktails. Others in the opposition have tweeted about how to use blockades and to pour oil to cause vehicles to crash and catch on fire.
This is not to say that there has not been violence by government officials as well, but it is not the way it is portrayed in the media. This review of the ten deaths thus far in Venezuela finds a lot of violence from the opposition and, in cases where the government was involved in violence, the Maduro government investigating and holding people accountable.
Truth: The United States Has Been Supporting the Overthrow of the Venezuelan Government Since Chavez Was Elected
Bhatt: “WikiLeaks actually produced a document, a 2006 cable, which … was signed by the US ambassador and described a number of positions, which included ‘Penetrating Chavez’ Political Base,’ ‘Dividing Chavismo,’ protecting US vital interests and ‘Isolating Chavez Internationally.’ ” US diplomatic cables demonstrate that the United States has been using tactics to try to undermine Chavez-Maduro for a long time.
Golinger reports that the United States has been a consistent funder of the opposition in Venezuela. She writes:
“Over the ten year period, from 2000-2010, US agencies, including the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and its Office for Transition Initiatives (OTI), set up in Caracas in 2002, channeled more than $100 million … to opposition groups in Venezuela. The overall objective was regime change.”
During this time Chavez-Maduro has gotten stronger in Venezuelan elections, and the opposition has failed to make progress. Golinger reports that the United States has more recently focused on building a youth-protest movement in Venezuela, writing:
“Over one third of US funding, nearly $15 million annually by 2007, was directed towards youth and student groups, including training in the use of social networks to mobilize political activism. Student leaders were sent to the US for workshops and conferences on Internet activism and media networking. They were formed in tactics to promote regime change via street riots and strategic use of media to portray the government as repressive”
Leopoldo Lopez has taken on a leadership role in the current protests. He recently was arrested for inciting violence and calling for the removal of Maduro. Lopez has a long history with the United States and comes from one of the wealthiest families in Venezuela. Lopez was involved in the US-backed 2002 coup and received start-up money from the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and its offshoots, the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI).
But Lopez’s ties to the United States go back to his time as an undergraduate at Kenyon College in Ohio. Kenyon is known as a training ground for CIA assets; it even has a CIA scholarship program. Kenyon has CIA-friendly professors, and the Kenyon Review was even funded by the CIA. Lopez spent five years at Kenyon and went on to get a master’s degree at the JFK School for Government at Harvard. With this history, it not surprising to see him involved in the 2002 coup and in the leadership of the current unrest, while the United States is funding his political party and opposition organizing.
The other major leader of the opposition is Marína Corina Machado, the president of SUMATE, another opposition party. SUMATE also received an NED grant from the United States of tens of thousands of dollars after the 2002 coup.
Wikileaks exposed the connection between the United States and opposition forces in trying to undermine the government. The documents came from the Stratfor leaks, quoting the CEO of Stratfor saying the US government is maneuvering to remove Chavez and how the State Department provides information to what he calls “a clueless US media.”
Recently Wikileaks released 77 diplomatic cables that mention Leopoldo Lopez. In an analysis of those cables, Jake Johnston of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, describes how the US in addition to providing money, has provided guidance and kept the opposition from imploding. Lopez seems to be a very divisive figure in the opposition, not liked by many of his compatriots.
In fact, as Golinger reports, there might not even be an opposition group if it were not for US support. She writes:
“Their continued dependence on US funding and support – even this year Obama included $5 million in the 2014 Foreign Operations Budget for opposition groups in Venezuela – is an ongoing sign of their weakness. As a State Department cable from the US Embassy in Caracas, published by Wikileaks, explained in March 2009, ‘Without our continued assistance, it is possible that the organizations we helped create … could be forced to close. … Our funding will provide those organizations a much-needed lifeline.'”
But, with US support, our taxpayer dollars, the opposition continues. And, the United States not only funds the opposition, provides them guidance and strategy assistance, but gets directly involved in seeking to remove the government (while Kerry hypocritically talks about respecting democracy!). In fact, in the past six months, Maduro has expelled six US diplomats who were caught working with oligarchs to undermine the economy and with students organizing opposition.
The United States knows that Venezuela is the key to regaining control of Latin America, which has broken from US domination. Venezuela is also a leader in challenging the economic policies of the United States that empower private corporations and weaken the power of government to provide services to meet the needs of the people. Putting in place a US-friendly government is a top priority for the United States in Latin America. Americans need to be very skeptical about what they hear about Venezuela.
KEVIN ZEESE AND MARGARET FLOWERS
Kevin Zeese JD and Margaret Flowers MD host Clearing the FOG on We Act Radio 1480 AM Washington, DC, co-direct It’s Our Economy and are organizers of the PopularResistance.org. Their twitter handles are @KBZeese and @MFlowers8.