Venezuela's Propagation of Misinformation
By Alexandra Beech, sixthrepublic.com
Imagine if Fidel Castro had an office in Washington called the Cuban Information Office. Or if Mugabe set up a Zimbabwe Information Office in the nation’s capital. How about an Iran Information Office, or a Lybia Information Office? Wouldn’t someone wonder why a foreign government had an “information” office in the US capital, while at the same time paying lobbyists to disburse “information” to the US Congress, White House, State Department, universities, investors, and so-called “think” tanks?
When journalists around the world discovered that the NGO Sumate, which coordinated the signature drives, had received $53,000 from the National Endowment for Democracy, they paved the information highway with articles denouncing the interference of the US government in Venezuelan affairs. That led the Venezuelan government to take one of the most repressive measures in recent history, threatening with up to twenty years in prison those who receive financial assistance from U.S., European or other foreign nongovernmental organizations. The very competent and professional Sumate group, for instance, were classified as traitors.
Yet not one word has been typed in the traditional media about the Venezuelan Information Office (VIO), a mysterious little endeavor that surfaced in Washington to inform the world about “what was really happening” in Venezuela. No one even blinked when their disclaimer boldly stated that they were funded by the Venezuelan government.
Aleksander Boyd, a diligent activist based in London, recently requested documents from the US Foreign Agents Registration Unit about the Venezuela Information Office. What he discovered was rather startling. According to a document filed on February 27 2.004, the Venezuela Information Office was incorporated under the laws of the State of Florida by Isaura Gilmond and Evelio Gilmond, a former Venezuelan military officer. The VIO states its mission as:
“To improve the image of Venezuela within the American public; members of Congress, and NGOs. To improve the perception of Venezuela by the American people by managing the communication process through the media. To establish the conditions for the bilateral improvement of relations among the American government and the Venezuelan government by diffusing the knowledge of the present Venezuelan process amongst the American people.”
Their aim is to “improve the perception of Venezuela by the American people by managing the communication process through the media.” Isn’t that what Joseph Goebbels did for Hitler? How can this office improve bilateral relations between “the American government and the Venezuelan government by diffusing the knowledge of the present Venezuelan process” when the present Venezuelan president has called the present American President an “asshole” and Washington “the devil”?
Looking up propaganda in the dictionary, I found the following two definitions: 1.) The systematic propagation of a doctrine or cause or of information reflecting the views and interests of those advocating such a doctrine or cause. 2.) Material disseminated by the advocates or opponents of a doctrine or cause: wartime propaganda.
While the opposition may now face up to twenty years of prison for receiving foreign funds, the government will continue to fund the manipulation of information for its ends. Just to open the office, according to Boyd, “Mrs Gilmond received...from the government of Venezuela via the Embassy in Washington, an initial lump sum of $150.427. The Embassy also donated 4 computers and 2 printers.” That is three times the sum received from Sumate for a democratic and transparent signature drive, overseen by dozens of international observers. Two purveyors of the VIO’s “information”, reports Boyd, each receive a yearly salary of $60,000. If a McDonald’s Big Mac costs half day's pay for the average Venezuelan worker, $60,000 could help many Venezuelan families. In addition, twenty four year old Nathan Lord Converse, “a Washington-based Latin America policy analyst who has worked as a consultant to the Venezuelan Embassy” receives $35,000 a year to “monitor US media coverage of Venezuela, compose and distribute written responses to negative coverage, write thematic opinion pieces for submission to US newspapers, and disseminate accurate information about recent events in Venezuela...” In addition, the Venezuelan government has paid thousands of dollars in “fact-finding” and “public relations” trips to Florida, Georgia, California and Venezuela. The purchase of computer equipment alone cost Venezuelans almost $11,000, or 4,059 Big Macs*. Salaried and contract employees earned $124.376,49, according to one filing. (That’s 45,895 Big Macs!) Cell phone use cost $5.257.62. Office supplies cost $ $2.319,90. Venezuelan Embassy Press Counselor Andres Izarra, (who appeared in the docu-drama “The Revolution Will not be Televised” as a journalist disgusted with the private media’s manipulation of information), received $989,50 for a “fact-finding trip to Venezuela in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King”. This funding does not include the millions paid to lobby firm Patton Boggs.
As a Venezuelan American, I find the presence of a propaganda office in Washington disturbing. As Boyd aptly wonders, why does the Venezuelan government’s education plan include a mission that “Washingtonites also have to be taken out from their obscure ignorance in respect to our country’s situation?”
I hope that this information does not remain within the confines of Boyd’s excellent website, www.vcrisis.com, which is self-financed and maintained. While revealing how the National Endowment for Democracy aided Venezuela’s opposition may have been an attractive journalistic endeavor, it led to repression and a state-sponsored effort to further quell dissent. Foreign journalists should also reveal Venezuela’s state-sponsored efforts to manipulate the media, the US Congress, NGO’s, and world opinion.
Especially when it takes place in our own backyard.
*This assumes a Big Mac average price of $2.71.
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