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US NEWS MEDIA WAKES UP: Calling a Spade a Spade

By Alexandra Beech | The Sixth Republic

19.12.04 | While the Venezuelan government takes moves to silence the local media and opposition protests, US newspapers have quietly published editorials describing the Venezuelan government as a dictatorship. The usually reticent and liberal Los Angeles Times reports that the dictatorship has “gradually been stripping Venezuelans of their basic rights and freedoms,” and that “Chavez is systematically clamping down on democratic freedoms.” The facts, according to the Los Angeles Times, are undeniable:

- “Revisions to the penal code include longer prison terms for those convicted of libel and indefensible limitations on the public's right to criticize public officials.

- [one] measure would make it a criminal act to bang pots and other kitchen utensils during public protests, a timeless form of political expression in South America.”

- This week, his operatives in the National Assembly appointed 17 judges and 32 alternate judges to an expanded Supreme Court, further solidifying his control over the judicial branch of the Venezuela government.

- A purge in the armed forces after a failed April 2002 coup attempt has left the military firmly on Chavez's side.

- the only independent institutions in the country are some labor unions, the Catholic Church and the nation's beleaguered media.

- [a new media gag law] will allow the government to fine and close down any station it finds objectionable. The law leaves the definition of violence up to government officials. A station showing news images of a "violent" protest against Chavez, for example, could be shut down under the new law.”

Citing the same reasons, the Miami Herald reports that “the nation stands at the brink of being an elected dictatorship. Now that President Chavez has eliminated any institution which could denounce abuses, the government “can stifle dissent, discriminate against minorities, send enemies to jail, award fat contracts to cronies, take kickbacks, use the treasury as a personal piggy bank and impose policies that are not in the interest of the greater good. In the end, the poor end up worse off. And such a president could be reelected for life.”

There is no denying that millions of dollars have vanished into thin air. One former finance minister faces charges in Florida of trying to sneak cash into the US. Resembling a game of musical chairs, finance ministry officials have come and gone. The latest departure of finance minister Nobrega and public credit director Alejandro Dopazo only further raises eyebrows about Venezuela’s financial situation. In this new political order, transparency is a quality delegated to bathing suits and seran wrap.

Everyone likes to carp that Venezuela’s greatest problem is that it lacks a competent opposition. Hogwash. Venezuela has one of the greatest opposition movements in history. Leaving aside the events of April 11, which the Weisbrots of the World love to embellish, the Venezuelan opposition successfully organized several million man marches, a three month general strike that brought the economy to its knees, and a negotiation process that involved six countries, the OAS, and the Carter Center. The opposition was able to unite parties of radically different stances for the common cause of fighting for democracy.

The fact is that Chavez has never intended to leave power. If there’s an award that he deserves, (and it’s curious that Venezuelan consuls, such as Leonor Osorio in New York, are urging people to sign a petition for his nomination to the Nobel Peace Prize!) it is an Oscar for Best Actor, with Best Supporting Actor going to Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel. Chavez played the role of a democratic president perfectly, meeting many of the demands of the OAS and Carter Center. He attended negotiations and substituted his camouflage gear, military boots, and parachutist beret for tailored business suits and ties.

Away from character, however, he bought time by stalling the referendum indefinitely, while he nationalized illegal immigrants and bought votes. If there’s an award for Best Bamboozle, Chavez is the primary nominee.

What happens next?

Now that the US media is slowly waking up again, the Venezuela Information Office – Washington’s laughing stock – has a lot of work to do. You see, the Venezuelan government pays former grassroots protesters and activists, (some in their early to mid twenties) to write letters to US newspapers. These young and paid cronies activate “action alerts,” email chains containing a form letter to the newspaper, which they send to anyone who purports to support Chavez (and some who don’t), who then sign it and e-mail it to the newspaper in question. This mechanism, now adopted by a dictatorship, is normally used by real activists and grassroots organizations to protest, say, HBO’s airing of Oliver Stone’s pro-Fidel documentary or Janet’s bare breast.

The newspaper then receives the Venezuelan government-financed deluge of protest letters, (cloaked as concerned citizen letters). If the newspaper doesn’t know that the letters are a paid effort by the government in question, it classifies them among the concerns of its readership. Therefore, it is important that the US media be aware that there is a highly financed effort in Washington with the sole purpose of misinforming and bullying Washington, the US media, and the public in general about Chavez’s illegal activities. Cloaked in activism rhetoric with references to socialist glory, (while the majority of the poor continue to languish), it is a propaganda machine which also includes the mediocre vheadline and the sophisticated venezuelanalysis.

Are these efforts successful? Yes and no. Vheadline is a cybernetic diarrhea of sycophants financed by PDVSA (in the guise of “advertising”) so it clogs up Google and any other source for Venezuela. Venezuelanalysis publishes articles by folks with some level of education, so it attracts a smarter reader, but all the sources of financing lead back to the same Goebbels-like place.

Conclusion

It is no small matter to the fate of the Western Hemisphere that Venezuela is now a dictatorship. To Chavez, Venezuela is only the beginning. With billions of dollars at his disposal, and no watchdog in place to monitor his activities, he can finance and influence politics anywhere in the region. Even as Fidel’s recent fall was a metaphor, he is being replaced by a young, charismatic leader with no regard for democracy or human rights. The only humans with rights in Venezuela hail to the chief.

While Latin America was on a destructive path before Chavez came along, the Bolivarian model and Marxism is not the answer. The conflict of classes only leads to that – conflict – and the poor become poorer. Indeed, the Los Angeles Times is right. It is time for “other left-leaning South American presidents — like Ricardo Lagos of Chile, Nestor Kirchner of Argentina and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil — to speak up.” Chavez cannot rule by force. All Venezuelans deserve democracy and freedom.



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