Mark Weisbrot, Venezuela and the Venezuela Information Office, Part II
05.06.06 | Recap - Part I looked at Mark Weisbrot educational background, publications, and the founding of CEPR. In part II we will look at Weisbrot's influence and activism in Latin American affairs, in particular Venezuela.
CEPR - economics or activism?
The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) in Washington D.C. has two co-Directors Mark Weisbrot and Dean Baker, therefore it is safe to say that these two individuals are the ones responsible for the day to day running of CEPR. It is apparent that the CEPR co-directors have divided their time among two passions: economics and activism, where the former seems to be handled by Dean Baker and the later by Weisbrot. This is evident by a simple google search, and any reader of CNN.com Money would realize that Baker is often quoted, whereas Weisbrot is often quoted on matters dealing with Latin America and policy.
The Latin American Activist
Mark Weisbrots interest in Latin America dates back to the time of his PhD thesis, as was discussed in Part I. Now that he has his PhD in "economics" he has taken his degree and activism to the media to pontificate the new "revolutionary" economic and social changes that are occurring in Latin America and how US hegemony is trying to undermine it. Weisbrot has appeared on PBS's Newshour to discuss Venezuela and Bolivia and here. He has also appered on a number of other forms of media to express his "expert" opinion, a complete listing of articles and papers authored by Weisbrot can he seen on his website.
Weisbrot - "...an american advisor to Chavez..."
This quote was taken from a far left wing website whose author attended the Sixth World Social Forum (WSF) in Caracas along with Mark Weisbrot. Whether Weisbrot introduced himself as an advisor to Chavez or the author assumed it is somewhat irrelevant, the main point being is it shows how close Weisbrot and the CEPR are to the Chavez government:
"Economist Mark Weisbrot, an American adviser to Chavez, told me as we spoke in his room at the Hilton overlooking the hotel swimming pool, that the government’s policies are 'gradualist reform.' ".
Weisbrot's other trips to Venezuela include: his interview of Chavez in 2003, his trip to Venezuela during the two month strike, and the above mentioned WSF trip, among others.
Any person somewhat knowledgeable on Venezuela can tell you that Weisbrot has a lack of knowledge not only on the current state and direction of Venezuela but also it's past. Both of which Weisbrot has publicly demonstrated, with his unawareness of major political parities such with Movimiento al Socialism (MAS). Claiming that PDVSA's finances were a "black box" and that PeMex provided the Mexican government greater revenues than PDVSA, of course ignoring the heavy investment required on Venezuelan crude, also claiming that PDVSA was a state within a state therefore it justified Chavez taking over the company. Most shocking is how Weisbrot seems to ignore and make light of the fact that Chavez led a coup in 1992, of course immediately stating that it really wasn't a coup and that it was justified. In addition, Weisbrot has acknowledged that he routinely speaks and is in contact with Venezuelan government news agencies and they are a great source of his information, of course never saying they are government run to his american audience. Consequently, Weisbrots publication, speeches, and interviews are simply paraphrases of the Venezuelan government statements including his testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on June 24, 2004 .
Venezuelan Information Office (VIO)
I would like to start off by stating that Vcrisis has excellent coverage on the Venezuelan government run VIO in Washington D.C. Those of you interested in the VIO files and more in-depth information on this topic should click here where you will find tons of information. I also highly recommend reading this article published by "The Center for Public Integrity", that caused quite a stir among Weisbrot, Dean Baker, and other Venezuelan government activists, most notably Eva Golinger, and Bill Fletcher, which led them to write a joint reply:
"The article seems to imply that several individuals and organizations were influenced either by the Venezuelan Information Office (VIO) or something worse to take the side of an oil-rich government. But there is no evidence for this: all of these people had written about or taken action regarding Venezuela before the VIO existed, and in fact before any of the lobbying efforts described in the article occurred."
So are they being influenced? I would argue that yes they are! As an example the VIO contacted the above mentioned individuals including Mark Weisbort "requesting response to inaccurate editorial" written in the LA Times published on 12/18/04 that painted the Venezuelan government in an unfavorable light. So I ask can anyone explain why a government run office would contact someone "request[ing] a response" to an unfavorable article, unless you knew that person would write something favorable or something you wanted. Of course this is not an isolated incident, they routinely contact Weisbrot and approximately 30 others individuals and organizations "requesting a response" to an unfavorable article towards the Venezuelan government.
In 2004 alone, the Center for Economic Policy was contacted 9 seperate times, and Mark Wiesbrot was contacted 5 of those times. Other contacts at CEPR have been with Dan Beeton, and Debi Car, and Todd Tucker. Topics included phone calls to "develop a strategy for Venezuela abroad" (1/16/04) to writing responses to unfavorable editorials towards Venezuela. In addition to, asking for the CEPR to participate on panals about venezuela (9/7/04), along with the VIO organizing radio shows and to cosponsor activites with other activiest groups like Transafrica, IPS, and EPICA. Again all of these organizations have been very sympathetic and have defended the Venezuelan government over the years.
Here is a list of known contacts that have taken place between the VIO and CEPR over about a year and a half time period.
10/27/03 - Todd Tucker, via email to duscuss benefit and screening and becoming a cosponsor - along with Transafrica, IPS, EPICA
12/9/03 - Todd Tucker, email about benefit and screening about being on a radio show
12/20/04 - Mark Weisbrot, email, requesting response to inaccurate reporting on 12/18 LA editorial
1/13/04 - Mark Weisbrot, email about writing Opeds, and Todd Tucker email about activists
1/16/04 - Mary Mumy, via phone to discuss and help shape strategy
1/20/04 - Shelly Mescouhz
1/21/04 - Mary Mumy Dievr
9/7/04 - Mark Weisbrot, via email discussed post-referendum panel and asked to attend panel discussion
9/13/04 - Debi Car, via email discussed post-referendum and asked to attend panel discussion
9/22/04 - Debi Kar, via email discuss referendum report and asked for its distribution
9/22/04 - Mark Weisbrot, via phone to discuss his participation in a press interview on the referendum
1/26/05 - Mark Weisbrot, via email to attend breakfast with Vice minister Hernandez
2/15/05 - Dan Beeton, contact in person to discuss Venezuelan democracy and attend panel discussion
6/9/2005 - Dan Beeton, via phone to discuss Telesur and to participate on information session in washington
One example that I find very interesting took place soon after the recall referendum in 2004. On 9/22/04 the VIO contacted Debi Kar at CEPR via email sharing with them the referendum report and asked them to distribute the infromation. On the same day Mark Weisbrot was also contacted by the VIO by telephone where they discussed and asked for Wesibrots participation in a press interview on the referendum outcome in Venezuela. Then the following day 9/23/04 the VIO sent out an email to the "Venezuelan News and Action subscriber list" to share with everyone the CEPR report on the referendum. Is there not something strange about this? is this the report the VIO shared originally with the CEPR and now the CEPR is distributing it?
Most recent pro-government activism
This past week Mark Weisbrot and the CEPR decided to release a report on Poverty in Venezuela titled "Poverty Rates In Venezuela: Getting The Numbers Right". While I won't disagree with Weisbrot that poverty has likely decreased since the oil strike, actually it would be ironic if it hadn't. I, as do many others, do question the governments change in methodology of which Weisbrot seems to have full confidence in and is willing to rely on and defend. Of course within a couple days of CEPR publishing the article the Venezuelan government news agency Venezuelanalysis and of course the Venezuelan Information Office have prominently displayed the article up on their website to show that government numbers are accurate and reliable.
Whether poverty is decreasing or not in Venezuela, is not so much up for debate the main argument is simply that based on the amount of oil income during these past 5 years one would expect a more significant decrease in poverty levels as was argued in The Economist. Those interested can read more about the poverty statistics in an article by VenEconomy.
In Part I it was established that Mark Weisbrot's economic philosophy isn't your typical mainstream economics, instead it seems heavily influenced in the failed Marxist economic model. When it comes to matters of policy, in particular Venezuela, it is quite clear that Weisbrot's lack of knowledge on the history and culture of Venezuela and his reliance on government media for his information severely compromises any coherent policy towards Venezuela and Latin America. Moreover, his influence with the Venezuelan Information Office, his personal meeting with Chavez, and frequent visits to Venezuela cast a great deal of doubt on his impartiality. For this reason Weisbrot's influence in the media and Washington in dealing with policy towards Venezuela and Latin America as whole should be of concern. Since Washington politicians and lawmakers can only create good and sound foreign policy if they receive accurate and unbiased information.
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