In this report, our first for 2014, the reader will find links and article extracts for a selection of some of the very best resources to have been published online, focusing on the topic of regime change, along with an extended essay on Imperialism and Democracy. Here we address the current cases of Venezuela and Ukraine, and the legacies of regime change played out currently in Libya and Afghanistan, along with a review of the history of recent regime change in Haiti.
This report is for the first quarter of 2014.
This and previous issues have been archived on a dedicated site—please see: ENCIRCLING EMPIRE.
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“Every time we’re about to isolate and reduce the violence, Mr. Kerry comes out with a declaration and immediately the street protests are activated. Mr. Kerry, we denounce to the whole world, you encourage the violence in Venezuela….We denounce you as a murderer of the Venezuelan people.”–Venezuela’s Foreign Minister, Elias Jaua
“Ukraine. Bosnia. Venezuela. Tear gas. Masks. Water cannons. Ours is an age of riots and rebellions, of radical self-creation in the heady streets: Spain’s indignados, the Occupy movement, Mexico’s Yo Soy 132, and of course the Arab Spring. We are understandably excited when we see people in the streets, and our pulse may even rise at the sight of masks, broken glass and flames, because for so long such images have represented the shards of the old world through which we can catch the perceptible glint of the new. Recent protests in Venezuela against the government of Chávez successor Nicolás Maduro might therefore seem to be simply the latest act in an upsurge of world-historic proportions. Not so fast….”–George Ciccariello-Maher
“Just because there’s people in the streets doesn’t mean they’re on our side. We live in the era of the protester, and violent protest has become a media spectacle par excellence. In the wake of Tahrir and Occupy, we have somehow been conditioned to automatically feel sympathy for all men and women taking to the streets and facing down lines of riot police”–Jerome Roos
“One indication of an orchestrated campaign has been the frenzied activity by opposition youth on Twitter, which seems to be substituting for the once vociferous but now calmer private sector media that could traditionally be relied upon to galvanise international attention. Despite claims that social media ‘democratises’ the media, it is clear that in Venezuela it has had the opposite effect, exacerbating the trend towards disinformation and misrepresentation, with overseas media groups and bloggers reproducing – without verification – opposition claims and images of student injuries allegedly caused by police brutality and attacks by government supporters. In its reporting, the Guardian newspaper cited tweets by opposition activists claiming pro-government gangs had been let loose on protestors. No evidence to substantiate this extremely serious allegation was provided. It also reported on the arrest of 30 students on 12th February, following serious disorder, including barricade building, tire burning and Molotov cocktail attacks, as if it were an egregious assault on human rights”–Julia Buxton
“Not standing idly by,” lest thought begins and debate matures:
“The West needs to show that it cannot and will not stand idly by while Ukraine — or indeed other former member states of the USSR — are sliced apart to appease the political and ethnic aspirations of Moscow”–Gulf News editorial
“To deal with the crisis in Ukraine and respond to Russia’s provocation, I have asked our House committee Chairmen to develop plans to assist the government of Ukraine, put pressure on Russia, and reassure allies throughout the world that the United States will not stand idly by in the face of such aggression…”–Eric Cantor, US House Majority Leader
“Sitting idle, without at least looking at options, is a mistake for NATO and would itself constitute a signal to Putin — one that he would welcome.”–Admiral James Stavridis
“The United States has too much at stake to stand idly by. Venezuela is the fourth-largest supplier of oil to America…”–Tampa Bay Times editorial
“America should not stand idly as Venezuela’s government tramples on the Inter-American Democratic Charter…”–Marco Rubio, US Senator for Florida
” ‘We cannot stand idly by while democracy and due process are trampled on in our own hemisphere,’ [Ileana] Ros-Lehtinen [Miami Republican] said Tuesday on the House floor. The U.S. and other countries have a ‘moral responsibility’ to support peaceful student protests…”–Miami Herald
“I can’t imagine the international community and the United Nations stand idly by if Colonel Qaddafi continues attacking his people, systematically…”–Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO
“we cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people that there will be no mercy”–US President Barack Obama
There is only one adversary to the U.S., and that is always Adolf Hitler:
“Now if this sounds familiar, it’s what Hitler did back in the ’30s…”–Hilary Clinton on Vladimir Putin and Crimea
“we learned from Hitler at Munich that success only feeds the appetite of aggression”–US President Lyndon Johnson on North Vietnam
“…is aggression as surely as Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Poland 50 years ago was aggression.”–US Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, on Panama‘s Manuel Noriega and his alleged drug trafficking
“I’ve had good friends who experienced Germany in the 1930s go there and come back and say, ‘I’ve visited many communist countries, but Nicaragua doesn’t feel like that. It feels like Nazi Germany’.”–US Secretary of State George Shultz on Nicaragua
“a little Hitler“–US President George H.W. Bush on Saddam Hussein
“What if someone had listened to Winston Churchill and stood up to Adolf Hitler earlier?”–US President Bill Clinton on Slobodan Milosevic
“one of these junior-league Hitler types”–US Vice President Al Gore on Slobodan Milosevic
Democracy or Sovereignty…or whatever:
Sovereignty First: “We cannot and will not allow the integrity and sovereignty of the country of Ukraine to be violated…”–US Secretary of State John Kerry on Ukraine, after backing a coup against a democratically elected government
Sovereignty Last: “…paragraph 2 suggests, incorrectly, that an alleged need to maintain order and respect the principle of non-interference takes priority over the commitments of all OAS member states to promote and protect human rights and democracy…”–US representative to the OAS, on its Declaration of Solidarity with Venezuela
Empire reaches its frightening limits…
Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador: “Since the printing press was invented, press freedom has been at the will of the owner of the printing press.”
In Brief–Noteworthy Essays:
35 countries where the U.S. has supported fascists, drug lords and terrorists, by Nicolas J.S. Davies.
America’s Advancing Empire: Putsch, Pillage and Duplicity, by James Petras
The Hypocrisy of Human Rights Watch, by Keane Bhatt
Latest Human Rights Watch Report: 30 Lies about Venezuela, by Tamara Pearson
A dirty little secret of US foreign policy on Crimea: there’s not much we can do: What the hell are the pundits and experts even arguing about? They’re arguing in circles around Obama’s very limited options, by Michael Cohen
ANALYSIS: IMPERIALISM AND DEMOCRACY
It sometimes seems as if the political leadership of the US does not know what it is saying, given the incessant contradictions, disingenuous assertions, and utter hypocrisy. Either they assume their audiences to be replete with fools and illiterates, or they are prisoners of their own ideological-cultural constructs and are incapable of self-recognition, or the language is meant only to convey whatever is expedient, that is, as a mask of true intentions. To some extent, all of these reasons can coexist.
First, given its own dominant position of power, and the influence of US media (and their overseas clones), US spokespersons such as John Kerry are able to control the terms of debate–this is especially the case when Kerry, and his media replicants, impose the totally false choice between “sovereignty” and “democracy,” or between “sovereignty” and “human rights”. It is a false choice, conceptually and logically, for the following reasons. (1) There can be no “rights” as such without citizenship. (2) There can be no citizenship without the state. (3) There can be no effective state without sovereignty. (4) There can be no sovereignty under imperialism. For John Kerry to assert that concerns for “democracy” and “human rights” effectively trump sovereignty, is to construct an illogical choice, at the very least, or a political argument without international agreement for certain. There can be no real democracy if the local political system is under foreign control or ultimately directed by foreign influence–foreign control either invalidates local decision-making or renders it redundant. So democracy cannot trump sovereignty, because there can be no democracy without sovereignty. Similarly, there can be no practical, effective, meaningful, or realizable rights (whether civil, political, economic, social, etc.) when the state is rendered immaterial, irrelevant, or an extension of foreign interests. While practice adds complexity to what we conceptualize, it is still a testament to the success of US propaganda operations that not even the logic of its assertions is routinely questioned. The most cheerful gloss that one could put on such popularized misrecognition is that it implicitly entertains the idea that there are universal human rights because there is a universal government, which is that of the US (not that any of us outside the US get to choose it), and that it bestows recognition of such rights and acts to enforce them, for the benefit of all of us.
David Harvey explained the crux of the matter in another way:
“However much we might wish rights to be universal, it is the state that has to enforce them. If political power is not willing, then notions of rights remain empty. Rights are, therefore, derivative of and conditional upon citizenship. The territoriality of jurisdiction then becomes an issue.” (A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Oxford University Press, p. 180)
Thus aside from the common mistake of disconnecting sovereignty and rights (especially when self-determination is itself posited as a universal right by the UN), another common mistake is to assume that a choice is to be made between lesser and greater evils, that is, that foreign intervention may be the lesser evil compared to the perpetuation of a local dictatorship. However, there is the fact that “lesser evil” is a purely ideological ascription deployed for the benefit of certain states’ public representation. In addition, in the context where one of the parties in question happens to be the world’s leading imperialist power, the idea that a global dictatorship is somehow the “lesser evil” when compared to a local dictatorship is simply specious reasoning. In addition, this assumes that we can agree on what constitutes a dictatorship, a term of abuse that has been abundantly abused.
Second, it’s not obvious that the US State Department believes that its global audience consists of intellectually active, questioning, critical individuals–or it would not offer up so many trite, cloying banalities. Like its peers in the advertising industry, the State Department is banking on the fact that at least some, perhaps many people will in fact accept its assertions at face value–and for that, there is some significant evidence.
Third, when Secretary of State John Kerry can, astoundingly, make such a statement about Russia and Crimea–“You just don’t invade another country on phony pretext in order to assert your interests. This is an act of aggression that is completely trumped up in terms of its pretext. It’s really 19th century behaviour in the 21st century” (source) having declared in October 2002 his support for Bush to invade Iraq–or when Vice President Joe Biden states on a visit to Chile, “the situation in Venezuela reminds me of previous eras, when strongmen governed through violence and oppression; and human rights, hyperinflation, scarcity, and grinding poverty wrought havoc on the people of the hemisphere” (source), while forgetting that the US was the one that either installed or fully supported the dictators that governed, then one has to wonder about the consciousness of such individuals, let alone conscience. Are they really so blazingly dumb, to make such patently hypocritical statements? Are there so many coconut trees growing in Washington DC that it’s possible they have been struck on the head by a falling nut, and suffer permanent amnesia? Are they hoping that we will not question their assertions? Or do they genuinely believe in what they say? If you were Pierre Bourdieu, you would answer in the affirmative only to the last question. The reason a Kerry or a Biden does not recognize his own hypocrisy is that he is fully conditioned to project onto others what he denies about himself. This is the classic imperial mentality illuminated by Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and related back to the ideologues of the new imperialism by David McNally (see “Imperial Narcissism: Michael Ignatieff’s Apologies for Empire” in Colin Mooers, Ed., The New Imperialists, pp. 87-110, Oxford: OneWorld, 2006).
Fourth, to the extent that there is any conscious inkling that one’s statements simply do not square with widely recognized historical fact, there must be at least some sense that one cannot speak plainly. For example, Kerry would lose his job immediately if instead of the statement above, he stated what he at least implicitly thought: “We are Americans. You’re job is to obey us. Just sit down, shut up, and watch us rule your world.” What matters is what is expedient, not what is logically consistent or factually tenable. Only this way can a John Kerry continually carp that Viktor Yanukovych, a democratically elected president whose overthrow the US supported, should “respect the will of the people,” and then denounce the same will of the people when it comes to a referendum in Crimea. Now the increasingly popular refrain among the Washington elite–misappropriating a line from leftist critiques of liberal democracy–is that democracy goes beyond “just the ballot box”. It certainly does, especially when by democracy all the US ever really meant is compliant regimes that are ready to uphold the interests of the US elites, for the US elites.
The ideologues espousing interventionism as democratization will, however, emphasize the ballot box when that is a congenial goalpost. Repetition by the head of the UN Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), that casts Libya as “transitioning to democracy“, reveals fundamentally Eurocentric assumptions as contained within neoliberal practice. Libya was already a democracy, a social and economic democracy that struggled to develop grass roots democracy. NATO and its local allies destroyed that, putting in its place…nothing but total chaos, and little more than a vision of democracy crafted after Western pretenses. The assumption, as always, is that there is only one democracy, and that is the multi-party parliamentary democracy prevalent in the West, and that allows the maximum points of access to US penetration and manipulation, while inculcating the notion of politics as competition.
The interventionist process not only mobilizes certain rhetorical tropes in an effort to disarm public opinion–tropes of the kinds listed above–but it also constructs an opportunistic version of “the people” of the country targeted for regime change. As in the cases of Libya, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela, typically what US and/or EU/NATO interventionists do is to focus on a small section of a population, that which is aligned with US and/or EU interests, and then magnify and homogenize that section as “the people”. Hence the US intervened in Libya because “the people” called for help. Once the US/EU magnify such a section as “the people” they then use that as a magnifying lens in another way: to burn the rest of the society. Regime change is always a destructive process that visits pain and suffering on large numbers of “the people”. Regime change almost invariably introduces prolonged chaos. Social relations within the target society become weaponized. The political system is forcibly reengineered to favour neoliberal priorities. And thus once again we witness what global capitalist “order” really looks like, which is a nihilistic vandalism committed to enhance the lives and reputations of imperial narcissists.
As some of the articles that follow highlight, we also have to get over our own voyeuristic, vicarious, protest fetishism here in the west. This refers to our automatic romanticization of all protests occurring in states that our political class has identified as rivals or enemies (even while we quickly vilify protesters in our countries and spectate cheerfully as they suffer from our own security forces’ repression). In other cases, it involves instantaneous enthusiasm for any protest movement in nations we imagine to suffer from a special cultural pathology (i.e. Muslim-ruled states). It’s also possible that in some instances what we witness is a long-distance projection of our own longing for change, which we are too apathetic to bring about in our own countries. Whatever the case may be, the knee-jerk response to quickly fawn over foreign protesters–regardless of their class origins or political intentions–produces highly distorted and outright false understandings of what is happening in diverse and very complex cases around the world.
Finally, on a separate issue, one might note the tendency among some defenders of the Venezuelan revolution to engage in very well-intentioned rebuttals of mainstream media falsehoods about the alleged shortcomings or outright lack of democracy in Venezuela, especially in terms of press freedom, elections, etc., without questioning the terms of the debate. Without rejecting these efforts in the least, it is also important to recognize that what we risk reinforcing and entrenching liberal democracy as the ultimate standard by which to measure “freedom” in any given society, regardless of the inappropriateness of this model. Then, in order to seem fair, reasonable, and balanced, we sometimes concede, “yes, the Venezuelan authorities could do better”–as if the prime allegiance ought to be in maintaining liberal forms that we ourselves fail to uphold in our own societies. Given that we in the west live in increasingly authoritarian, post-liberal systems, it’s also ironic that we should expect others to uphold our model for us. The larger discussion that is pushed into the margins as a result of this constant cycle of liberal rebuttal and defense is that of envisioning different forms of democracy and political expression that do not privilege political parties and media owned by wealthy elites. Another of the larger discussions that is thereby avoided as well is whether Bolivarian socialism can really achieve its ultimate aims while continuing to concede, compromise and develop new contradictions by this increasingly difficult attempt to maintain a mixed economy and liberal democratic institutions that were never devised for the oppressed to challenge and take back power from oligarchies. Clearly, neither the upper classes, nor their US backers, have any interest in maintaining a liberal democracy either, not when they cannot have total sway over the society. At this point, we have to discuss questions such as: Whose purposes are served by the maintenance of western-derived, elitist ideas of liberal democracy? What are we defending, and against whom/what are we defending it?
Key articles and extracts for the regime-change cases featured in this report
The video that says it all, “Pray for Venezuela”:
One of the outstanding features about the declared regime change ambitions of the US and the elite classes of Venezuela, has been the outpouring of solidarity with the government of Venezuela from across Latin America and the Caribbean, to an extent that is nearly unanimous and reaches as far as the chambers of the traditionally US-controlled Organization of American States:
Solidarity and Support for Democratic Institutions, Dialogue, and Peace in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Organization of American States, March 7, 2014:
In relation to the recent events in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the Permanent Council hereby declares:
Its condolences to and solidarity with the victims and their family members, the people, and the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and its hope that the investigations can be brought to a swift and just conclusion.
Its respect for the principle of nonintervention in the domestic affairs of states and its commitment to the protection of democratic institutions and the rule of law, in accordance with the OAS Charter and international law.
Its emphatic rejection of all forms of violence and intolerance, while calling on all sectors for peace, calm, and respect for human rights and fundamental liberties, including the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, freedom of movement, health, and education.
Its appreciation, full support, and encouragement for the initiatives and the efforts of the democratically-elected Government of Venezuela and all political, economic, and social sectors to continue to move forward with the process of national dialogue towards political and social reconciliation, in the framework of full respect by all democratic actors for the constitutional guarantees of all.
For its part,
The Council on Hemispheric Affairs Applauds OAS Solidarity with Venezula, by Larry Birns, COHA Director; Frederick B. Mills, COHA Senior Research Fellow and Professor of Philosophy at Bowie State University; Ronn Pineo, COHA Senior Analyst and Chair of the Department of History, Towson University, COHA, March 8, 2014:
‘The OAS declaration represents yet another failure for U.S. diplomacy in the region. As COHA Director Larry Birns has observed, “since the coup in Honduras in 2009, Washington has actually moved to the right on Latin America policy. Not even conservative governments, with the exception of a predictable satrapy in Panama, want to see a small but resourceful minority engineer regime change in the region.” As the OAS action has made plain, the U.S. is increasingly isolated in the region. The OAS has joined the other hemispheric organizations in a rather stunning verdict. The United States is increasingly ignored because its views and policies stand in opposition to those who would support independent and authentic democracies that advance social and economic justice.’
In addition to the OAS, the Venezuelan government enjoyed statements of solidarity from UNASUR and MERCOSUR, along with CELAC and ALBA. From further away, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) also expressed its support for the Venezuelan revolution. This starkly contradicts the dominant narrative in the US media, that Latin America has remained silent. Far from silence, the solidarity expressed for Venezuela has been loud and clear for anyone willing to hear, especially as it has echoed around almost all of Latin America and the Caribbean. This ability to listen, or even just to hear, seems beyond the Wall Street Journal (“Venezuela Crackdown Meets Silence in Latin America“), the New York Times (“Response From Latin American Leaders on Venezuelan Unrest Is Muted“), and Jackson Diehl, editor at the Washington Post (“Venezuela, the uprising no one is noticing“). There are none so deaf as those who refuse to hear–one has to pity those readers who rely on such media for their information about the world.
Of course the dominant US media have, as many times before, turned out to be the best friends of Venezuelan right wing putschists–in this regard, see:
Analysis | How the Western media is getting (almost) everything wrong about Venezuela, by Lee Salter, Ceasefire Magazine, February 22, 2014:
‘…the views and opinions of the vast majority of Venezuelans continue to go largely unreported, as coverage focuses on those of the – generally well-off and ‘on message’ – international diaspora. A few weeks ago, I read comments by such an ’exile’ to the effect that “Chavez hates the people, he hates anyone with money. He is trying to stop the dams from producing electricity so that rich people can’t have televisions and things. In Caracas they only have 4 hours of electricity per day”. To which I pointed out that I had just come back from ten days in Venezuela, and experienced a single power cut of about 20 minutes. Another time, I found myself sharing a Caracas cable car with an English-speaking Venezuelan. She and her partner began talking to me and to my Irish friend about lightbulbs: “you know anything about Venezuela, about Chavez? He’s a communist, you know? He’s trying to destroy the country. He’s trying to force everybody to have energy-saving lightbulbs…but this isn’t Cuba”. After five minutes, my friend felt compelled to point out they used energy-saving lightbulbs in Ireland, too, and that he didn’t feel particularly oppressed by them.’
And see especially the following article for a much needed corrective analysis:
John Kerry: the Belligerent Diplomat: Behind the Lies About Venezuela’s Protests, by Gary Leech, CounterPunch, March 14-16, 2014:
‘US Secretary of State John Kerry recently called on the Venezuelan government to end the “terror campaign against its own citizens.” Kerry’s words are just the latest in US and mainstream media efforts to portray the month-long protests in Venezuela as peaceful popular demonstrations against an authoritarian regime that has resorted to repression to quell the uprisings. As a result, the Venezuelan government, as Kerry’s statement illustrates, is being blamed for most of the 28 deaths that have occurred. But is this portrayal accurate? A closer look at the reality on the ground paints a very different picture. From the beginning, the protesters have been armed, have conducted widespread arson and have been intent on achieving the unconstitutional overthrow of a democratically-elected government. The protests in Venezuela have primarily occurred in middle and upper class neighborhoods in seven cities across the country. Most of these neighborhoods are governed by opposition mayors who support the protesters. In fact, protests of any sort have only occurred in 18 of the country’s 335 municipalities during the past month….’
US media have served as consistent advocates of reactionary regime change in Venezuela, in support of US policy:
Venezuela Beyond the Protests, by Eva Golinger, CounterPunch, February 21-23, 2104:
‘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 dollars to opposition groups in Venezuela. The overall objective was regime change….
‘Ironically, international media has been portraying these protestors as peaceful victims of state repression. Even celebrities, such as Cher and Paris Hilton have been drawn into a false hysteria, calling for freedom for Venezuelans from a “brutal dictatorship”. The reality is quite different. While there is no doubt that a significant number of protestors in the larger marches that have taken place have demonstrated peacefully their legitimate concerns, the driving force behind those protests is a violent plan to overthrow a democratic government. Lopez, who has publicly stated his pride for his role in the April 2002 coup against Hugo Chavez, continues to call on his supporters to rally against the Venezuelan “dictatorship”.
Unlike What the Media Says or Implies, the Violence in Venezuela Is Being Perpetrated by the Opposition, by Steve Ellner, Venezuela Analysis, February 20, 2014:
‘The slant of the Venezuelan private media and the international media on what is happening in Venezuela is clear: The government is responsible for the violence. In the first place government-ordered gunmen are shooting at pacific demonstrators and the violence generated by the opposition is just a response to the brutality of police and military forces. But there is considerable evidence that shows that the violence, including that of unidentified motorcyclists against the demonstrators, is being carried out by the opposition. Consider the following:…’
In a comparatively minor attempt to “balance” foreign media coverage from an overly sympathetic treatment of Venezuela’s right wing, middle and upper-class protesters, The Guardian published some items such as this:
Venezuela protests: the other side of the story: We hear from Venezuelans who did not take part in the recent anti-government demonstrations for their take on what’s happening in the country, The Guardian, February 27, 2014
There were also some attempts to get foreign media to correct the falsehoods they were publishing, which arose from their over-reliance on opposition sources of dubious or no credibility:
Letter to New York Times: Correct Francisco Toro’s Error on Venezuela, by Manufacturing Contempt blog, NACLA, February 27, 2014:
‘Today’s op-ed, “Rash Repression in Venezuela,” contained at least one glaring factual error. Its author Francisco Toro wrote that opposition leader Henrique Capriles’ Saturday speech remained largely unheard, “because government pressure ensured that no broadcast media carried coverage of the event.” In fact, both Globovisión and Venevisión, the two largest private media outlets, provided coverage of the event. Toro is also the author of a viral piece at the blog he co-founded, Caracas Chronicles, titled, “The Game Changed in Venezuela Last Night—and the International Media Is Asleep At the Switch.” In it, he outlined a purported “tropical pogrom” and a paramilitary shooting spree that took place throughout the night of February 19. His post accused the Times and other news outlets of complicity in an “international blackout” regarding the supposed “pogrom.” However, as any examination of protest-related homicides over the past two weeks shows, there were no deaths recorded on the day or night of the 19th…’
Open Letter to the New York Times About Its Venezuela Coverage, by the Alberto Lovera Bolivarian Circle of New York, et al., MRzine, March 7, 2014:
‘…In short, New York Times coverage of Venezuela is feeding into the widespread misconception that the Venezuelan government is repressing peaceful majority-supported protest. The reality, however, is that Venezuelans are facing a small, violent, and determined opposition sector, where the vast majority of the population (over 80% according to most independent polls) and even most opposition leaders oppose these protests.
‘We recall that the New York Times editors shamefully supported the military coup of 2002, before retreating and recanting after the coup was defeated by a mass uprising of the Venezuelan working people. Then, as now, the Times coverage echoes and reflects that of the US government. It is rarely mentioned in any of the coverage of Venezuela over the years that Washington has an extensive program — funded by a bipartisan US Congress — of open and covert aid and support to the Venezuelan opposition.’
Venezuela is not Ukraine: Venezuela’s struggle is widely misrepresented in western media. This is a classic conflict between right and left, rich and poor, by Mark Weisbrot, The Guardian, March 4, 2014:
‘One of the most important forces that has encouraged this extreme polarization has been the US government. It is true that other left governments that have implemented progressive economic changes have also been politically polarized: Bolivia, Ecuador, and Argentina for example. And there have been violent right-wing destabilization efforts in Bolivia and Ecuador. But Washington has been more committed to “regime change” in Venezuela than anywhere else in South America – not surprisingly, given that it is sitting on the largest oil reserves in the world. And that has always given opposition politicians a strong incentive to not work within the democratic system.
‘Venezuela is not Ukraine, where opposition leaders could be seen publicly collaborating with US officials in their efforts to topple the government, and pay no obvious price for it. Of course, US support has helped Venezuela’s opposition with funding: one can find about $90m in US funding to Venezuela since 2000, just looking through US government documents available on the web, including $5m in the current federal budget…’
The alternative analyses that have been critical of the protests have been numerous and especially illuminating. The following is just a selection of those that have been circulated:
Reconciliation Begins With Recognition, by George Ciccariello-Maher, The New York Times, February 27, 2014:
‘Before any reconciliation is possible in Venezuela, both the Venezuelan opposition and the United States government must first recognize the democratic credentials of the Maduro government. For the past 15 years, the Venezuelan people have been engaged in an unprecedented democratic experiment: unhappy with corrupt, two-party democracy, they have opted instead to build a different sort of democracy from below. They have established local participatory councils and grassroots organizations of students, women, Afro- and indigenous Venezuelans, workers’ cooperatives and self-managed factories, each allowing for a more direct management of local affairs. When you combine this deepening of participatory democracy with the frequent and repeated election of Chávez and Chavistas in what are recognized to be free and fair elections, a truly unique and inspiring picture comes into view….’
Recognize That Chavismo Helps the Majority, by Eva Golinger, The New York Times, February 27, 2014:
‘…The elite who had previously controlled the country refused to accept the democratic majority and tried to oust Chavez in a coup backed by Washington in April 2002. When that attempt failed, other tactics were employed, including economic sabotage and a recall referendum, which Chavez won a landslide 58 percent to 42 percent victory in 2004. Nearly a decade later, with Chavez’s socialist party still in power, the polarization continues, as does the opposition’s refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the majority. While current protests in Venezuela reflect discontent with inflation, consumer product shortages and a high crime rate, those driving the street marches have a specific goal: regime change….’
Participatory Democracy Could Mend the Gap, by Tamara Pearson, The New York Times, February 27, 2014:
‘We’d have to start by looking at the origins of that mistrust, and remember that current leaders of the opposition, such as Henrique Capriles and Leopoldo López, played an active role in the 2002 short-lived coup against democratically elected President Hugo Chávez. Many in the opposition also support elite and right-wing factions, which over the decades, tortured, imprisoned and repressed those who fought for the rights of the poor. Twenty-five years ago, that right-wing faction was responsible for the death of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people who were protesting price increases and privatization measures. The Venezuelan private media also played an active role in that coup, and have continued to be in open opposition to the government….’
Venezuela: The Real Significance of the Student Protests, by Dr Julia Buxton, Latin America Bureau, February 20, 2014:
‘Just as in 2002, radicals have forgotten that the people they must convince are Venezuelan voters, not international opinion. There can be no short cut to replacing a movement and government that is genuinely popular. Attempting to induce regime overthrow is unnecessary when the option of a recall referendum is available, and it is irresponsible when the outcome of violent change will only be a cycle of violent revenge. Finally, journalists have yet to learn that authoritative reporting requires fact-based accounts, not recycled and unchecked tweets from Twitter – a mechanism that can be used to promote delusion as well as democracy.’
#LaSalida? Venezuela at a Crossroads: The protests this week have far more to do with returning economic and political elites to power than with their downfall, by George Ciccariello-Maher, February 22, 2014:
‘Ukraine. Bosnia. Venezuela.
Tear gas. Masks. Water cannons.
Ours is an age of riots and rebellions, of radical self-creation in the heady streets: Spain’s indignados, the Occupy movement, Mexico’s Yo Soy 132, and of course the Arab Spring. We are understandably excited when we see people in the streets, and our pulse may even rise at the sight of masks, broken glass and flames, because for so long such images have represented the shards of the old world through which we can catch the perceptible glint of the new. Recent protests in Venezuela against the government of Chávez successor Nicolás Maduro might therefore seem to be simply the latest act in an upsurge of world-historic proportions.
Not so fast.
Despite hashtags like #SOSVenezuela and #PrayForVenezuela and retweets from @Cher and @Madonna, these protests have far more to do with returning economic and political elites to power than with their downfall….’
Venezuela: It’s the Opposition That’s Anti-Democratic, by Jerome Roos, ROAR Magazine, February 22, 2014:
’1. Just because there’s people in the streets doesn’t mean they’re on our side. We live in the era of the protester, and violent protest has become a media spectacle par excellence. In the wake of Tahrir and Occupy, we have somehow been conditioned to automatically feel sympathy for all men and women taking to the streets and facing down lines of riot police. Now there’s a YouTube clip floating around the web of a Venezuelan girl with an obnoxious upper-class American accent recounting the story of Venezuela’s heroic student uprising against an “illegitimate government”. At first sight, the video — which garnered over 2 million views so far — seems to neatly fit the narrative of the global uprisings. But anyone with even the slightest inkling to do some fact-checking or background research will quickly discover that the protests in Venezuela are nothing like Occupy or the Chilean student movement. You wouldn’t sympathize with a nationalist insurrection in Kiev or a royalist rebellion in Thailand. So why side with the US-funded right-wing opposition in Venezuela?…
2. The protests in Venezuela are orchestrated by the right-wing oligarchy….
3. Venezuela’s opposition receives active support from the United States….
4. The democratic credentials of Maduro’s government are not in question….
5. The right-wing opposition is itself thoroughly anti-democratic….
6. The 2014 protests are a replay of the run-up to the 2002 coup….
7. The media is the problem….
8. A Challenge to the Hegemony of Neoliberalism and the US….’
Academics have also rallied to the defense of Venezuela, especially against US intervention and US media misrepresentations:
Letter to John Kerry on Venezuela: Forty-six experts call on secretary of state to respect legitimacy of Maduro government, Al Jazeera America, March 14, 2014:
‘We write to you out of concern over what is happening in Venezuela, and urge you to stand by democratic institutions and the rule of law there….By supporting the opposition’s attempt to reverse the results of democratic elections, the U.S. government is helping push the country towards more instability and violence. Sadly, the U.S. government has a history of similar actions with regard to Venezuela, including its support for the military coup of April 2002….We are troubled to note that so far the U.S. government has taken the most aggressive and partisan stance of any country in the hemisphere regarding the recent violence. While Latin American nations and organizations such as the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) have expressed concern about the opposition’s destabilization tactics, the U.S. State Department has made statements that will only encourage the most radical, violent sectors of the opposition to continue on their current path.’
In Defense of Venezuela, by Dan Kovalik, Huffington Post, February 20, 2014:
‘The U.S. media, echoing the sentiments of the U.S. government, is openly encouraging violent regime change in Venezuela. An emblematic story from yesterday was aired in what is considered a “liberal” media source, National Public Radio (NPR). In short, this piece featured claims of Venezuela at the precipice of “economic collapse,” and spoke in glowing terms of the opposition’s hopes for a “coup” to overthrow President Maduro. This type of reporting is not only irresponsible, but it is deeply misinformed.’
Why Statements From U.S. Officials About Efforts to Oust Democratically Elected Governments Matter, by Mark Weisbrot, Center for Economic and Policy Research, February 19, 2014:
‘These are carefully worded statements, like the White House statement on the coup in Honduras, that communicate their position without putting the U.S. government in the position of saying that they support a military coup in Honduras or a strategy of “regime change” in Venezuela, but making it clear to their allies and adversaries that they actually do.’
Violent Protests in Venezuela Fit a Pattern, by Dan Beeton, MRzine, February 19, 2014:
‘Venezuela’s latest round of violent protests appears to fit a pattern and represents the tug-and-pull nature of the country’s divided opposition. Several times over the past 15 years since the late, former president Hugo Chávez took office in 1999, the political opposition has launched violent protests aimed at forcing the current president out of office. Most notably, such protests were a part of the April 2002 coup that temporarily deposed Chávez and then accompanied the 2002/2003 oil strike. In February of 2004, a particularly radical sector of the opposition unleashed the “Guarimba”: violent riots by small groups who paralyzed much of the east of Caracas for several days with the declared goal of creating a state of chaos. As CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot has explained, then — as now — the strategy is clear: a sector of the opposition seeks to overturn the results of democratic elections…’
Thinking for Ourselves About Venezuela, by Netfa Freeman, Black Agenda Report, February 18, 2014:
‘This is the general blueprint used for essentially the same brand of regime change in Libya adapted for Venezuela. Particulars between the two countries may be different but this general strategy of U.S. imperialism is the same. Imperialism uses hidden hands to instigate incidents in countries that take anti-imperialist stands. Then it uses its media and official spokespersons to make things look to the rest of the world as if they are other than they are, demonizing the actual victims.’
Constructing the Deception of the Anti-Government “Protests” in Venezuela: A Photo Gallery, by Dawgs Blog, Global Research, February 17, 2014:
On the circulation of phony photographs by the Venezuelan opposition in attempts to outright lie about “repression” from the government, using photos from protests around the world–anywhere, it seems, except from Venezuela itself. This was useful for fueling false reports in major western media, while helping to convince some “social media” users, from Anyonymous, to Cher, Madonna, John Cusack and Kevn Spacey, that all of this was true and that what we have in Venezuela is–irony of ironies–a “fascist” government.
In connection with the latter item, also see examples of fake Venezuela repression photos on Manipulación de fotos de Venezuela, by Luigino Bracci Roa, Rebelión.
Does Venezuelan Television Provide Coverage That Opposes the Government? by Mark Weisbrot, Center for Economic and Policy Research, February 24, 2014:
‘…statements about nearly all TV “controlled or allied with the government” are quite clearly false. The state TV can sing the praises of Maduro all day long, but the private media is reaching several times as many people with an opposite bias in their coverage.’
The Coup Last Time: Venezuela and the Imperial Script, 2004 Edition, by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, CounterPunch, February 21-23, 2014: This essay was written during the ill-fated 2004 campaign to recall Hugo Chavez.