Mar. 6, 2013
His independence, help for Venezuela’s poor will not be forgiven
Venezuela’s left-wing populist president Hugo Chávez died on Tuesday, March 5, after a two-year battle with cancer. If world leaders were judged by the sheer volume of corporate media vitriol and misinformation about their policies, Chávez would be in a class of his own.
Shortly after Chávez won his first election in 1998, the U.S. government deemed him a threat to U.S. interests–an image U.S. media eagerly played up. When a coup engineered by Venezuelan business and media elites removed Chávez from power, many leading U.S outlets praised the move (Extra!, 6/02). The New York Times (4/13/02), calling it a “resignation,” declared that “Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator.” The Chicago Tribune (4/14/02) cheered the removal of a leader who had been “praising Osama bin Laden”–an absurdly false charge.
But that kind of reckless rhetoric was evidently permissible in media discussions about Chávez. Seven years later, CNN (1/15/09) hosted a discussion of Chávez with Democratic strategist Doug Schoen, where he and host John Roberts discussed whether or not Chávez was worse than Osama bin Laden. As Schoen put it, “He’s given Al-Qaeda and Hamas an open invitation to come to Caracas.”
There were almost no limits to overheated media rhetoric about Chávez. In a single news article, Newsweek (11/2/09) managed to compare him to Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin. (Chávez had built a movie studio, which is the sort of thing dictators apparently do.) ABC (World News, 10/7/12) called him a “fierce enemy of the United States,” the Washington Post (10/16/06) an “autocratic demagogue.” Fox News (12/5/05) said that his government was “really Communism”–despite the fact he was repeatedly returned to office in internationally certified elections (Extra!, 11-12/06) that Jimmy Carter deemed “the best in the world” (Guardian, 10/3/12).
Apart from the overheated claims about terrorism and his growing military threat to the region (FAIR Blog, 4/1/07), media often tried to make a simpler case: Chávez wasn’t good for Venezuelans. The supposed economic ruin in Venezuela was a staple of the coverage. The Washington Post editorial page (1/5/13) complained of “the economic pain caused by Mr. Chávez,” the man who has “wrecked their once-prosperous country.” And a recent New York Times piece (12/13/12) tallied some of the hassles of daily life, declaring that such frustrations are typical in Venezuela, for rich and poor alike, and yet President Hugo Chávez has managed to stay in office for nearly 14 years, winning over a significant majority of the public with his outsize personality, his free-spending of state resources and his ability to convince Venezuelans that the Socialist revolution he envisions will make their lives better.
Of course, Venezuelans might feel that Chávez already had improved their lives (FAIR Blog, 12/13/12), with poverty cut in half, increased availability of food and healthcare, expanded educational opportunities and a real effort to build grassroots democratic institutions. (For more of this, read Greg Grandin’s piece in the Nation–3/5/13.)
Those facts of Venezuelan life were not entirely unacknowledged by U.S. media. But these policies, reflecting new national priorities about who should benefit from the country’s oil wealth, were treated as an unscrupulous ploy of Chávez’s to curry favor with the poor. As the Washington Post (2/24/13) sneered, Chávez won “unconditional support from the poverty-stricken masses” by “doling out jobs to supporters and showering the poor with gifts.” NPR‘s All Things Considered (3/5/13) told listeners that “millions of Venezuelans loved him because he showered the poor with social programs.”
Buying the support of your own citizens is one thing; harboring negative feelings about the United States is something else entirely. As CBS Evening News (1/8/13) recently put it, “Chávez has made a career out of bashing the United States.” But one wonders how friendly any U.S. political leaders would be toward a government that had supported their overthrow.
Though this is often treated as another Chávez conspiracy theory–”A central ideological pillar of Chávez’s rule over 14 years has been to oppose Republican and Democratic administrations in Washington, which he accuses of trying to destabilize his government,” the Washington Post (1/10/13) reported–the record of U.S. support for the coup leaders is clear.
As a State Department report (FAIR Blog, 1/11/13) acknowledged, various U.S. agencies had “provided training, institution building and other support to individuals and organizations understood to be actively involved in the brief ouster of the Chávez government.” The Bush administration declared its support for the short-lived coup regime, saying Chávez was “responsible for his fate” (Guardian, 4/21/09).
Of course, as with any country, there are aspects of Chávez’s government that could be criticized. U.S. media attention to Venezuela’s flaws, however, was obviously in service to an official agenda–as documented by FAIR’s study (Extra!, 2/09) of editorials on human rights, which showed Venezuela getting much harsher criticism than the violent repression of the opposition in U.S.-allied Colombia.
In reporting Chávez’s death, little had changed. “Venezuela Bully Chávez Is Dead,” read the New York Post‘s front page (3/6/13); “Death of a Demogogue” was on Time‘s home page (3/6/13). CNN host Anderson Cooper (3/5/13) declared it was “the death of a world leader who made America see red, as in Fidel Castro red, Venezuela’s socialist president, Hugo Chávez.”
“The words ‘Venezuelan strongman’ so often preceded his name, and for good reason,” declared NBC Nightly News host Brian Williams (3/5/13); on ABC World News (3/5/13), viewers were told that “many Americans viewed him as a dictator.” That would be especially true if those Americans consumed corporate media.
The fact that U.S. elite interests are an overarching concern is not exactly hidden. Many reports on Chávez’s passing were quick to note the country’s oil wealth. NBC‘s Williams asserted, “All this matters a lot to the U.S., since Venezuela sits on top of a lot of oil and that’s how this now gets interesting for the United States.” MSNBC‘s Rachel Maddow (3/5/13) concurred: “I mean, Venezuela is a serious country in the world stage. It is sitting on the world’s largest proven oil reserves.”
And CNN‘s Barbara Starr (3/5/13) reported: “You’re going to see a lot of U.S. businesses keep a very close eye on this transition in Venezuela. They’re going to want to know that their investments are secure and that this is a stable country to invest in.” Those U.S. businesses would seem to include its media corporations.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Battle for Latin America ahead? ‘US to demonize Chavez post-mortem’
RussiaToday·Mar 6, 2013
The main question now is who will become Venezuela’s new leader. Some analysts suggest it will be hard for the US-backed opposition to overturn Chavez’s policies. However, Pepe Escobar, who’s an investigative journalist and Asia Times Correspondent covering Latin America, says the demonization of Hugo Chavez in the US will continue after his death.
Chavez Democratized Venezuela Making it the Most Equal Country in Latin America
TheRealNews·Mar 5, 2013
Gregory Wilpert: Chavez led Venezuela to many accomplishments but leaves unsolved critical problems he hoped to address.
Venezuela’s Real Division Over Who Benefits from Oil Wealth
TheRealNews·Mar 5, 2013
Alex Main: American “Mainstream” media accuses Chavez of leaving Venezuela “divided and polarized”, but Venezuela is not divided over Chavez’s personality, it’s whether oil wealth will go to the people or the elite.
Hugo Chávez Dead: Transformed Venezuela & Survived U.S.-Backed Coup, Now Leaves Uncertainty Behind
democracynow·Mar 6, 2013
www.democracynow.org – With the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez after a two-year fight with cancer, we host a roundtable discussion on a revolutionary leader whose democratic-socialist policies not only transformed his country, but helped steer the entire Latin American region away from U.S.-backed neo-liberalism. We’re joined by five guests: Miguel Tinker Salas, Pomona College professor and author of two books on Venezuela; Venezuelan-American attorney Eva Golinger, a friend and advisor to Chávez; New York University professor and author Greg Grandin; Gregory Wilpert, founder of VenezuelaAnalysis.com; and Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based policy forum on Western Hemisphere affairs. We spend the hour on the life of Chávez, his legacy, and what may come next in Venezuela.
Full video and transcript: www.democracynow.org
Hugo Chavez, Dream Maker
By Eva Golinger
March 6, 2013
Most of what you read or hear in mass media about President Hugo Chavez is always negative, his faults exaggerated, his discourse distorted and his achievements ignored. The reality is quite different.
Hugo Chavez was beloved by millions around the world. He changed the course of a continent and led a collective awakening of a people once silenced, once exploited and ignored. Chavez was a grandiose visionary and a maker of dreams.
An honest man from a humble background who lived in a mud hut as a child and sold candies on the streets to make money for his family, Chavez dreamed of building a strong, sovereign nation, independent of foreign influence and dignified on the world scene. He dreamed of improving the lives of his people, of eradicating the misery of poverty and of offering everyone the chance of a better life – the “good life” (el buenvivir), as he called it.
President Chavez made those dreams come true. During his nearly fourteen years of governance, elected to three full six-year terms but only serving two due to his untimely death, Chavez’s policies reduced extreme poverty in Venezuela by more than 75%, from 25% to less than 7% in a decade. Overall poverty was reduced by more than 50%, from 60% in 1998 when Chavez first won office to 27% by 2008. This is not just numbers, this translates into profound changes in the lives of millions of Venezuelans who today eat three meals a day, own their homes and have jobs or access to financial aid.
But the dreams don’t stop there. Chavez dreamt of a nation filled with educated, healthy people, and so he established free, quality public education from preschool through doctoral studies, accessible to all. In fact, for those in remote areas or places without educational facilities, schools were built and mobile educational facilities were created to bring education to the people. Chavez also created a national public health system offering universal, free health care to all, with the help and solidarity of Cuba, which sent thousands of doctors and medical workers to provide quality services to the Venezuelan people, many who had never received medical care in their lives.
To strengthen and empower communities, Chavez propelled policies of inclusion and participatory governance, giving voice to those previously excluded from politics. He created grassroots community councils and networks to attend to local needs in neighborhoods across the nation, placing the power to govern in the joint hands of community groups. His vision of diversifying his nation and developing its full potential transformed into railways, new industries, satellite cities and innovative transport, such as MetroCable Cars soaring high into the mountains of Caracas to connect people with their steep hillside homes and the bustling city.
The centuries-old dream of Independence hero Simon Bolivar to build a unified “Patria Grande” (Grand Homeland) in South America became Chavez’s guiding light and he held it high, illuminating the path he paved. Chavez was a driving force in unifying Latin America, creating new regional organizations like the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). These entities have embraced integration, cooperation and solidarity as their principal method of exchange, rejecting competition, exploitation and domination, the main principles of US and western foreign policy.
Chavez inspired a twenty-first century world to fight for justice, to stand with dignity before bullying powers that seek to impose their will on others. He raised his voice when no others would and had no fear of consequence, because he knew that truth was on his side.
Chavez was a maker of dreams. He recognized the rights of the disabled, of indigenous peoples, all genders and sexualities. He broke down barriers of racism and classism and declared himself a socialist feminist. He not only made his own dreams come true, but he inspired us all to achieve our fullest potential.
Don’t get me wrong, things are not perfect in Venezuela by any stretch, but no one can honestly deny that they are much better than before Hugo Chavez became President. And no one could deny that President Hugo Chavez was larger than life.
The first time I flew on President Chavez’s airplane he invited me to breakfast in his private room. It was just me and him. I was nervous and felt anxious and rushed to tell him about the results of my investigations into the United States government role in the coup d’etat against him in 2002. After all, that’s why I was on the plane in the first place. I had been invited to participate in his regular Sunday television show, Alo Presidente (Hello Mr. President) to present the hundreds of declassified documents I had obtained from US government agencies through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that exposed US funding of coup participants. The date was April 11, 2004, exactly two years after the coup that nearly killed him and sent the nation into spiraling chaos.
As I began pulling out papers and spreading documents on the table that separated us, he stopped me. “Have you had breakfast yet”, he asked. “No”, I said, and continued fiddling with the revealing paper before me. “We can discuss that later”, he said, “for now, tell me about yourself”. “How is your mother”, he asked me, as though we were old friends.
A flight attendant came through the door of his private room with two trays and placed them on the table. I quickly gathered up the documents. “Let’s eat”, he said. I started to protest, trying to explain that his time was so limited I wanted to take advantage of every minute. He stopped me and said, “This is a humble breakfast, a breakfast from the barracks, what I most love”. I looked at the tray for the first time. On it was a small plate with an arepa, a typical Venezuelan corn patty, a few shreads of white cheese, a couple of pieces of canteloupe and some anchovies. Beside the plate was a small cup of black coffee. No frills and not what you would expect on a presidential airplane.
“After all, I am just a soldier”, he added. Yes, Chavez, you are a soldier, a glorious soldier of a dignified, proud and kind people. And you are a maker of dreams for millions around the world.
A Sea of Tears in Caracas
TheRealNews·Mar 6, 2013
In a raw emotional outpouring, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans walk along side the coffin of President Hugo Chavez
Why Did the US Government and Big Oil Hate Chavez?
TheRealNews·Mar 7, 2013
Greg Palast: Chavez made big oil pay serious royalties which he used for social programs, he enjoyed majority support in many elections, but American media vilifies Chavez as a dictator
Video reports: Hugo Chavez
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