By Tim Anderson
As Eva Golinger points out in her books, the constant stream of lies about Venezuela and its popular President Hugo Chavez are best seen as the leading edge of an integrated strategy of destabilisation and 'regime change' for the socialist-oriented, oil-rich nation.
These insistent, repetitious lies do have their precedents. In 1960 the then Chilean Senator, Salvador Allende, told the Chilean Senate he had witnessed "the brutal, deliberate propaganda ... day by day and minute by minute they misrepresent what has happened in Cuba". Naturally, media channels run by large private companies could not contemplate any sympathetic view of Cuba's socialist revolution.
However the great the danger of these constant lies about Cuba, Allende pointed out, was that they replicated preparations for the earlier US overthrow of the democratic, reformist government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala. This 1954 coup was followed by decades of US backed dictatorships and the slaughter of more than 100,000 people in that Central American country. Allende was right. In 1961 the US launched an invasion of Cuba, but failed to back it up with US ground troops, and the intervention failed. Later on Allende himself, as the popularly elected President of Chile, faced the same ferocious media attack, before being murdered in the US backed military coup of 1973.
In the case of Venezuela, we do not need to go past the London-based Economist to see good examples of the calculated dishonesty. The Economist favours more the interests of British, European and (increasingly) Asian investors, than those of US corporations. Nevertheless, on the question of opposing a socialist government in Venezuela, there is common ground; and the level of journalistic ethics is similar.
Let's look at their recent article 'Venezuela's foreign policy: dreams of a different world', delicately subtitled 'Arms and the Tyrants' (The Economist, September 19 2009: 52). In a short article they manage to cram in at least four important lies, along with a couple of incidental ones.
First, it is said that President Chavez, in a world tour which included arms purchases from Russia, "got what he seemed to be seeking all along: the attention of the United States". US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is reported as being "worried" that Venezuela's weapons purchases "might trigger an 'arms race' and ... are 'serious challenge to stability'".
The advantage of this US-centred view of the world ('getting the attention of the US' as a prime aim) is that it dispenses with the need to explain actual motivations. The article makes no mention of the deployment of the US Fourth Fleet off the coast of Venezuela, and downplays to a much later paragraph reference to the Obama Administration's build up of military bases in neighbouring Colombia. No mention that the US, despite its backing for the coup against Chavez in 2002, might be a threat to Venezuelan democracy. By these devices, The Economist presents Venezuela's seeking weapons for self defence as the only identified threat to regional stability. The threat posed by US projection of imperial power into the South American continent is not mentioned.
Second, the Chavez world tour of 'arms and the tyrants' is presented as a threat to the US. The "top foreign policy" of Chavez is said to be "forging an anti-American political alliance with Iran, Syria, Belarus and Russia". His overall aim is said to be "to stir up troubles for the United States in many places at once". Later on it is said that some of the arms purchases by Chavez "seem to be a hasty response to an agreement last month under which Colombia gave the United States facilities at seven bases for anti-drug operations".
However no sensible observer believes seven US military bases in Colombia have anything do with 'anti-drug operations'. To the contrary, drug cultivation and wholesale trafficking around the world — from Vietnam to Afghanistan to Colombia — has always expanded with the presence of the US military. Similarly, it is absurd to call Venezuela's response to US military threats 'hasty', given that over the last century the US has intervened militarily in *every* country in Latin America (some of them several times), including in Venezuela under Chavez.
The need for Chavez and his government to build alternative investment and financial relationships is made clear by the undeniable and relentless history of US aggression against independent governments in Latin America and more recently by the US-centred financial collapse. His recent visits included countries other than those mentioned, including China.
Venezuela's foreign policy "top priority" is far from "anti-American". It has been to build an alliance of sovereign countries in the Americas called ALBA. There are thirty-five countries in the Americas — only US-centric views equate "American" with the USA. Mexico City's main airport makes this point, by indicating the hall for flights to 'the United States of North America'.
The third major lie of the article concerns Unasur, the recently created Union of South American governments, of which Venezuela is a member. The Economist asserts "[Chavez] once again failed to obtain an explicit condemnation of Colombia's [military] base agreement with the United States from Unasur".
It is true there was not unanimity at Unasur. Colombia asserted its right to develop new military bases and refused to provide information on them to Unasur. True also that Hilary Clinton used Venezuela's pending arms purchase from Russia (note that the US itself had refused to resupply parts for the Venezuelan military) to deflect attention from the new US bases.
Yet most South American countries — including non-ALBA members Brazil, Argentina and Chile — spoke out strongly against the US build up in Colombia. The nine-member ALBA group went on to say they reject "the installation of military bases of the United States in Latin America and the Caribbean .. [because they] endanger the peace, threaten democracy and facilitate the hegemonic interference" of the US in the region's affairs. Chavez is hardly 'failing' in his diplomacy. It is the Colombian regime of Alvaro Uribe that has become increasingly isolated amongst its neighbours.
Some other incidental lies adorn The Economist's article. The magazine criticises Chavez for recognising Abkhazia and South Ossetia, claiming that these two states "were carved from Georgia last year by Russian troops". In fact, after the fragmentation of the Soviet Union, Abkhazia and South Ossetia had never been effectively incorporated into Georgia. It was the Georgian regime's attempt (urged on by the US) to forcibly incorporate them into Georgia (and thus also NATO) that was roundly defeated in 2008, with Russian assistance.
The article also claims that Venezuela's generosity in supplying discount oil and gas to developing countries occurs as "Venezuela's refineries are struggling to supply the local market". This is false and absurd. Venezuela has massive refinery capacity and fuel in Venezuela remains by far the cheapest in the Americas.
The fourth big lie is saved up to the end, and follows on that grand tradition of the great human rights abusers accusing others to deflect attention from themselves. Chavez is said to be "cultivating" regimes that are characterised by "rigged elections, media censorship, the criminalisation of dissent and leaders for life". Not a touch of irony, as the death squads in Colombia murder trade unionists and civil leaders unchecked, as the Obama Administration pussyfoots around the coup regime in Honduras (which deposed a Chavez ally), as election fraud and bloody war rages in Afghanistan and as the US launches missile attacks on Pakistan.
It can be tedious to document such lies. They are so common and, no sooner is one lot done than the next day's lies appear — if not in The Economist then in the Washington Post, The Australian or The Times. These monopolies count on the vulnerable, who do not have alternate sources of information, who do not read history and are able to be swayed by crude and often racist agitation.
In the bigger picture, this is a delegitimising process, organised by the private media monopolies which, in their hatred for the sort of popular democracy led by Chavez (as also in the past by Allende), are preparing the ground for coups, wars of intervention and conquest. It has been done before and — while these monopolies remain unchecked — it will be done again.
October 20, 2009 — Return to cover.