|VENEZUELA: The lies go on
BY JOHN PILGER
LONDON — More than a month ago, I wrote about Venezuela [see GLW
#485], pointing out that little had been reported in this country
about the achievements of Hugo Chavez and the threat to his reforming
government from the usual alliance of a corrupt local elite and the
When the conspirators made their move on April 12, the response of
the British media provided an object lesson in how censorship works
in "free" societies.
The BBC described Chavez as "not so much a democrat as an autocrat",
echoing foreign office minister Denis MacShane, who abused him as "a
Alex Bellos, the Guardian's South America correspondent, reported, as
fact, that "pro-Chavez snipers had killed at least 13 people" and
that Chavez had requested exile in Cuba. "Thousands of people
celebrated overnight, waving flags, blowing whistles...", he wrote,
leaving the reader with the clear impression that almost everybody
Venezuela was glad to see the back of this "playground bully", as the
Independent called Chavez.
Within 48 hours, Chavez was back in office, put there by the mass of
the people, who came out of the shanty towns in their tens of
thousands. Defying the army, their heroism was in support of a leader
whose democratic credentials are extraordinary in the Americas, south
Having won two presidential elections, the latest in 2000, by the
largest majority in 40 years, as well as a referendum and local
elections, Chavez was borne back to power by the impoverished
majority whose "lot", wrote Bellos, he had "failed to improve" and
among whom "his popularity had plummeted".
The episode was a journalistic disgrace. Most of what Bellos and
others wrote, using similar words and phrases, turned out to be
wrong. In Bellos's case, this was not surprising, as he was reporting
from the wrong country, Brazil.
Chavez said he never requested asylum in Cuba; the snipers almost
certainly included agents provocateurs; "almost every sector of
society [Chavez] antagonised" were principally members of various
oligarchies he made pay tax for the first time, including the media,
and the oil companies, whose taxes he doubled in order to raise 80%
of the population to a decent standard of living. His opponents also
included army officers trained at the notorious School of the
Americas in the United States.
In a few years, Chavez had begun major reforms in favour of the
indigenous poor, Venezuela's unpeople. In 49 laws adopted by the
Venezuelan Congress, he began real land reform, and guaranteed
women's rights and free healthcare and education up to university
He opposed the human rights abuses of the regime in neighbouring
Colombia, encouraged and armed by Washington. He extended a hand to
the victim of an illegal 40-year American blockade, Cuba, and sold
the Cubans oil. These were his crimes, as well as saying that bombing
children in Afghanistan was terrorism.
Like Chile under Allende and Nicaragua under the Sandinistas,
precious little of this was explained to the Western public. Like the
equally heroic uprising in Argentina last year, it was misrepresented
as merely more Latin American chaos.
On April 15, the admirable Glasgow University Media Group, under Greg
Philo, released the results of a study which found that, in spite of
the saturation coverage of the Middle East, most television viewers
were left uninformed that the basic issue was Israel's illegal
military occupation. "The more you watch, the less you know" — to
quote Danny Schechter's description of US television news — was the
Take US Secretary of State Colin Powell's "peace mission". Regardless
of America's persistent veto of United Nations resolutions calling
for Israel to withdraw from the Occupied Territories, and regardless
of Powell calling Ariel Sharon "my personal friend", a US "peace
mission" was the absurd news, repeated incessantly.
Similarly, when the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on
April 5 voted 40-2 to condemn Israel for its "mass killing", the news
was not this near-unanimous expression of world opinion, but the
British government's rejection of the resolution as "unbalanced".
Journalists are often defensive when asked why they faithfully follow
the deceptions of great power. It is not good enough for ITN to say
dismissively, in response to the Glasgow Media Group findings,
that "we are not in the business of giving a daily history lesson",
or for the BBC to waffle about its impartiality when some recent
editions of Newsnight might have been produced by the foreign office.
In these dangerous times, one of the most destructive weapons of all