Blogs

Entries with tag venezuela .

The Fear of Working Class Power - Liberal journalists and Venezuela

Yet more counter-factual bile is spewing out of the traditional media, and especially the liberal media, on the occasion of Hugo Chavez' death. So I re-publish this article written at the time of the Venezuelan Presidential elections in October 2012:

 

Most journalists work for companies whose purpose is very well described in Patrick Chalmers' article News to Make the Rich Richer. Based on his 11 years' experience as a journalist for Reuters, this article introduces the broader themes of his excellent book Fraudcast News. Ownership, who pays, news sources, editorial ideology, and journalists' fear all contribute to the distorting lens.

The immediate aftermath of another election in Venezuela is a perfect opportunity to count the cost of corporate media mis-reporting. This article will analyse the reporting of some journalists of the supposedly liberal media in the UK. But following Patrick's lead, let's look first at Reuters.

Sure enough, in the lead-up to the Venezuelan Presidential election, which pitched socialist incumbent Hugo Chavez against candidate of the right-wing coalition Henrique Capriles, Reuters followed the meta-narrative of the vast majority of the corporate media. They constantly insisted that the election was closely fought, right up until election day, when Chavez actually won by a whopping 11%. This depiction of a tight race was despite most opinion polls showing Chavez with a double-digit lead. A cursory research would have told a half-decent journalist that the solitary polling organisation that showed Capriles to have a lead, Consultores 21, has an abysmal record in previous elections. In 2004, 2006, and 2009 this poll underestimated Chavez' vote by between 10 and 13 percentage points, well outside the acceptable margin of error. And again this time, Consultores 21 underestimated Chavez' vote by 10%. They are nothing if not consistent. Of course for US media organisations, that makes this poll "respected", "reputable" and "well-regarded" (in the words of the Wall Street Journal, ABC News, and the Washington Post respectively). But why are the reporters of Reuters not more sceptical? Patrick Chalmers answers this well. But I believe there is another factor.

In the almost universal disparaging of Bolivarian socialism in the media of the US and UK, one of the most interesting phenomena is the intense involvement of liberal newspapers and news outlets. The Guardian's Rory Carroll is notorious. For him, Venezuela is always on the point of infrastructural collapse, while Chavez is a waning force. His recent headlines included "A strongman's last stand" and "People's hero in final showdown". Chavez was described as "Banquo's ghost". Given the opinion polls cited above, was the apocalyptic tone justified? His reports are also peppered with the kind of factual errors which always chime with the opposition's narrative of an authoritarian populist demagogue. I felt roused to challenge Carroll, using the feeble means of twitter, over his claim that Chavez' election victories were "not always fair". Jimmy Carter, after his long experience of monitoring democratic elections, for which he won a Nobel Prize, said “the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world” and that Chavez has always won “fairly and squarely”. No response of course came from Carroll, so I ask again. What is it that you know, Rory, that Jimmy Carter doesn't? The overwhelming tone of all of Carroll's pieces is an obsession with the figure of Chavez himself, not the Revolution he has led into being. His post-election piece is headed "Hugo Chavez: a victory of enduring charisma and political mastery". Note how Chavez' voters, the Venezuelan poor, are, according to Carroll, voting for him because of his charm and Machiavellian skills, not because of their empowerment through communal councils, the free health clinics and universities, the new housing, or the massive reductions in poverty.

The Independent newspaper reporter Jim Armitage, however, makes Carroll look like a Chavista sympathiser. Here we have unsupported references to human rights abuses, defamation of oil workers, the casual, and again unsupported, claim of privations, and the cheap and gratuitous reference to Ken Livingstone. If you are astonished by the tone of the unfactual hack piece in the link, it's worth noting that the supposedly liberal Independent has a long history of this kind of coverage.

But one thing connects Carroll and Armitage. When I wrote that I would analyse their coverage, I meant it in an almost psychoanalytic way. Their patronising of and disregard for the poor majority seems to me to involve the same hysteria that Carroll ascribes to Chavez' voters. They both profess to support a mildly social democratic system of social welfare, as avowedly did Chavez' so soundly beaten rival Capriles. In other words, they think the elite should deign to alleviate the worst excesses of capitalism. What troubles them beyond their being able to deal with it rationally is the idea of the poor majority taking power. For this presumption on the part of the working class, and their vision of a society that goes beyond welfarism to socialist democracy, the poor deserve to be mocked or sidelined or ignored. Why do Carroll and Armitage not celebrate the Bolivarian revolution's reduction of poverty by half, instead of putting it in parenthesis, or treating it as an electoral bribe? What is the mixture of hatred and fear that motivates them to write such shoddy journalistic bile? The fact that the Guardian and Independent commission and print it shows us the dark, inhuman heart of liberalism.

Thousands of Venezuelan pro-government twitter accounts deleted

Around 7,000 Venezuelan Twitter accounts were deleted yesterday, including those of an elected state governor, three cabinet ministers, a radio station, a revolutionary daily newspaper, and the official accounts of ministries and other institutions. They all appear to have been pro-government accounts, and none of them of the opposition.

Twitter has been an effective means of communication for supporters of the Bolivarian revolution, since late President Hugo Chavez opened an account in 2010 and reached 4 million followers, making his the second most popular account globally for a political leader, after Barack Obama's.

This appears to have been a coordinated, politically-motivated attack, but we don't know yet how it happened. Twitter spokesman Nu Wexler has flatly refused to comment.

There are basically three ways it could have occurred. Large-scale coordinated hacking and deletion of accounts by opposition supporters is a possibility. It could also be that a similar campaign of reporting accounts for spam triggered an algorithm in Twitter which automatically blocked the accounts (I'm being generous to Twiiter here!). Thirdly, and less likely in my opinion, it could be something much more sinister involving Twitter and for instance US Intelligence agencies.

As of this afternoon, some 50 accounts have been restored by Twitter, including those of Governor Aristobal Isturiz, which has 332,000 followers, and of Communications Minister Delcy Rodriguez. However most accounts have not been restored, for instance of Minister of the President's Office Wilmer Barrientos and of the Women's Ministry and the Bolivarian University of Venezuela.

It is important to set this attack in social and historical context. After opposition candidate Henrique Capriles came close to winning the Presidential election last April, focus has shifted to the local elections coming on December 8th. Both the Venezuelan opposition and their supporters in the US State Department know that a good showing for the opposition would help build support for a referendum to recall President Nicolas Maduro in 2016. Dirty tricks to derail the Venezuelan government now abound, principally in the form of economic sabotage, creating shortages in shops which the government is battling to combat. Some commentators therefore think the Twitter attack could be a trial for a much bigger taking-out of Bolivarian social media nearer the elections.

The corporate media at home and abroad play a crucial role in this destabilisation. The UK-based Economist had to print a letter from the Venezuelan Embassy in London refuting two erroneous articles on freedom of the press. The standard line, though, is of economic woes, though all social statistics disprove this absolutely. We can all do a bit to refute media distortions. Only last night I corrected the Bloomberg correspondent in Caracas Nathan Crooks (@nmcrooks), who had spouted an egregious error about the minimum wage. Distortion or carelessness? It's impossible to know, though in response he merely repeated the error. But the media lies about Venezuela, including in so-called liberal newspapers, are so blanket that they come to appear like the truth. Journalists don't expect to get called out, so we should.

The Venezuelan government has officially complained to Twitter, and although a few accounts have been restored, is yet to receive a reply. If Twitter PR Nu Wexler maintains this silence, and thousands of accounts remain suspended, it may be appropriate to observe that in his resume he has been in and out of the revolving doors of Capitol Hill, including time as the Communications Director for the House Budget Committee. I'm not suggesting anything nefarious, merely that he is part of a political elite which regards anything Bolivarian as bad. For that Washington 1%, gross interference in Venezuela's democracy, including its social media, is legitimate.

Venezuela and the politics of Twitter

It's all over mainstream news outlets, and some outlying ones, so it must be true. The Venezuelan government has censored Twitter. Except that, when you look a little closer, this is by no means clearly the case.

The background to this is several days' protests by a segment of the Venezuelan opposition. Those who want the democratically elected President to leave office, not when his term is up in 5 years' time, nor after a possibly successful recall referendum in half that time, but right now, just after his party resoundingly won the latest local elections in Venezuela in December.

Reporting of this "censorship" story is strange to say the least. The proud sources of the story seem to be the correspondents of financial news outlet Bloomberg. They say that Nu Wexler, Twitter's PR man in Washington DC, confirmed in an email that "the (Venezuelan) government was behind the disruption." But they do not quote his email directly, so that the only statement by Mr Wexler in the public domain is one he made on his own network Twitter:

Feb 14

Users blocked in : Follow + receive notifications via SMS of any Twitter account. Send "SEGUIR [usuario]" to 89338 ()

Political satire is obsolete - yet again

It was Tom Lehrer who coined this phrase when Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973. I was reminded of it twice in recent times (add your own examples). The first was in 2007 when Tony Blair was appointed Middle East Envoy for the "Quartet" (the UN, US, EU and Russia), and charged with "helping mediate Middle East peace negotiations". This was only four years after Blair had almost single-handedly enabled George W. Bush to wage war in Iraq, with the estimated death of one million people.

The second was today, when I heard that one of the leaders of the opposition in Venezuela has been awarded the Charles T. Manatt Democracy Award. Maria Corina Machado has received the prize from the excitingly-named International Foundation for Electoral Systems, a US-based organisation. While the foundation sounds like a doddery academic body of psephologists discussing the benefits of alternative vote over single transferable, in fact this is an institute which receives funding from USAID and celebrated democracy-lovers the US State Department.

So it's time for some faux-naif indignation: can they possibly not know that Machado is one of the people who signed the Carmona Decree during the brief 2002 coup attempt against democratically-elected President Chavez? The decree dissolved democratic institutions, such as the National Assembly and Supreme Court, and suspended constitutional liberties. Can they also not know that she runs a campaign of violent street protests demanding "The Exit" of Chavez' democratically-elected successor Nicolas Maduro, five years before the end of his term? Some of these protesters are so committed to democracy that they have strung wire across public highways to decapitate motorcyclists. Two people have died from this action alone. They have also attacked public transport, health clinics, social housing projects, and a kindergarten, and physically assaulted 169 doctors. And does the IFES really not know that Machado is currently under investigation for allegedly plotting to assassinate the Venezuelan President, saying that it was "time to take out the trash"?

What can we do? Is satire really dead, or can we give it the kiss of life?

POST-SCRIPT September 3 2014

Come on, satirists, shape up! Once again, earnest award-giving institutions have trounced you. GQ Magazine has now made Tony Blair "Philanthropist of the Year", a decision only agreed with by Benyamin Netanyahu. Many thanks to Mark Steel for his concern, which goes some way to redress the situation: "I worry that Tony Blair's award will make him even MORE generous, until there's nothing left for himself. He's just give give give give give."

PPS: November 21 2014

It's getting ridiculous. Now Blair has received the "Global Legacy Award" from Save the Children. It's hard to know where to start with Blair's philanthropy towards children, as an internet search immediately sends you into a world of unspeakable horror. The cluster bombs dropped on Iraq by both US and British forces are one place to begin. I quote very selectively from one Iraq Body Count report:

"Terrifying film of women and children...... showed babies cut in half and children with amputation wounds, apparently caused by American shellfire and cluster bombs. Much of the videotape was too terrible to show on television and the agencies’ Baghdad editors felt able to send only a few minutes of a 21-minute tape that included a father holding out pieces of his baby and screaming “cowards, cowards” into the camera." (Robert Fisk - The Independent, April 2 2003)

"Among the 168 patients I counted, not one was being treated for bullet wounds. All of them, men, women, children, bore the wounds of bomb shrapnel. It peppered their bodies. Blackened the skin. Smashed heads. Tore limbs. “All the injuries you see were caused by cluster bombs,” Dr Hydar Abbas told Antonowicz. “Most of the people came from the southern and western periphery. The majority of the victims were children who died because they were outside.”" (Anton Antonowicz - Daily Mirror, April 3 2003)

"In the deserted emergency ward, Mohammed Suleiman hysterically looked for his 8-month-old daughter, Rowand, brought in after a bomb her brother unwittingly brought home exploded. “Please look at her face and see how beautiful she is,” he screamed when he found the baby's lifeless body, covered with a blanket, her eyes half open, her nose and mouth bloodied." (Associated Press, April 12 2003)

It turns out that the current CEO of Save the Children, Justin Forsyth, was a policy adviser for, you guessed it, Tony Blair. Is it too much to expect this narrow political class to show, if not a moral compass, a bit of self-awareness?

I was going to make a joke speculating about Blair's next honour (the Bram Stoker Award for Services to Blood Transfusion?) But for my own sanity, I feel I must stop updating this catalogue of atrocity and abject moral blindness.

 

Reports of the Death of the Latin American Left Were Exaggerated

On 27 September 2014, the Economist's anonymised Latin American op-ed "Bello" heralded "a turning of the political tide in South America after a dozen or more years of leftist hegemony." The writer was encouraged by the possiblity of defeat for Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, and considered likely the victory of right-wing candidate Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou in Uruguay. Two months on, and Bello's crystal ball clearly needed some serious polishing. Rousseff won for the Brazilian Workers' Party a fourth consecutive term in office, and yesterday in Uruguay Tabare Vasquez won an unprecedented third term for the leftist Broad Front by a massive 13%.

"Bello" had already conceded that Evo Morales of the Movement Towards Socialism in Bolivia was going to win (he did by a landslide 61%), but in the usual knee-jerk way of rightist commentators the writer describes Morales as an "autocratic socialist of Amerindian descent". Dodgy, these indigenous people who come up through the social movements! They just don't respect democracy in the way that the white-skinned oligarchy who ruled previously do, that same oligarchy that has consistently supported the fascist coup d'etats which stain Latin American history. In this manner, yet another Anglophone commentator echoes the endemic racism of the Latin American elite. A feature of nearly all reports on Latin American elections in the right-wing press, and much of the liberal press, is just how much they are bad losers. "Bello" of course recycles this, ascribing Morales' victory partly to his "grip on the media". In fact, in Brazil and Uruguay a very dominant conservative media campaigned virulently for the right-wing candidates. To their credit, the voters ignored them.

I must say that I am rather tired of friends repeating opinions to me which they have gleaned from the pages of the Economist in particular, so let me attempt to characterise this periodical. It is far from being serious advice about business risks and prospects around the world. For details of the magazine's absurd errors in reporting Venezuela, see here, here, and here. If I were investing in South America, I would buy a subscription to the estimable Latin American Weekly Report, which has given accurate data for the last 47 years. Instead, we might describe the Economist as a readable mass-circulation magazine pitched at lower and middle managers, who wish to impress their bosses with their knowledge of world affairs. It represents not serious investment advice for the elite, but rather the ideology of that elite, enabling ambitious businesspeople a way of talking about the world  which will not challenge the dominant ideology of the boardroom. On Latin America it is frequently wrong, jettisoning facts and reasoned argument for dreams as wish-fulfilment. It is, to quote the outstanding venezuelanalysis, "the neoliberal ideologue's favourite rag."

 

Showing 5 results.