Sunday, March 9, 2008
PERHAPS the most misrepresented and demonized figure in the media today, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, recently became a symbol of peace and diplomacy at the Rio Group Summit in Santo Domingo this past March 7. Chávez’s diplomatic, affectionate tone and his call to peace between sister nations calmed tensions between Colombia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela, which just hours before had been on the brink of war after Colombia unilaterally violated Ecuador’s territory without permission or notification in order to bomb and assassinate a leader of the Fuerzas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) who was camped with a group of visiting Mexicans on the Ecuatorian side of the border. All those stationed at the FARC camp were killed, with the exception of three women, including one Mexican, who were injured and left by Colombian soldiers to die but were later rescued by Ecuatorian armed forces. Chávez, who had ordered his troops to the Colombian border and warned President Uribe of Colombia that a similar attempt to violate Venezuela’s sovereignty would be met with force, was quickly labeld by the international media as a “warmonger” and “responsable” for the conflict in the region. Colombia’s government, publicly backed by President Bush himself, accused Chávez and President Correa of Ecuador of aiding and funding the FARC, a group labeled “terrorist” by the United States, Colombia and the European Union, and even went so far as to implicate Chávez in the proposed sale of uranium to the FARC in order to build dirty bombs. These unsubstantiated – and extremely dangerous – allegations fall right in line with the increased efforts of the Bush Administration to label Chávez’s Venezuela as a nation that supports “drug trafficking”, “terrorism” and “money laundering”, and to classify Chávez as a “dictator”, “authoritarian” and “threat to U.S. interests.”
Debunking the Chávez myth is not as easy as it should be. Coverage of President Chávez and Venezuela is negative and distorted in 90% of major media outlets in Europe, Latin America and the United States. An analysis of the Washington Post editorial page during the past year shows that of the twenty-three editorials or OpEds specifically written about Venezuela, only one – written by Venezuela’s Ambassador to the US – presented a balanced vision of the South American nation’s political and economic situation. President Chávez was labeled as a “dictator”, “autocrat”, “strongman” or “despot” on ten occasions and references to his government as “dictatorial”, “authoritarian” or “repressive” were made in almost every article. Even worse, the Washington Post perpetuated the falsehood of Venezuela’s relationship with terrorism in almost a dozen editorials during the last year.
None of these claims about Venezuela and President Chávez’s slippery slope towards a terrorist dictatorship have ever been seriously substantiated with real evidence. In fact, a frightening parallel can be drawn between the Bush-Cheney lies about weapons of mass destruction in Sadaam Hussein’s Iraq and the false allegations about Chávez’s Venezuela funding and arming Colombian terrorists and facilitating drug trafficking and money laundering. The mere reference made by President Uribe regarding a possible sale of uranium to the FARC to build bombs is eerily reminiscent of Pat Robertson’s outrageous claims in 2005 that President Chávez was building a nuclear bomb with Iran to blow up the United States. While ridiculous, such allegations justified the U.S. invasion of Iraq after government officials hammered the false claims into public opinion and the media recycled lies. Those cynical or too naive to believe that a similar aggression could occur against Venezuela need only remember the U.S. invasion of socialist Grenada in 1983 or the bombing and invasion of Panamá in 1989. In both instances, neither government represented a real threat to the U.S., and in both cases, myths about “dangerous dictatorships” were perpetuated in the media in order to justify the unilateral attacks. When the truth comes out years later, as is the case with Iraq, U.S. officials offer insincere apologies and shrug it all off as “in the past” and anyway, they were all bad guys.
Over the past year, the U.S. State Department has classified Venezuela as a nation “not collaborating” with either the “war on drugs” or the “war against terrorism”. The Pentagon and the intelligence communities released reports earlier this year citing Venezuela as a “major threat to U.S. national security” and have proposed beefing up military presence in the region. The White House and Congress have increased USAID and National Endowment Funding to opposition groups in Venezuela in an effort to rebuild ailing conservatives that favor a U.S. agenda. International media portray Chávez as “public enemy #1” and the leader of a Latin American “axis of evil” that is threatening regional stability. Meanwhile, poverty in Venezuela has been reduced by more than 50% under the thrice-elected President Chávez, 100% of Venezuelans have access to free, quality health care and education beyond the doctoral level, voter participation has skyrocketed to unprecedented, historical levels and more new hospitals, schools, highways, bridges, railways and industries have been built since during the entire 40-year period of “representative democracy”. And to top it all off, Chávez has negotiated the release of six hostages held by the FARC for more than five years, helped pay off Venezuela’s, Argentina’s and Nicaragua’s foreign debt and established regional initiatives such as Telesur, the Bank of the South, PetroCaribe, UnaSur (Union of South American Nations) and ALBA, a cooperative trade agreement between Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia.
Hugo Chávez is a man of peace. The question to ask is why the Bush Administration and mass media continue to portray him as an evil dictator. But we all know the answer to that: Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves. So what we really need to be asking is why public opinion – you - allow the perpetuation of this dangerous myth?