Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Venezuela, Honduras, Peru, Ecuador “small” oversights and “big” lies

By Eric Toussaint[1]

It may be useful to assess the dangers of the systematically hostile
attitude of the overwhelming majority of major European and North
American media companies in relation to the current events taking
place in Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela. This hostility is only
matched by an embarrassed, complicit silence with regard to those
involved in the putsch in Honduras or the repression enacted by the
Peruvian army against the indigenous populations of the Amazon.

In order to demonstrate this statement, here are a few recent facts:

1) On 5 June 2009, the Peruvian army massacred over 50 Amazonian
Indians who were protesting against the land concessions made by Alan
Garcia’s government for foreign, mainly European transnational
companies. The repression aroused no disapproval among the major
global media groups.[2] These groups gave almost exclusive priority to
the protests occurring in Iran. Not only did the press fail to condemn
the repression in Peru; it did not even bother to cover the story. And
yet in Peru, so great was public discontent that the government had to
announce the repeal of the presidential decree which the Amazonian
Indians had fought against.

Once again, media coverage of the government’s backtracking was almost
non-existent. We must ask ourselves the following question: if a
Venezuelan or Ecuadorian army or police intervention had caused the
deaths of dozens of Amazonian Indians, what kind of media coverage
would such events have received?

2) When the constitutionally elected president Manuel Zelaya was
ousted by the military on 28 June, the overwhelming majority of media
groups declared, in total contradiction of the truth, that the
soldiers were reacting to Zelaya’s attempt to modify the constitution,
thus ensuring he could remain in power. Several other media groups
added that he was following the example of Hugo Chavez, who is
presented as an authoritarian populist leader. In fact, Manuel Zelaya
was proposing to the Honduran citizens that they vote in favour of the
organization of general elections for a Constituent Assembly, which
would have represented real democratic progress being made in this
country. This is well explained by Cécile Lamarque and Jérôme Duval on
their return from a CADTM mission in Honduras: “The coup d’Etat was
carried out on the same day Manuel Zelaya had organized a non-binding
“consultation” asking the Hondurans whether or not they wanted to
convene a National Constituent Assembly, after the elections which
were due to take place on the 29 November 2009. The question went like
this: “Do you agree that at the next general elections of 2009, a
fourth ballot box be installed so as to allow for the people to
express their point of view on the convocation of a national
Constituent Assembly? YES or NO?” If this consultation had resulted in
the majority voting “yes”, the president would have issued a decree of
approval before Congress so that, on 29 November, the Hondurans would
formally make known their decision on the convocation of a Constituent
Assembly through this “fourth ballot box” (the first three ballot
boxes would be for the election of a president, deputies and mayors,
respectively). In order to give an air of legality to the coup,
Congress and the Supreme Court, associated with the putsch, deemed the
ballot box to be illegal and asserted that president Zelaya had
“violated the Constitution” by trying to modify it “so as to set his
sights on serving a new mandate”, in the manner of an “apprentice
Chavist dictator”. And yet, Manuel Zelaya, through this consultation
with the people, was not seeking to renew his presidential mandate of
four years which cannot be renewed. Zelaya would therefore be unable
to be a candidate for his own succession.”[3]

Whilst the popular movements opposing those involved in the Putsch
increased, with protests and strikes in July, August and September,
the big media names only dedicated a couple of lines to these events.
On the rare occasions when the leading daily newspapers dedicated a
feature article to the situation in Honduras, they adopted a policy of
slander against the constitutionally elected president by presenting
the military’s actions as a democratic military coup. This is the case
with The Wall Street Journal, which in its editorial on 1 July 2009
wrote, “the military coup d’Etat which took place in Honduras on June
28th and which led to the exile of the president of this central
American country, Manuel Zelaya, is strangely democratic.” The
editorial adds, “the legislative and judicial authorities will remain
intact” following military action. On its part, perhaps in a more
subtle manner, the famous French newspaper Le Monde participated in a
smear campaign against Manuel Zelaya. Here is one example. On 12
September 2009, Jean-Michel Caroit, the paper’s special correspondent
in Honduras, quoted the words of a French expatriate living in the
country and then associated these words with the systematically
repeated lie regarding Zelaya’s supposedly sinister intentions, “ ‘For
the Hondurans, Zelaya’s return is unacceptable as that would mean
there would be twenty years of a Chavez-style dictatorship,’ states
Marianne Cadario in reference to the Venezuelan president who - as his
ally Manuel Zelaya tried to do (underlined by me) - modified the
Constitution in order for him to be allowed to be re-elected. Marianne
Cadario, a Frenchwoman who has lived in Honduras for over thirty years
states that she is “very shocked by the reaction of the international
community who condemned the putsch.”[4] The tone of newspapers like Le
Monde and Libération began to change at the end of September after
those involved in the putsch began to increase their repressive
measures. The tone became more critical of those involved in the
putsch. Having said this, the daily newspaper Libération deserves a
prize for its use of euphemisms. In fact on 28 September 2009 (3
months to the day after the coup) the title “The Scent of
Dictatorship” (underlined by me) of a paragraph explaining how the
government involved in the putsch had declared, “‘the banning of “any
public unauthorized meeting,” the arrest of “anyone putting their
lives or anyone else’s in danger” “evacuation” of areas where there
are protesters and those who interfere with “any broadcasting of
programmes by any media that endanger public order.”[5]

3) At the beginning of August 2009, the Venezuelan authorities’
intention to question the right of 34 radio and television channels
made the headlines in the international press: “It is further proof of
the almost total disappearance of the right to expression and
criticism in this authoritarian country.” The way in which the major
news publications treat the subject of the media in Venezuela is one
of unilateral hostility, despite the fact that 90% of the Venezuelan
media is privately owned, a large number of which actively support
disinformation campaigns. Globovisión, one of the main privately-owned
TV channels, actively participated in the military coup d’Etat against
Chavez on 11 April 2002. A documentary made by Globovisión made its
way around the world on 11 April 2002 and the days following the
military coup. It was actually a set-up, designed to distort the
truth. One can see people posing as Chavez supporters on a bridge,
firing their guns in an unidentifiable direction. The voice-over of
the Globovisión journalist states that the Chavez supporters are about
to kill opposition protesters who were protesting peacefully in the
streets below the bridge. The Venezuelan prosecution has been able to
reconstruct the exact chain of events, having analysed the reports and
photographs made by certain individuals on the day of 11 April. In
fact the pro-Chavez militants, who, according to Globovisión, were
shooting at protesters, were actually responding to gunfire coming
from an armoured vehicle of the metropolitan police, allied to the
putsch. The opposition protesters were no longer in the streets when
those guns were fired. Several sources can prove without a doubt that
the assassination of the anti-Chavez protesters was used as a set-up
so as to attribute these crimes to Chavez, thus justifying their coup.
On 11 April 2008, the Venezuelan viewers were able to see again the
images of the press conference given by the military involved in the
putsch at a time when no protester had been killed yet. And yet the
military announced at that time that they were taking power following
the murders carried out by the Chavez supporters. This clearly
supports the theory that these murders were planned deliberately so as
to be able to justify their seditious plan.

In the days following the putsch, on 12 and 13 April 2002, when
hundreds of thousands of unarmed citizens surrounded the barracks of
the putschists to demand the return of Hugo Chavez, then in prison,
Globovisión failed to broadcast any coverage of these protests,
explaining that the country was back to normal and that Hugo Chavez
had tendered his resignation and was on his way to Cuba. During the
last hours of the putsch, this channel broadcast only cartoons and
variety shows[6]. Globovisión in fact connived with the putschists on
several critical occasions, a fact which led the parents of victims
and injured survivors’ associations to demand the channel’s
conviction. Up to now the Chavist government has refused this demand
in order to prevent further escalation of the international smear
campaign being waged against him. Several human rights associations
are dissatisfied with the passive attitude of the Venezuelan
authorities in this matter.

More recently, Globovisión has been sympathetic towards the authors of
the 28 June putsch in Honduras. Several programme presenters at
Globovisión have supported the putsch from the very beginning, at the
same time accusing the Chavez government of interference in condemning
it. For example, Guillermo Zuloaga, the president of Globovisión,
stated on 17 July that “the government of Micheletti complies with the
Constitution, and we would like, indeed we would be delighted, if here
in Venezuela, the Constitution was respected in the same way that it
is in Honduras”, thus making clear his support for the putschist

Globovisión has never been prohibited from broadcasting. What major
European or North-American media has even mentioned this fact? What
major European or North-American media has ever informed the public
that the overwhelming majority of Venezuelan media are controlled by
the private sector? Or that they account for over 90% of the viewing
audience? Or that they are extremely aggressive towards the
government, presenting it as a dictatorship, or that some of them
played an active part in ousting a constitutionally elected president,
and have continued to broadcast freely for seven years? Can one
imagine General de Gaulle failing to take repressive measures against
a newspaper, radio or TV station that was seen to actively support an
OAS coup during the Algerian war? Would it not be considered normal
for the Spanish government to take measures against the media that
actively supported – in real time – Colonel Tejero when he burst into
the Cortes[7] with a group of military putschists and held (up) at
gunpoint the MPs who were there? If Manuel Zelaya were restored to
office as constitutional president, would he and his government not be
in their right to demand accountability and take measures against the
Honduran media owners who deliberately supported the putschists by
systematically deforming the truth and covering up the many human
rights violations committed by the military?

4) Arms spending. When you read the European or North American papers,
you have the distinct impression that Venezuela is indulging in huge
arms expenditures (particularly by way of Russia), which poses a
serious threat in the region. Yet according to the CIA[8] the
situation is quite different: the Venezuelan military budget ranks 6th
in the region, after the budgets of Brazil, Argentina, Chile (far less
populated than Venezuela and regarded as a model), Colombia and
Mexico. In relative terms, taking the GDP of each country, the
Venezuelan military budget comes 9th in Latin America! Is any of this
published in the leading news publications?

On another front, in August 2009 we read in the papers that Sweden
took Venezuela to task after the Colombian government once again
denounced its neighbour for supplying arms to the FARC guerilla.
Sweden had in fact informed Colombia that SAAB missiles found in a
FARC camp had been supplied by Venezuela. But for those who read Hugo
Chavez’ detailed response it became clear that the missiles in
question had been stolen from a Venezuelan harbour in 1995, four years
before Chavez became president.

Conclusion: One needs to be aware of the one-sided manner in which the
leading media report the news, and adopt a highly critical approach
when appraising it. The discrediting of Hugo Chavez, Rafael Correa and
Evo Morales is so excessive that it poses the risk of numbing
international public opinion in the event of another coup d’Etat, or
of lulling the public into approving aggressive measures taken by a
government such as the US. Among the many insidious and unfounded
accusations, we can read in the Spanish papers (for example in El
Pais) that Rafael Correa’s election campaign was financed by the FARC.
We can also read that the Venezuelan authorities do nothing to fight
drug trafficking. In the case of the Honduran president Manuel Zelaya,
the discredit heaped on him is intended to prevent international
opinion mobilizing in favour of his return to power as head of State.

Translated by Francesca Denley and Judith Harris


[1] Eric Toussaint, president of CADTM Belgium (Committee for the
Abolition of Third World Debt, ), has a PhD in political
science from the University of Liège (Belgium) and the University of
Paris VIII (France). He is the author of Bank of the South. An
Alternative to the IMF-World Bank, VAK, Mumbai, India, 2007; The World
Bank, A Critical Primer, Pluto Press, Between The Lines, David Philip,
London-Toronto-Cape Town 2008; Your Money or Your Life, The Tyranny of
Global Finance, Haymarket, Chicago, 2005.

[2] See and

[3] Cécile Lamarque and Jérome Duval, « Honduras : Why the Coup d’Etat
», 17 September 2009,

[4] Jean-Michel Caroit, « Au Honduras, la campagne électorale s’ouvre
dans un climat de haine », Le Monde, p. 8, Saturday 12 September 2009.


[6] It is interesting at this point to note the initiative of Hugo
Chavez’ government on 11 April 2008, six years after the putsch. The
government used its right to broadcast on the private and public TV
stations to show a re-run of the entire reportage produced by the
anti-Chavist private channels (Globovisión, RCTV...) on the official
inauguration session of the president and the putschist government in
a reception room in the Miraflores presidential palace. The complete
programme, which the whole of Venezuela could watch on 11 April 2002,
was re-broadcast without any cuts or critical commentary by the Chavez
government. Hugo Chavez relied on the critical acumen of Venezuelan
viewers to form their own opinion on the active complicity of the
private media with those behind the putsch, amongst whom the viewer
could identify the leading Catholic church authorities, the putschist
military brass, the head of the anti-Chavist labour union CTV
(Confederation of Workers of Venezuela), the chief executives of
private corporations and the president of the Venezuelan Federation of
Chambers of Commerce (Fedecámaras), Pedro Carmona. It should be said
that this president, who held power for scarcely 36 hours, earned the
enduring nickname of “Pepe el breve” (Pepe the brief).

[7] On 23 February 1981, an attempted coup d’état organized by
Franquist sectors took place in the Spanish Congress, The leader,
Colonel Tejero, held up the members of parliament present at gunpoint
and took them hostage as the new president of the government was being
sworn in.

[8] See,
consulted in March 2009

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