Posts Tagged ‘venezuela’

Why the Media Are Giving a Free Pass to Venezuela’s Neo-Fascist Creeps

April 1, 2014

Luis García Britto
Luis García Britto (Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)


April 1, 2014


The novelist, essayist, historian and playwright Luis Britto García is a titan of Latin American literature and thought, though he’s not nearly as well known on this side of the cultural border between “America” the country and América the continent. Many consider this prize-winning author the most important writer and intellectual in Venezuela. In addition to his novels and many other books on language, culture and politics, Britto García has written extensively on the role of the media in Venezuelan politics. Earlier this month,Nation contributor Roberto Lovato met with Britto García, 73, in his home in Caracas to talk about the role of the media in the current conflict.

Roberto Lovato: You’ve written a lot about the media and politics in Venezuela. How are the media behaving in the current conflict?

Luis Britto García: The current situation in Venezuela has a historical context that must be understood. During the previous coup attempt, in 2002, the television networks in particular played a determining role in what amounted to a media coup. The media themselves became political actors, something I’ve documented in my book Media Dictatorship [2012]. Just consider, for example, how the Carmona decree—in which the coup leaders essentially gutted the Constitution—was signed by representatives of the major media. This same media also edited out images, stories and facts that didn’t fit their narrative.  During the coup, the television crews even showed up before the repressive acts were performed by the coup leaders.

And how are things similar or different today?

In this current coup attempt, the television networks have adopted a different tone, but the radio and social media and international press are playing a leading role, using images of repression in Egypt, Syria, the United States and other countries to depict supposed repression in Venezuela. Look, for example, how a few hundred violent students come to symbolize “students,” “youth” and “the country.”

Are you saying images of rock-throwing, tire-burning youth are inaccurate or fake?

No. I’m saying we’re a country of 29 million inhabitants. I’m saying that in Venezuela, nine and a half million Venezuelans are studying. Of these, more than 2.5 million are in higher education. What does that mean? That almost one in ten Venezuelans are in higher education. The overwhelming majority of them are in perpetually free institutions. This whole image that the media try to convey of a “student rebellion,” which [jailed opposition leader] Leopoldo López tries to project—the image that all youth are against the government, against [President Nicolás] Maduro, against Bolivarianism—is absolutely false. Yes, clearly there are young people who are against the government, for various reasons. We’re a free country, and people can think however they like. But it’s just a fraction, a small minority of the entire student population—something the international media aren’t reporting.

And what else do you see being edited out of the current Venezuela story in the media?

There’s an important split in the right that is also not being reported. To begin with, they’ve lost eighteen of the last nineteen major elections—and they’ve protested all of them, except the single referendum that they won. It’s also important to point out that López is being projected as the latest in a long line of messiahs of the right, even though he doesn’t even pull together the vast majority of the [voters] of the right. The right supported [former presidential candidate Henrique] Capriles Radonski in three elections, and he lost all of them. In the internal elections of the right, López ended up in third place; I think he got something like 2 percent of eligible voters. So, like I told you, the right wing in Venezuela is very divided. It plays with a messiah who’s going to hand them an instant paradise, and if he doesn’t do it, they become disillusioned, disenchanted with him, which is precisely what will happen with López, who has a strong rift with Capriles. López and his ally, María Corina Machado, another extreme right-winger, have chosen the option of desperate street violence. Capriles, meanwhile, has cautioned against “generating false expectations of change through street actions.”

So how did Capriles and López come to prominence?

There was a collapse of the traditional parties. From this void emerged the idea of founding another right-wing party. Study the rise of Capriles, López and their right-wing parties, and you see how weird politics in Venezuela are.

What do you mean?

Before becoming leaders of the right, López and Capriles spent part of their youth in an almost comical group called “Tradition, Family and Property.” It was a fanatical fascist group, somewhere between a religious and a political organization. They used to stand out on street corners of urban neighborhoods with large Superman-style red capes, berets, things like that. It was this ultra-super-reactionary, right-wing group. Yes, red-caped, like Superman! From there, they became the right-wing Primero Justicia [Justice First] party, which arose out of a television show begun by a lawyer named Julio Borges [now leader of Primero Justicia].

A television show? You mean that Primero Justicia, one of the most important parties of the right and a party that WikiLeaks cables tell us was partly funded for more than a decade by the United States through the National Endowment for Democracy, actually started thanks to a TV show?

Yes. Out of nowhere, all of the sudden Borges has a show on television that’s calledJustice for All. It was a show where he played the role of a justice of the peace, and plaintiffs were brought before him. These are often neighbors suing each other, and he tries to offer a sort of charismatic mediation of disputes. [In the show they] had the litigants pass through a narrow hallway so that they would run into each other, getting into fights and hitting each other.

Sounds like court shows in the United States.

Yes, it’s copied from reality shows in the United States. The curious thing, however, is that this program was converted into a political party under the leadership of Julio Borges. From Justice for All, Borges and his allies created Primero Justicia. The right needed something like a political right wing, because the social democratic and the social Christian parties that have traditionally dominated Venezuelan politics were so discredited that they didn’t constitute a force any longer. This new party was developed on one side by Capriles, and on the other side by López. So, the media also had a role in helping to create the current leaders and splits in the right.

Are you saying that the strategy and tactics of the right have an element of political and media theater? In a way. Look at the violent actions like grabbing and holding middle-class people prisoners in neighborhoods with barricades called guarimbas. I’ve never understood it. This “strategy” was “invented” by a Cuban-Venezuelan named Robert Alonso, brother of a Hollywood actress, Maria Conchita Alonso, who did a movie with Schwarzenegger. Mr. Alonso invented the guarimba as a way for a fractious minority to gain media attention by shutting off the street. They chuck trash or debris or waste so that their neighbors can’t get in our out. It gets media attention, but also immobilizes the right, a real political marvel. The guarimberos are cutting themselves off from the very people who could support the right. You hear the complaints, but not in the news reports. So what are you thinking, shutting down, burning down your own neighborhoods?

What do you think will happen?

We’ve seen a lot of this before. The cameras like the guarimbas, but, looked at from within the country, it’s a ludicrous political action. Insane. They tried this out before, in 2004, and it failed. They’ve had political messiahs like Leopoldo López, most of whom have been forgotten. You saw the future in the recent Carnaval celebrations. The right called for a boycott of Carnaval. The poor rejected their call and filled the beaches and the streets with their celebrations. Yet again, the international media didn’t take notice. The Colombian novelist William Ospina says that in the entire world, the rich celebrate and the poor protest. Only in Venezuela do the poor celebrate and the rich protest.

Fauxccupy: The Selling and Buying of the Venezuelan Opposition

March 15, 2014


MARCH 13, 2014 BY 
EDITOR’S NOTE: Latino Rebels contributor Roberto Lovato visited Venezuela last week and wrote the following opinion piece. As of this morning, according to reports, the death toll resulting from the protests in Venezuela is at 25. The most recent violent events have occurredin San Cristóbal, near the Venezuela/Colombia border.


CARACAS—Reports and imagery coming out of Venezuela in the past weeks would lead the casual observer to conclude that the country’s youthful opposition are “peaceful protesters” following a long line of global youth activism seen during the Arab Spring, the Occupy movement or in other parts of Latin America. Such a conclusion would be false, as the news from Venezuela’s protests contains journalistic practices that are very questionable and on an unprecedented scale.

Consider, for example, how both sides have killed people. The corporate media (both in English and in Spanish) have failed to cover the eight (or more) pro-Chavista victims of student and other opposition violence. No one is investigating claims that the majority of the killings were committed by the opposition. The radical erasure of pro-Chavista victims is astonishing. The following image, for instance, allegedly shows Venezuelan opposition students setting up barbed wire that beheaded an innocent cyclist, 29 year-old Elvis Rafael Durán de La Rosa, whose death eluded most global media.


Another example used in the carefully curated Venezuela media reports pertains to the images of rock-bearing youth wearing Guy Fawkes masks, a popular symbol of anti-capitalist movements, thanks to a Hollywood movie and, more recently, the Occupy protests.

Last week, I conducted interviews with opposition members, including dozens of opposition youth. Amost all of the youth were middle- to upper-class university students living in middle-class to ultra-elite neighborhoods of Caracas, the wealthiest in the Americas. Asked it they identified with  ”anarchists,” “Marxists”  or any of the other oppositional ideologies that have historically and which still define most opposition movements in the region, these students uniformly responded in the negative, with some even throwing in a “para nada!” or other Spanish equivalents of “hell no!”

Some interviewed even told me they identified with military men like El Generalísimo Marcos Pérez Jiménez, a much reviled former dictator. They also identified with Venezuela’s opposition, led by three elites —Henrique Capriles, María Corina Machado and Leopoldo Lopez— all of whom have direct familial ties to either the owners or top executives of the most important corporate conglomerates in Venezuela and the entire continent.

So ask the following question: If the Venezuelan opposition is led by millionaires in a poor country and if instead of fighting multi-million dollar US policy initiatives (as do most Latin American opposition movements) the Venezuelan opposition is receiving million$ from US policy, how do we account for all those images of students wearing a symbol associated with and used by leftist movements?

The answer is threefold. One is that the mask-wearing is part of the very sophisticated media training the students (and the opposition) received from OTPOR/CANVAS and other consultants bought with millions of US dollars. Second, students engaging in violent acts or those who fear retribution need cover. Finally, there is the logic of the market—people buying the masks because they’re cool and because someone saw a chance to make a buck, which is what I mostly documented in the photos I took last week.



(Photos: Roberto Lovato)

Without closely analyzing the imagery and careful curation of the Venezuelan opposition, one would conclude that this opposition is just like Che Guevara or Occupy or the Arab Spring. And with Venezuelan student opposition leaders like Yon Goicochea receiving the $500,000 Milton Friedman prize and other funding from private sources as well as from the U.S. government, there’s much more behind the Guy Fawkes masks in Venezuela than meets the media eye. And we may be witnessing the birth of something altogether new and radically different in the insurgent continent of América: Fauxccupy.


Roberto Lovato is a writer and dissonant dude. You can read more at his blog. You can also follow him on Twitter @robvato.


Venezuela’€™s opposition is united against Maduro, but internally divided

March 7, 2014
History suggests it may be difficult to overthrow a Venezuelan government without support from the country’€™s have-nots


Cristian Hernandez/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

CARACAS — His face and muscular arms sweating, hands dirtied from the sand-filled sugar bags he dragged toward the makeshift rampart blocking half of his street, Emilio Palacios’ immediate political struggle was with his mother. “No, Mama, no!” he yelled toward his mother, Maria Bravo, a longtime resident of the Chacaito district of Venezuela’s capital. “No!” he repeated, after hearing her tell Al Jazeera that the purpose of the barricade under construction in front of their apartment was “getting rid of this government.”

Measuring his words, he offered a different explanation. “We’re here as students to protest against the insecurity in the country and scarcity and the killing of students by the National Guard,” said Palacios, an engineering student at Central University. “This is not a protest against the government. We’re sending a message to the government.”

“OK. We have differences,” responded Bravo, a 48-year-old publicity and marketing executive, while sitting in a plastic lounge chair alongside her dog, Bruno, who almost knocked over a makeshift sign saying “Resistencia SOS Venezuela.”

On the anniversary of the death of socialist President Hugo Chavez, his successor, Nicolas Maduro, faces the biggest challenge to his 10-month-old government. Demonstrators frustrated by a long string of electoral defeats in municipal, gubernatorial and presidential election challenges to the Chavistas are exploring new strategies: taking to the streets to demand Maduro’s resignation as a solution for rampant crime and food shortages. But history suggests it may be difficult to overthrow a Venezuelan government without support from the country’s have-nots, and they have yet to be seen mimicking the burning of garbage or smashing of concrete seen in more well-off neighborhoods.

“Yes, we’re here to support the students, to protest the waiting in lines for food like we were in Cuba,” Bravo continued. “But we’ll be in the streets until this nefarious government, until this dictatorship goes, until Maduro renounces!” Asked how the crisis affects her well-groomed mixed sheepdog, she said, “Four kilos of dog food costs 400 bolivares ($63). Four hundred bolivares! Absurdo!”

A visibly tense Emilio raised his eyebrows, nodded his head from left to right and rushed down the street to continue gathering tree trunks and sugar bags to fortify the barricade. The lines of burning garbage, rocks and dead trees were not clearly drawn. Neither are the political divisions within Venezuela’s opposition.

The family argument between Palacios and Bravo reflects wider differences in the opposition involving politics, strategy and tactics over the protests and street clashes that have left 18 dead, including some Chavistas. While Chavez built the base of his movement among Venezuela’s poor and working class, the current protests are centered in middle- and upper-class neighborhoods. The movement challenging Maduro is led by wealthy and privileged individuals, some of whose photographs feature regularly on the society pages of El Universal and other newspapers. And they seem unable to agree on whether change will be achieved via the ballot box and negotiation or through insurrection and violence — and also on who should lead the opposition. What they are united over is their desire to end crime and shortages, but also to reverse the Chavez legacy of major government spending in housing, education and other social programs, limits on profits that can be made by companies and other socialist initiatives.

The most visible leaders of the opposition — former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, the telegenic Harvard-educated former mayor of Chacao Leopoldo Lopez and Lopez’s closest ally, Maria Corina Machado — all hail from families that own or have powerful positions with conglomerates in media, food and other industries. All are connected to middle- and upper-class student groups currently protesting in the streets of Caracas. And WikilLeaks cables suggest that the key protest groups have, over many years, been the beneficiaries of hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. “democracy promotion” assistance.

Despite efforts to project unity at recent rallies and marches, deep differences divide the opposition. Lopez and Machado are seen as promoting the more confrontational street actions to end Chavismo, but other opposition leaders fear that those tactics will alienate the larger public. Some opposition leaders even called for a moratorium on protests out of respect for commemorations of Chavez this week — a call that was ignored by student leaders and Machado.

Capriles and his key allies, including a number of industrialists, are more inclined to press for negotiations with Maduro, signaling discomfort with the more radical approach of the unyielding “Salida” (“Exit”) call by Lopez, Machado and many student groups on the streets who demand Maduro’s ouster. Capriles ally Lorenzo Mendoza, one of the wealthiest people in Venezuela, recently stood alongside Maduro to report on the National Conference for Peace, convened by the president and attended by leaders in politics and industry. “This is a convening to build a peace agenda,” declared a solemn Mendoza to a national audience.

Statements like Mendoza’s also reflect growing discomfort on the right with some of the student violence, like that which ended the life of Santiago Henrique Pedroza Longa. He was a 29-year-old motorcyclist who was beheaded by barbed wire put up by students at the behest of a pro-opposition retired general who had tweeted instructions on how to “neutralize the criminal hordes on bikes.”

And then there are the more radical student activists who distrust the close ties between fellow student groups and well-connected, well-heeled leaders of the political parties. “Leopoldo Lopez is a prefabricated martyr engaged in political theater designed to promote him as the new leader of the opposition,” said Joshua Cespedes, a 20-year-old working-class student protester and member of the Organization of Nationalist Students (ORDEN). “Capriles is the same, but he’s losing ground to him because people on our side are getting desperate and want quick solutions,” he said on Sunday at an opposition protest, standing next to a colleague hiding his face behind large, dark shades and a black poster with big white letters saying “Negotiation = Submission.”

Cespedes and other youth founded ORDEN after concluding that “politics in Venezuela is controlled by international interests. The opposition is controlled by the U.S. and Obama, and the government by Cuba. So the only solution is a nationalist solution.”

ORDEN traces its nationalist legacy to El Generalissimo Marcos Perez Jimenez, a former dictator, whose repressive policies eventually brought about his demise. Many years and several political defeats later, Perez Jimenez’s legacy still brings division to the right. After unfurling a banner with a picture of the smiling generalissimo, members of ORDEN were violently challenged by supporters of rival opposition groups during a widely televised opposition gathering on Jan. 23, 2013. “We were beaten with our own flags, punched, kicked at and dragged out of the conference — all at the hands of our ‘allies,’” said Cespedes. Despite the internal tensions, he said, he and the other members of ORDEN will “continue to organize and agitate in the streets.”

Striking a philosophical pose about the possibility of continued student clashes with Venezuelan government forces, 62-year-old Edith Mujica, Secretary for Organization for Caracas in Primero Justicia — the political party founded by both Lopez and Capriles — worried that the continued confrontation will not yield the desired results. “We may learn that all this excitement in the streets turns out to be an error,” said Mujica. “We might actually end up looking like we don’t want peace. We may even end up strengthening Maduro and the Chavistas. And we all agree we don’t want to do anything to make them stronger than they already are.”