Editor's note: Aporrea.org has become perhaps the single most important alternative source for information on Venezuela in Spanish. Since the April 2002 coup it has played a crucial role in keeping people informed despite the distortions of Venezuela's private media. Yesterday Aporrea celebrated its third anniversary. The interview was conducted April 23, 2003.
|The Popular Revolutionary Assembly is online at Aporrea.org|
On the dawn of April 11, 2002, the coup d’etat was already in march in Venezuela. During these dramatic hours, a group of supporters of the Bolivarian Revolution distributed 100,000 flyers in the poor neighborhoods of Caracas, calling upon the Venezuelan people to surround the Miraflores Palace with the goal of deterring and detouring “the opposition march that, with premeditation, leads to a coup operation.” This march ended in armed confrontations. The opposition to President Hugo Chávez used that violence as the final pretext for the failed coup d’etat that cost the lives of many people who went out into the streets during those days to defend their democratically elected government.
The group of pamphleteers, a collective that “had begun to meet, fundamentally to confront the offensive of the coup conspiracy,” was also active during the counter-coup that was born in the people’s breast on the 12th and 13th of April of 2002.
Its members, who began to meet, united by the emergency on the afternoon of April 10th of last year, are “members of popular, cultural and community work groups of the Caracas neighborhoods, communicators from the Community Radio stations, union activists from the Bolivarian Workers Force, members of neighborhood organizations and of Bolivarian Circles, people from the popular and progressive networks that live in the Venezuelan capital.”
Their name: The Popular Revolutionary Assembly… or Aporrea, “that doesn’t exactly match the initials but in the end, for us, the verb ‘aporrear’ means to beat, and this name stuck… as we beat the coup-mongers, the rightwing conspirators, the powerful economic forces, the fascists, but also there is a strong dose of criticism against those pseudo-revolutionary sectors that don’t draw the line clearly. Not only because of the editorial position of Aporrea, but also because the people want this line drawn: Against the corrupt ones, against the opportunists,” says Gonzalo Gómez, one of the members of the group of Authentic Journalists that give life to the most popular and dynamic Internet site with news about the Venezuelan present and the process of true democracy.
Aporrea.org, kind readers, “has become a spokesman for the people, for the workers, for the residents of our neighborhoods.” And almost a year after having appeared on the Internet, it has received more than four million visits (“and maybe three times more than that, because it is not easy to register the visitors to proxy servers in Venezuela, and there are many,” the webmaster, Martin Sánchez, clarifies). All of this is done by a team of volunteers that assume the task as a public service, committed to combat “the mediating attack imposed by the commercial media,” to “serve as a vehicle of participative democracy,” and for many other local, international, and revolutionary goals… all of this from a “media of expression, information, debate and diffusion of content that is of collective interest, principally political and cultural news…” Or, as we are accustomed to saying around the Narco Newsroom, Aporrea is a war machine at the service of the masses.
I won’t delay you any longer, kind reader: Let’s go with Martín Sánchez, Gonzalo Gómez, Greti Richards, Iván Gil, and Miguel Hernández, members of the nucleus of “apo-friends,” who spoke with your correspondent on a hot Sunday sharing fried fish and beer…
Narco News: How did you decide to launch Aporrea.org?
Martín Sánchez: I am studying in the United States. On the day of the coup there was no kind of information available there. The only news that arrived was through Univision, and it was echoing what the pro-coup press and TV stations broadcasted. They made the viewers believe that Chávez ordered the shooting of the people (on April 11, 2002), that Chávez resigned, and all that.
Due to the absence of information, I called Gonzalo to see if he knew anything about the accusations, because I knew there would surely be persecution against popular and union leaders. In fact, there was.
At first, Gonzalo suggested that I contact human rights organizations in the United States to inform them that the coup was invading the Community Radio stations, that it was beating the popular pro-Chávez supporters and that a fascist government was attacking the poor. I started sending emails. And after the restitution to power I kept informed through the pages of the Anti-escualidos site, that had news about what had happened… but it was very limited, the page was very slow.
As a student of computation, I then decided that I could use my political experience to support the group that stepped forward on April 10th, the Popular Revolutionary Assembly… When I spoke with Gonzalo I told him we could put the group’s flyers on the Internet, create a page to put documents… and, well, little by little, other proposals came: “Let’s publish the legal complaints by the people,” and the people sent, via email, their news, their things… that is how it was born, as an appendix to the Popular Revolutionary Assembly. Now it is a completely independent project.
Gonzalo Gómez: Here, on the days prior to and on April 11th, the Popular Revolutionary Assembly functioned to coordinate the popular movement and its organizations in Caracas. Our role was to prepare ourselves to resist what was coming, to stop the coup. Thus, our fundamental task was to promote a mobilization on April 11th, to make a popular shield that would not allow the assault on Miraflores Palace, since the rightwing had already pushed the mass media (of the upper classes) and the privileged sectors into a demonstration by claiming that the people had already taken the palace and the military was supporting them.
Next, the Assembly continued functioning, but these kinds of groups surge for specific contingencies. The organization dispersed and the people returned to their natural roles. That is what happened to the Popular Revolutionary Assembly of Coche, the heir to our organization. But the web page stayed, continuing its role in contact with the popular organizations. And as we began to receive news, information, invitations, legal complaints, etcetera, there began to surge, spontaneously, a phenomenon of Street Reporters: People who, for example, during a demonstration in Valencia (she was one of our first reporters), a lady ducked into an Internet café and sent us a report.
Thus began a new era: Aporrea became a popular alternative news agency and an open mailbox for the popular and working class movements, with a wide base: from those who offer a blanket defense of the positions of Chávez to those who defend the revolutionary process but have proposals to take it even further, who want to deepen the process, and have positive criticisms. This is how it works today…
Narco News: How many people are on the Aporrea team at this moment?
Gonzalo Gómez: There are six to eight of us, at any moment, on the core team. For example, Martin is involved fulltime in the design, the programming, and everything that has to do with the software, posting the news, and he also has a key role in the political formulation of the page. Beyond us, I don’t know, we are many people, hundreds… There are collaborators who are constantly sending articles, information from distinct places, including people who we don’t personally know and that we get to know through their role in the page. This is a species of magma, or amoeba, or a network of people doing volunteer work. It is not hyper-centralized, with a hierarchical command that decides how things are done. It is more of an interchange, a consultation, and it continues surging very widely.
Martín Sánchez: Well, this has caused us some problems: It is a challenge to coordinate the management of the page, the schedule… And the goal, now, is to develop a collaborative software platform that allows us to manage it in a different manner. For example, the contacts: the people who want to collaborate or are reporters. Sometimes I know how to find them, I have their directions in my computer, and the others don’t have them… that is a problem. We are trying to centralize this kind of thing so that the whole world knows who they are, to have a policy to coordinate schedules. But we have limitations: We don’t have a fixed base. We have no budget… It is a challenge to coordinate in a way that produces something coherent, in a way that offers true response. Aporrea is something that the people demand. If a few hours go by that the site is not updated, they immediately contact us and ask what is happening… many people think we are some kind of a foundation with an office and a building, and that we have people on alert all day.
Gonzalo Gómez: And they are anguished if, all day long, new information doesn’t appear…
Greti Richards: Here is something very important. The people who lived this Commercial Media campaign that generated such anguish, also find in the page a kind of psychological stability: a tranquility. The whole world, when it contacts us, says that thanks to use it is informed, that this is the press that they read. Because there is a rejection of the Commercial Media and they see in us another option… Aporrea allowed news to be published from all parts of Venezuela, because the people sent photos and reports, instantly… it became a necessity.
Guerrilla War vs. the Commercial Media
Narco News: One year from the failed coup, how do you evaluate the role of the Community Media in Venezuela?
Greti Richards: As a great potential. I think there are many human resources that have everything to give, but the capacity to coordinate all these forces is the challenge.
Martín Sánchez: The Commercial Media is very afraid of the alternative press. It can be seen in the testimony of people from the Community TV and Radio when they have gone to press conferences and been rejected and mistreated by the Commercial Press. The daily El Nacional has even published an article about Community station Catia TV making all kinds of accusations and infamies… It’s an incredible thing that a Commercial Media organization begins to attack a community broadcaster that has so little reach, in reality, because it is a phenomenon that is growing, and they want to stop it.
There are testimonies by reporters from Community Radio that have been attacked by Commercial Media reporters. In fact, they are afraid, because the Public TV Station (Venezuela Television, Channel 8), can be eliminated by knocking down its tower, but the alternative press, that is a Community Press, that is like an information guerrilla, is very difficult to knock down. When you fight against an organized army that is centralized, you knock down the leadership and you win the war. But the alternative press is all over the place. Thus, if you knock down one side there are a hundred other media organizations who are still going to cover the news, and these reports will go all over the place… that is what they are afraid of.
Gonzalo Gómez: The alternative media have played a very large role, but they are still very marginalized. Above all because press freedom is a concrete question, and has to do, also, with he who possesses the technical, geographic, and media, resources. For example, in the Municipal Press, they publish a large quantity of documents by the popular organizations. They get cheap paper and things like that. But in TV and radio, things are more difficult. They have to buy transmitters, equipment, antennas, etc.
The politicians still don’t have a deep enough understanding of this, although the government is in support. We can’t compare ourselves with those who took away our freedom of speech because they have the material property and the form of giant monsters. When we mobilized on April 13, 2002, and went to rescue Channel 8, we could have gone much further and really taken the Commercial TV stations and kept them for the people, because the coup-mongers were using them against us. If this had been done, the workers would have taken charge of the administration of the media, along with the cultural and artistic groups… a public control over the media in Venezuela would have been achieved. However, we continue in this species of guerrilla warfare, with these small nuclei and groups, when we could have had in our hands the power of the media that today exercises social control. That’s why we still have a job that is not finished…
Narco News: What would be the first objective to achieve in the Commercial Media?
Gonzalo Gómez: I think that the first would be to maintain the level of mobilization against the Commercial Media. We have to demand something of them, a very concrete change: The right to be heard (a right that, of course, kind readers, is guaranteed by Article 56 of the Venezuelan Constitution). That they give us, at the same time, what they gave Carmona, what they gave the coup-plotters, what they constantly gave to the conspiracy. If they do give us this right to be heard it would have to be infinite, because there is not enough time on earth for them to give us back what they have already taken away.
This will be done, fundamentally, through popular mobilization. We can support legislation, like the Law of Social Responsibility, to give tools to the government, a government that is sensitive to popular pressure, as it was not in prior governments. Now the multinational corporations, where the media are involved, instead of being governed, it is them (as part of global capital) that govern the States. We must thus support legislation, but also participate in order to deepen the public’s participation so that this goes much further than that.
Miguel Hernández: At the root of the role that the Commercial Media have played, the idea has surged that they are the problem. But what reflects this, most precisely, is that the media are already not autonomous, they are part of a global economic kingdom. The owners of the media are owners of other businesses, of other parts of the economy. Gustavo Cisneros, for example, is the owner of an important TV channel, but he also owns radio stations and an entire chain of economic activities in the telecommunications area, in the service industry, and in consumer products.
Thus, I think that the problem is not just a problem of the Media, but of who controls the Media. The problem is much more complex. What we have is a global and frontal fight against the system. We have to think in terms of a general policy to confront the business interests that control the Media.
Martín Sánchez: And, concretely, about your question (about how we do this), we believe that a primordial thing for getting the Commercial Media under societal control is to unmask their manipulations. For example, when there is a march in favor of Chávez, many times they only show images of an empty avenue, taken in the early morning. While the march is happening, they show these images as if they are life… this has been done many times by the Globovision network.
And there have been Community TV teams who have followed the Globovision crews to see at what hour they go to videotape in order to show what they have done… we have to do things like this.
The Media don’t lie. They do it by omission. When you show only part of the truth, this is the same as lying. That is what they do. And this is the manner in which we want to fill this vacuum, to show the other side of the information. And also go to the neighborhoods and factories, places where the Commercial Media have not gone and will not go. In this way we think we are gaining an audience.
Miguel Hernández: We try to respond to what the Commercial Media do. But it is going to be very difficult for the alternative media to confront their power. This job has a high cost, although it must continue. And we have to ask ourselves what is the role that the State plays in all of this? What is its communications policy? Because it still doesn’t have a popular policy of developing the technical resources. That is to say, the State should develop its channel and the radio stations with popular support. What is happening is that there is a disconnection… This is a very important starting point for developing this work.