On November 30, Hillary Clinton stated that she was “outraged at the cold blooded assassination of Luis Manuel Díaz on stage at a rally last week.” She was referring to the killing of a local opposition leader in Venezuela on November 25. It was clear from her remarks that she was blaming the government for the murder. Her statement appeared to be part of an international campaign to delegitimize Sunday’s congressional elections in Venezuela, and it spread quickly throughout the global media.
Clinton is familiar with these types of international campaigns for regime change. In her recent book, “Hard Choices” she acknowledges her role in helping prevent the democratically-elected president of Honduras, overthrown in a military coup, from returning to office in 2009; and recently released emails add further detail.
This shooting and its aftermath are worth looking at in some detail because they provide a compelling, if typical, example of how the international media has been manipulated, for more than 15 years, to create an image of Venezuela that conforms to certain objectives of U.S. foreign policy.
Within hours of the killing, facts began to emerge that cast doubt on the widely disseminated version of events. Venezuelan authorities started investigating the murder, and issued statements claiming that Díaz was part of a local mafia and was killed by rivals in revenge for a murder that he was implicated in.
For a day or two, these statements did not even appear in the English language media. As the days passed, more details began to emerge. According to these reports, Díaz, the victim, who was the local secretary general of the opposition party Acción Democrática (AD) in Guarico state, was himself on trial for involvement in a murder. He was allegedly a member of a local criminal group, “Los Plateados,” involved in a turf war with a rival gang, “El Maloni.” The 2010 murder in which he was accused of participating involved two members of the rival gang. According to witnesses, he rarely went out of his house for fear for his life. The man accused of killing him at the political rally, Oscar de Jesús Noguera Hernández, was a member of “El Maloni.”
Clearly there are two narratives: the government narrative that this was a mafia killing, resulting from a dispute between rival gangs; and the Hillary Clinton/Venezuelan opposition/international media narrative that it was a political killing linked to the government, intended to intimidate the opposition. Which one is most likely true?
One clue can be found by looking at the Venezuelan opposition’s response to the news and investigative reports about the involvement of Diaz and his accused killers in organized crime. Opposition politicians, who had quickly blamed the government for the murder when it happened, haven’t said anything. They are normally not shy about ridiculing the government for putting its spin on events. According to press reports, politicians from Acción Democrática, a Venezuelan political party, did not show up at Díaz’s funeral. The overall silence has been deafening. This could be because everyone has concluded that the government’s version of the story is basically true.
And reporters for the international and Venezuelan opposition media have shown no interest in the criminal investigation or related facts. Since this was a major event that has shaped perceptions of the electoral process in Venezuela in the middle of a hotly-contested campaign, one might think it would be of interest to reporters covering the campaign. (Another missed story: how did Acción Democrática end up with an organized crime figure as their statewide secretary general?)
So far, no journalist has even bothered to ask opposition politicians, or supporters such as Hillary Clinton or OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, if they believe this was a political killing in light of the criminal investigation. Almagro has been campaigning against Venezuela since the election campaign started. Immediately after the murder, he issued a statement that strongly implied that the government was responsible.
On Thursday, Venezuela’s attorney general released a statement that one of the arrested suspects, Ronald Hernandez, had confessed to having fired the bullets that killed Díaz. As of this writing, no major English language news outlet has reported this news.
The wheels of justice grind slowly in Venezuela, so it will probably be a while before there is a trial of the accused perpetrators. But for the U.S. government, Hillary Clinton, and their opposition allies, it is mission accomplished. Probably 98 percent of the world who has heard anything about the Venezuelan elections now thinks that the Venezuelan government is assassinating political opponents. Proponents of “regime change” will take international public opinion into account when they decide whether to recognize the results of Sunday’s election, or take to the streets with violent demonstrations as they did in the 2013 presidential elections.
This is how public opinion is shaped when the U.S. government targets a country for regime change, whether it is a dictatorship like Iraq or a democracy like Honduras or Venezuela. It is good to keep this in mind when you are reading the international news.
Mark Weisbrot is a co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C., and the president of Just Foreign Policy. He is also the author of the new book “Failed: What the ‘Experts’ Got Wrong About the Global Economy” (2015, Oxford University Press).