Venezuela’s Apocalypse: The Media at War

International media use classic red-baiting tropes to paint Venezuela as on the verge of apocalyptic meltdown while ignoring the real calamities of war and poverty caused by global capitalism.


In one of the more headache-inducing video clips in recent memory, Fox Business Network presents us with its version of the current crisis in Venezuela – where economic mismanagement under the leadership of President Nicolas Maduro has converged with a drop in global oil prices to produce runaway inflation and a shortage of basic goods.

The Fox Business Network website invites us to view a “harrowing video show[ing] starving Venezuelans eating garbage [and] looting”.

As anyone acquainted with the network’s modus operandi might expect, the footage in question doesn’t exactly render the situation as “virtually apocalyptic” as Fox claims it is.

Fortunately, we have a whole Fox crew to interpret for us what, in fact, we are seeing. Before we get to see anything, programme host Maria Bartiromo issues a “warning [to] viewers” that “this video is very graphic”.

Journalist Elizabeth MacDonald chimes in with confirmation: “Yeah, it’s graphic and disturbing.”

The eternal red menace

MacDonald wastes no time getting down to business, and we learn that this is not really about Venezuela at all: “The message from the people on the ground” in Venezuela is, MacDonald tells us, that this crisis “is Bernie Sanders’ socialism … This is what Bernie Sanders would want for America”.

In the media tizzy over Venezuela, Fox is hardly alone.

Over at Vox, longtime Venezuelan opposition cheerleader Francisco Toro has proclaimed the “collapse” of the country’s “socialist dream … into a nightmare”.

True to form, The New York Times has also delivered a series of would-be post-mortems on Venezuelan socialism.

The Miami Herald opinion pages host the notion that Venezuela is now “the North Korea of the Caribbean”, a place where “news reports … read like apocalyptic Cormac McCarthy novels”.

Meanwhile, a Financial Times column laments that the “tragedy” of Venezuela is “now in its final act”.

There’s no denying that things are not right in Venezuela at the moment; in May, Maduro declared a two-month state of emergency.

But you’d think that, after so many decades of hysterical fearmongering about the red menace, people in the US and beyond might get tired of it – particularly when that very “menace” has done quite a bit of good throughout the hemisphere.

For example, thanks to the socialism of Maduro’s predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, the impoverished Venezuelan masses were sprung from the essentially subhuman tier of existence to which they had been relegated by the country’s elite.

The poverty level was cut in half, extreme poverty dropped by 70 percent, and free healthcare and education programmes began putting to shame countries such as the United States, where folks are regularly driven into insuperable debt for trying to get a degree or receive medical treatment.

On the frontlines

Significantly, the media performance on Venezuela is never replicated on behalf of other situations that quite objectively qualify as “harrowing” and “disturbing”.

The wanton bombing of innocent people in Iraq and elsewhere comes to mind – as does a certain habit of massacring civilians that has all too often characterised US-backed governments in Latin America.

Furthermore, if we want to talk about hunger – allegedly a mainstay of now-apocalyptic Venezuela – we might consider the rather epidemic proportions of homelessness and hunger in the US itself (including, incidentally, among the soldiers who fight its wars).

None of this, obviously, is to idolise Maduro or to whitewash the Venezuelan landscape; it’s merely to note how quickly the media deploys itself to the frontlines when the enemy is socialism, and how any error presided over by socialists constitutes spontaneous and definitive proof that leftism is infeasible in any form or context.

Again, the same gleeful pessimism is never on display in response to capitalism’s massive catastrophes.

But hey, global recessions build character.

Drexel University professor George Ciccariello-Maher, author of We Created Chavez, remarked in a recent email to me that the Venezuelan political opposition now feels “vindicated” and that a consensus has emerged in the media “that Venezuela is a failed state”.

He continues: “But just as a broken clock is right twice a day, this vindication should be taken with a grain of salt. The economic pain being felt today is not the product of socialism, but of how ferociously capitalism fights back.”

A circle in hell

And while the opposition markets itself as a viable alternative to the present panorama, Ciccariello-Maher says, the only alternative it offers is “a return to neoliberal savagery”.

Such cautionary voices cannot, however, be heard through the media din. At The Guardian, Nick Cohen takes the cake for intriguing analysis with his opinion piecetitled: “Radical tourists have been deluded pimps for Venezuela.”

Some key points of the article: “Half-baked pseudo-left intellectuals” such as Noam Chomsky have allowed Chavista Venezuela to “stroke… all their erogenous zones”. Now, however, “the show is over”, but “the thoughts of Venezuelans, who watched as Westerners treated their country as an ideological playground, cannot be dismissed lightly”.

Cohen has thus managed to procure the thoughts of exactly one “Venezuelan”, an elite Venezuelan-Norwegian involved in dubious human rights enterprises, who tells him “there should be a special circle in hell” for these Westerners.

Chances are, though, they’ve already seen hell – and decided that capitalism just isn’t that sexy.