Dear Media: Venezuela Is Not Haiti

When Westerners see “their media” participate in such a vile campaign, they should challenge it.

Refute the international media’s gross exaggerations and falsehoods about Venezuela and one response you’ll surely receive is that you are callously downplaying the pain that Venezuelans are experiencing in the midst of a deep recession. That response is aimed at giving journalists a pass to promote U.S.-backed regime change in Venezuela. It also gives them a pass to ignore hardships that are endured throughout Latin America when those hardships undermine the media’s propaganda campaign. 

Stray dogs in Venezuela have recently received more attention from the media than the millions of internal refugees from Colombia’s civil war. Most of the atrocities in that war have been perpetrated by Colombia’s military and right-wing paramilitary groups that have often worked in unison. The crimes have reached truly genocidal levels with numerous Indigenous groups being pushed to the brink of extinction. For decades, the U.S. government has thrown its military, economic and political support behind the worst culprits. Human Rights Watch, which is based in Washington and has a revolving door with high level U.S. government officials, has just helped U.S. allies in Colombia position themselves to get more impunity from any future peace agreement. Impunity for U.S. officials, a flaw in any agreement with a realistic hope of ratification, is not discussed in the media and never will be by journalists who are more interested in the plight of stray dogs in Venezuela.
 The New York Times and the Associated Press have regularly sought out heart wrenching stories of Venezuelans, in particular children, receiving grossly inadequate medical attention. Peru’s new right-wing president just received a lot ofuncritical attention for saying that other Latin America countries should pressure Venezuela to receive humanitarian assistance.  Peru has the same population as Venezuela but has a higher child mortality rate according to UNICEF.  

That means that more children die avoidable deaths in Peru than in Venezuela. If the U.S. government suddenly decided that it wanted Peru’s government overthrown, reporters like the New York Times’ Nicholas Casey would diligently search for the thousands of moving personal tragedies in Peru that are directly attributable to deficiencies in its health care and economic system. In fact, such journalists would seek out any negative stories that they could find, fraudulent or otherwise. Recall that the New York Times openly cheered the U.S.-backed military coup which briefly overthrew Venezuela’s democratically elected government in April of 2002.

Amnesty International, like Human Rights Watch, has contributed to regime change propaganda against Venezuela. In June, Amnesty described Venezuela as being on the brink of an “unthinkable nightmare” and an “epic catastrophe.” It accused its government of being in “stubborn denial over the country’s current humanitarian crisis,” and all but ordered Venezuela to surrender its sovereignty to the “international community” – not simply to accept international aid which should not require any such condition.

Haiti is the extreme example of what happens to a country whose sovereignty is undermined by foreign governments and NGOs in order to receive “aid.” Delivery of basic services has become heavily dependent on foreign institutions that Haitians cannot vote out of the country no matter how terrible a job they do – even when they kill 10,000 people through gross negligence, or consolidate a U.S.-perpetrated coup.

Moreover, if Venezuela is on the “brink” an unthinkable nightmare then, the nightmare has arrived a long time ago in almost all of Latin America – including countries that are close U.S. allies where Amnesty does not make frantic appeals for foreign intervention. Then again, Amnesty also put out a ridiculous statement in July accusing the government of imposing “forced labor.” That helped generate a lot of sensationalist headlines around the world for a few days until the allegations were quietly dropped. In 2010, Amnesty put out a statement claiming that there was only one TV broadcaster that had not been shut down by the government – an outrageous claim that Amnesty never retracted.

According to opposition-aligned pollsters, the poorest Venezuelans are by far the most likely to vote for the government. The government deserves harsh criticism –and receives it constantly in Venezuela’s print and TV media – for making serious policy errors. However, it has taken some effective steps to protect the most vulnerable people from the impact of the recession. There has been a very strong emphasis on the provision of low-income housing. The government has also recently been distributing 14 thousand tons of food directly to just over a million families. The polls, while certainly terrible for the government overall, lend support to its claims that measures of extreme poverty have continued to decline despite the recession although income poverty, as of 2015, increased to about 34 percent.

The propaganda campaign against Venezuela also hurts its economy which totally contradicts the stated motivations of Amnesty and others who have called for humanitarian aid. The pronouncements of corrupt and politicized credit agencies have been uncritically reported. That drives up borrowing costs, makes loans harder to get, and provides cover for actions by foreign investors and companies that may well be politically motivated.

Then there is the whitewash, ongoing for nearly two decades, of Venezuela’s opposition. Henry Ramos, president of the National Assembly, boasted on Twitter that the Assembly’s standoff with President Maduro has led China and other countries to deny loans to Venezuela. Reuters was the only major outlet to mention that Ramos recently lamentedthe failure of the 2002 military coup. The brutal recession has rehabilitated politicians like Ramos, who is overtly racist. U.S. readers should understand how bigoted politicians can effectively leverage economic pain to their advantage. It is also worth recalling that the IMF rushed out a statement offering support to the dictatorship whose fall Ramos lamented.

Refuting propaganda about Venezuela, even during the years when it was rapidly reducing poverty, always felt like opening an umbrella in the middle of a hurricane. Fortunately, Latin America is not as strategically important to the West as the Middle East, and U.S power is also not what is was decades ago. That somewhat limits the harm that can be done by western journalists and NGOs. Nevertheless, when Westerners see “their media” participate in such a vile campaign, they should challenge it.