Various Flavors of Fake News about Venezuela

It's almost impossible to escape bombardment by the U.S government’s perspective on Venezuela.


An article by William Finnegan published November 14 in the New Yorker (Venezuela: A Failing State) is similar to an error-riddled piece that Jon Lee Anderson wrote in 2013. It is padded with extraneous and anecdotal details that will give unwary readers the impression that the author has diligently researched. The article begins by marveling at the courage of a medical student who called President Maduro an “asshole” and “donkey” and who didn’t mind his name being used — as if Maduro were not attacked and ridiculed constantly in Venezuela’s TV and print media.

In a few other instances, Finnegan also insinuates that criticizing the government takes great courage and that very few people dare to do it publicly. He described the far right newspaper El Nacional as “one of the last independent national dailies still standing” after “years of government assault on the press.”

The day before Finnegan’s article was published, Venezuela’s largest circulating newspaper, Ultimas Noticias, ran an op-ed by Gloria Cuenca, a regular contributor, that asked “is this government trying to imitate North Korea?” That same day, another op-ed in Ultimas Noticias, by opposition legislator Julio Borges, stated that “it is unjustifiable and even cruel that Nicolas Maduro has ordered imports of toys and Christmas products instead of concerning himself with bringing food and medicine to alleviate the grave crisis in Venezuela.” A few days later, another regular contributor, Pompeyo Marquez, outlined the key goals he shares with main opposition group: “a change in president, in the regime, in the economic model, freedom for political prisoners, an end to repression.” 

Harsh government critics are also extremely easy to find Venezuela’s largest TV networks. When interviewed, they are not badgered and scolded the way Black Lives Matter activists are in the United States when they appear on TV at all.

In this lengthy interview on Venevision on November 20, opposition legislator Maria Beatriz Martinez says that a “large percentage of our population is looking through garbage for something to eat” and accuses the government of blocking elections because it knows the opposition would win.

During this November 6 interview on Globovision (which the international mediawould have you believe has been government controlled since 2015), Maria Corina Machado says that the government is a “dictatorship” and accuses it of rejecting humanitarian aid because it does not care if infants die in hospitals. Machado has been all over the Venezuelan media for years calling the government a “dictatorship”.

In a recent lengthy interview on Venevision, Julio Borges accuses the government of “stealing the right to vote,” of keeping “political prisoners.” He calls the government “de-legitimized,” “without authority” and discusses a political trial his allies in the National Assembly launched against President Maduro. Not only is Borges frequently interviewed on Venezuelan TV, his op-edsalso appear regularly in Venezuela’s second-largest newspaper, El Universal, another outlet that international journalists have dishonestly, or perhaps ignorantly, dismissed as a “government mouthpiece.”

The combined audience share for news of the largest private TV broadcasters (Venevision, Televen, Globovision) is much larger than that of the government-run networks. As of 2013, their combined audience share for news was 72 percent according to data compiled by the Carter Center which is tightly linked to the U.S. establishment.

Finnegan’s New Yorker article passes quickly over the 2002 coup that briefly deposed Venezuela’s democratically elected President (Hugo Chavez). Finnegan wrote, “After Chavez barely survived a 2002 coup attempt, the Cubans also sent teams of military and intelligence advisers who taught their Venezuelan counterparts how to surveil and disrupt the political opposition Cuban-style, with close monitoring, harassment, and strategic arrests.” 

It was not a coup “attempt.” The coup succeeded for two days. Pedro Carmona, head of country’s largest business federation, installed himself as dictator. He annulled the constitution, fired the Supreme Court and dismissed elected officials.

Finnegan’s friends at El Nacional welcomed the Carmona dictatorship as did Venezuela’s entire private media. While Carmona was in power, the private media was praised for its contribution to the coup. The leaders of Venezuela’s opposition remains heavily populated by people who supported (and in Leopoldo Lopez’s case, participated in) the coup. Jesus “Chua” Torrealba, the relatively moderate head of MUD, the main opposition coalition, signed an open letter that welcomed Carmona’s dictatorship.

It was published by El Nacional. U.S. newspapers, in particular, the New York Times, were delighted with Carmona as was the Bush administration. In August, the head of the opposition-led National Assembly publicly lamented the fall of Carmona’s dictatorship.

In the years following Carmona’s fall, the opposition’s near total dominance of the media was indeed “disrupted,” but it takes a coup-endorsing media outside Venezuela to label that an “assault on the press.” Here is some more discussionof errors and misleading remarks in Finnegan’s article.

Speaking of coup-endorsing media, the Wall Street Journal published an article on November 20 by Anatoly Kurmanaev that ran with the headline “Venezuela’s Nemesis Is a Hardware Salesman at a Home Depot in Alabama.” It invites readers to chuckle at the fact that an elderly Alabama resident, Gustavo Díaz, supposedly runs the DolarToday website. Accurate or not (it is the WSJ after all) in the middle of the article Kurmanaev reports the following as fact:

“Mr. Díaz is a U.S.-trained retired colonel, and he indeed tried to overthrow Mr. Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez, by participating in a short-lived coup in 2002. Mr. Díaz, who had been deputy security chief to the businessman who briefly took power in the ill-fated overthrow, said his conspiring days are over.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
“Now, he said, he is fighting for economic freedom and for Venezuelans’ access to information in a country that makes financial and other data secret. Venezuela is undergoing a brutal recession that has made it hard for most of the country’s 30 million people to find enough food and medicine.
“It’s ironic that with DolarToday in Alabama, I do more damage to the government than I did as a military man in Venezuela,” said Mr. Díaz, a short, soft-spoken man with a gray mane.”

Imagine a U.S. citizen participating in a briefly successful military coup against the U.S. government, getting asylum in Venezuela, and then publicly boasting that “I now do more damage to the U.S. government than I did before.” Scores of people were murdered resisting the Carmona dictatorship before it fell. If the passage above is accurate, then Diaz should be held criminally responsible for his actions.“

U.S. prosecutors have eagerly gone after Venezuelan officials — even the family members of officials — for alleged corruption, but apparently helping a right-wing dictatorship murderously cling to power is no big deal. Then again, to avoid rank hypocrisy and double standards, U.S. officials would also have to be prosecuted for numerous military coups and acts of aggression abroad. Fortunately, the deeply ingrained imperial assumptions of the WSJ reporters allow them to evade such troubling considerations.

What if you don’t like highbrow sources like the New Yorker, or if you don’t care to peek behind the WSJ’s paywall, or if you don’t care for any news media at all? Not to worry, U.S. sportscasters will make sure you don’t go without U.S. government propaganda about Venezuela.

Joe Emersberger was born in 1966 in Windsor, Ontario, Canada where he currently lives and works. He is an engineer and a member of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) union.