One of the essential elements of the anti-revolutionary campaign is the media and social media apparatus controlled by hegemonic global capitalism. This machinery is important under normal conditions, but even more so in times of crisis, and there is no doubt that [self-declared “Interim President”] Juan Guaido is in the midst of an ugly crisis.
The viral dissemination of photographs of the self-proclaimed [Guaido] with two dangerous members of the drug-running paramilitary group Los Rastrojos [in September] put the opposition media executives, journalists and social media influencers to work. It was time for them to justify their salaries, the crowdfunding operations of their start-ups, the publicity and sponsorships of their programs, the metal of some juicy awards… Anyway, capitalism called for ideological backing at the ninth hour.
Of course, the greatest responsibility in this case was held by Alberto Federico Ravell (1) in his capacity as Guaido’s “minister of information.”
Presumably, he consulted with political imaging experts (although he himself is one, or claims to be) because the reaction took a long time. In the end, Ravell [admitted the veracity of the photos and] opted for the excuse of the extreme popularity of Guaido, a guy so charismatic that thousands of people struggle to take pictures with him, including some high-level drug lords such as John Jairo Durán Contreras, nicknamed “El Costeño” or “El Menor,” and Albeiro Wolf Quintero, aka “the Brother”.
Ravellian spin may seem destined to fail because it is based on good faith, on a naivety that does not abound at that level of politics, and of which he [Ravell] is precisely the antithesis. But it ends up having a considerable effect, because it says exactly what the opposition audience wants to hear. This willingness to accept even the most implausible stories, provided that they reinforce one’s beliefs and crystallized points of view, is the sociological basis of the phenomenon of post-truth that works, in this case, in favour of the right wing leadership.
Ravell played with the pieces of [Guaido’s] “interim government” to lessen the effects of the disaster. From Bogota in Colombia, pseudo-ambassador Humberto Calderón Berti was in charge of giving the explanation, with an air of diplomacy taken from the Fourth Republic (2), stating that great leaders cannot ask for the criminal records of everyone who wants to take a photo with them.
Many hours later, the man himself appeared on the scene and repeated the official alibi, making an attempt to go on the offensive with a gambit typical of the political communications laboratories: he said that people should not wonder why he was photographed with the paramilitaries, but rather through what criminal connections those photos came into the hands of [National Constituent Assembly President] Diosdado Cabello. He also stated that the fact that he had run into such subjects is the fault of the “government of drug barons” of Nicolas Maduro.
Immediately, both his Communications Centre (i.e. Ravell), and the battalion of supposedly independent media outlets, journalists, commentators and social media influencers devoted themselves to the task of turning this weak excuse and loose counterattack into a masterful piece of political rhetoric.
Colombian President Ivan Duque and former President Andrés Pastrana, as well as other figures, joined efforts to lift Guaido out of the swamp. The former called him a hero and a titan, regardless of who he appeared with in photos while the latter floated the thesis that Guaido had been set up.
Duque tried to soak it up because the scandal obviously impacted him personally. Much of the evidence presented along with the famous photos of Guaido with the Los Rastrojos drug lords indicates that the Colombian government carried out a joint operation with this dangerous criminal organisation to provide transport for the Venezuelan deputy on its side of the border. If this hypothesis is confirmed, the already well-known links between Uribism (3) and the paramilitaries would become even clearer.
Euphemisms from Bogota and the World
The affair of the photos with the drug-baron paramilitaries has already provided much study material in political sciences, sociology and mass communication.
In the latter, for example, the single semantic analysis of the content disseminated by large media outlets of hegemonic capitalism is already a demonstration of the unavoidable ideological bias of those who claim to be the architects of independent journalism.
In this respect, the large Colombian media outlets, especially in Bogota, took the laurels with decaffeinated epithets describing the photos of Guaido with the renowned border criminals as “uncomfortable” or “controversial.”
So did the large international news agencies as well as the Spanish press, always so careless in their use of adjectives when the characters involved are from the revolutionary camp, even when the “reports” are based on falsehoods and half-truths. They brought out the most aseptic instruments available to treat their pampered leader, including an endless drumbeat of “supposed,” “alleged” and other conditional verbs.
Not coincidentally, the same media outlets that mount huge opinion matrices without any kind of evidence, attempted to lay a thick mist of doubt about what is evident in this case.
After the fatal knockout, the press and social media apparatus strived to whitewash the dirty image of the character they have been calling “interim president” since he swore himself in in January this year.
One of the tactics used has been to make people believe that the original denouncement was made by the Venezuelan government, meaning that it can be considered part of the typical attacks of political debate. It is deliberately concealed that the photos were published by Wilfredo Cañizares, a Colombian human rights activist, who has already denounced the criminal activities of Los Rastrojos, including the terrible “butcher shops” where the criminal organisation quarters people up.
Another form of whitewashing is through the use of the already mentioned sweetened words. “A political storm” is mentioned, and Maduro’s government is said to “accuse,” rather than saying that the case is based on evidence that has already been technically verified.
In some cases, the whitewashing operation is mostly a matter of image use. That’s why these outlets broadcast numerous scenes of Guaido taking selfies with good people, especially youth and women. They also published notes on the case of Los Rastrojos, but without using the photos in which Guaido appears with “el Menor” and “the Brother,” but rather images of Maduro surrounded by the military in campaign uniforms. To put the scandal itself out, they sought to strengthen the idea that Venezuela intends to launch a military assault on Colombia.
The alternative scandal
During these trances, media and social network apparatuses in its manuals usually have another action prepared: something which will blow up as soon as possible, an alternative scandal, capable of covering the one that is hurting them.
The big firms of Venezuela’s investigative journalism must be busy on this. This would explain why they haven’t written a single line about Los Rastrojos, despite claiming to be well-informed.
A first sign of an alternative scandal is the information that looks to create controversy about the foreign currency income of the senior military command. But in the next few hours they might find something more shocking. No one said the task of press or social media spin is easy. That’s why they are well paid.
(1) Alberto Ravell is a right wing multimillion dollar Venezuelan-Colombian media mogul living in Colombia. During the pre-Chavez era he held positions including the director of the National Information Centre (1974-8) and president of the State TV channel Venezolana de Television (1984). He helped found right wing TV stations TeleVen (1988) and Globovision (1994). More recently, he founded hard-right website LaPatilla.com (2010) and Colombian news network Cablenoticias (2011). He was named as Guaido’s ‘National Communications Centre Director’ in 2019 to lead the opposition leader’s communications policy. He has been linked to non-democratic efforts to topple the current government, including attempted presidential assassinations, sabotage, and coup d’états. He was successfully sued for libel by National Constituent Assembly President Diosdado Cabello.
(2) The Fourth Republic is the period in Venezuelan history previous to 1999 when Hugo Chavez assumed the presidency and broke with decades of dual-party power sharing in which mainstream parties Democratic Action and COPEI alternated governments.
(3) Uribism refers to those who follow Colombian hard-right former President Alvaro Uribe. During his time as president he discussed plans for military action against neighbouring Venezuela. Uribe is currently facing trial in Colombia on charges of manipulating testimony linking him with paramilitary groups.
Clodovaldo Hernández is a Venezuelan journalist who has written for left leaning news sites SupuestoNegado and Aporrea.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.
Translation and additional notes by Paul Dobson for Venezuelanalysis.