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Opinion and Analysis: Media Watch

Statement in Support of the Documentary Film “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”

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We write to express our deepest support for public viewings and screenings of the award-winning documentary film, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” In light of the recent suspension of the film’s screening at the Amnesty International Film Festival to be held at the Pacific Cinematheque in Vancouver, British Columbia, from November 6-9, 2003, as a result of pressure from opposition groups in Venezuela and their international counterparts, we find it essential to declare our support for this revealing film, which evidences heinous human rights violations carried out during the April 2002 coup d’etat in Venezuela.

“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” is an extraordinary documentary by Irish filmmakers Kim Bartley and Donnacha O’Briain, who by happenstance were able to document the events surrounding the April 2002 coup d’etat against democratically elected President Chávez of Venezuela. The filmmakers were able to remain in the presidential palace in Venezuela and document while opposition forces violently overtook the government and dismantled Venezuela’s pillar democratic institutions, including the National Assembly, the Supreme Court, the Constitution and the offices of the Ombudsman and Attorney General. The film exposes the atrocious human rights violations committed with the purpose of executing the coup successfully, including:

· The extrajudicial killing of more than 50 people;
· The torture of pro-government supporters and government officials;
· The kidnapping and unlawful detention of President Chávez for a 48-hour period;
· The arbitrary arrest and persecution of pro-government supporters and officials;
· The violation of rights to political participation and self-determination by unjustly imposing an unelected de facto government on citizens;
· The violation of freedom of expression and public access to information by perpetuating a media-led blackout on information during the mass protests demanding President Chávez’s return to power, and distorting news and manipulating images that were used as justification for violence, aggression and the coup itself.

These crimes violate fundamental rights embodied in the American Convention on Human Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man and the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Amnesty International has documented these atrocities in their 2003 Annual Report: http://web.amnesty.org/report2003/Ven-summary-eng.

The film is presently being screened at film festivals and theaters around the world. It has provided insight into a historical event with exclusive footage that reveals details of this unconstitutional and undemocratic overthrow of an elected-leader that were previously omitted by the international mass media. As protectors and defenders of international human rights, we strongly believe this film is poignant evidence of human rights violations carried out by the coup leaders. By allowing the international public to view this documentary account of the events of April 2002, the audience is able to bear witness to these inexcusable acts and arrive at their own conclusions.

We find it unacceptable that Amnesty International, a worldwide organization campaigning for internationally recognized human rights, would bow down to pressure from groups opposing the film’s subject matter and therefore remove it from its upcoming festival in British Columbia. Amnesty International has decided to eliminate the film from their upcoming festival based on two reasons: 1) Amnesty International claims the film’s subject matter does not address human rights issues; and 2) Amnesty International believes that screening the film would further polarize the Venezuelan people and potentially create more violence within Venezuela.

These reasons are without justification. First of all, the film specifically documents the above-mentioned human rights abuses as a result of opposition forces carrying out an illegal coup d’etat, dismantling democratic institutions and imposing a blackout on information so facts would not be revealed to either the Venezuelan people or the international community. Additionally, Amnesty International independently selected the film as a part of its festival in Canada. Therefore, the organization must have believed the film’s subject matter was in line with the festival theme. It was only upon receipt of a petition from opposition forces in Venezuela and their international counterparts that Amnesty decided to remove the film from the festival schedule. Finally, since the film is currently showing in theaters around the world, its viewing at a festival in Vancouver, Canada would no more affect internal Venezuelan politics than any other screening.

Amnesty International claims to work in pursuit of universal protection and recognition of human rights and to maintain an independence of any government, political ideology, economic interest or religion. Yet, by choosing to remove the film from its festival, it is siding with those groups opposing its factual content and documentary perspective. Furthermore, we view this as an outright case of censorship of this important portrayal of historical events central to the theme of human rights and believe it is deplorable that an international defender of human rights would choose to censor in the face of pressure, rather than vehemently protect the paramount right of public access to information. By taking this action, Amnesty International is perpetuating the blackout on information imposed by the coup leaders in Venezuela during April 2002.

If Amnesty International is truly concerned with the impartial protection of human rights, it would follow that screening a film that exposes horrific human rights violations would be in line with its mission. We therefore urge Amnesty International to reconsider its decision to revoke the film, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”, from the upcoming festival in Vancouver, British Columbia. We also reiterate our profound support for this important chronicle of the unjustifiable coup d’etat of April 2002 in Venezuela that resulted in innocent lives lost and harmed and the deprivation of basic human rights.

Initial endorsing organizations and individuals:

  • International Women’s Human Rights Clinic, CUNY Law School, New York
  • Venezuela Solidarity Committee in New York
  • Unión Nacional de Trabajadores (UNT)
  • Aporrea.org
  • Opción de Izquierda Revolucionaria (OIR)
  • Movimineto 13 de Abril - Proyecto Nuestra América
  • UTOPIA
  • Juventud de Izquierda Revolucionaria (JIR)
  • Fundación Cultural Simón Bolívar
  • Coordinadora Simón Bolívar
  • Círculo Bolivariano Profesor Alberto Lovera (New York)
  • Venezuelanalysis.com
  • Eva Golinger-Moncada
  • Martín Sánchez

 


In defense of "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised"

Through this document we would like express our strong support for the public screenings of the award-winning documentary "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." Also, we would like to address some false claims made by a Venezuelan opposition group called Recivex, its president Ms. Maria Teresa Van der Ree, and the Venezuelan web magazine El Gusano de Luz seeking to discredit Venezuela’s current government, and to censor the screening of the documentary.

"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" is an excellent documentary made by two Irish filmmakers who had the luck to be at Presidential Palace at the time the coup d’etat against Venezuela’s twice democratically-elected President Chavez took place in April 2002. The many awards and excellent reviews that this documentary has garnered internationally can be seen at www.chavezthefilm.com. Regardless of one's personal feelings about Hugo Chavez and his government, the film is a historical document, and deserves to be seen.

The well-coordinated campaign to pressure Amnesty International and other groups to censor the exhibition of the documentary is part of an effort to silence those who have denounced horrendous human rights violations that were committed during the coup d’etat against President Chavez and during the dictatorship that briefly replaced him. These violations include:

  • arbitrary arrests,
  • extra judicial killings,
  • torture
  • kidnappings
  • persecution,
  • violation of the rights of assembly and freedom of expression.

All of this occurred under a dictatorial rule that abolished the Constitution, dissolved the elected National Assembly, the Supreme Court, and fired all state governors, the Attorney General and the Human Rights Ombudsman.

Indeed, the film’s main arguments and its account of events can be validated by numerous international media reports and by Amnesty International’s own 2003 report on Venezuela. http://web.amnesty.org/report2003/ven-summary-eng

We would like to address some of the specific points raised by the opposition regarding the film’s content:

First, those who are promoting the censorship of this documentary deny that a coup even occurred, contradicting international consensus on the matter, including Amnesty International’s own description of the events. El Gusano de Luz refers to the dictatorship that briefly replaced Chavez as “the transition presidency”, and Chavez’s removal from power by force as “Chavez’s exit”. They claim that Pedro Carmona, the business leader who assumed dictatorial powers after Chavez’s overthrow, “took refuge in the Embassy of Colombia,” after he was deposed, not mentioning the fact that the former dictator took advantage of the privilege of house arrest to escape from state authorities.

Second, those who oppose the showing of the documentary try to justify the coup d’etat by insisting on the absurd argument that President Chavez had resigned. The film clearly shows government officials emerging from a meeting with the military high command late that evening, saying “Chavez has not resigned,” as the President is led away by soldiers. The fact is that Chavez did not sign any resignation, and that in the event that he had done so, the Vice President should have properly assumed power, not an opposition businessman supported by military officers.

Third, the argument that the showing of a neighbors meeting held in June 2002 to defend against “Bolivarian Circles,” was done as if it happened before the coup, is pointless. The filmmakers don’t claim that the meeting took place before April 11. They present the meeting as an example of how the upper class resents Chavez. It is not presented as subversive or as proof of coup plotting by rich housewives, which is what El Gusano de Luz implies. Arguments by the neighbors, and their concern for their safety, has more to do with the opposition leaders’ and the media’s campaign to implant fear in the minds of the rich and middle classes with claims that hordes of poor Chavez supporters are ready to take away their personal fortunes. It is also a manifestation of the white elite’s fear of a politically active mass of the population, who are mostly mestizo, black and Amerindian.

Fourth, the massive character of the opposition demonstration the day of the coup can’t be denied, and the film does show and say that opposition leaders managed to mobilize massive numbers of people after an extensive media campaign of continuous anti-Chavez political shows and ads during the three days before the coup.

Fifth, El Gusano de Luz refers to the crowd in front of the Presidential Palace on April 11 as “presumed working classes” in a desperate effort to undermine Chavez’ undisputed support by the poor. The support that the President has among the working classes is a fact that is easily verifiable by anyone familiar with Venezuela or by media reports readily available on the internet. It is a fact that thousands of Chavez’ supporters gathered near the Presidential Palace that day, and that music was played and political speeches made at a stage that was later destroyed by opposition militants. The violent character of these militants can be clearly seen in the documentary as they destroy sound equipment used by Chavez’ supporters and destroy a wall to use the concrete blocks as weapons.

Sixth, the President’s orders to the media to carry the government’s channel’s signal was done according to law specifically in cases of national security. It has been common practice by previous administrations, and its use by Chavez was in the context of the media’s obvious involvement in the coup in progress, as admitted by them the morning after.

Seventh, the claim that the journalist Andres Izarra, who resigned from a private television station for not wanting to go along with their “zero-Chavez coverage” policy, now works for the government is a very poor argument in defense of the private media. The media’s unethical practices have been well documented by groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and by hundreds of news and opinion articles around the world. See Venezuela's Media Coup by Naomi Klein in The Nation. www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml%3Fi=20030303&s=klein) and Was the White House behind the failed military coup in Venezuela? By Democracy NOW! http://archive.webactive.com/pacifica/demnow/dn20020418.html)

Eight, it is a fact that journalist Luis Alfredo Fernandez of TV network Venevision, who recorded a video of Chavez supporters shooting from a bridge the day of the coup, confessed during the trial of these men, that at the moment of shooting the video, he did not know whom these pro-Chavez civilians were shooting at. Nevertheless, at the time that the video was shown by all the commercial TV channels, the news anchor at Venevision asserted that "they are shooting against hundreds of innocent demonstrators", with the clear intention to incriminate these men and President Chavez. Del Valle Canelon, a journalist for the Globovision TV network, declared during the same trial that in her video one can see the group of pro-Chavez supporters shooting, but against the Metropolitan Police, not against “innocent demonstrators”. Globovision did not broadcast that video (See www.aporrea.org/dameverbo.php?docid=8595 - in Spanish).

Ninth, it is a fact that those accused of the killings of several people that day by shooting from that bridge, were acquitted of all charges during a trial after spending a year and 5 months in jail. During the trial it was proven that the shootings were in self-defense against Metropolitan Police officers and sharpshooters. The trial of police officers accused of the killings is set to start in November of 2003. The Metropolitan Police is controlled by the Mayor of Caracas Alfredo Peña, a prominent leader of the opposition.

Some comments about Human Rights in Venezuela

There is no state-sponsored death penalty or torture in Venezuela, and AI knows that very well. It is totally absurd to assert the opposite as Ms. Van der Ree argues in a clear attempt to mislead non-Venezuelans who are not familiar with the country.

There have been extra-judicial executions in the country, but none of them by the federal government or national police. In fact, the main victims of extra judicial executions and disappearances have been people who are supporters of the government, especially indigenous peasant land activists who have fallen victim of wealthy landowners opposed to the government and the new land reform aimed to redistribute the land. These killings have occurred mostly in states with opposition-controlled government and police.

There is no armed conflict in Venezuela. To denounce “human rights abuses against civilians and non-combatants by both sides during armed conflicts” is completely absurd in the case of Venezuela.

There are no political prisoners in Venezuela. The only ones were those who went to jail as a result of the media’s manipulation of a video showing them firing at an unspecified target. After spending a year and five months in jail, they were exonerated after a trial which demonstrated that they weren’t firing at “innocent demonstrators” but in self defense against police forces that were part of the coup movement. A group of people were recently charged with several crimes for their actions during the coup d’etat in Tachira State. Video footage and witness accounts show that these individuals invaded the governor’s residence, caused the destruction of his property, beat him up, exposed him to public ridicule, and detained him illegally. The charges were brought more than a year after the events and can’t be dismissed as merely political.

As could be seen in the video, in an effort by the government to preserve human rights and dignity, those who participated in the coup received special treatment, including house arrest instead of prison, in spite of the fact the they are responsible for overthrowing a democratically elected government and for the killing of dozens of Venezuelans during the coup and during the repression against grassroots activists and government supporters during the dictatorial period.

The new 1999 Venezuelan Constitution, which was drafted by democratically elected delegates and then approved in a national referendum, is regarded by many as the most advanced in the third world with regard to human rights. Indigenous peoples now have representation in the National Assembly (Congress), women’s rights are explicitly included in the Constitution, elected officials can be voted out of office via referenda, participatory - as opposed to representative - democracy is encouraged, etc.

While some may disagree on the specifics, it is perfectly legitimate to argue that the coup was led by Venezuelan richest elite and supported by the US government.

The dictator who replaced Chavez was the head of Venezuela’s Federation of Chambers of Commerce, which groups the country’s corporate elite. Among those who signed to support the dictatorial decree were top leaders of the Catholic Church and members of Opus Dei.

The main opposition strongholds are located in the upper class neighborhoods of eastern Caracas from where most of the opposition rallies originate, including the massive one organized the day of the coup.

The Venezuelan opposition, part of which is pressuring AI to not show this award-winning film, is led by people such as Venezuelan billionaire and media magnate Gustavo Cisneros who is owner of AOL, Coca-Cola, DirecTV and Pizza Hut in Latin America, Univision in the US, and Venezuela’s biggest TV network Venevision. Cisneros one of the main leaders and financer of the anti-Chavez movement, and is a personal friend of George Bush Senior.

For evidence of US involvement in the coup see compilation of articles “The US and the Coup in Venezuela” at www.thirdworldtraveler.com/South_America/US_Coup_Venezuela.html

  • American Navy 'Helped Venezuelan Coup'. The Guardian [UK]
  • Venezuela coup linked to Bush team Specialists in the 'dirty wars'. The Observer
  • Washington channeled funds to groups that opposed Chavez. Sydney Morning Herald
  • U.S. Papers Hail Venezuelan Coup as Pro-Democracy Move. FAIR
  • Latin America's Dilemma: Otto Reich's Propaganda is Reminiscent of the Third Reich. Counterpunch
  • Media accused in failed coup Venezuelan news executives defend themselves against allegations that they suppressed facts as the ousted president returned. St. Petersburg Times.

Regarding the film's representation of historical facts, there is no misrepresentation of the historic truth of the events happened in Venezuela.

A few easily verifiable facts presented by the documentary are:

  • There was a coup d’etat promoted by the rich elites and supported by the US.
  • Chavez did not resign.
  • The media was and still is deeply involved in campaigns to destabilize and/or overthrow the government. Those who want to censor the documentary have their ideas frequently covered and spread by the commercial media.
  • The majority of those who support Chavez are from the working class and are dark-skinned. This is a fact as solid as a rock, that can’t be denied or refuted.
  • The majority of those who oppose the President are from the upper or upper-middle class, and are mostly white or light-skinned. This does not imply the majority of opposition is racist or that there is no diversity in their racial composition, but it is a fact that’s easily verifiable. See Racist rage of the Caracas elite by Richard Gott (The Guardian www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,857027,00.html)
  • Chavez enjoys the biggest margins of popular support for any Venezuelan President at the mid term of his mandate. Opposition-controlled polling companies -the same who predicted Chavez’s defeat in the two elections he won with the highest percentages of vote in the country’s history- place his current numbers between 30 and 40 percent. Other polls give him 50% of popularity. This has led international agencies such as Fitch Ratings and Wall Street analysts to predict that Chavez will win a possible recall referendum on his mandate (See www.venezuelanalysis.com/news.php?newsno=1061). All this in spite of having all of the commercial media against him and in spite of the fact that the opposition’s economic sabotage and destabilization has resulted in the worst drop of GDP in the country’s history.

For more general information in English about the coup, visit Vheadline.com at http://tinyurl.com/tlzn

Based on all the arguments above and on the numerous awards and good reviews this excellent documentary has won, we urge you not to give in to pressure by a group of individuals who don’t want to see the truth revealed. Please stand up for your principles and show this documentary. Showing the historical events documented in this film could help prevent a repetition of the tragic events of April 11, 12 and 13 of 2002.

Yours truly,

  • Venezuela Solidarity Committee in New York
  • Venezuelanalysis.com
  • Aporrea.org
  • Unión Nacional de Trabajadores (UNT)
  • Opción de Izquierda Revolucionaria (OIR)
  • Movimineto 13 de Abril - Proyecto Nuestra América
  • UTOPIA
  • Juventud de Izquierda Revolucionaria (JIR)
  • Fundación Cultural Simón Bolívar
  • Círculo Bolivariano Profesor Alberto Lovera (New York)
  • Coordinadora Simón Bolívar
  • Eva Golinger-Moncada