“Crisis in the Americas” – A Page Out of Washington’s Propaganda Playbook on Venezuela

The American Security Council Foundation just released a "documentary" which paints Venezuela's democratically-elected President Hugo Chavez as a maniacal dictator attempting to take over the Western Hemisphere.  The documentary may be new, but the spin is a page out of Washington's decades-old propaganda playbook.

What does the founder of the U.S. House of Representatives
Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, the son of an advisor and
close friend of Cuba's
former Dictator Fulgencio Batista, and the great-grandson of the legendary
Baseball Hall of Famer, Connie Mack, all have in common?[1]

They are all Florida residents, staunch Republicans,
anti-Castro Cuban activists, government officials, and they all participated in
the newly-released scandalous half-hour American Security Council Foundation "documentary,"
which spins lies and unsubstantiated claims to paint Venezuela's democratically-elected
President Hugo Chavez as a maniacal dictator attempting to take over the
Western Hemisphere.

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum and Florida
Congressmen Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Connie Mack will be presenting their
documentary, entitled "Crisis in the Americas:
A Documentary on Dictator Hugo Chavez", at Miami's Doral Park Country Club, this

The only person missing from the trio is Otto Reich, who is
prominently interviewed in the film. 
Reich, an anti-Castro Cuban-born former US intelligence officer, played an
active role in the Iran-Contra scandal and the 2002 coup d'etat against
Chavez.  He also is the former director
of the covert Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean
(OPD), which among other things waged a propaganda campaign on the American
people in support of Reagan Administration interests in Central
America in the 1980s.  Now,
with "Crisis in the Americas,"
it appears that Reich and the American Security Council Foundation are playing
their old propaganda cards; this time with the focus on Venezuela. 

The Office of Public

In 1983, the Reagan government founded the OPD with Reich at
its helm.  According to Greg Grandin in
his recent book Empire's Workshop,
the OPD was "officially charged with implementing a ‘new, nontraditional'
approach to ‘defining the terms of the public discussion on Central American
policy.'" Staffed by psychological warfare operatives from the CIA and the U.S.
Army, the new office created a propaganda machine of unsubstantiated lies and
misrepresentations, which it disseminated to the American people by covertly
placing news in the US

According to a 1988 Propaganda Review article by Peter
Kornbluh, Reich and his staff disseminated countless documents and pamphlets "to hundreds of civic groups, rotary clubs,
and university audiences, [which] were invariably filled with innuendo,
rhetoric, and misinformation, meant to cast the [Nicaraguan] Sandinistas in the
worst possible light and the contras in the best."

"In its effort to
manipulate the media and the public mindset, OPD employed a tactic the CIA
frequently uses in foreign countries planting articles and stories in the press
under the names of third parties. Known in the intelligence community as
"white propaganda," these activities were conducted inside the United States
with the full knowledge of the White House."[3]

According to a "confidential" March 13, 1985
memorandum, OPD Deputy Director Jonathan Miller explained that stories were
placed at NBC, The Wall Street Journal,
The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsweek, USA Today and countless more outlets.[4]

Additionally, the OPD coordinated with PR firms to help
Administration Officials frame their debate. 
As Grandin points out, one 1985 PR "action plan" encouraged the use of
simple loaded phrases to paint the Nicaraguan Sandinistas as "evil," Soviet "puppets," "racist and repress human
rights," and "involved in US drug problems," the "military buildup," "the drug
connection," "human rights violations," and the "communist connection."[5]

The office also attempted to shift the debate from communism
to terrorism, accusing the Sandinistas
of having terrorist ties with the Middle East,
or of "anti-Semitism."

Grandin writes:

"By flooding the media
with questionable facts and allegations, the OPD forced Reagan's opponents to
dissipate their energies disproving allegations rather than making their own
positive case for nonintervention."[6]

The office was widely criticized after its involvement in
the Iran-Contra Scandal, and Congress ordered that it be shut down by for
engaging in a "prohibited convert propaganda operation."  Nevertheless, as the New York Times reported
at the end of 1987, "State Department officials say they will simply reorganize
the office, distributing its functions to other parts of the department."[7]

Reich continued with the State Department through the 1980s,
coincidentally as Ambassador to Venezuela, and was brought back in George W.
Bush's first term as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere
Affairs and a subsequent nomination as Special Envoy to the Western Hemisphere
in 2002, where it appears he played a fairly substantial role in assistance to
Pedro Carmona Estanga and other leaders of the short-lived 2002 coup d'etat against
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.[8]

The official Office of Public Diplomacy may have been closed
nearly twenty years ago, and Reich may no longer be with the White House, but
he still knows how to play his cards, and he pulls out all of the stops in "Crisis
in the Americas."

Nearly all of the PR catch phrases and allegations used by
the OPD against the Sandinistas on
the American people are once again employed against Venezuela in the documentary.  It is not the first time.  Countless unsubstantiated reports against Venezuela
have riddled the Internet and the mainstream press since President Chavez came
in to office in 1998.[9]
This is, however, the first time all of these claims have been formulated in to
a concise half-hour documentary, which goes so far as to call for US military
intervention in Venezuela to liquidate the Chavez "threat." 

"Crisis in the Americas"[10]

The movie, like a page straight out of the OPD, attempts to
link Chavez to terrorism, drug-trafficking, violence, despotism, Cuban communism,
stolen elections, the axis of evil, and "radical Islam" with quick sound-bites,
Orwellian double-speak, and an association of non-related, but negative images
and themes.  Of course, there is no hard

It opens with the voice of US President George W. Bush,

"My fellow citizens,
Americans have known surprise attacks, but never before on thousands of
citizens… We are a country awakened to danger, and called to defend

Laid on top of the audio are images from 9-11, and footage
from fighting in the middle east, as if attempting to make the subconscious
connection from the first moment that somehow Venezuela is supporting
terrorists, or perhaps had something to do with the 9-11 attacks.    

Bush continues, "Either
you are with us or you are with the terrorists,"

The screen zooms in on a map of Venezuela. 

Representative Connie Mack speaking before Congress,

"Hugo Chavez is an
enemy of Freedom that threatens the balance of power in the hemisphere…  Hugo Chavez is a threat, we must take him
seriously and we must act now…"

Representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart, speaking one of the
first blatant lies,

"Chavez is a dictator
and thus not a legitimate leader."

The movie continues with suspenseful music, and footage of
police, violence, and demonstrations from the 2002 coup d'état, that make it
appear as though Venezuela
is living in a state of repression and protest. 
The documentary makes tragically unsubstantiated claims on how
"unemployment and poverty have increased" under Chavez; how Venezuela is a
"Cuban colony"; how Chavez wants to "attack the United States"; how Chavez is a
"a member of the axis-of-evil… that wants to bring [the US] to our knees"; how
he is a "terrorist collaborator," a "subnormal psychopath"; how Chavez is
‘collaborating with the enemy- radical Islam"; how he is "motivated by envy and
resentment", is racist and machista,
"anti-Semitic", and "anti-Jew."

To make the terrorist link, the movie goes so far as to
claim that Venezuela has
issued passports for 300 radical Islamist terrorists and that Hezbollah is
operating a division out of Venezuela. 

To make the drug connection, it claims that he is building
his own "paramilitary" group; providing support to the Colombian guerrilla,
FARC; and a random reference that he may "wind up being the largest drug
kingpin in Latin America."

It follows the connections to Russia, and points to a
massive military buildup, which is completely unsubstantiated considering that
even under the most extreme estimates, Venezuela's 2007 defense budget is less
than 1% of that of the Pentagon.[11]

It claims China
wants to "substitute the United States
as the primary power in the western hemisphere," and calls Venezuela's
relationship to the Asian country, "extremely dangerous."

In an attempt to de-legitimize Chavez's presidency, it goes
so far as to resurrect a completely discredited claim that Chavez stole the
Venezuelan 2004 Recall Referendum- a point that even most members of the
Venezuelan opposition no longer believe. 
The movie claims that in the lead-up to the Referendum, "all the exit
polls, [were] unanimously 59-60% anti-Chavez." 
The claim is an outright and proven lie. 
The only poll that showed Chavez behind in the 2004 election was the one
conducted by the US-based, Penn, Schoen and Berland, which was being carried
out on behalf of the opposition organization, Sumate.[12]

During a ghastly lament for the loss of a potential US
invasion opportunity, the movie even gets in a jab at Former US President Jimmy
Carter, whose Carter Center, along with the OAS certified the 2004 Referendum
as legitimate,

"For the Carter Center
to certify the phony elections that Chavez used to keep himself in power… that
completely undermined any effort we could have made at a time to try and
restore a real democratic system in Venezuela, and we didn't stand by the
Venezuelan opposition.   We have to stop
letting the Jimmy Carters of the world dictate the agendas of the United States in the Western

The documentary then calls the US to action:

Connie Mack:

"It is very important
that the US
act now… instead of waiting until he is able to build up either forces or

Bill McCollum:

"Whether or not we
remove his presence politically, or isolate him, remains to be seen, but if he
continues to grow as a threat… then at some point we have to take real action
to stop him.  Is that military
action?  I hope not, but if that's what
it takes to do it, then I think ultimately that's what we're going to have to

The video ends with a quote from Connie Mack which, as if
out of a PR textbook perfectly frames the last words of debate for the United

"To me this whole
debate is simple, Chavez wants policies of destruction and despair, and we want
policies of hope and opportunity, he wants to limit policies of hope and
opportunity for the people of Latin America." 

While the entire structure may appear to have been taken
directly from the OPD file, Reich shouldn't be given all of the credit.  "Crisis in the Americas" is far from the first
such propaganda-style video that the four-decade-old American Security Council
Foundation (formerly the American Security Council- ASC) has produced.  

American Security
Council Foundation (ASCF)

Since its support of McCarthyism in the 1950s, the
organization, which has close ties to the US military industrial complex, the
Republican party, and US intelligence personnel, has spent millions of dollars
and produced countless videos and books attempting to promote its vision of the
communist threat and the need for increased US military expenditure.  In 1980, ASC produced the similarly named
"Attack on the Americas!"
in which it called for a stronger stance against the spread of communism in the

According to a 1981 NACLA review, which called the documentary
"biased and distorted,"

"‘Attack on the Americas' argues for U.S.
support to unpopular military dictatorships in El
Salvador, Guatemala,
and elsewhere in the Americas.
It claims, despite widespread findings to the contrary by international organizations,
church groups, and the U.S.
government, that these governments have not violated human rights. The film
concludes with a plea for increased military strength in order to protect the United States' geopolitical and economic
interests in Central America and the Caribbean."

In the same NACLA article, Phillip
Wheaton, then director of the Ecumenical Program on Central
America and the Caribbean (EPICA) points out:

"The film has a double message or argument … [first] a
rhetorical, redbaiting warning against the steadily growing and intentional
strategy of the Soviet Union to take over the Caribbean basin and to march
inexorably northward through Central America, country by country, until they
are at our border. Thus the Americas
are 'under siege' and through Cuban intervention, the Soviets intend to 'slash'
the Americas
in half. The second message is an attack on the Carter administration's human rights
philosophy as naive."[14]

With a little rearranging, the substitution of Venezuela
for the Soviet Union, and the focus
on South rather than Central America, nearly the same quote could be said about
ACSF's latest film, "Crisis in the Americas," even down to the attack
on Jimmy Carter.  Once again,
unsubstantiated claims are refurbished with the goal of persuading public

History often repeats itself and ACSF and Reich know
the propaganda playbook by heart.  The
question is if the American people will take steps to call them on it, or if
they will continue to be duped by their PR spin and "manufactured consent" that
not only brought us Central America in the 1980s, but the war in Iraq, Afghanistan,
potentially now, Iran, and
perhaps one day, Venezuela.

[1] Oscar
Corral, "New Díaz-Balart in Congress adds to family's growing political
dynasty", The Miami Herald, Miami, Florida:
January 6, 2003 (http://www.cubanet.org/CNews/y03/jan03/06e5.htm)

[2] Greg
Grandin, Empire's Workshop: Latin
America, the United States,
and the Rise of New Imperialism
, New
York: Metropolitan Books, 2006, p. 124-136

[3] Peter
Kornbluh, "Reagan's Propaganda Ministry", Propaganda
, San Francisco:
Number 2, Summer 1988

[4] Johnathan
S. Miller, Declassified Memorandum,
OPD: Washington DC, March 13, 1985 (http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB40/)

[5] Grandin

[6] Grandin

[7] "WASHINGTON TALK: BRIEFING; Shut and Open", New York Times, New York:  December 30, 1987 (http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B0DE5DC143AF933A05751C1A961948260)

[8] Thomas Blanton, "Public Diplomacy and Covert
Propoganda:  The Declassified Record of
Otto Juan Reich", National Security
Washington DC: March 2, 2001 http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB40/
and Ed Vulliamy, "Venezuela coup linked to Bush team", The Guardian, New York: April 21, 2002 (http://observer.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,688071,00.html)

[9] Michael Fox, "A U.S. Intelligence Hoax on
Venezuela?", Venezuelanalysis, Caracas, Venezuela: April 19, 2006 (http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/1705)

[10] "Crisis
in the Americas"
(Link to short preview on the ASCF website) and: http://www.borev.net/2007/10/hey_look_what_i_did.html
(full video with subtitled commentary from BoRev.net editor)

[11] Approximately
$4.2 Billion (Venezuela) vs $439.3 Billion (United States) Simon Romero,
"Venezuela Spending on Arms Soars to World's Top Ranks" New York Times,
Caracas, Venezuela: February 25, 2007 (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/25/world/americas/25venez.html?ex=1330059600&en=25be50a9a3dfea93&ei=5088)
page 19

[12] Chris
Carlson, "Coup D'etat in Venezuela:
Made in the USA", ZNet, Merida, Venezuela:
November 24, 2006 http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=45&ItemID=11471

American Security Council Foundation Website (http://www.ascfusa.org/) and
International Relations Center Group Watch: American Security Council (http://rightweb.irc-online.org/groupwatch/asc.php)

[14] Ruth
McDonough Fitzpatrick, "Attack on the Americas!

Counterrevolution", NACLA's Report on the Americas:  March-April 1981