U.S. Companies Behind Anti-Reform Propaganda in Venezuela

Thousands of Venezuelans, many of them Chavez
supporters, have bought the exaggerations and lies about Venezuela's
Constitutional Reform that have been circulating across the country for
months.  Just a few weeks ago, however,
the disinformation campaign ratcheted up various notches as opposition groups
and anti-reform coalitions placed large ads in major Venezuelan papers.

By Michael Fox - Venezuelanalysis.com
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"I
voted for Chavez for President, but not now. 
Because they told me that if the reform passes, they're going to take my
son, because he will belong to the state," said Gladys Castro last week, a
Colombian immigrant who has lived in Venezuela for 16 years, and cleans
houses for a living. 

Gladys
is not the only one to believe the false rumors she's heard.  Thousands of Venezuelans, many of them Chavez
supporters, have bought the exaggerations and lies about Venezuela's
Constitutional Reform that have been circulating across the country for
months.  Just a few weeks ago, however,
the disinformation campaign ratcheted up various notches as opposition groups
and anti-reform coalitions placed large ads in major Venezuelan papers. 

The
most scandalous was an anonymous two-page spread in the country's largest
circulation newspaper, Últimas Noticias,
which claimed about the Constitutional Reform:

"If you
are a Mother, YOU LOSE! Because you will lose your house, your family and your
children (children will belong to the state)." 

The
illegal ad, which was caught and suspended by the Venezuelan National Electoral
Council (CNE) after a few days in the press, has received relatively
high-profile attention in the Venezuelan press, and even Chavez joked about it
last Friday on the nightly pro-Chavez talk show, La Hojilla.  What appears to
have gone completely ignored, however, is the fact that the ad itself was
placed by an organization which has at its core, dozens of subsidiaries of the
largest US corporations working in Venezuela.    

Disinformation & Propaganda

The
scare tactic against Venezuelan mothers isn't the only piece of misinformation
in the anonymous advertisement.  Under
the title, "Who wins and who loses," it goes on to tell readers that under the
new reform, they will lose their right to religion; that 9.5 million people
will lose their job; that small, large or cooperative businesspeople will lose
their "store, home, business, taxi or cooperative"; that urban, rural and
mountain militias are going to replace the National Armed Forces; that students
will lose their right to decide what they want to study; that campesinos are going to lose out because
they won't be owners of their own land; and that the value of the Venezuelan
currency, the Bolivar, is going to drop along with the value of Venezuelan
homes, cars, farm lands (finca), and educational studies. 

Comments
in the ad refer to specific reformed articles in the Constitution, as if
providing a reference for readers to verify the claim.  Of course, briefly examining the article in
reference verifies that each claim is either completely false, or a ridiculous
exaggeration and manipulation of the reform. 
Article 112, for instance, which the advertisement says will take
Venezuelan children from their families, in actuality discusses economic
development and production.

Last
week, after a barrage of illegal propaganda on the part of both the pro and
anti reform camps, Venezuela's
National Electoral Council (CNE) began to crack down, following through with
their promise to regulate the propaganda. 
In an announcement last week, Tibisay Lucena, President of the CNE made
specific reference to the "Who wins and who loses" piece, pointing out its
illegality because of the falsities and its anonymity.  Although published as an anonymous article,
Lucena announced that according to the official tax number (RIF) published with
the article, the advertisement was actually placed by the Cámara de Industriales del
estado Carabobo
(The Carabobo State Chamber of Industry). 

The Carabobo State
Chamber of Industry (CIEC)

The
CIEC is a 71 year-old organization, headquartered in the Carabobo state capital
of Valencia, which groups together more than 250 businesses in the region.  Among those are dozens of subsidiaries which
compose literally a who's who list of some of the largest and most powerful US
corporations, including (among others): 
Ford, General Motors, DaimlerChrysler, Bridgestone Firestone, Goodyear,
Alcoa, Shell, Pfizer, Dupont, Cargill, Coca-Cola, Kraft, Novartis, Unilever,
Heinz, Johnson & Johnson, Citibank, Colgate Palmolive, DHL and Owens
Illinois.

Without
a doubt, the region carries important weight with heavy US interests.  The new US
Ambassador to Venezuela,
Patrick Duddy, even said so when he visited Carabobo a few weeks ago on his
first official trip within Venezuela. 

"Valencia
is a very important industrial center with a presence of American companies
that create thousands of jobs and that also run social programs that benefit
both their surrounding communities and their employees," said Ambassador Duddy.

According
to an article on the US
embassy website, during his stay in Valencia, Duddy met the board of
the Venezuelan-American Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the board of
Fedecámaras in Carabobo, and with a number of the above mentioned subsidiaries,
including GM, Chrysler, and Ford.  He
also spent time with the CIEC board, and in particular, then CIEC President
Ernesto Vogeler, who also happens to be Chief Executive Officer for Protinal/Proagro,
a subsidiary for the Ag Processing, Inc. (AGP), an Omaha-based AG coop.

In a
normal state of affairs, this would all seem completely normal: The foreign
ambassador meeting with his country's major subsidiaries, and the president of
the chamber of industry to which they belong. 
However, we should briefly remember the role that US businesses have
played across Latin America, whether we are talking about the United Fruit
Company's destabilization attacks against Guatemala's
democratically-elected President Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán in the 1950s, or Anaconda
Copper's support of the overthrow of Chile's Salvador Allende in the
1970s.  Alcoa, GM, Citibank and most of
the above-mentioned companies know how to throw their weight around, be it by
technically legal, or more subversive means.    

Reforms

Of
course, it makes sense why US
corporations based in Venezuela
would be against the reform.  Various
articles, if applied, could potentially cut in on potential profits, such as
the reform of article 301.  Under the
1999 Constitution this article stated:

"Foreign
people, businesses, and organisms can not be given more beneficial concessions
than those established for national entities." 

However,
under the reform, the last sentence was cut:

"Foreign
investment is subject to the same conditions as national investment."

One can
thus infer that national investment may be given more favorable conditions than
foreign investment.

Article
115 protects new forms of social and collective property, which anti-reform
proponents fear may be used to expropriate private property.

On top
of this, the Venezuelan government recently passed new rules on the growing
automobile industry in Venezuela, which may have US automobile giants, GM,
Chrysler, and Ford nervous about their the foreseeable future in
Venezuela.  Although car sales in Venezuela have
jumped by nearly 300% over the last three years, in an attempt to push for more
domestic production, the Venezuelan government has passed new laws regulating
the automobile industry, according to an early November article in the
Venezuelan daily El Nacional.  Among them, the requirement of an "import
license" in order to sell foreign cars, the mandate to install natural gas
inputs in all vehicles produced after 2007, and the importation of only
unassembled motors after 2010, in order to use to use nationally produced motor
parts.

Protests in Valencia

According
to reports, in Valencia
last week, full color CIEC fliers against the reform were passed out during
opposition student marches.  According to
today's major papers, violent protests in Valencia yesterday left one dead,
various wounded, and at least 15 detained.

It
would be irresponsible to make accusations without evidence, but it is
important to be conscious of where our information is coming from, if it is
verifiable, and who are the interests involved. 
This is the case now, only a few days before Venezuela's Constitutional Reform
Referendum.  Hopefully the Venezuelan
people will be able to decipher fact from fiction and make their own educated
decision whether to vote "sí" or "no" next Sunday.

Like
Gladys Castro, who has reconsidered her staunch position against the
reform.  As she said last week, when she
realized that the rumors she has been hearing are false, "Well, I'm going to
read [the reform], think some more, and maybe I will vote for it after
all."  She's probably not the only one.

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