Opinion and Analysis: Media Watch
The Observer Exclusive: Hugo Chavez is President of Venezuela
Majority world opinion was not stunned on February 3rd when the UK Observer’s web site reported a fact about Venezuela. Perhaps it should have been. After extensive investigative research with my own insecure image in the mirror, I can reveal that this undiplomatic low-level unintelligent source commented, “well, chop me off at the knees and call me tripod….” Fact : Hugo Chavez is the Venezuelan President.
John Carlin’s anti-Chavez propaganda piece, datelined the February 3rd, really does contain just that single item of substance, buried deep inside yet another fact-impoverished Observer report on Venezuela. It is the only relevant substantive fact in the article. The rest of Carlin’s piece consists almost entirely of allegations plucked from thin air and quotations from Colombian government patsies or from unidentified “high-level security, intelligence and diplomatic sources”.
Carlin’s main allegations are that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) depend heavily on Venezuelan support and that the Venezuelan civil and military authorities facilitate FARC narcotics dealing on a large scale as a matter of policy. He alleges, “Thirty per cent of the 600 tons of cocaine smuggled from Colombia each year goes through Venezuela.” But he offers no fact-based argument to support that claim. It seems to be based on a US State Department report which Carlin does not acknowledge.
Then he portentously asserts “In the end Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro made a public pronouncement in Uruguay in which he said, without addressing the substance of the allegations, that they were part of a ‘racist’ and ‘colonialist’ campaign against Venezuela by the centre-left Spanish newspaper El País, where I originally wrote about Farc and the Venezuelan connection.” Why should the Venezuelan authorities respond to allegations that have, in fact, no substance?
Carlin as US propaganda shill : drugs and terror
Before looking a bit more closely at Carlin’s self-evidently dishonest and insincere reporting, it needs placing in relation to the current campaign by the Bush regime and its allies in the European Union to discredit the government of Hugo Chavez. Recently US Drug Enforcement Agency official and US Southern Command military officers have accused the Chavez administration of failing to act forcefully to prevent narcotics trafficking and of being a destabilizing influence in the region. Carlin’s piece is likely to be recycled endlessly in mainstream media as “proof” of Venezuelan government links to narcotics and “terror”.
Recent US government accusations against Venezuela follow Venezuela’s own decision to cut links with the DEA because the Venezuelan authorities believed the DEA was itself trafficking drugs. In a January 22nd press conference this year, Nestor Reverol of Venezuela’s National Anti-Drugs Office said, “It is interesting that the US authorities say that, by third year in a row, Venezuela does not collaborate in the fight against drugs and that at the same time, the UN World Drug Report 2007 certifies that, also by the third year in a row, Venezuela is the third country with the largest seizures of drugs worldwide. It appears on pages 78 and 79 of that report…”
Suggesting that the Venezuelan government helps FARC inflict terror attacks on Colombia, Carlin’s article states disingenuously, “the Colombian army seems unlikely to succumb to the temptation to cross the border in violation of international law”. But as Justin Podur has written “Colombia’s war and the close relationship between the US and the Colombian military have provided the US with a base from which to monitor, and attack, Venezuela, a major oil producer with an independent political project of its own.”
When over a hundred Colombian fighters were located and arrested on a farm near Caracas in 2004 preparing for terrorist attacks in Venezuela they turned out to be Colombian paramilitaries. Men trained and supplied by the Colombian army and coordinated by anti-Chavez terrorists, like Roberto Alonso, protected by the US and Colombian governments. In effect Carlin is standing the facts on their head. Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe is intimately connected with the narcotics dealing terrorist paramilitaries who plague the frontier areas with Venezuela, regularly murdering rural workers and their families.
But it is Chavez whom Carlin sets out to tag with the terrorist label by accusing him of political support for the FARC. Carlin writes “What no one disputes, however, is that Chávez is a political ally of Farc (last month he called on the EU and US to stop labelling its members ‘terrorists’)…” In fact plenty of people might well dispute the sense implied by Carlin that Hugo Chavez is a political ally of the FARC. Carlin points to vague ideological sympathies, but does not offer a single verifiable instance of official material support on the part of the Venezuelan government to the FARC.
Chavez has regularly called for a lasting peaceful settlement of Colombia’s decades’ long civil war. Like many people he thinks such a settlement cannot be achieved by military means. Calling for recognition of the FARC as a belligerent force under international law is a necessary first step towards a settlement and by no means implies simple “support”.
Carlin may care to skew the intensive efforts by the Venezuelan government to promote humanitarian prisoner exchanges into a sign of “support”. But would he then characterize Astrid Betancourt - sister of FARC captive Ingrid Betancourt - as a supporter of the FARC? She was widely reported for remarking in Geneva on January 31st this year “the FARC are not a terrorist group they are a rebel group in arms against the Colombian State.”
To get an idea of the mediocrity and insincerity of Carlin’s reporting one just has to compare his work with that of a truly talented, morally outstanding investigative reporter, Gary Webb. Webb uncovered the systematic collusion of US government officials in narcotics dealing by the Nicaraguan Contra. Webb named individuals, both drugs dealers and government officials and businesses. He even posted his research material on a web site so critics could check it out for themselves. After being rubbished by morally corrupt US newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post, his work was finally vindicated.
In Carlin’s case, one might reasonably expect place names to indicate transit routes, dates of shipments, names of individual Venezuelan officials or army units. But there are none. Carlin quotes his “FARC deserter” source, “Rafael told how he had travelled once by car with Captain Pedro Mendoza of the National Guard to a military base outside Caracas called Fuerte Tiuna. He entered with the captain, who handed him eight rifles. They then returned to the border with the rifles in the boot of the car.” Does Captain Mendoza exist? What was his unit? Did Carlin try and talk to him or his superiors? Who knows? Carlin does not tell us.
Apart from the putative Captain Mendoza, another individual named is a murdered alleged drugs dealer called Wilber Varela. But Carlin does not allege that Varela was a member of the FARC. Nor does he link Varela to any Veneuzelan government or army official. He seems just to be a random conveniently-dead drugs dealer named to give Carlin’s article the false impression of containing some relevant facts.
Carlin names only one FARC leader, “Chávez’s contacts with Farc are conducted via one of the members of the organisation’s leadership, Iván Márquez, who also has a farm in Venezuela and who communicates with the President via senior officials of the Venezuelan intelligence service.” In reality, Marquez probably communicates with President Chavez and the President’s Venezuelan government colleagues by telephone, since he is one of the FARC leaders negotiating the humanitarian prisoner exchange FARC have been proposing for years and which has been consistently refused by Colombia’s narco-terror President Alvaro Uribe. How does Carlin know Marquez has a farm in Venezuela? Has he seen the land title or the escritura?
Fake news into policy fodder
While it is impossible to take Carlin’s farrago about the FARC and Venezuela seriously it is probably worth pointing out various things. Firstly, it would be extraordinary if the long Colombian-Venezuelan border were not used for contraband as such borders are the world over - whether the contraband is diesel or petrol fuel, drugs or anything else. That necessarily implies a culture of corruption on both sides of the border with plenty of Venezuelan civilian and military officials on the take. The Chavez government has acknowledged that corruption is a major social and political issue that they are trying to address.
That reality may well be the basis of Carlin’s completely unsubstantiated claim that Venezuelan civil and military authorities are colluding with the FARC as a matter of government policy. But Carlin goes much further in his baseless claims implying that the FARC depend on the Venezuelan government to be able to exist. That argument is absurd since the FARC has a decentralized command structure inside Colombia that has survived for over 40 years, long before Chavez came to power in Venezuela.
The nitty gritty of Carlin’s report is that it is yet one more quasi-journalistic text that will be fed into the mainstream corporate media propaganda machine. From there it will ooze into political processes like foreign policy committee deliberations in EU country parliaments and US Congress, greasing the way for Colombia’s narco-terrorist government to sustain foreign military aid. It offers a spurious but readily recyclable rationale for US and European government plans to counteract the success of Venezuelan and Cuban diplomacy and economic policy in Central America and the Caribbean.
But perhaps the most relevant point about Carlin’s particular brand of misreporting is that it confirms the intimate links between European mainstream media and European country governments and security services. Carlin’s piece is very much in the style of an older UK anti-journalist called Chapman Pincher. Pincher used to make a comfortable career writing screeds just like Carlin’s, based on unattributable sources, smear and guilt by association, regurgitating whatever the official propaganda line of the day may happen to have been.
The main reason now to read most Western Bloc corporate media is to discover what lies they are spreading on behalf of their countries’ governments and corporations. In the case of Venezuela, Carlin’s piece indicates that one can expect a ratcheting up of the propaganda war against Venezuela over the next year or so. The campaign’s virulence will be in direct proportion to three variables.
Firstly, will be the success of President Chavez in his efforts at
regional integration and South-South cooperation. Secondly will come
the failure of Colombia’s narco-terror President Alvaro Uribe to
resolve his country’s social and economic crisis. And thirdly will
figure the Bush regime’s perception of the rate of decline in US
influence in the Andes and the Caribbean. Carlin’s article is a clue
that a military provocation may well not be that far away.
toni solo is an activist based in Central America - articles archived at toni.tortillaconsal.com
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