Chavez has won again. The current referendum effectively ending
presidential term limits passed with over 54% of the vote. It
represents a larger margin than that gained by Barack Obama when he
defeated John McCain in the U.S. presidential elections. That was just
under 53%. It is also the sixth democratic election or referendum
Chavez has won, including his re-election victory after an attempted
U.S. backed coup in 2002 (1). And that was with over 700 international
election monitors present, including, representatives from the Carter
Center (2). So the question is why is Hugo Chavez portrayed in the
western media as such a threat?
the surface, the answer is simple. Chavez is in a unique position as
the democratically elected populist president of 6th largest country in
Latin America (and the first in regards to natural resources), to
reject the neo-liberal policies of the International Monetary Fund
(IMF), the World Bank, the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the U.S.
Treasury department and he has the financial ability to do so. This
makes him extremely unpopular with the Washington Consensus and the
global interests that they advance (3).
alone is not enough. The average citizen in the Western world has no
idea how the IMF works, who the World Bank is, or what the U.S.
Treasury department actually does. If they are lucky enough to have a
Union job they may have a vague idea of what the World Trade
Organization is about. (Mostly regarding the relocation of their jobs
Chavez is unpopular because the media portrays him as either, a) a
charismatic demagogue, or b) a would-be dictator. Rarely is he
portrayed as a popularly elected leader and social reformer despite the
overwhelming evidence in support of that conclusion (4). This is
because newspaper editors generally defer to stories which support and
protect U.S. interests (5).
one area that critics of the Chavez regime continue to stress is the
supposed lack of free speech in Venezuela. The reports by the New York
Times, the Washington Post, the BBC, and others, which suggest that
freedom of the press is curtailed, are simply not true. This erroneous
perception is based on the refusal to renew the operating permit of the
Venezuelan news outlet, Radio Caracas Television. This is the same news
outlet that has been linked to the failed 2002 coup against Chavez (6).
Of the eleven television stations currently operating in Venezuela,
seven are private corporations and "none maintain pro-Chavez stances"
(7). Of the more than 20 daily newspapers in Caracas, at least half are
critical against Chavez and his administration.
say that the media has an agenda of its own is self evident. To claim
that the media in the United States (and the Western world in general)
has a specific agenda to promote the socio- economic interests of
western democracy and globalization is not. Yet a not-so-subtle example
of the power of the media to serve those interests (often the unelected
officials of the WTO, IMF, World Bank, and the US Treasury Department)
can be found in the rejection by the media to show anything remotely
accurate about the real conditions in Venezuela or when it does do so,
it dismisses anything positive as propaganda. Instead, all that is
focused on is the nationalization of the oil business. Pushed aside are
the real social reforms that have come about as a result of this
instance, the program that brought 14,000 Cuban doctors who in turn
established 11,000 neighborhood clinics in some of the poorest
districts in Venezuela has largely gone unnoticed in the Western media.
The same oversight applies to the literacy programs that have taught
over a million adults how to read and write throughout the country.
Where are the stories on the new schools and universities that have
been built, most in the poorest districts (8)? Where are the positive
reports on the offer to sell discounted fuel for heating after the oil
shortages during Hurricane Katrina?
why does supposed unbiased, hard news media outlets such as the New
York Times, constantly choose to uphold the erroneous image of who Hugo
Chavez is and what he has accomplished? Well, it sells papers, but
that's not really enough. He is openly anti-American. But what exactly
does that mean? He doesn't like American foreign policy and the naked
self-interests that it protects. But is the media really that
are many reasons that Latin America needs Hugo Chavez. The most
obvious, is that he serves as a lightning rod for media criticism and
world perception, allowing other leaders such as Rafael Correa, Evo
Morales, and Lula da Silva, to weather the storm of the Washington
Consensus and implement social change and reform in their own countries.
perhaps a more esoteric reason is that the world needs competing
ideologies, a system of checks and balances, especially in a region
that has long been dominated by foreign interests and interference from
the Monroe Doctrine to the neo-liberal policies of globalization.
battle ground between the United States and Venezuela is being waged in
the media. How the media chooses to respond will go a long way towards
reestablishing the validity of journalism in the west.
(1) Pirates of the Caribbean by Tariq Ali
(4) Revolution! By Nikolas Kozloff
(8) Pirates of the Caribbean by Tariq Ali