The Houston Chronicle Lies About the Recall Referendum in Venezuela

In yet another example of the media offensive against Venezuela's Chavez, the Texan newspaper published an editorial full of inaccuracies and blatantly false statements

The Houston Chronicle’s May 23 editorial “CHAVEZ’S RECALL: Outside observers must monitor petition recount” contains several inaccuracies and blatantly false statements which raise serious questions about the journalistic integrity of that newspaper.

The article mentions an alleged “censorship” by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez but provides no evidence for it. In fact, Chavez is the only President in Venezuela’s recent history who has not shut down or censor a media outlet, except during the day of the coup d’etat in April 2002, when TV channels broadcasted military generals’ messages urging people to rebel against the government. The TV channels were clearly part of the plot to overthrow him, and that is an internationally known fact. TV commentators confessed their role on the coup the day after the events took place, without knowing that Chavez would be returned to power by mass mobilizations and by the actions of military officers respectful of the Constitution.

The only media outlets closed during Chavez’s presidency have been shut down by opposition city mayors. The government’s Telecommunications Commission’s (Conatel) headquarters were attacked with bombs last year. Both issues went largely ignored by the local and international media [1].

Groups such as Human Rights Watch have said that Venezuela enjoys full freedom of expression [2]. No single journalist has been jailed for doing his or her job. The president that preceded Chavez even jailed an astrologer who “predicted” his death. During Chavez’s term, for the first time in history it is possible to make fun of the current President or directly offend him using profanity through the mass media, without the government sending the police to censor them.

The only concrete actions against the media in Venezuela have been the confiscation of equipment used to broadcast in illegal microwave frequencies, and the government request that some TV stations pay their taxes [3]. Similar actions would have been taken by the US Federal Communications Comission FCC.

Chavez must allow observers, the editorial says. The Chronicle’s staff must know that it is not the President’s decision to allow or expel electoral observers. It is up to the autonomous National Electoral Council to do so. That same Council recently invalidated Chavez’s own signature against opposition lawmakers in the recall petition drive.

The Houston Chronicle’s editorial mentions an alleged initial refusal on the part of Chavez to allow observers from the OAS and the Carter Center. Such a statement is totally false, and the opposite could be argued. Chavez has only suggested that the OAS should send other observers, as some in the current delegation frequently meet with opposition politicians, raising questions about their impartiality. Never has Chavez said that he does not want any international observers in the country. In fact, months ago his party requested even more observers, a proposal that was rejected by the National Electoral Council.

Recently, electoral authorities approved the presence of even more international observers for the signature repair process, apart from the OAS and the Carter Center the Presidents of the Electoral Tribunals of Brazil, México, Panama, Uruguay and Paraguay, as well as OAS secretary general Cesar Gaviria and Jimmy Carter will be present.

The Houston Chronicle’s editorial claims that Chavez’s “own policies have dampened Venezuela’s economy.” Actually the opposite could be argued as there was solid economic growth during the first years of his presidency, which was later disrupted by opposition-sponsored lock-outs, coup d’etat, media campaigns, etc.

The worst historical blow to the country’s economy was the opposition’s lock-out, strike and sabotage of the oil industry at the end of 2002, and the beginning of 2003, causing a quarterly GDP drop of 27%. The editorial conveniently skips that well known fact and puts the blame on Chavez. Chavez’s policies implemented since then have propelled the economy out of that hole with a recovery of 30% for the first quarter of 2004 [4]. The IMF has predicted that Venezuela’s economy will grow 8.8% in 2004. Venezuela’s Country Risk is now lower than Brazil’s, and International Reserves reached yet another historical high last week. Where does the Houston Chronicle get its information?

The editorial expresses preoccupation for a possible fraudulent handling of the recall petitions which could affect the country’s stability and cause disruption of oil exports affecting CITGO’s operations in Houston. Although the presence of international observers, a vigilant opposition-aligned media, and the President’s popularity at 50% according to some polls, should be enough reasons to not be worried about a fraud on the part of Chavez, it is clear that opposition destabilizing actions such as the importation of Colombian paramilitaries to overthrow the government [5] are bigger threats to the country’s stability.

The Houston Chronicle’s misleading editorial is just another drop in a river of lies about Chavez’s nationalist and progressive presidency from important sectors of the US and European mass media. Fortunately, the existence of alternative media outlets, digital imaging, and the Internet makes the spreading of lies a little more difficult these days. The flow of alternative news about the current US experience in Iraq is an example of that.

The editorial can be read at the Houston Chronicle’s website (http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/editorial/2588149) or below.

The Houston Chronicle
May 23, 2004, 8:31PM
Outside observers must monitor petition recount

Venezuela has a strong democratic tradition that has been under attack during the troubled administration of President Hugo Chavez. Americans can only hope Venezuelan democracy is not subverted or destroyed over a recount later this month of some 1 million disputed signatures calling for an election to recall Chavez Aug. 8.

Chavez has a loyal following among Venezuela’s poor and has provided government assistance to improve their lives. But the former army colonel, who staged a failed coup in 1992, has turned more autocratic and dictatorial since being democratically elected president six years ago and again in 2000.

His censorship and other heavy-handed actions in governing the world’s fifth largest oil-exporting nation and his glowing friendship with Fidel Castro understandably have created fear among Venezuela’s middle and upper classes.

Their 3.4 million signature petition for a recall election is entirely justified.

Chavez’s initial refusal to allow the Organization of American States and the Atlanta-based Carter Center to participate in the recounting of the questioned signatures cast doubt on the recount’s integrity. Such presidential recalls are allowed in Venezuela’s constitution, and democracy demands Chavez abide by the constitution and not interfere with an honest recount.

Like Castro, Chavez blames all his troubles on the United States, which he accuses of wanting to invade Venezuela. Like Castro, his own policies have dampened Venezuela’s economy.

Houstonians have special reason to be concerned about Venezuela. Chavez controls the government-owned Petroleos de Venezuela, parent company of Citco, our city’s newest corporate citizen. While Chavez is unlikely to make good his threat to turn off the spigot of Venezuelan oil to the United States, fraudulent handling of the recall petition or subsequent election could destabilize Venezuela and interrupt its oil production.

While it appears that Chavez has changed his mind and will allow recount observers from the OAS and Carter Center, the situation could change.

Venezuela’s democracy hangs in the balance.

[1] Government victim of two new bomb attacks.http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news.php?newsno=1052

[2] Human Rights Watch: Venezuela Enjoys Full Democracy and Freedom of Expressionhttp://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news.php?newsno=1077

[3] Venezuelan Commercial TV Stations Failed to Declare Taxes for Free Anti-government Ads

[4] Venezuela’s Economy Up by 30% in First Quarter of 2004

[5] Total of 130 Detained in Venezuela Paramilitary Plot