Media Manipulation: Generalized Violence in Latin America and Venezuela

The media discover periodically that the most vulnerable point in Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela is not having known how to confront the endemic violence of a chaotic society. They hit hard in this way, especially now during the electoral campaign.

The media discover periodically that the most vulnerable point in Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela is not having known how to confront the endemic violence of a chaotic society. They hit hard in this way, especially now during the electoral campaign, which shows why precisely at this moment they seem to be interested in the violence in Sabana Grande [a major Caracas avenue], and why a murder in Chacaíto [a wealthy Caracas suburb] makes more noise than ten or one hundred corpses in San Pedro Sula (Honduras) or Medellín (Colombia). The political use of information about violence has contributed to hiding the hurricane of bullets that has been attacking Latin America over the past decade.  

Venezuela and especially Caracas are absurdly, sadly, scandalously violent; this author has been saying so for ten years. It is violent, very violent and increasingly so, despite that in ten years inequality has been reduced in Venezuela more than in any other place, according to the United Nations. Even though the legacy left by the Fourth Republic was a heavy burden, a decade is not such a short time period so as not to be able to judge. It is not a period of time that allows indulgences; it is, rather, evidence of absenteeism or incapacity, in the end, to understand how colossal the problem is.

The sad reality is that inclusive policies are not sufficient, reducing poverty is not enough, increasing well-being is not enough, giving more health care and education is not enough. And even where on a social level the situation has worsened in recent years, the difference is minimum. The sad reality is that what is lacking is much more than a popular government to control this disparity between rich and poor, between modernity and underdevelopment, unchecked consumerism and inequality, cocaine, alcohol, and infinite vices that attack in a different way but deteriorate both the ruling class and the popular classes in a large part of the region. In order to achieve Ernesto Guevara’s “new man” what is needed is a society with less alcohol and drugs in our bodies, less greed, fewer unfulfilled desires, fewer frustrations, less injustice, and more possibilities for everyone.

Reading the daily newspaper, it all seems so simple. If violence increases in Venezuela it is without a doubt the fault of socialism, that is to say, of Hugo Chavez. But if it becomes chronic in Mexico nobody takes the risk of suggesting that it is capitalism’s fault. Although Cuba may be the least violent place in the world, it occurs to nobody to attribute this, at the risk of being considered crazy, to some merit of the 50 years of revolution.

The perspective of the media distorts everything. Raise your hand whomever, especially after a certain time of night, walks casually through Guatemala City or in dozens of other cities in the region. It is only a mystifier like Moisés Naim who has written in “L’Espresso”* that in Ciudad Juárez, México, under Felipe Calderón, the people have begun to come out into the streets. In reality the entire historical center near the border with the United States is an uninterrupted sequence of closed businesses. The tension in the air in the few open businesses can be cut with a knife, and only the heroic will of the citizens persists in restoring the right to a normal life. Surely, Mr. Naim would not poke his head out of a hotel in Juárez but he spreads an evident lie in the international press.    

The reality is that the explosion of violence, now often endemic but in new forms and quantities in the last few years in which crisis and growth have occurred, is found in all of Latin America. The exceptions are few among the capitals: Santiago de Chile, Montevideo and in relative terms Managua and San José, paradoxically Mexico City and Havana. Compared to countries like Guatemala and El Salvador, Caracas still seems like an inhabitable city. Any ruling class Guatemalan family leaves home nowadays with three SUVs in a caravan; two escorts, one in the front and the other in back, and the family in the middle in order to go to eat fast food or to the pool. Everywhere, the business of private security is one of the principal industries and is an issue about which little is written. 

I look at the statistics on murders in little El Salvador and I discover that they rose from 3,100 murders in 2008 to 4,300 in 2009 and more than 5,000 in the current year. I reject the desire to compare them with Venezuelan deaths, and this escalation is certainly not [Salvadoran President] Mauricio Funes’s fault. But they are quantities that are similar to the civil war (70,000 dead between 1980 and 1992). And they were almost doubled in two years without a clear reason, unless it is because of a society in which the lives of the Mara members are worth nothing, like Christian Poveda shows in “La Vida Loca” [“The Crazy Life”], referring to his own.   

The lives of immigrants are also condemned to disappear, those massacred in Tamaulipas or those who cross the continent to look for work in the U.S., only to be systematically abducted, kidnapped, raped, as documented by a survey that was disseminated widely by the Latin American press (including an in-depth article in La Jornada) but obviously ignored by the Italian press.

In this way not even the lives of the children of Juárez are worth anything. With Clara Calzolaio we titled our report in the capital of Chihuahua, perhaps the most dangerous city in the world: “Journey to the End of Neo-Liberalism.” As Ignacio Alvarado, a journalist with El Universal, told us: “65% of the deaths are people under 25 years of age and they are children and grandchildren of the maquiladora workers.” As Elizabeth Avalos, a union organizer, explained to us: “Half a million young people are alive today to whom the neoliberal model has never offered anything, not education, not health, not work, and well in drug trafficking they find the only possibility to earn a living and obtain social recognition. Yes, it’s true that for doing the work of hired killing they earn around a thousand dollars, far from the maquiladoras where they pay 500 pesos (30 euros) per week with contracts that sometimes last only 15 days.”  

Returning to Caracas, Aram Aharonian, a 30 year-old Armenian-Uruguayan who lives in Venezuela, where he created Telesur, puts things in perspective for me: “The violence has existed in Venezuela for 40 years. At the beginning, the detonators were poverty and exclusion. Nowadays, the principal causes are drugs and consumerism. It is true that more people die than in Iraq, but according to the data that I know of, there is not more violence than in Brazil, Colombia, or the United States.”

You are right, brother Aram, one of the greatest dreamers and builders of the Great Homeland and a brilliant analyst, but we cannot consider it so optimistically. Overall one perceives a clear limit in the merits of the Bolivarian government, that 72% of the murder victims should confront diverse sources of work in a context in which socialism cannot consist of an egalitarian distribution of oil profits. This author has sustained this since 2004 when I affirmed it in the presence of President Chavez. Six years later, I do not see substantial changes.

Aram’s defense is quite reasonable with respect to the incredible deformative capacity of the media that choose to see only what is convenient to them. In Colombian history, “The Violence” is the period that succeeded the assassination of Jorge Eliecer Gaitán in 1948, a violence that has lasted until today among paramilitaries, narco-traffickers, hired assassins, and urban and rural violence. However, when reading the large international media such as Madrid’s “El País” it would seem that Colombia under [former President] Alvaro Uribe had resolved all of its problems and that the only narco-traffickers who remain are the FARC terrorists. Mexico is violent but it’s a typical characteristic of those people who smoke drugs, but fortunately we have a government that lives and fights together with us – this is the interpretation. In contrast, if Venezuela is a disaster it is surely and nothing more than Chavez’s fault. The horrible images of the cadaver depository in Caracas that evidently the Bolivarian government would have preferred not to have circulated, are the same that we would find in other countries on the continent.

Living with the doctors of Barrio Adentro (the program that develops the public health system in Venezuela) in the working class neighborhoods of Barcelona in Anzoátegui state, I confirmed that every weekend the men were drunk and a true curfew was in force. Today in the macro-economic data on inclusion and reduction of poverty, they award the prize to Latin America (even The Economist recognizes it) in Anzoátegui, in Venezuela, on the continent. But when will these men become sober? How many fewer deadly brawls between drunks? How many robberies happen under the influence of narcotics?

All of this leads us to consider the continental dimension. In the face of the narco-traffickers’ infinite capacity as corrupters, in the face of the abdication of the ruling classes, in the face of the violence, the lack of control of firearms, the alcohol that flows like rain, the atavistic ignorance of five centuries of colonialism and that induced by the neo-liberal period, how many steps backward do we take for every step forward? 

Download, or go to see if you can, or at least visit the website of “El infierno, el México de hoy” [“Hell, Mexico Today], the movie by Luis Estrada that Felipe Calderón wanted to censor. It was released this week and it has already been considered the symbol of Mexico in its bicentenary year. For some, it could become the symbol of this era as “El Viaje” [“The Journey”] by Pino Solanas was of the neo-liberal period. It is the story of Benjamín García who after 20 years of work is deported from the U.S. and in his country he is re-baptized “San Miguel Narcángel,” and the only thing he can do is join the narco-traffickers.

Some will remember the free trade agreements, the imposition of IMF regulations in the era of repeated debt crises incubated for decades, all of which were favorable to the agricultural industry of the United States and the multi-national companies, and set in motion tens of millions of peasants (12 million in Mexico alone) who are free to choose between migration and narco-trafficking. This is reinforced by the fact that the evident changes achieved by the Bolivarian Republic are not sufficient to assure that socialism (or Chavez’s rhetorical practice of defining it as such) reduces violence.

And although the bad faith of the media makes us shiver, Chavez, in his failure to confront the horror of those tens of thousands of lives, almost all of them young and wasted, is in excellent company with Colombia under, until recently, Alvaro Uribe, and the right hand of Felipe Calderón in Mexico; from the post-Liberation Theology left of [Brazilian President Luiz Inacio da Silva] Lula and of that “light, light” as Alvaro Colom is defined in Guatemala, where for almost nothing the mafias systematically shoot bus drivers in the nape of the neck; from Mauricio Funes’s El Salvador, the little flea of the continent with its 5,000 dead, to the United States under Barack Obama.

Firearms, the prohibition of drugs, the excessive freedom to consume alcohol, corruption, ignoble ruling classes, and persistent inequality are the principal evils that are shooting the wings of Latin America’s re-birth. Education, equality, and probably a long battle for drug legalization here in the U.S. is the remedy. In this sense, the referendum in California on the legalization of marijuana is an important test. But it will take decades to end the violence.

* M Naim, Milagro Mexicano, L’Espresso 13 May 2010 to which G. Miná responded. Éste es quién paga a Moisés Naim. Freedom House. Reporteros sin fronteras y a su información al quincenario “Latinoamerica e tutti il Sud del Mondo”, 2010, n.110/111,pp 12-21

Translated from Italian to Spanish by Susana Merino for Rebelion.org. Translated to English by James Suggett for Venezuelanalysis.com.