An interview with Victor Rodriguez of the Pluri-National Alternative Media Collective – The People’s Correspondents, based in Táchira state. The People’s Correspondents is an alternative media network which spans across Latin America and also has links in North America and Europe. The Venezuelan division was set up in 2008, when Rodriguez moved to Venezuela from his native Uruguay.
Venezuelanalysis.com: Firstly could you talk a little bit about the 2002 coup and what effect that had on the revolutionary process and the rise of the alternative media in Venezuela?
Victor Rodriguez: Well they say that every action provokes a reaction, so the coup of 2002, which attempted to overthrow a democratically elected government, provoked above all a popular reaction which culminated in the empowerment of the alternative media community. That is why we consider the coup to have had a positive effect, because ten years ago in April a kind of popular insurgency shook Caracas with the aim of rescuing both the Bolivarian Republic and the country’s sovereignty, and created the possibility of a new form of communication and community.
VA: Can you outline what the collective does in Táchira?
VR: Every day we are organising to try and facilitate the exchange of information and trying to make sure that we are constantly broadcasting. For example, in the same way that various businesses here in Venezuela hoard food products in order to further their own political agenda and to bump up the cost of living, we think that the hoarding of information is just as criminal. So the first thing we do is write a report, we create a free space of liberating communication, and we digitalise it and put it online at no charge, sending it out to the community via e-mail. In that way we ensure that nothing is being hoarded and that everybody has access. We are trying to create the free exchange of information, and that’s what we think the media has to do, provide information, not practise a kind of alienation as the rightwing press does. For instance if you turn on your radio or television, and the first thing they’re showing you is some nonsense like, oh it’s Shakira’s dog’s flea’s birthday or something, it’s totally alienated from what is important news, or the news that affects you. For instance, the government’s housing mission, what’s going on in the community, community cleaning operations, or community electricity issues etc.
VA: What’s the role of the alternative media in Venezuela? Does it have a political component as well as a social component?
VR: It’s not just that it has a political component, but rather that we understand communication and the media as being political acts, not just as having a political component. The media in its current form, as much on the left as on the right, is a political act. Human beings are political. Anything related to human beings is unavoidably political. What we practise is politicised media, not propaganda, but rather politics as an element of organisation and social transformation. The media is a political arm for creating that social transformation, because without knowledge, information or the exchange of ideas, you can’t change any society, all you’re going to do is alienate it and distance it from the very interests which make up that society.
So what we have to do, as well as progressively transforming Latin America’s socio-political reality, is to help communities get closer to their own realities, because they have been totally alienated from their own realities by the mass media. The mass media has totally alienated us from our own realities in order to bring us closer to the commercial needs of the big corporations which finance the mass media. As alternative community media, our task is to reverse that communicational strategy, which obviously also has a central political component, which the big corporations use through their marketing structures in order to sell the products produced by big business. Even at the expense of the community’s needs, because you end up buying things that you don’t even need. Why? Because of publicity. In this respect, one of the biggest battles that we have as alternative media is against publicity. Our community radio station doesn’t use publicity. We have to use other means to maintain ourselves economically, through leafleting, or through selling books or second hand clothes, solidarity and the collaboration of the community, this all goes towards a common fund to sustain community media.
Alternative media sources not only have to be different in terms of the message they send out, but also in their whole social organisation, and finance is obviously part of this. How do we, as alternative media, manage to sustain ourselves economically without using the communicational arms of capitalism, such as publicity, marketing or ratings? For instance, ratings don’t interest me at all. It doesn’t matter to me if a lot of people listen to me, just that the people who actually listen to me understand the message and that is has some sort of consequence. Because if I do a programme and a million people hear it, but each one of them just sits on the sofa at home instead of getting involved in their local community, joining their communal council, or joining their local student front, then that isn’t communications, this is alienation.
VA: Has the role of community media changed in Venezuela? For instance, in 2002, alternative community media sprang up in a specific moment as a response to a rightwing offensive; now that the revolution has advanced, does community media have another role, or does it face other challenges?
VR: Fascism. Today we don’t have Mussolini or Hitler, but we do have other fascists acting through both politics and the media. The class enemy is still the same, it’s the same as in 2002. So much so, that the guy who invaded the Cuban embassy in 2002 is now the (right’s) candidate for the 2012 presidential elections. So you see, the enemy is still the same. The strategies, yes we always have to keep altering them. Because we as human beings are always changing, we’re never the same, who I was ten minutes ago isn’t the same as who I am now speaking to you, because before we didn’t have this communicational link and now we do, which has allowed us to have access to both your perspective and my perspective. So our strategy always has to correspond to that reality and we have to keep studying and analysing the strategies of the enemy 365 days a year in order to be able to dismantle them and combat them. But it’s not just that, because we understand that alternative media shouldn’t go against anything specifically, for instance against the rightwing or fascism, but it has to organise in favour of life, social transformation, in favour of the socialisation of and the exchange of knowledge and ideas. That’s our principal role. Obviously in doing this we are conscious of the fact that we end up going against the right wing’s plans, and that’s why they are fighting against us.
That’s why we are clear on the fact that if the rightwing get into power, the first thing they will do is eliminate or roll back any authorisations or laws passed by the National Assembly, or any advantage or merits that have been granted to the alternative media. Because we have no doubt that a system or political group, which has no issue with pulling the trigger to kill 1000 to 2000 people when the people rose up in the Caracazo in 1989, or even when they did it in 2002, is capable of this. So our strategies always have to correspond to current reality and to the hour or to the minute, even to the second that we are living.
But like I said, not going against anyone per se, but rather in favour of what we think. Now, if what we do, think and discuss goes against the interests of the oligarchy, then first of all we know we are on the right path, and secondly, they are going to see that we are going against them. Obviously i don’t wake up, brush my teeth and think; “today I’m going to fight the oligarchy”. But I do think, I’m going to fight to build a better Venezuela, a better motherland, I’m going to struggle to be more self-critical, to be more active in order to strengthen my community. If that goes against the interests of the oligarchy, well that’s their problem, not ours. Either change, or they are going to be affected by what we are doing. Che Guevara even said it himself, our struggle isn’t about death, our commitment isn’t to kill the enemy, but to make sure that the revolution wins. The right doesn’t have that way of thinking. What the right does is to eliminate the enemy, physically or virtually, in order to be able to take power.
VA: What do you think of the representations of the Venezuelan press reproduced in the Unites States and Europe, that the Venezuelan state has total control over the media here?
VR: I don’t know, maybe they should ask Globovision or Venevision if the state has control over them, or ask the channels which orchestrated the coup d’état in 2002. I don’t understand how, if the state has total control over the media here, the media managed to orchestrate a coup d’état against that very state and the president? That whole discourse falls under the weight of its own weakness. They are all arguments which can’t even stand up against a minimal amount of analysis. You start to analyse them even a little bit and, for instance, I think it was Jorge Rodriguez who yesterday quoted a Canadian study which found that people on the right are less intelligent than people on the left. What happens is that they don’t think, they don’t reason with themselves, they only think in terms of their interests. And these interests aren’t even their interests, those that defend capitalism who aren’t capitalists, they are the subjects of capital, so they’re not even defending their own interests, but the interests of others. They are defending the interests of capital because of their own alienation, and that’s the problem, alienation. That’s the difference with us, we don’t defend the interests of others, but our interests, the interests of our community, that’s why we struggle. Malcolm X even said it himself, if you’re not careful, the media will have you loving the oppressor and hating the oppressed. And this is our main role as alternative media, to be prepared when dealing with the mass media, not to fight against them, but rather to be better than them.
VA: Can you talk about the new system which has just been created by the government, the national Fabricio Ojeda network of alternative media?
VR: Yes, we are part of that network. You have to look at it like a scale. The grassroots media is made up of “cells,” and they all feed into the Grassroots’ System of Socialist Media. This grassroots system is basically the interaction between these cells and the Táchira Media System, which belongs to the state. The Tachira Media System feeds into the National System for Grassroots Media, which is the Fabricio Ojeda system that they launched today. It’s not that it will start up today or tomorrow, because it’s been in construction for a number of years. But we have to go further than this. we have to group together all the different alternative Bolivarian media cells at a continental level, or even at a supra-continental level, for instance we have connections in Europe and the Unites States, such as Democracy Now, or with the “indignados” in Spain, comrades in Belgium, Norway and Australia, who give us their alternative vision of reality to the hegemonic vision of the mainstream US media.
We as alternative media sources have to recognise that communities have a right to free expression. President Correa (of Ecuador) said it himself. Public opinion belongs to the people, it doesn’t belong to any media, we have to repeat that over and over again. The media belongs to organised communities and those currently getting organised. It is those communities that have to take control over the media and structures which dictate communication in order to consolidate communicational sovereignty, in the same way that we have to assert our sovereignty over our food supply and financial system.
If we don’t consolidate and get organised in our houses, barrios, cities, student groups or work places, take control of our own sovereignty, then other people are going to talk for us with regards to what is actually happening to us, which is totally illogical. For instance, the media comes to your barrio and says “this is what is happening here,” and you know it’s not true, but as you don’t have the sovereignty to be able to refute it, that’s the message that gets sent out to viewers. That’s what we are fighting, fighting in favour of the construction of grassroots media through the media cells in order to create real media autonomy, interactive and interconnected yes, but dependent, no.
VA: Is the Fabricio Ojeda System a government initiative or was it proposed by the collectives?
VR: It is the collectives’ initiative and a response to the needs of the period that we are living through. The state has its communication ministry, and CONATEL. Without such institutions we can’t create a structured alternative media, we are going to keep being alienated entities and with no power on a national level, and the current media, dominated by the rightwing, will continue to be hegemonic. The strategic alliance between community media and the government has got to be the foundation block, because we are trying to create a new country and media, which corresponds to the interests of the people.
Equally, as we are both accountable to and the correspondents of the people, we have to make sure that the state doesn’t go off course. If the government breaks the agreement that it made through the Venezuelan Bolivarian Constitution with the people, then the alternative media has to be at the front of the battle, just as we have done before. Like we have said, we don’t agree with Venezuela going to the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, or we don’t agree with the fact that our comrade Julian Conrado is a prisoner in Venezuela, but this doesn’t mean that we are against Chavez. We are with Chavez and we’ll continue to support Chavez because he is the representative of the interests of the people and we agree with him 99% of the time. In those situations when we are not in agreement, then that’s when we have to fight to see what our strategies are. Chavez even said that that is what we have to do, and we trust President Chavez, and sometimes we have to attack his decisions, as the good revolutionary media soldiers that we are.
We don’t just submit uncritically to the government line. This is our everyday job, pointing out if we don’t agree with something, saying, “look, we don’t think that this is positive for the development of revolution across Latin America”, for instance, in the case of Conrado, because revolutionaries shouldn’t hand over other revolutionaries. If there is a state position with regards to this, that’s fine and we’ll respect it, but whether we share that view or not is a subjective matter.