Once again the Washington Post, one of the most prestigious newspapers in the U.S., places its reputation on the line by distorting facts and disseminating outright falsehoods about Venezuela in its lead editorial of Friday, January 14, 2005 (Venezuela’s ‘Revolution’). The editorial is steeped in 1980’s anti-communist discourse and so its hook had to be President Chavez’s “war on idle landed estates” (latifundios), which it describes as an “assault on private property.” The editorial completely omits to mention, however, that there is a consensus in Venezuela—one which includes Chavez’s most important enemies, such as the country’s largest chamber of commerce, Fedecamaras, as well as the union federation CTV and two opposition state governors—that “latifundios,” the large idle landed estates, must be abolished in Venezuela.
Next, the editorial attacks three recently passed laws: the new broadcast media regulation law, the reform of the penal code, and the Supreme Court law. Supposedly with the media law, the government may “shut down private media for vaguely defined offenses against ‘public order.’” First, the government has no such authority. Rather, it is a communications commission, which consists of ministerial appointees and representatives from civil society and the church. The government directly appoints only four of the commission’s eleven members. Second, the offenses are very clearly defined in a list of over 25 situations, from failing to adhere to the broadcast schedule that regulates the diffusion of sexual and violent programs to failing to clearly identify infomercials.
The Post claims that Chavez’s “supporters have enacted a new legal code that criminalizes anti-government demonstrations; people who bang empty pots and pans in protest, as Venezuelans have been doing for several years, can be sentenced to jail.” For such a claim the Post should be sued for slander. If this were true, the Post might as well state that Chavez had abolished the right to freedom of assembly in Venezuela. However, what the Post is probably referring to (since no reference is given) is the prohibition against threatening public functionaries (Article 216). Even if this law were to be interpreted and applied in a way that violates the right to assembly, the constitutional right to assembly takes precedent over this law.
The Post then says that Chavez “stacked” the Supreme Court. While this is true, in the sense that his party appointed a majority of judges, this is also true for George Bush, in that his party “stacked” the U.S. Supreme Court. As for the judge who suggested that Chavez should be allowed to run for re-election more than once (he never said that Chavez should be “president for life”), this suggestion was immediately rejected by Chavez himself and his own party leadership.
The Post alleges the government is “pouring Venezuela’s surging oil revenue into state-planned socialist cooperatives.” Here one can clearly see the Post’s dreaded specter of state socialism again. Once again, though, it is left to the (anti-communist) imagination as to what exactly the Post is referring to. What makes a cooperative socialist and which ones are planned? True, Venezuelans have launched tens of thousands of cooperatives with government help, but their creation has been on the basis of self-initiative, not planned. For the Post, it certainly helps to add that Chavez is a “disciple” of Fidel Castro – except, Chavez has not nationalized any industries nor created a one-party state.
With only the Russian press as a witness, the Post also resurrects an assertion that has been denied by Venezuelan officials repeatedly, that Chavez plans on buying Soviet MiG-29 fighter jets.
To round out its list of distortions and unsubstantiated and outright false allegations, the Post maintains that the Chavez government gave “sanctuary” to a senior leader of Colombia’s FARC guerilla. First, Colombia never asked Venezuela to arrest and extradite the person in question (Rodrigo Granda), so no sanctuary could have been given to someone who was not sought by the police. Second, it was clearly the Colombian government that acted illegally in this case, by organizing the kidnapping of someone on Venezuelan territory.
The Post acts surprised that other Latin American countries have not reacted negatively to Chavez, in light of its litany of falsehoods. It says, “His neighbors, who could threaten sanctions under the democracy charter of the Organization of American States, are silent.” Perhaps the reason that no one, not even Bush, has threatened OAS sanctions, is that such a move has no basis in reality, just as the Post’s editorial’s arguments against Chavez don’t.It seems that the Post has completely lost its bearings and joined the looney fringe of Venezuela’s opposition, some of whom still claim that Chavez lost the recall referendum, which the OAS and Carter Center approved, and that Venezuela is a “castro-communist” dictatorship. Or, it is writing editorials for hire, perhaps for some Bush-inspired “black-ops,” in an effort to create a new “rogue state” that would distract from the Iraq fiasco.