Mmmm, with the emergence to the scene of the right-wing Venezuelan opposition’s presidential candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski, the mainsteam Western media are like bees to honey.
The likes of Fox, the BBC, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Miami Herald and the UK Guardian had been fairly quiet on Venezuela recently, sending the odd pot-shot over the battlements against Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution, but generally leaving the country in peace, for a couple of months at least. Ever since it became increasingly likely that Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez no longer had cancer and would not be dying on us anytime soon, for these sources there wasn’t much worth reporting on inVenezuela. Of course there’s been the government’s mass house building program, new social programs to extent pension provision and welfare payments to single parent families, the founding of the new CELAC regional organisation and the on-going organisation of the grassroots Great Patriotic Pole coalition, but none of that really provoked the interest of the Western press. That is other than the odd comment portrayingVenezuela’s social programs as an unsustainable “bonanza” of public spending aimed at buying the votes of the Venezuelan poor, who are obviously to be considered too stupid and easily manipulated by that canny, calculating Chavez. Of course just paying to keep a local library open may appear like a “bonanza” of public spending to the West compared to the austerity drive currently being rammed down the throats of the populations in the US and Europe to make the working and popular classes pay for the on-going crisis in capitalism.
With respect to Venezuela, the Western media’s propaganda drive is back into gear with the election of Henrique Capriles Radonski in the Venezuelan opposition’s presidential primary elections, who is now the right wing Democratic Unity Table’s (aptly denominated MUD by its Spanish acronym) candidate to face Hugo Chavez in the October 7 presidential elections later this year. It’s worth mentioning that only 16% of the Venezuelan electorate voted in the primaries, held last Sunday 12 February, which has faced accusations of fraud from both pro-government figures and some opposition mayoral candidates.
What to say about Radonski? In a nutshell, he’s a lawyer and politician from an extremely wealthy and privileged background who has worked out that the best way to gain popularity is to say as little about what he’d like to do in power as possible. We know he’s for “change,” that he likes “progress,” that for him “there is a way” that is “neither left nor right” for Venezuela, and that he wants to govern for “all Venezuelans”; but honestly reading his speeches it’s hard to tell what on earth he stands for based on what he says. However some telling influences for his policies, were he to be president, include that his family own a large chain of cinemas (Cinex) as well as a business empire encompassing several popular daily newspapers and interests in television, services and real estate. Also he has benefited from an elite education in law both in Venezuelan and the US, and as mayor of a wealthy district of Caracas has been accused of trying to instigate a forced search of the Cuban embassy to capture Chavez loyalists during the opposition’s short lived coup against the Chavez government in April 2002.
Not quite the “jeans and t-shirt” figure that conservative Venezuelan newspapers make him out to be then, which is reminiscent of how British media portrayed Tony Blair as a “just like us” guitar-playing type before he was elected Prime Minister in 1997. Several foreign invasions and creeping privatisation of health and education followed by a meltdown of the financial system taught us differently, and I sincerely hope that Venezuelans don’t have to experience the same lesson (again). The point being in Radonski’s case is that increasing social spending, promoting participatory democracy, a foreign policy independent of the US and opposing privatisations are unlikely be high on his prospective policy agenda, so it’s just as well then he currently sits over 20 percentage points behind Chavez in the polls.
However the mainstream Western media just love conciliatory-talking Radonski, and now quote favourably and without question just about anything he says. Since his election in the primaries the basic media line has been to portray Radonski as under a concerted and cruel state motivated attack in which he has been called a homosexual, had his Jewish roots attacked (he himself in a practising Catholic), and faced comments on his appearance, in order to destroy the political image of this brave campaigner for freedom and democracy.
While Venezuelanalysis.com has amply coverage of this issue already with more forthcoming, it is worth highlighting a couple of points here to underline the media manipulation that is being played on the Western audience. Most prominent recently has been coverage of an opinion article published on the Venezuelan state radio’s (RNV) website last Monday 13 February which criticised Radonski for representing Zionist thought and supporting Israeli state policy, while stating “the rational struggle against poverty, racism and anti-semitism doesn’t make sense unless directed against Zionism and capitalism”. The appearance of this article was then transformed by Western media into the image of a concerted attack by the Venezuelan state against the Jewish religion.
Never mind that conflating Zionist ideology and Israeli state policy with Judaism is rejected by a great many Jews, not least those involved in the campaign for justice in Palestine. Nor did the fact that this article had nothing to do with nor was written by the Venezuelan president make great impact into coverage of the story. The record of previous pronouncements by Chavez himself against anti-semitism also seemed less relevant, such as declaring “I have nothing against Jews. … Nobody can say that the government here persecutes Jews…I call on us to respect the Jewish community inVenezuela. … they are Venezuelans” after a meeting with Jewish leaders in September 2010, as kindly reported by CNN at the end of an article prominently reporting quotes that lead one to conclude the opposite. However, none of this gave two US-based Jewish groups pause for thought in lambasting the entire Venezuelan government over the article, with anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham H. Foxman declaring “as we have witnessed in the past, blatant and persistent anti-Semitism is used by President Chavez and his government apparatus as a divisive political tool to scapegoat Jews”. This statement was then picked up in dozens of Western media sources and then translated for opposition Venezuelan media in an attempt to cast the government as anti-semitic.
See Venezuelanalysis.com for the full coverage of that issue in particular. My point is this: an article that was relatively uncontroversial and un-commented upon in Venezuela was turned into an international hullaballoo by those seeking to cast Radonski as a principled politician who just wants to get on with solving Venezuela’s problems while struggling against a cruel state media and political campaign to destroy his image. Meanwhile Capriles’ aforementioned ruling class background, his active backing by a sizeable section of Venezuela’s private media (some of which his family personally owns), and the political support of the right wing opposition which this year will receive $20 million from the USand has shown itself capable of violent coups and destabilization in the past seem less worthy of mention in Western mainstream media. Also left largely uncovered by these sources is that other than perhaps a slightly tasteless comparison of Radonski with a pig (I’ll let you be the judge), Chavez’s comments toward his opponent have been to welcome Capriles to the race and to challenge him to start coming up with ideas to debate or to “run away”.
So why do the mainstream Western media adore Radonski? Because they, along with the US government, are hoping this will be the year to get rid of Chavez and return Venezuela back to “business as usual” as a dependent capitalist state with a demobilised population, and they reckon Radonski is the man for the job. At the end of the day, that’s what this is about. As long as Venezuela’s popular movements are organising and developing an alternative model to capitalism, and the government is following domestic and international policies at odds with US and wider imperial interests, Venezuela remains the “threat of a good example” and a big problem. It’s worth the trouble to ask: if inVenezuela it’s possible to fund free health and education, greatly expand public housing, support community media, communal councils, and promote worker control in the economy, why not in other countries too? In light of the Venezuelan reality, is capitalist austerity in the West a political necessity or a strategy by the ruling classes to make us pay while they get off from the economic crisis scot free? One look at Venezuela answers that question, and that’s why the West wants to get rid of Chavez and the revolutionary movement that he represents.