Venezuela-U.S: Looming War of the Airwaves

The Venezuelan Congress approved a resolution opposing a decision by the U.S. House of Representatives to finance radio and TV broadcasts to Venezuela with the aim of countering Telesur, a new pan-Latin American station.

CARACAS, Jul 21 (IPS) – The Venezuelan Congress approved a resolution opposing a decision by the U.S. House of Representatives to finance radio and TV broadcasts to Venezuela with the aim of countering Telesur, a new pan-Latin American station.

Telesur, a Venezuelan government initiative undertaken in association with Argentina, Cuba and Uruguay, has already drawn the wrath of the United States even before it goes on the air this Sunday.

The U.S. lower house of Congress passed an amendment Wednesday "to initiate radio and television broadcasts that will provide a consistently accurate, objective, and comprehensive source of news to Venezuela" to counter Telesur’s "anti-Americanism," in the words of Republican Rep. Connie Mack of Florida, who sponsored the amendment.

Telesur will begin to broadcast from Caracas on Jul. 24, the anniversary of the birth of South American independence leader Simón Bolívar.

The station’s goal is to foment regional integration with newscasts, films, documentaries and music by Latin American and Caribbean producers, and to provide a counterweight to programming from the United States, like what is offered by CNN.

"It is a preposterous imperialist idea that should not surprise us because we know what the U.S. government is capable of," said Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, referring to the amendment. "There is nothing more dangerous than a desperate giant."

If the amendment makes it through the Senate and Washington tries to interfere with Venezuela’s airwaves, "we will take measures to neutralise the attempt, and what we will have is a kind of electronic warfare," said the left-leaning leader.

Aram Aharonian, the Uruguayan journalist who heads Telesur, told IPS that the decision by the House of Representatives "is clearly a measure to intimidate other Latin American countries and media, to prevent them from joining the initiative, which has awakened growing interest in the region."

He noted that at the Andean Community summit in Peru on Monday, the leaders of the bloc’s other four member countries – Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru – expressed interest in exchanges and alliances with Telesur.

A proposal in the Venezuelan legislature condemning the U.S. move passed with the votes of the ruling alliance, which holds a majority, and the centre-left Movement to Socialism, an opposition party.

Although he is critical of Chávez, the head of MAS, Leopoldo Puchi, lashed out against "the mistaken approach" taken by the United States in tackling Latin America’s problems with laws that have an "extraterritorial reach."

The centre-right and social democratic opposition parties Justice First and Democratic Action both voted against the Venezuelan legislative initiative.

The secretary-general of Democratic Action, Henry Ramos, said the United States had a right to respond to Chávez, "who has confused his politics and particular interests with those of Venezuela."

The governments of Argentina, Cuba and Uruguay have not commented on the bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.

Venezuela, which has contributed 10 million dollars and several installations to Telesur, holds 51 percent of the shares, while Argentina holds a 20 percent interest, Cuba 19 percent and Uruguay 10 percent. The three minority shareholders will provide mainly programming and logistics.

Aharonian said that Washington’s decision will have no effect on Telesur’s inaugural programming. The network will debut with the broadcast of a concert in Caracas featuring popular Mexican bands Molotov and Elefante, the Miami-based Latin rock band Bacilos, Puerto Rican singer Elvis Crespo, and Venezuelan groups like Madero and Desorden Público.

Also scheduled for broadcast is the swearing in of the advisory board for the new network. The members of the board include Ignacio Ramonet, the Spanish-French editor of Le Monde Diplomatique, Tariq Ali, a veteran political activist, filmmaker, and author from Pakistan, Chilean journalist Manuel Cabieses, Venezuelan writer Luis Britto, U.S. actor Danny Glover, Mexican journalist Carmen Lira and Venezuelan filmmaker Román Chalbaud.

Venezuelan Vice President José Vicente Rangel commented that Telesur "scored a victory before it even went on the air." He added that the U.S. House of Representatives was "inconsiderate" towards opposition politicians and media in Venezuela, who already "faithfully and freely transmit Washington’s point of view."

Rangel maintained that Washington is basically trying to repeat the failed initiatives of Radio and TV Martí, the U.S.-government funded stations created to broadcast programming and news aimed against the Cuban government.

While Radio Martí can be picked up in Cuba, the Caribbean island’s authorities have succeeded in blocking the transmission of TV Martí, which continues to be broadcast without being seen by its target audience.

For his part, Venezuelan Information Minister Andrés Izarra stressed that in addition to the anti-Telesur initiative, the House of Representatives also agreed to earmark nine million dollars in 2006 and another nine million in 2007 to support opposition political parties, media and civil society organisations in Venezuela, "in what they refer to as the defence of the state of law and the promotion of democratic governability."

"This is a new attack on Venezuela and Latin American integration by the U.S. government, and it is being carried out in coordination with the groups in Venezuela that are calling on people to abstain from voting on Aug. 7" in the local government elections, in which the polls predict a resounding victory for the ruling coalition.

Consequently, "the best way to respond to this unjustified demonisation of Telesur is to come out and vote to defend our independence and sovereignty," said Izarra.

In the meantime, the Chávez administration is making contact with its allies in the region and preparing "to counteract the technological superiority of the United States, because the (new network’s) signal will reach there as well."

He was referring to the fact that audiences throughout the Americas, western Europe and northwest Africa will all be able to watch Telesur.

Source: IPS