US Foreign Policy: A Mystery to the Media? By William Bowles

3 April 2004

Okay, so what’s the deal? Why won’t the corporate media tell us what’s going on? Why do I have scrabble around the Internet looking for answers? Why won’t my local print, tv and radio tell me why, yet again, the US is orchestrating a coup d’etat against Venezuela?

Dumb questions I know, but over the past week, the number of stories on Venezuela available locally – of any kind – is zero. And over the past few weeks, it’s not much more, a handful to be exact. And no doubt, just as with the appalling press coverage of the US-backed coup d’etat in Haiti, we won’t read anything until it’s all but over (barring the killing), then of course, the vampires are all over the place.

So far today (01/04/04) my sweep of the ‘net for Venezuelan news netted 15 stories (five of which are about the Venezuelan national soccer team trashing Uruguay 3-0 and a real upset). On average, I retrieve about 15 stories daily. Quite a few come from a single source, vcrisis (www.vcrisis.com/), a virulently anti-Chavez Website based in London. Of the remainder, some are oil-related news (obviously) with perhaps 2 or 3 digging a little deeper into events and none from the corporate press doing anything other than reinforce the state line. And for the record, I collected 438 news stories from all sources on Venezuela just for the month of March 2004.

Perhaps it’s worth refreshing our memories concerning the attempted coup in Venezuela in 2002 backed by the US and the media coverage then. Almost without exception the corporate press reported it as Chavez resigning as prez. It was only after the coup failed, that we started to see reports of the attempted coup, but devoid of any US involvement, let alone complicity. Yet the evidence of US involvement in the attempted coup was incontrovertible, from pre-prepared press statements issued from the Whitehouse welcoming the new prez before he’d even taken up residence in the presidential palace, through to information concerning meetings between the plotters and US military and on through to the masses of information on US funding of innumerable ‘opposition parties’, rightwing trade unions and other anti-Chavez organisations via NED, USAID and the AFL-CIO.

The question however remains, why after so much guff about a ‘free press’, ‘objective reporting’, is it not possible to get anything that approaches the real news about events in Venezuela? And how is this lack of coverage justified?

Of course, the short answer is, it isn’t, for as far as the ‘free press’ is concerned there is no need or reason to. And if pressed, which they rarely are, they’ll tell us there’s no ‘news’ worth reporting.

But consider the unequal weighting of the ‘news’ coverage. If it were Venezuela that was financing and fomenting opposition to a legally constituted government somewhere else, and especially if the Whitehouse objected then we can be assured that the media would be screaming blue murder.

A search using the keyword ‘Venezuela’ of the Independent’s News Website reveals that from January 1 2004 to the present, the Independent has carried the following six stories (one of which is about OPEC) on Venezuela:

1. Opec split over proposed cut in production
Independent News : Business, 31 March 2004
The Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the oil producers’ cartel, appeared to be split going into today’s key meeting to decide whether to sanction a cut in production.

2. Hugo Chavez: Champion of the poor, or just another despot?
Independent News : People, 20 March 2004
“One down and two to go,” the hard men who run the Bush administration’s Americas policy were heard to mutter with quiet good cheer last month, as Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s troublesome president, was forced into exile.

3. US revealed to be secretly funding opponents of Chavez
Independent News : World, 13 March 2004
Washington has been channelling hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund the political opponents of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez – including those who briefly overthrew the democratically elected leader in a coup two years ago.

4. Venezuelan strife sends oil through $37
Independent News : Business, 06 March 2004
Oil prices surged to their highest level since the Iraq war yesterday on fears that political strife in Venezuela could spin out of control.

5. Venezuelans use people power to attack Chavez
Independent News : World, 02 March 2004
Burning barricades erected by opposition protesters blocked streets and motorways in many parts of the Venezuelan capital yesterday, as chances of a peaceful, electoral solution to the country’s two-year-old crisis appeared to recede.

6. US is trying to overthrow me, says Venezuelan leader
Independent News : World, 18 February 2004
The Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, yesterday angrily accused the United States of being behind a 2002 coup and of helping continuing opposition attempts to overthrow him.

Two of the stories are pretty typical of the corporate press’s attitude toward developing country’s leaders (‘just another despot?’ and ‘people power’) and two are less typical. One insinuates that the rise in the price of oil is caused by “strife” in Venezuela though no actual evidence is presented to support this view aside from the ‘instability’ in the country caused, it is assumed by Chavez’ refusal to accept the results of the referendum over Chavez’ recall. But even this is misrepresented in the media as the recall demand originated from the same US-funded anti-Chavez forces that represents business interests threatened by Chavez’s anti-IMF/World Bank policies.

The point is, over a three-month period, there were only five stories in the Independent, not exactly cutting edge journalism is it? One would assume that a situation with such potential to destabilize yet another area of the planet would warrant not only extensive coverage but intensive analysis as well.

Could the answer lie in the fact that any serious inquiry into the US’ role in destabilising Venezuela would invite a more critical view of US policy toward the world, one that would lead to some very disturbing questions about US foreign policy objectives?

Take for example the one and only story in the Independent in three months that actually looked at US funding of anti-Chavez groups. At first read it would appear to be quite critical of US policy toward Venezuela but upon analysis, not only does it let the US off the hook, we also don’t get any real understanding of what US policy is toward Venezuela.

It lists only one of the groups funded by the US and one for a paltry sum:

“The documents reveal that last September the US approved $53,400 for one of the groups, called Sumate, that is organising the collection of signatures.”
Independent, Sat 13 March 2004

But let’s look at who the US is really funding starting with Fundacion Pensamiento y Accion, whose president is Eduardo Fernandez who is also president of Copei, one of Venezuela’s two major corrupt, rightwing, pro-business political parties, and anti-Chavez. Total grants 1992-2001 $1,449,045 paid by the International Republican Institute, the Republican Party’s ‘think-tank” that promotes fundamental “American principles”, principles that consist largely of the promotion of the ‘free market’ and supporting the overthrow of foreign governments that resist US ‘free market principles’.

Or what about CICP: (Center for International Private Enterprise), a Washington-based ‘democratic’ pro free-market-oriented Chamber of Commerce-type organization, linked directly to and of “assistance” to Fedecamaras (Venezuela’s Federation of Chambers of Commerce) and to other Venezuelan business associations. Carlos Fernandez, the president of Fedecamaras, is or was hiding out in Miami, after being criminally charged for of his involvement in attempts to illegally oust Chavez. Total amount given: $630,441 (to 2001).

American Center for International Labor Solidarity, a Washington-based union organization linked directly to and providing “assistance” to the CTV (Venezuela’s Trade Union Confederation), whose president, Carlos Ortega was in hiding in Costa Rica on criminal charges brought about by his involvement in the 2002-2003 attempts to oust Chavez. CTV were involved with Fedecamaras in the 2002 coup attempt. Total grant: $587,926 (to 2001).

The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) is the Democratic Party’s version of the NRI and it’s linked to Escuela de Vecinos de Venezuela that it gave almost half a million dollars to up to 2001.

There are many more, but the point is that the Independent’s article gives only one example and one that got the smallest amount of financial support. Between 1992 and 2001, the NED (www.ned.org) gave $4,630,255 to Venezuelan organizations that supposedly promote democracy and 60% of it or $2,797,970 since Chavez was elected in 1998 (the article says “more than a million dollars”) and this was only to 2001. The article goes on to say:

“But critics of the NED say the organisation routinely meddles in the affairs of other countries to support groups that believe in free enterprise, minimal government intervention in the economy, and oppose socialism in any form. In recent years the NED has channeled considerable funds to the political opponents of the ousted Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide at the same time that Washington was blocking loans to his government.”

The key words here are “but critics…”, so is the article saying that it’s only an opinion of ‘critics’ that the NED and other US organisations meddle in the affairs of foreign countries when the facts speak for themselves? And that meddling in the affairs of a sovereign state is a criminal act not an opinion, doesn’t even get alluded to in the article. So on the surface, the article would appear to ‘expose’ the operations of the US government, but the reality – the context – the history, the reasons are absent. It goes on to say:

“In Venezuela, the NED channeled the money to three of its four main operational “wings”: the international arms of the Republican and Democratic parties [NDI and NRI] and the foreign policy wing of the AFL-CIO union. These groups ran workshops and provided free advice to three political parties – Democratic Action, Copei and Justice First – the leaderships of which have all been at the forefront of the recall effort.”

Not mentioned is the fact that the AFL-CIO has long been involved in the destabilisation of governments through subverting trade unions for at least forty years including Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Guyana, Nigeria and Ghana. (It also gave South Africa’s COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions) millions of dollars before the 1994 election in order to try and influence its policies.)

The following is an example of the loaded journalism of the Independent:

“Relations between the US and Venezuela have not been so tense since April 2002 when Mr Chavez was briefly ousted by opponents who had been supported by the US prior to the coup. At the time Washington blamed Mr Chavez for his own downfall.”

Again, the facts are straightforward: Fact – the US met with coup plotters from the Venezuelan military only days before the attempt. Fact – the political parties (and other groups) involved in the attempt were all funded by the US. Fact – the US government issued a statement supporting the ouster before it was certain that the coup had succeeded, clearly proof of advance knowledge. The way the article puts it, it would seem that it was a mere coincidence that the plotters also got US funding.

“Caracas and other cities have been rocked by marches and demonstrations in support of the recall vote. Allegations of torture against demonstrators led last week to the resignation of Venezuela’s UN Ambassador, Milos Alcalay. There have also been marches in support of the president.”

This is a classic piece of newspeak as it tells us that “there have also been marches in support of the president” but what it doesn’t say is that the marches in support of Chavez were far bigger than those of the opposition and represented the great majority of the country’s population, who unlike the rich businessmen and politicos of the anti-Chavez posse, don’t get millions of dollars of US funding nor run their own radio and tv stations (NED claims that the reason they don’t get funding is because they don’t ask for any).

Overall, the article creates the impression that it’s six of one half a dozen of the other. The fundamental issue of US foreign policy is presented to us thus:

“Washington’s antipathy towards Mr Chavez is fuelled by his friendship with Cuba’s Fidel Castro and his open criticism of Washington-backed free market policies.”

So it’s his friendship with Fidel that’s the problem and his open criticism of the US’ free market policies? But we are not told what the effect of so-called free market policies has on countries like Venezuela, nor why Venezuela doesn’t have every right (without external interference) to oppose US policies.

Overall then, the article conforms to the fallacious idea of ‘objective’ journalism by presenting ‘both sides’, but without a prior knowledge or understanding of both US and Venezuelan positions, a reader is none the wiser as to US foreign policy objectives.

References

US Funds Aid Venezuela Opposition
www.venezuelanalysis.com/articles.php?artno=1148

“Where the money goes”
ncronline.org/NCR_Online/archives2/2004b/040204/040204d.htm

“Washington manipulators revealed as helping to de-stabilize Venezuela, to sabotage and to oust President Hugo Chavez Frias from power?”
www.vheadline.com/readnews.asp?id=11497

“Haiti-style ouster sought in Venezuela”
www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/ArticleNews/TPStory/LAC/
20040304/VENEZUELA04/TPInternational/Americas

“Venezuela: Right-wing opposition clamours for another US-backed coup”
www.wsws.org/articles/2004/mar2004/ven-m09.shtml

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