30 November 2006
Book Review: The Chávez Code – Cracking US Intervention in Venezuela by Eva Golinger
Perhaps the greatest triumph of modern capitalism has been its ability to sell itself and to do it by fair means and foul with the emphasis on the foul.
Historically, it has been the CIA which up until the 1990s did the dirty work for US imperialism as the record clearly shows. However, the CIA’s record in overthrowing foreign governments is far from being a success story. A new strategy was needed, and one which was untainted with the ‘dirty tricks’ label of the Nixon years and which could be sold to the public under the umbrella of ‘spreading democracy’, Western-style of course.
Aside from the obvious harnessing of the corporate and state media in this process has been the creation of innumerable ‘foundations’, ‘NGOs’ and spin-offs of the various organs of the state such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and a plethora of quasi-governmental structures like the National Endowment for Democracy [sic] or NED.
Big business has been an integral part of this process funnelling literally billions of dollars into a plethora of foundations and ‘think tanks’ which work hand-in-glove with the state in not only projecting the capitalist way of life but in directly interfering in the internal affairs of foreign countries whenever ‘private property’ is seemingly threatened.
These foundations have all the appearance of ‘objective’ and ‘neutral’ institutions, employing an army of ‘experts’ in every conceivable field of endeavour. In addition they also work closely with PR companies and survey organisations whose job it is is to translate their ‘learned’ papers and ‘research’ into digestible chunks for public distribution via a complicit corporate and state media.
Taken collectively, they represent a vast resource that has been constructed by the major Western powers largely since WWII, although the two most infamous—The Council on Foreign Relations (US) and its UK equivalent, Chatham House, were set up at the beginning of the 20th century, but both these structures were direct spinoffs of government and they work closely with government in devising broad imperial strategies and analysis. Chatham House for example was a creation of the British Foreign Office.
An analysis of these institutions reveals that the boards are dominated by the ‘captains of industry’, the military and security services and leading members of the state bureacracies and the same names crop up over and over again right across the board. Alongside these notables we find an army of academics—most are suitably equipped with the requisite doctorates and masters degrees in their relevant field of study—all the better to give them the right air of authority.
The reasons for their success in selling capitalism are not immediately obvious for they not only operate in the background but also in close collaboration with the corporate and state media which uses them as ‘reliable’ sources or whenever the stamp of an ‘expert’ is required, thus legitimising the propaganda. They act therefore as ‘backup’ and a point of reference for public pronouncements made by the state and especially the media, especially when the government line is challenged.
Their similarity to the way corporate journalism operates is no accident for both rely on the university and research organisations to give them the stamp of authority as well as brainwash—sorry, educate—the hundreds of thousands of technocrats who labour faithfully in their employ. It’s an unholy alliance without parallel in history.
Anybody who has listened to the BBC’s various ‘news’ programmes will be familiar with their names whenever an ‘expert’ is needed; the Carnegie Endowment, the Ford Foundation, the International Peace Foundation, the list is virtually endless. Many are created by large corporates such as Coors Beer, Olin Corporation and so forth. All have as their overriding objective the selling of the capitalist way of life, that is to say, the primacy of private property, the ‘market’, ‘free enterprise’ et al.
But when it comes to overthrowing and/or subverting foreign governments whose policies are considered inimical to global capitalism, a handful of organisations stand out. Funded directly and indirectly by the US state, they both formulate and channel foreign policy objectives, often through existing structures in the target countries; political parties, ‘NGOs’, PR companies, trade unions, business organisations, private media companies and so forth, as well as military, security and other state structures where appropriate.
It is virtually impossible to over-estimate the power and importance of these structures, as they are essentially extensions of the capitalist state but without the limitations of the state hampered as it often is with ‘ridiculous’ laws governing what it can and cannot do, especially when interfering in the affairs of sovereign states. Indeed, it was US laws that impeded Reagan’s war on the Sandinistas that led to the use of cover structures like the NED and the infamous Iran-contra scam.
Thus these organisations offer a ‘plausible deniability’ when caught out interfering in the affairs of foreign countries even when funded directly by the state, mostly by using the cover of ‘promoting democracy’, ‘clean government, or ‘developing civil society’ or whatever convenience most suits the situation. As they operate ostensibly through local structures (even if totally dependent on US financing for their operations, even their very existence), the US government can and does deny any direct involvement.
The National Endowment for Democracy
In the early 1980s, the Reagan administration set up the Office of Public Diplomacy (OPD) ostensibly to ‘deal’ with the Sandinistas in Nicaragua following the failure of the contra war to remove the Sandinista government through military intervention and a campaign of terror. The OPD, headed by Otto Reich produced ‘black propaganda’ and disinformation about the Sandinista government, planted stories in the media under cover names including the infamous ‘Soviet MiGs’ fabrication.
The OPD became the model for US intervention and in 1983 the National Endowment for Democracy was created which, along with USAID and the AFL-CIO’s AFIELD and a raft of other subversive structures picked up where the contra war left off.
By 1990, the NED produced a strategy that proved to be very effective at getting rid of troublesome governments that didn’t do as they were told. So effective was it that since then it’s been used in Haiti, Yugoslavia, the Ukraine and a number of other countries.
The use of such structures is not new, USAID, CIA fronts and AFL-CIO (the US labour organisation) affiliated organisations had been used to great effect in a number of African countries for some years to subvert progressive movements, especially organised labour and the Brits had done the same (see for example how the UK manipulated the Nigerian ‘independence’ process to ensure that a compliant post-colonial administration took power, and under a ‘Labour’ government, which should surely disabuse anyone who thinks that the Blair government is some kind of departure from its past record as imperial bulldog).
What was new about the NED was the way it operated through front organisations on a massive scale either to manipulate the electoral process or where that failed to support coup d’etats which brings me to Eva Golinger’s book, ‘The Chávez Code’.
The experiences of the failures and successes of US subversive actions in Chile, Nicaragua and elsewhere are all brought to bear in a succession of attempts to undermine and overthrow the Chavez government. No expense is being spared in the enterprise as Golinger decisively demonstrates with at least $20 million being spent on the endeavour since Chavez came to power.
Unpacking the process is nothing if not instructive in the way the imperial mindset works and instructive too that no matter how much money you throw at a ‘problem’, it still does not necessarily guarantee success, as the example of Venezuela amply demonstrates. But to paraphrase, the ‘show’s not over ‘til the fat gringo sings’ which is why this book is so important.
Golinger documents the process with meticulous detail; every devious ploy is illustrated, the mechanisms, the channels through which the money flows, the recipients and the relationships between ‘indigenous’ organisations (most of which would not exist without the millions of dollars flowing from the coffers of the US government) and the array of US organisations that are used to fund and in most instances, direct them. The term puppet takes on an entirely new etymology in the (increasingly desperate) attempts by the US remove Chavez.
Here is a partial list of the organisations employed in the attempt to overthrow the Venezuelan government:
American Political Foundation (APF) created in the late 1970s, an umbrella structure used to fund the following (amongst many)
Center for Strategic Studies, American Enterprise Institute, and it was under the auspices of the APF that the NED came to be created which in turn funded,
Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), the National Democratic Institute (the Democratic Party’s foundation), the International Republican Institute (ditto the Republican Party), the Free Trade Union Institute (FTUI), the affiliated American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS, formerly known as American Institute for Free Labour Development, AIFLD).
In addition to the above, the other key organisation used by the US was the Office of Transitional Initiatives (OTI), ostensibly created to ‘assist’ governments in transition. OTI played a key role in the Referendum designed to remove Chavez (yet another failure on the part of the US).
It is impossible to list here the total number of local structures either funded and/or created with US tax dollars but chief amongst them was the Coordinadora Democrática (CD) modelled on the similarly named Coordinadora Democrática Nicaragüense created to remove the Sandinista government. The CD consisted of about ten political parties and a range of civil society organisations, all opposed to Chavez.
The range of devices used to overthrow the Venezuelan government are nothing if not imaginative and employ the most sophisticated techniques, especially the use of television, for in Venezuela 95% of the national television channels are in private hands and all are ardently anti-Chavez. By contrast there is only one public national television station. Just two families control commercial television in Venezuela:
“[T]he Cisneros, who own Venevisión (the largest station in the country), and the Bottome and Granier Group, which owns Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV) and Radio Caracas Radio … This same small group of media owners are not just the proprietors of broadcast circuits but also own advertising and public relations agencies … as well as record labels and other cultural industries … Cisneros also owns … over 70 media outlets in 39 countries”
With this media monopoly in place, the US subversion machine had an in-situ fifth column ready, willing and able to do its work and it was during the attempted coup of 2002 and the subsequent bosses ‘strike’ (more accurately a workers’ lock-out) that we witness the awesome power of the mass media to sway public opinion.
The ‘strike’, which lasted 64 days and during which the Cisneros empire not only utilised his media monopoly but also his control of food and beverage distribution to literally starve the Venezuelan people into submission. As Golinger states:
“The private media snatched up the opportunity to launch the most massive information war ever experienced in modern times. The four primary stations suspended all regular programming through-out the duration of the 64-day strike: no product commercials, no soap operas, no movies, no cartoons, no sitcoms.”
Quoting media expert Luis Britto Garcia:
“No less than four television channels [not to mention radio and print media] joined together 24 hours a day in December 2002 and January 2003, and broadcast 17,600 propaganda announcements against the government, dedicated all of their programming, without a second of rest, to denigrate the government through yellow journalism, to cause all classes of alarm and rumors to invoke terror, precisely.”
Methods are used, fail and are discarded and yet new means employed, with each failure informing subsequent attempts at overthrow.
US actions and the Western media
Here is not the place to go into the actual sequence of events, read the book for a blow-by-blow account of the succession of failures to remove the Chavez-led government. For us in the West, what is most important I think, is how the attempts have been reported in the Western media, or rather, misreported.
Without the Western media’s ‘covering fire’, the programme of destabilisation and subversion of Venezuela’s society would be impossible to hide and most importantly, sell, as the story below illustrates. This is borne out by innumerable examples, from the very simplistic descriptions of Chavez as ‘fiery’, ‘anti-American’, ‘confrontational’, ‘populist’, ‘anti-democratic’, ‘dictatorial’ and a host of other put-downs through to the assumptions that whatever the US does in Venezuela, it has every right to do! This includes the funding and even creation of political parties opposed to Chavez, the financing of propaganda, interference in the affairs of trade unions, education, indeed, at every level of Venezuelan society, the US attempts to control the direction of events in its favour.
“The oil-rich but politically unstable nation of Venezulea is emerging as a potential hub of terrorism in the Western Hemisphere, providing assistance to Islamic radicals from the Middle East and other terrorists, say senior US military and intelligence officials … Middle Eastern terrorist groups are operating support cells in Venezuela and other locations in the Andean region … Venezuela is supporting armed opposition groups from neighboring Colombia; these groups are on the official US list of terrorist organizations and are also tied to drug tracking” — US News and World Report, October 6, 2003
The above extract was based on an “anonymous US official” and according to the magazine, the story was the result of an “exhaustive” investigation, not a single word of which was ever substantiated! Stories like these appear in the MSM like mushrooms after a rain and disappear just as quickly. Their objective is to sow the seeds of mistrust and guilt by association and their objective accomplished, the lies and disinformation are rarely if ever, retracted. Such stories appear with tedious regularity in the MSM and are invariably planted by government agencies and mouthpieces such as the one above.
The Western disinformation campaign is relentless, for example the following piece which Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) covered:
“In April, [the Washington] Post deputy editorial page editor Jackson Diehl wrote that Chavez “has never enjoyed overwhelming support in Venezuela,” adding, “his ratings have mostly fluctuated a few points above and below 50 percent.” ‘In Venezuela, Locking Up the Vote’, By Jackson Diehl, The Washington Post, Monday, April 10, 2006; Page A17
“As FAIR explained in a letter to Diehl asking for his documentation (“Ignoring Inaccuracy at the Washington Post,” 5/2/06), Chavez has won three elections with totals ranging from 56 to 60 percent of the popular vote, and opinion polls registered support for Chavez from 68 to 71 percent—as reported in Diehl’s own paper (12/5/05).”
There could be no clearer example of the ideological thrust of the Western media as it attempts to sway public opinion in the direction of support for the aims and actions of Western capitalism than the campaign of demonisation conducted in the corporate media against Chavez. After all, the corporate media and the corporate state are effectively one and the same thing and have a single objective—the preservation of the capitalist order.
Thus the twin barbs of internal subversion and destabilisation and an external media campaign directed at the domestic populations of the imperial elites, complement each other, the latter lending credence to the former.
We need more publications like the ‘Chavez Code’, for what Golinger reveals in Venezuela is but the tip of a global iceberg of US subversion that grows ever more desperate as it attempts to roll back the gains of what is clearly a spreading movement of resistance to the depradations of global capital.
1. For more on the OPD see www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Office_of_Public_Diplomacy