Washington Post sinks into the oil-soaked swamp

You can always tell what side a newspaper is on by how they choose to present any given story. Take this, for example, from the Washington Post…the paper that has the dubious distinction of having bogged down in complacency since its Watergate glory days:

It was a tiny gesture of protest: a dozen college students flagging down cars for an hour on Embassy Row this month, wearing symbolic white gags across their mouths and holding up posters that quoted Albert Camus and Walt Whitman on the importance of free speech.

But the anger of these Venezuela-born young people — furious at the shutdown of a popular private TV channel in Caracas — reflected the fast-rising political fervor that is gripping Venezuelan immigrants in the United States after years of private frustration over the tightening revolutionary grip of President Hugo Chavez.

“I want to go back to a country where I am free to criticize and express my thoughts, but the government is trying to change the laws and indoctrinate the population,” said Merquit Garcia, 21, an American University student who attended the protest. “Venezuela is divided now. Half the people see Cuba as a model, and half see it as a threat,” she said. “The future is very unclear.”

In Venezuela, the recent forced closure of Radio Caracas Television has convulsed the oil-rich South American nation, leading to massive street protests and sharpening the class divisions that Chavez’s socialist policies and defiant anti-Americanism have been creating since he came to power in 1999.

In the Washington region, where a few thousand Venezuelan immigrants have long blended into quiet suburbs and professional settings, dozens of prominent refugees from the Chavez era have joined the community. In Miami, where tens of thousands of Venezuelans have built an active and influential enclave, the crisis in Caracas, the country’s capital, has unleashed a parallel frenzy of meetings, protests and preparations to receive a small but growing wave of political refugees.

Virginia Contreras, a resident of Germantown, is a former Venezuelan judge and diplomat for the Chavez government. In 2001, she quit as Venezuela’s representative to the Organization of American States and has become an outspoken critic of Chavez’s rule, which she says has steadily eroded democratic freedoms while proclaiming itself to be a champion of the poor and a prototype of modern socialism.

“It is not just a bad government; it is a totalitarian government,” said Contreras, 49, who often visits Miami and Caracas to work with opposition groups.

She called Chavez a “snake charmer” who is trying to create a “constitutional dictatorship” but is increasingly alienating the public. The closure of Radio Caracas Television, she said, “touched something vital. Now everyone can see what he is trying to do.”

If this isn’t a bald-faced example of media manipulation, I don’t know what is. Top-loading a story to push your chosen “good guys” is an old, and sneaky, media strategy. The writers and editors all know that many readers will only skim the first few paragraphs and skip the rest if it’s not sexy enough for them.

Even worse is the loaded language. Tell me, how much digging into the real motives of the anti-Chavez factions do you think the reporter has done when she uses phraseology like this?

…”fast-rising political fervor”

…”tightening revolutionary grip”

…”forced closure”

…”massive street protests”

…”sharpening the class divisions that Chavez’s socialist policies and defiant anti-Americanism have been creating”

…”a small but growing wave of political refugees”

And please note that all of these are the reporter’s own words, not a quotation or a paraphrase of those “refugees” she interviewed. If that language is not biased, I’ll eat my hat…and if it’s not bullshit, I’ll eat my entire collection of funky ol’ hats.

And how do I know it’s bullshit? Well, for starters, here is the Secretary General of the Organization of American States. Let Mr. Insulza enlighten you:

Democracy is not being threatened in Venezuela according to the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) Jose Miguel Insulza yesterday at a press conference in Uruguay. Insulza explained that the decision of the Venezuelan government to not renew the broadcast license of the private television channel RCTV does not threaten democracy in the country but he maintained that he would still be willing to head a mission to Venezuela to investigate the case of RCTV if the OAS member nations request it.


“We should wonder why a number of democratic countries where freedom of expression prevails decided not to take a stance on this issue,” he said upon being asked about the RCTV case. “I believe the reason is that they believed this is an administrative measure taken by a member state which does not threaten its democracy.”

The Secretary General explained that the OAS charter allows for this type of political action “only when there is a serious threat of a rupture in the democracy.”

When asked about the confrontational discourse of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his government in response to different OAS member countries, including the United States, Insulza guaranteed the union of the organization. “I do not think this rhetoric is likely to disturb or jeopardize union,” he said.

Amazing, isn’t it? Outside of the US, not one member of the Organization of American States has seen fit to claim that democracy is in danger just because RCTV’s VHF broadcast licence was not renewed! And even more shocking, the “defiant anti-Americanism” of Chavez…isn’t a problem either.

Is something wrong with Insulza? Has he lost his critical thinking faculties? Hardly. In the not so distant past, whenever Insulza has been at odds with Chavez, he hasn’t hesitated to say so:

After strong pressure from Washington, the Organization of American States (OAS) sided with the media conglomerate. It criticized the decision of the Venezuelan government through its Secretary General, José Miguel Insulza, thus meddling in Venezuela’s internal affairs and violating Article 2 of the OAS Charter. “The adoption of an administrative measure to shut down an information channel gives the impression of a kind of censorship against freedom of expression,” the official declaration read.

Clearly, something must have changed his mind since then. Perhaps someone finally brought Mr. Insulza up to speed on RCTV’s prominent role in the coup of ’02. Or maybe the embarrassment of standing there alone while all of Latin America refuses to condemn Chavez’s decision was too much for him. Or maybe someone took him aside and told him it was hypocritical to single out Venezuela when Alan Garcia did worse in Peru, as did Manuel Zelaya in Honduras.

What’s interesting is that the Post reporter doesn’t mention the OAS happenings at all. Even though she had a perfect opening, given that she interviewed Virginia Contreras, Venezuela’s former ambassador to the OAS. Why is that, I wonder? Surely not because everything Mr. Insulza has said, destroys Ms. Contreras’s “constitutional dictatorship” contentions utterly?

I thought I’d google a bit to see if I could find anything historical on Virginia Contreras, whom the Post’s reporter doesn’t think worth digging harder about. Maybe, I thought, I could find out why she buggered off to work with the golpistas. In the process, I ran across a hidden gem in this article dated 2000, by professor Steve Ellner, who has taught economic history in Venezuela since 1977:

This was not the first time that a State Department official lost his/her patience and disregarded Washington’s official policy of restraint toward Chávez. Earlier this year, Under Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Peter Romero told Spanish reporters: "In Venezuela, you don’t see a government in charge—only plebiscites, referendums and more elections. They tell us ‘wait,’ but we gringos are not exactly known for our patience."

Wow! Some “constitutional dictatorship” you ran away from
, Ms. Contreras! This was back when Bill Clinton was still president in the US, and already some self-admitted gringos were getting antsy because a Latin American leader was not only failing to bow down to them, he was actually letting his own citizenry get uppity and actually–(gasp)–have a say in the making of its new democracy!

“You don’t see a government in charge–only plebiscites, referendums and more elections.” In other words, democracy at work. In 1999, the people of Venezuela voted for the assembly that wrote their new constitution; then they voted again to ratify that radical document. What was that? People power directing the government, which, as this Canadian can tell you, is nothing but a group of servants hired (and occasionally, fired) by the public. If that is dictatorship, it is clearly a dictatorship of the proletariat–or in plain English, a government by, of and for the people. As I’ve so often asked before, what the hell kind of dictator gives his people more, not less, power?

Another thing: what the hell kind of “refugees” are these ex-Venezuelans when they are not poor, but rich–and not persecuted, but privileged? What have they lost–their democracy? Oh please. All they lost was free access to one lousy TV channel run by a nasty old man. Now they have to pay to get it on cable or satellite–from Colombia? Well, boo fucking hoo! That doesn’t make them refugees. Every real refugee I’ve ever seen was genuinely, demonstrably oppressed. Hell, my own mother was one; her family was driven out of Yugoslavia in 1944, when the Russians invaded the Batschka-Vojvodina and all the ethnic Germans, who had lived in the region for some 200 years, were suddenly in deep shit. My grandfather was drafted into the SS; my mother’s family went to Germany. They found not freedom, but to another kind of oppression there; they were looked down on as Slavic scum by their own people (so called). They wound up owning nothing but the clothes on their backs; my mom’s baby sister was 11 months old when she died in a displaced-persons camp of malnutrition and dysentery. You want oppression, boobie? I can tell you a thing or two about that.

And I can also tell you that a bunch of spoiled brats from the country-club district in Caracas, now being lionized in Washington and Miami, sure as hell do not count as oppressed persons, just because they had fun-fun-fun till their president took their TV away. To grant them refugee status on such flimsy grounds is not only politically stupid, it’s an insult to all the real refugees of the world.

There is just one thing these fake refugees have in common with the real ones in my family: They both fled from the spectre of communism to the reality of fascism. Of course, in my mother’s case, the spectre was backed up by a real red menace, and the fascism was mercifully close to its ignominious death in a Berlin bunker. In Venezuela, the communism is just a vaporous spook that never really materializes (except on a few TV channels, whose reputation is the La Brea Tar Pits), while the fascism in Washington is very much alive.

But try getting the Washington Post to report that! It is clearly a Good German among newspapers. Its job is to keep its head down, I suppose, and be thankful it is still being granted the right to print anything at all. In exchange, it has to self-censor, and back up the official party line on all the crucial issues.

One of those issues is oil-rich Venezuela. Since it’s no secret that the US government covets Venezuela’s oil, and wants it to remain ruinously cheap for US oil companies to come and take at will, it stands to reason that the most prominent person in Venezuela standing in the way of all that–the president–must be demonized as a totalitarian dictator, just as Saddam Hussein was. That way, should it come to another coup–or an all-out war–the public will be primed to accept what their government is doing in the name of “democracy”. They will ignore the very thing they should be paying attention to–the oil, stupid.

Only here’s the rub: the “dictator” label stuck more easily to Saddam because he actually was one–at the US’s behest and with the US’s backing. In Chavez’s case, it couldn’t be more different: he is not a dictator; landslide democratic elections and vast popular support undermine the very notion, as do his communal councils and other radical efforts to democratize Venezuela from the grass roots up while eliminating the corrupt old Punto Fijo holdovers. And also, he is not tame to the US, he has no support from it (save from a few enlightened citizens like Cindy Sheehan, who hate what’s happening to their country), and above all, he takes no orders from Washington, or anyone–except his own voting constituency. So any effort to tar Chavez with the dictator brush is futile. The man is independent and democratic–the very virtues you’d think Washington would be praising to high heaven if it actually cared a bean about either one.

And nowhere is that democracy or that independence more in evidence than on, of all places, the state’s own TV channel, VTV, or Channel 8. There, a recent episode of the youth-talk show, Entre Panas (Among Friends) yielded some amazing events. There was an intense debate about RCTV and free expression, between Chavista and opposition student leaders. There was vehemence and even anger on display, but the debate never sank to so much as name-calling, let alone a brawl. On the contrary, it was for the most part very amicable. There were a lot of good, creative suggestions tossed out by the Chavistas; one of them was to have the oppositionists organize a march against imperialism instead of supporting a media mogul! Totally minus a beer-hall putsch, the show closed with a pop band belting out a catchy tune, and a Chavista, Libertad Velasco, danced hand in hand with her opposition counterpart, Yon Goicoechea. (You can see it all here, on Aporrea.org–the dance is in the bottommost video.)

Oppression? Where? On state TV, that supposedly censorious one-note organ of communist state propaganda, as the WashPost would paint it? Pffffft. The opposition had their say, twice now, and if they lost a debate, they lost it fair and square to some really intelligent, likeable young democrats with good ideas. It was first-rate viewing–kept me up long past my bedtime last night. But that is just one more thing I can’t count on the Post to report, right along with the oppositionist vandalism in Maracaibo.

What a good thing I understand enough Spanish to be able to get the facts I need from the local alternative media, then, because it’s painfully clear to me that the Post has waded into a swamp. It is now sunk in an oily morass, and has no intention of getting out of there anytime soon.

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