What If NBC Cheered on a Military Coup Against Bush?

By William Blum
June 08, 2007

Venezuela and ChavezDuring the Cold War, if an American journalist or visitor to the Soviet Union reported seeing churches full of people, this was taken as a sign that the people were rejecting and escaping from communism. If the churches were empty, this clearly was proof of the suppression of religion. If consumer goods were scarce, this was seen as a failure of the communist system. If consumer goods appeared to be more plentiful, this gave rise to speculation about was happening in the Soviet Union that was prompting the authorities to try to buy off the citizenry.

I’m reminded of this kind of thinking concerning Venezuela. The conservative anti-communist American mind sees things pertaining to Washington’s newest bête noir in the worst possible light (to the extent they’re even being sincere). If Chávez makes education more widely available to the masses of poor people, it’s probably for the purpose of indoctrinating them. If Chávez invites a large number of Cuban doctors to Venezuela to treat the poor, it’s a sign of a new and growing communist conspiracy in Latin America, which includes Evo Morales, president of Bolivia. If Chávez wins repeated democratic elections … here’s the recent Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld: “I mean, we’ve got Chávez in Venezuela with a lot of oil money. He’s a person who was elected legally just as Adolf Hitler was elected legally and then consolidated power and now is, of course, working closely with Fidel Castro and Mr. Morales and others.”[1]

The latest manifestation of this mind-set is the condemnation of the Venezuelan government’s refusal to renew the license of RCTV, a private television station. This has been denounced by the American government and media, and all other right-thinking people, as suppression of free speech, even though they all know very well that the main reason, the sine qua non, for the refusal of the license renewal has to do with RCTV’s unqualified support for the 2002 coup that briefly overthrew Chávez.

If there was a successful military coup in the United States and a particular TV station applauded the overthrow of the president (and the dissolving of Congress and the Supreme Court, as well as the suspension of the Constitution), and if then the coup was reversed by other military forces accompanied by mass demonstrations, and the same TV station did not report any of this while it was happening to avoid giving support to the counter-coup, and instead kept reporting that the president had voluntarily resigned … how long would it be before the US government, back in power, shut down the station, arrested its executives, charging them under half a dozen terrorist laws, and throwing them into shackles and orange jumpsuits never to be seen again? How long? Five minutes? The Venezuelan government waited five years, until the station’s license was due for renewal. And none of the executives have been arrested. And RCTV is still free to broadcast via cable and satellite. Is there a country in the entire world that would be as lenient?[2]

It can be said that the media in Venezuela is a lot more free than in the United States. Can anyone name a single daily newspaper in the United States that is unequivocally opposed to US foreign policy? Can anyone name a single television network in the United States that is unequivocally opposed to US foreign policy? Is there a single daily newspaper or TV network in the entire United States that has earned the label “opposition media”? Venezuela has lots of opposition media.


[1] Associated Press , February 4, 2006

[2] For further detail see: Bart Jones, op-ed, Los Angeles Times, May 30, 2007; www.venezuelanalysis.com; www.misionmiranda.com/rctv.htm

Full Anti-Empire Report

William Blum is the author of: Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War 2, Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire, and West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir. Visit his website: www.killinghope.org. He can be reached at: bblum6@aol.com.


The battle over the media is about race as well as class

The protests in Venezuela are motivated by more than a TV station. The oligarchy fears it is losing its right to run the country

Richard Gott in Caracas
Thursday June 7, 2007
The Guardian UK

After 10 days of rival protests in the streets of Caracas, memories have been revived of earlier attempts to overthrow the Bolivarian revolution of Hugo Chávez, now in its ninth year. Street demonstrations, culminating in an attempted coup in 2002 and a prolonged lock-out at the national oil industry, once seemed the last resort of an opposition unable to make headway at the polls. Yet the current unrest is a feeble echo of those tumultuous events, and the political struggle takes place on a smaller canvas. Today’s battle is for the hearts and minds of a younger generation confused by the upheavals of an uncharted revolutionary process.

University students from privileged backgrounds have been pitched against newly enfranchised young people from the impoverished shantytowns, beneficiaries of the increased oil royalties spent on higher education projects for the poor. These separate groups never meet, but both sides occupy their familiar battleground within the city, one in the leafy squares of eastern Caracas, the other in the narrow and teeming streets in the west. This symbolic battle will become ever more familiar in Latin America in the years ahead: rich against poor, white against brown and black, immigrant settlers against indigenous peoples, privileged minorities against the great mass of the population. History may have come to an end in other parts of the world, but in this continent historical processes are in full flood.

Ostensibly the argument is about the media, and the government’s decision not to renew the broadcasting licence of a prominent station, Radio Caracas Television (RCTV), and to hand its frequencies to a newly established state channel. What are the rights of commercial television channels? What are the responsibilities of those funded by the state? Where should the balance between them lie? Academic questions in Europe and the US, the debate in Latin America is loud and impassioned. Here there is little tradition of public broadcasting, and commercial stations often received their licence in the days of military rule.

The debate in Venezuela has less to do with the alleged absence of freedom of expression than with a perennially tricky issue locally referred to as “exclusion”, a shorthand term for “race” and “racism”. RCTV was not just a politically reactionary organisation which supported the 2002 coup attempt against a democratically elected government – it was also a white supremacist channel. Its staff and presenters, in a country largely of black and indigenous descent, were uniformly white, as were the protagonists of its soap operas and the advertisements it carried. It was “colonial” television, reflecting the desires and ambitions of an external power.

At the final, close-down party of RCTV last month, those most in view on the screen were long-haired and pulchritudinous young blondes. Such images make for excellent television watching by European and North American males, and these languorous blondes are indeed familiar figures from the Miss World and Miss Universe competitions in which the children of recent immigrants from Europe are invariably Venezuela’s chief contenders. Yet their ubiquity on the screen prevented the channel from presenting a mirror to the society that it sought to serve or to entertain. To watch a Venezuelan commercial station (and several still survive) is to imagine that you have been transported to the US. Everything is based on a modern, urban and industrialised society, remote from the experience of most Venezuelans. Their programmes, argues Aristóbulo Istúriz, until recently Chávez’s minister of education (and an Afro-Venezuelan), encourage racism, discrimination and exclusion.

The new state-funded channels (and there are several of them too, plus innumerable community radio stations) are doing something completely different, and unusual in the competitive world of commercial television. Their programmes look as though they are taking place in Venezuela, and they display the cross-section of the population to be seen on cross-country buses or on the Caracas metro. As in every country in the world, not everyone in Venezuela is a natural beauty. Many are old, ugly and fat. Today they are given a voice and a face on the television channels of the state. Many are deaf or hard of hearing. Now they have sign language interpretation on every programme. Many are inarticulate peasants. They too have their moment on the screen. Their immediate and dangerous struggle for land is not just being observed by a documentary film-maker from the city. They are being taught to make the films themselves.

Blanca Eekhout, the head of Vive TV, the government’s cultural channel, launched two years ago, coined the slogan “Don’t watch television, make it”. Classes in film-making have been set up all over the country. Lil Rodríguez, an Afro-Venezuelan journalist and the boss of TVES, the channel that replaces RCTV, claims that it will become “a useful space for rescuing those values that other models of television always ignore, especially our Afro-heritage”. With time, the excluded will find a voice within the mainstream.

Little of this is under discussion in the dialogue of the deaf on the streets of Caracas. For the protesting university students, the argument about the media is just one more stick with which to hit out against the ever-popular Chávez. Yet as they mourn the loss of their favourite soap operas, they are already aware that their eventual loss may be more substantial. As children of the oligarchy, they might have expected soon to run the country. Now fresh faces are emerging from the shantytowns to challenge them, a new class educating itself at speed and planning to seize their birthright.

Just a few weeks ago, Chávez outlined his plans for university reform, encouraging wider access and the development of a different curriculum. New colleges and technical institutes across the country will dilute the prestige of the older establishments, still the preserve of the wealthy, and the battle over the media will soon be submerged in a wider struggle for educational reform. Chávez takes no notice of the complaints and simply soldiers on, with the characteristics of an evangelical preacher: he urges people to lead moral lives, live simply and resist the lure of consumerism. He is embarked on a challenge to the established order that has long prevailed in Venezuela and throughout the rest of Latin America, hoping that the message of his cultural revolution will soon echo across the continent.

· Richard Gott is the author of Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution

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