Open letter to Channel Four on Venezuela coverage

Nina López

Channel Four News joins media witch-hunt of disinformation against President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela.

Your long piece on 27 March presented by Jonathan Rugman went out of its way to portray President Chávez as an irresponsible madman opposed by human rights activists, who is foolish enough to challenge the US government. As John Pilger pointed out in his excellent critique of this segment of your programme, the presumed human rights activist you interviewed is in fact a leader of Sumate, an extreme right wing organisation funded by the US as part of its campaign to destabilise Venezuela and bring down its elected government. But Channel Four viewers were not told this.

What are Chávez’s crimes? He has not bombed, invaded or pillaged another country or threatened to do so. He has not been holding hundreds of detainees without trial for over four years. He is not orchestrating torture through ‘rendition’ or by any other means. He does not deny global warming and the need to address it. He is not the inept, ignorant and inarticulate figurehead of unelected corporations which profit from invasions and occupations and steal ‘reconstruction’ money and contracts. He has not won two elections through fraudulent means. He is not a religious fundamentalist.

As an international grassroots network which includes Venezuela, we know first-hand that:

1. Chávez uses Venezuela’s large oil revenue to tackle the poverty of 80% of the Venezuelan population. This is a complete break with his predecessors, the Venezuelan elite and its international (mainly US) friends who enriched themselves at the expense of most Venezuelans.

2. He extends the benefits of the oil revenue to other countries in the region, providing oil at a 40% reduction payable with food and services by those who can’t afford to pay cash. Even low income people in the US have benefited: Hurricane Katrina victims and others receive cheap heating fuel from Venezuela’s US subsidiary, Citgo.

3. He has worked with Cuba on literacy and health programmes which in less than two years have succeeded in eliminating illiteracy in Venezuela, and are providing free health care for all. These programmes are now being used in other countries such as Bolivia whose governments are also intent on eliminating poverty. (But then Evo Morales, the newly elected president of Bolivia was dismissed by Rugman as a ‘Chávez protégé’.)

4. He is redistributing idle land to those willing to work it, restarting agricultural production which was killed decades ago by the oil boom, in order to achieve food security for the Venezuelan population who depended on imports for 65% of its staple foods.

5. He publicly challenges attempts by the US administration – that great exporter of democracy – to bring his government down, and there have been a number, including: the April 2002 coup, defeated when millions of people, starting with women, took to the streets to demand Chávez’s return and most of the army remained loyal to the constitution; and the oil sabotage of 2002-3 which was run from the CIA offices in Caracas. There have also been assassination attempts and calls by those close to the Bush administration for his assassination (the latest was Pat Robertson). A number of those involved in the 2002 coup are now living in Miami.

6. He speaks out against the war and invasion of Afghanistan, Haiti and Iraq.

7. He has won eight elections and a presidential referendum since 1998, each time increasing his majority.

8. He can count on over 70% support according to the latest polls and is the most popular head of state in the Western hemisphere, probably in the world.

9. He acknowledges the enormous contribution of women’s unwaged caring work to society, the economy and the revolution, and has called for implementation of Article 88 of the constitution which entitles housewives to social security. In February he announced that some of the oil revenue would go to women whose hard work deserves recognition: from June the poorest housewives will receive $160 a month. About 500,000 women are expected to get this money. Article 14 of the Land Act prioritises woman-headed households for land distribution and for food subsidies for pregnant women and new mothers and their infants. In March the Women’s Development Bank celebrated its fifth anniversary: thousands of poor families have benefited from its subsidised micro-credit.

10. He promotes anti-racism and the rights of Indigenous people who have suffered most from over 500 years of first European then US imperialism, and are now entitled to resources including ancestral land, bilingual education and other recognition of their cultural autonomy.

11. He has stated more than once that the market cannot be allowed to be in charge of us because it will destroy the world, and that life is too precious to be left in the hands of such an unregulated force. He talks about ‘eliminating poverty by giving power to the poor’ and ‘creating a caring economy, an economy at the service of human beings, not human beings at the service of the economy’.

12. Most importantly, he plans for the involvement of the entire population most of whom are actively engaged with the revolution, especially women. He promotes direct democracy rather than representative democracy so that those elected cannot ignore the electorate and do as they please as soon as they are voted in. The poorest sectors of the population have been running the anti-poverty and health programmes; they are determined to do everything in their power to defend what they have won so far and to prevent any kind of intervention.

The list is much longer. But popularity when it is deserved earns not the respect of so-called democrats but cries of ‘populism’ and ‘demagogy’. It is wrong for Chávez to ‘buy’ populations by funding anti-poverty reforms but perfectly OK for Bush to buy whole governments with corrupt deals and arms sales.

Perhaps the most outrageous aspect of Rugman’s ‘report’ is that he sneered at the elimination of poverty. Does the Channel Four News Team share Rugman’s contempt for millions of people who have been robbed of the wealth they have created for generations, and are finally working to get some of it back?

Channel Four has shown no interest in reporting what Venezuela is trying to do, whether it is being successful and what obstacles it faces, including constant threats from the Bush administration which funds the Venezuelan opposition and tours South America and the Caribbean trying to make deals with governments to attack Chávez and re-impose US dominance in the region. Trinidad & Tobago recently bought military surveillance equipment from the US which many suspect are for use against Chávez. US military manoeuvres have just started in the Caribbean, a reminder to the region of who has the most powerful army in the world.

Most people globally, including in Britain, agree that Bush represents a global threat and must be stopped.

President Chávez has been giving voice to these concerns; he encourages the people of the South to work together to overcome the poverty and exploitation imposed by market and military forces directed from Washington. That makes him popular with the world’s people and unpopular with the US government and its coalition of the willing. Is it offensive that it is a Third World head of state, leader of a revolution, a man of African and Indigenous descent, who speaks the language of the people rather than the language of the establishment, who has shown himself equal to the task? Has Channel Four News become so embedded with the US government as to be spewing its ‘rogue state’ propaganda on Venezuela?

Over 50 journalists have been killed and many others nearly killed – like the respected Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena who was shot by US troops – for maintaining their independence during the Iraq war. Sadly, we know of no campaign of journalists to uncover the truth about these deaths. Instead, more and more seem to be caving in to US/UK pressure – this segment of your programme is one more example of that. Clooney’s film Good Night and Good Luck on reporters who stood up to McCarthyism in the ‘50s is most timely, and hopefully signals the start of more independent and self-respecting media workers accountable to the truth, to professional standards and therefore to the public it claims to serve.




April 2006

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