Category Archives: President Hugo Chavez

Venezuela: Towards an Economy of Resistance

The Government of Venezuela called an international Presidential Economic Advisory Commission, 14-16 June, 2018 to debate the current foreign injected economic disturbances and seeking solutions to overcome them. I was privileged and honored to be part of this commission. Venezuela is literally being strangled by economic sanctions, by infiltrated elements of unrest, foreign trained opposition leaders, trained to disrupt distribution of food, pharmaceutical and medical equipment. Much of the training and disturbance in the country is financed by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), an “NGO” that receives hundreds of millions of dollars from the State Department to “spread democracy” and provoke “regime change” around the world, by boycotting and undermining the democratic processes of sovereign nations that refuse to bend under the yoke of the empire and its ‘allies’ — meaning vassals, afraid to stand up for inherent human values, and instead dance spinelessly to the tune of the murderous North American regime and its handlers.

Imagine, Venezuela has by far the world’s largest known reserves in hydrocarbon under her territory. more than 300 billion barrels of petrol, vs. 266 billion barrels, the second largest, of Saudi Arabia. Venezuela is a neighbor, just across the Caribbean, of the United States’ arsenal of refineries in Texas. It takes about 3 to 4 days shipping time from Venezuela to the Texan refineries, as compared to 40-45 days from the Gulf States, from where the US imports about 60% of its oil to be shipped through the high-risk Iran controlled Strait of Hormuz. And on top of this, Venezuela, is a socialist country defending the rights of the working class, fostering solidarity, human rights and sheer human values, so close to the borders of an abject neoliberal and increasing militarized greed-driven dictatorship, pretending untouchable ‘exceptionalism’. Daring to stand up against the threats of boots and bombs from the North, is simply intolerable for Washington.

A real foreign imposed economic crisis is in full swing. Venezuela’s black money market is manipulated by Twitter mainly from Miami and occasionally corrected from Colombia, depending on the availability from Venezuela stolen contraband, offered to better-off cross-border customers. This is missing merchandise on Venezuela’s supermarket shelves. It’s imported merchandise – mostly food and medical supplies – fully paid by the government. This has nothing to do with Venezuela being broke and unable of paying for needed imports. The media which propagate such slander are criminal liars, typical for western “journalism”. It is merchandise stolen, captured at the ports of entry by US trained gangs and deviated as smuggle-ware mostly to Colombia, the new NATO country. The scheme is a carbon copy of what happened in 1973 in Chile, orchestrated by the CIA to bring the Allende Government to fall. People have a short memory – or they like to forget – to keep implementing their disastrous neoliberal agenda.

The big difference though is that Chile’s socialist government was then barely 3 years old, whereas Hugo Chavez, who brought and solidified socialism to Venezuela, was elected in 1998, some 20 years ago. Chavismo has survived relentless attacks, including the Washington induced failed coup on 11 April 2002. A month ago, on 20 May 2018, Presinet Nicolas Maduro was overwhelmingly re-elected with 68% – with a solid block of 6 million Venezuelans, who withstood constant attacks, physical violence, foreign induced slander propaganda, empty supermarket shelves, at times sky-rocketing inflation. But this solid socialism is a basis the empire cannot so easily sway its way.

However, Venezuela is in a State of Emergency. A State of Emergency, exacerbated by NATO newly stationed on 7 US military bases throughout Colombia, and by a 2,200 km border with Venezuela, of which about 1,500 km is a porous jungle, difficult to control. Accordingly, State of Emergency measures ought to be taken. Fast. Among them: de-dollarization of Venezuela’s economy, diversification of imports and an ardent strive towards food autonomy, as well as import-substituting industrial, pharmaceutical and medical production. Today, Venezuela imports about 70% of her food, though the country has the capacity, arable land and human resources-wise, to become self-sufficient.

As Mr. Putin said already two years ago, the sanctions were the best thing that happened to Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union. It forced the new Russia to reorganize her agricultural sector, as well as to rebuilding her defunct industrial arsenal and become a scientific vanguard, all of which has happened since 2000 under the leadership of President Putin. For the last three years, Russia has been the world’s largest wheat exporter and has one of the world’s most modern industrial parks, and cutting edge scientific learning and development institutions.

Venezuela has similar potentials. Venezuela also has solid allies in Russia, China and Iran – and indeed in the entire Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), an association of currently 8 members, including China, Russia and India, comprising close to half the globe’s population with one-third of the global GDP. Venezuela has already started decoupling from the dollar, by launching the world’s first government owned and controlled cryptocurrency, the hydrocarbon and mineral backed Petro which has already been accepted internationally — foremost by China, Russia, Turkey and the Eurozone.

Despite the Yankee boot on her neck, Venezuela has demonstrated the audacity to launch a dollar-independent incorruptible cryptocurrency that is slated to become a new world reserve currency, especially as other countries are having similar plans; i.e., Iran, Russia, China, India, to name just a few, and as the dollar is rapidly losing ground as the world’s major reserve asset. In the last 20 years the dollar has lost from a worldwide 90% reserve-security to less than 60% today, a trend that continues, especially as hydrocarbon trade is increasingly detached from the dollar and carried out in local currencies, gold-convertible Chinese yuan, rubles and now also the Venezuelan Petro.

This is a heavy blow to the dollar. Though, it isn’t enough. As long as the dollar is still a major player in Venezuela’s economy, the battle and related hardship goes on. Radical measures are in order. This is all the more difficult, since Venezuela, like Russia, Iran and most other non-obedient countries, are heavily infested with disastrous and destructive Fifth Column elements which are primarily controlling or manipulating the financial sectors. But the east is full with successful examples on how to detach from the fraud and greed-driven western monetary system. It is a simple model of “Resistance Economy” — local production for local markets with local money through local public banks that work for the local economy. China followed this example until she reached food- health- education and shelter self-sufficiency around the mid-1980s, when Beijing started opening up to the world, including the west, but with primary trade focus on ‘friendly’ nations. The Russian example is mentioned above, and Iran is now following her own track of “Resistance Economy”.

An Economy of Resistance is also applicable for Venezuela. It is a matter of urgency and a question of political will and perseverance. President Maduro, his Cabinet, as well as the solid and broad-based socialism in solidarity of over 6 million citizens will prevail.

Tatuy TV: A Revolutionary Munitions Factory

Logo commemorating Tatuy TV’s tenth anniversary

With a trajectory of over 10 years, Tatuy Televisión Comunistaria is a reference in Venezuela and abroad, producing a variety of content which is essential for everyone looking to understand and follow events in Venezuela. In this interview we talked to two of its members, Juan Lenzo and Iris Rodríguez, about the history of Tatuy TV, how it’s organized, how they see the role of community media in the context of the Bolivarian Revolution. We also talked about the series “Chávez the Radical”, one of the more recent projects by Tatuy TV.

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Ricardo Vaz:  Tatuy TV recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. How did it all begin?

Tatuy TV:  Tatuy TV was formally created in August 2007. But we had already been working since 2006, out of political motivations. We are a group of young revolutionaries from Mérida trying to make use of communication/media as a tool for political struggle.

Our project started off as a traveling cine-foro (cinema-forum). We would travel to different communities in Mérida, show a film, and then have a discussion with the people. Out of this work, which lasted for months, came the idea of a TV station. So a group of 14 people gathered around this project and became the founding members of Tatuy TV. These people came from social movements, some were journalists, AV producers, revolutionary militants, we had many different backgrounds.

RV: So you go ahead and launch a TV station?

TTV: We kicked off the project for the TV station in 2007. To broadcast on television in Venezuela one has to apply for a permit to broadcast in the radio-electric spectrum, which naturally belongs to the Venezuelan state. We started this process in 2007 but it wasn’t until 2012 that our request was approved and Tatuy TV went on the air as channel 48 in the spectrum.

What did we do between 2007 and 2012? Normally a TV station that’s not on the air doesn’t do much. But we had a lot to do! First of all we had to train ourselves, both in terms of the technical aspects and the conceptual, political/ideological ones. We also went on with the cine-foro activities, interacting with communities, taking part in community and political organization tasks, as well as gearing up for what was coming once the station was up and running.

RV: But were you already producing content?

TTV: Tatuy was born with the interview we did with the singer Manu Chao in 2006. That was the first production out of Tatuy. During these first years we did not produce much because we were still learning, but there was already some audiovisual production that essentially from 2009-2010 started to become more regular. And we also found ways to distribute content on the web, through Youtube and social media, which allowed us to distribute our content before our station went live.

RV: And then the TV channel went live in 2012?

TTV: That’s another story, and a tragic one! We started broadcasting on June 14, 2012, thanks to an endowment from RED TV through the Cuba-Venezuela agreement. But we were on the air for only one and a half to two years, because we had constant, and suspicious, technical problems with transmission.

Our first serious technical problem was before the presidential elections of October 7, 2012, which Chávez won. Tatuy’s signal went down for several days. At the time we managed to organize, solve the technical issues, buy new equipment, and with the help of RED TV, which is a state company that services public and community media, we went back on the air.

Then Chávez died and in the April 2013 elections, when Maduro was running, we suffered another sabotage. We recovered once more, and later during the guarimbas (violent street protests) in 2014 we lost the signal for good. From that point on we could not recover, we could not guarantee the technical stability of the station to go on broadcasting.

RV: Did this force you to rethink Tatuy TV’s mission?

TTV: Yes, at this moment we asked ourselves: what are we going to do? Because we did not have the resources to solve these technical problems. Even though the state has a policy of supporting community media, the support towards Tatuy was never reliable, despite the state having ample resources to ensure that an experiment like this one can go on.

This forced us to think about our vision for Tatuy. We knew that we had to keep producing content, to keep training ourselves, and to continue taking part in social and political struggles. And we understood that Tatuy is not an end in itself but an instrument of struggle. Therefore we started thinking and discussing, that if we conceive of the TV channel as a cannon that fires content, then let us reinvent ourselves and become a munitions factory.

In other words, we create content that is then fired by other cannons. That’s more or less the logic that we’ve followed in recent years now that we are no longer on the air. But this way we’ve had a bigger reach and a bigger impact, which has allowed us to place our content, our ideas, in community media, not just in Venezuela but also throughout Latin America, as well as in Venezuelan public media, where we have a chance of reaching a wider audience.

So in some sense this crisis ended up being a gift. It was a crisis that was enough to put a fledgling community station like Tatuy out of business, and, in fact, this has happened to almost all community media in Venezuela, which are struggling, broken, practically vanished. What allowed us to survive was this understanding of our role. And furthermore we did not want to become a private medium, where there’s an owner calling the shots, paying salaries. Rather this is a militant space.

RV: Let’s talk about the role of the media. It’s easy enough to understand it for private media, and the same can be said for state media. But what’s the role of community media, speaking of Tatuy TV in particular?

TTV: This has been a topic of constant debate, community media and their role. We have to go back to the origins of community media, which appear as expressions of concrete struggles, and not the other way around. At a certain moment the idea of a community medium was flipped on its head and fetishized, so first you created the outlet and then you went out to look for a struggle and a community. This inverted process hollowed out community media and many of them became private companies, with advertising revenues, salaries, titles, hierarchical separation of tasks (e.g. someone responsible for collecting cables, someone dedicated to cleaning, etc). They would also have a director, and quite often a given political backer behind the outlet, like a mayor or an MP.

Chavismo in Venezuela, having protagonist and participatory democracy as a premise, has tried to create many different organizational spaces. There have been lots of efforts, some successful and others not so much. But the goal has always been to strengthen this idea of protagonist and participatory democracy not as the end in itself, but as a stepping stone towards what Chávez proposed as the communal state. Therefore in principle a community medium should be charged with collaborating in this process of jumping from protagonist and participatory democracy to the communal state, to popular power, or what the classicists call the dictatorship of the proletariat.

These are then the tasks that a community outlet should embrace. We at Tatuy are very clear about our role. Tatuy is a weapon of communicational struggle, in the media and outside, with the goal of deepening the revolutionary process and building socialism as an historical project. This is our mission. If Tatuy does not fulfill this, and does not contribute towards this, then it ceases to make sense and we should look for different means of struggle.

Covering the May 20 presidential elections (Photo: Tatuy TV)

RV: How does Tatuy TV operate in terms of resources?

TTV: For us the most important “source” is voluntary work. Many of us work for the state (and right now the salaries are very low!), and the rest of our militant work is dedicated to Tatuy. There is a small group of people that currently work full time at Tatuy, either because they’re studying or looking for work. But that’s the basic principle, voluntary work and militancy. Another source of revenue for Tatuy are the contributions from these members that have jobs, as well as donations from comrades and collaborators.

We have also had projects financed by the state, but always in exchange for something. In other words, we are paid something in exchange for producing a series of contents, or workshops, or a community organizing process, etc. And we’ve produced lots of stuff with resources for example from the social responsibility fund of CONATEL (state telecommunications company), or from the federal government council, or from the Ministry of Communications, but always in exchange for something. Nothing has been gifted to us. But one thing that is very clear to us is that we have never accepted commercial advertising as a source of revenue, because we believe that amounts to surrendering principles. It would mean embracing a logic that would question the nature and political orientation of Tatuy.

Therefore that is how Tatuy has survived, with a militant, consistent and independent editorial line. Many people ask us: who is Tatuy’s “political godfather”? Which minister, or vice-minister, or MP, is behind Tatuy?

RV: In some sense it’s Chávez himself!

TTV: Yes, exactly, it’s Chávez and nobody else! That’s our response. Who is your godfather? Chávez! Everything that has been built, the conditions that allowed for a project like Tatuy, and our vision, they all emanate from Chávez’s legacy and the project of building socialism that he proposed.

RV: In a private outlet, like you said, there’s someone who is the director and someone charged with picking up cables. Is there a rotation of tasks in Tatuy?

TTV: Yes. There’s no boss here, nobody is going to tell you that you need to pick up the equipment or clean up, and, of course, we’re not going to hire someone to do those things. If we are looking to construct a new model, than it has to materialize in our practice, not just remain in speeches. So we started with basic things, rotating tasks like watching over the space, cleaning, putting away equipment, making sure everything is in good condition, ensuring that the spaces are well kept.

But moreover, nowadays in the current crisis situation, a new interesting experiment has emerged. In order for our material needs not to interfere with our work, here everyone needs to know how to cook! Every day someone is responsible for cooking for everybody else, so that the others can focus on work, and this is rotated. The same thing applies to buying food supplies, everyone has their turn.

And the same applies to the tasks that are more specific for a media outlet. There isn’t a single person in charge of taking photos because they are the ones that do it best. Here if someone doesn’t know how to use a camera they have to learn, just like they have to learn how do video editing and motage. Everyone needs to be an integral member, as well as develop politically. So there isn’t a division of labor, certainly not between manual and intellectual labor.

RV: How many members does Tatuy have at the moment?

TTV: We are 14, and 9 are women. That’s also something interesting, the fact that many comrades from revolutionary feminist movements have joined Tatuy, and we have looked to consider and develop awareness on the issue of the “care economy”. In other words, when we assign tasks we always need to be mindful of ensuring our collective well-being. How we take care of ourselves, our physical, intellectual and emotional integrity, so we can commit to our revolutionary work in the best possible conditions.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that we look to distribute work as fairly as possible, without any division of manual and intellectual labor, there are tendencies. There are people that feel more keen and comfortable, for example, doing photographic work, and therefore we also create the conditions so they can become good photographers.

Preparing to interview Venezuelan writer and historian Luis Britto García (Photo: Tatuy TV)

RV: Is there any relation between the work at Tatuy and the other jobs members might have?

TTV: That’s another interesting point. For example, I (Juan) am currently teaching political economy at the Bolivarian University of Venezuela. This task, of organizing a syllabus and teaching, was given to me by Tatuy. In other words, part of my responsibility at Tatuy is also to reach these spaces like universities. Similarly another member of Tatuy is in charge of audiovisual coordination at Unearte.

So then Tatuy has an impact on this front, which allows us to define study programs, methods, community programs. We have managed to increase our range of activities as a medium, and reach new spaces of struggle. That is to say that our impact is not just in producing audiovisual content but also in these other spaces, like classrooms, where we can socialize the knowledge and ideas that are being generated at Tatuy.

RV: In practical terms, how do you decide which contents to produce, and how tasks are distributed for each project?

TTV: Every January we shut ourselves here, and sometimes we overdo it. That has been part of our learning curve, sometimes we would be halfway through the year still working on a plan! But in recent years we have been much more disciplined and precise in elaborating a yearly plan. So every January we sit down and discuss. We take stock of the political developments of the previous year and do a prospective analysis: what do we expect from the upcoming year?

Based on that we do a political analysis of the current context, in terms of political relations, popular subjectivity, and from there we start thinking about production lines. And we also evaluate previous productions, what impact they had, which should continue, which should be dropped, which should be picked up again, and as a result of all that we draw the editorial policy for the year. This policy in turn should be adjusted to a document that outlines the editorial framework of Tatuy, the broad strokes of our mission.

RV: We have to ask: how did you come up with the idea of “Chávez the Radical“?

TTV: The starting point is the fact that Tatuy and its militants are political sons and daughters of Chávez. Our militancy, our process of political development, with the exception of a couple of older comrades, happens with Chávez. The thing is that, at first sight, Chávez looks like an ideologically eclectic figure, that one day meets with businessmen and the next day expropriates a company. So apparently he is a contradictory figure.

But we have an assessment, which we explained in an article that outlined our vision of “Chávez the Radical”, that essentially Chávez’s political trend as time went on was towards radicalisation. This doesn’t discard the fact that at certain moments he had to take a step back, make tactical alliances, negotiate in order to avoid conflicts with powerful actors that could not be confronted at the time. Nevertheless Chávez’s political trend was always towards radicalisation.

This radicalizing trajectory is actually the subject of our latest episode. Chávez kicks off his project convinced of the possibility of a “humane capitalism”, third-way politics. But after the coup in 2002, after the attacks from the US empire, Chávez said “I am forced to declare the anti-imperialist character of the revolution”. And following that, faced with the dynamics of class struggle in the Venezuelan political reality, Chávez sees it necessary to define a path, and the closest or more realistic way to guarantee the well-being of the people, was socialism. Therefore it was always a path of radicalisation. If one looks at Chávez’s speeches, right before falling ill, these are the clearest, deepest, most radical and most revolutionary speeches he produced.

RV: What is then the goal of this series?

TTV: Simply put, it’s to rescue and portray Chávez in this process of radicalisation, this radical Chávez, which from our point of view is the authentic Chávez. Chávez’s radicalism is not an attribute, an accessory, it’s immanent, inherent to the figure of Chávez and his political project. That’s how Chávez was. So this is an homage to Chávez, to the radical Chávez, and beyond that it’s a tool for our struggle, because it allows us to take part in the ideological battle inside the Bolivarian Revolution having Chávez’s thought and legacy as the starting point.

RV: In the current context of economic war and imperialist aggression, there’s a debate about the positioning of the media with respect to criticism. How does Tatuy manage this need to remain critical while at the same the tendency is to close ranks?

TTV: For us it’s clear that there are two enemies in every revolution. The direct, obvious enemy, starting with the US empire and the traditional capitalist right-wing forces. The bourgeoisie, as a class, is the historical, classical, open, obvious enemy. But there’s another enemy that’s typical of revolutionary processes and which emerges from within, which Chávez compared with this political figure of the Leopard1 (“gato-pardismo”), which is what we call reformism.

Tatuy believes the Venezuelan revolution has two main enemies, imperialism and the national bourgeoisie on one hand, and reformism on the other. These are two permanent battlefronts, chavismo cannot avoid it. Chavismo fortunately is not a homogeneous, obedient mass. It’s a space of conflict, where multiple visions are expressed; in short, it’s a space of class struggle. Therefore above all we recognize that any revolution in Venezuela from here on out will go through chavismo. That’s one of Chávez’s great achievements, that there is a critical mass that accepted socialism as an historical and emancipatory project. This is no small feat.

So we insert ourselves in that arena of struggle. We are chavistas and we consider that inside chavismo there’s a struggle to be waged. There are reformist sectors, capitalist sectors, popular revolutionary sectors, and the struggle is to conquer hegemony inside chavismo, to conquer the subjectivity of chavismo. And that’s the battle that we embrace. We critically assume the revolutionary political construction, but always, without a doubt, inside chavismo.

• First published in Investig’action

  1. This political term refers to the sentence “everything needs to change, so everything can stay the same” said by one of the characters of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s book “The Leopard”, later made into a film. In a revolutionary context this reference is targeted at those that only look to make superficial changes, leaving the existing power structures untouched.

The Foundation For International Justice Is Anti-Imperialism

An Anti-Imperialist Mural in Caracas, Venezuela (from Telesur)

The United States has had a policy of imperialism beginning after the Civil War. The US way of war, developed against Indigenous peoples, spread worldwide as the US sought to extend its power through military force, economic dominance and diplomatic hegemony.

Imperialism is driven by what Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. identified at the end of his life, the triple evils of racism, capitalism, and militarism. Lenin described imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism. Imperialism has justified mass slaughter, resulting in the US killing 20 million people since WW II. The People of the United States must say ‘no’ to imperialism.

Advocacy against imperialism is needed to prevent confusion around US militarism. The US disguises imperialism by attacking so-called “dictatorial” leaders who “use violence against their own people.” This results in Orwellian-phrased “humanitarian” wars – violence by US surrogates inside a country, massive funding to create opposition against a government or economic sanctions that cause widespread suffering.

The propaganda justifying these abuses hides the real intent — expansion of US domination so US corporations can profit from resources and cheap labor under a US-friendly government. People confused by this rhetoric sometimes repeat the propagandistic claims of US imperialists and help justify US intervention.

End US Imperialism (from PopularResistance.org)

Why US Imperialism Must Be Opposed Today

US imperialism is aggressively working on almost every continent through militarism, regime change, corporate trade agreements, economic blockades and creating indebtedness. The destruction of Libya, in an illegal “humanitarian” war, and the destruction of Iraq, in a falsely justified war, where both leaders were brutally assassinated, highlight the necessity of being clearly anti-imperialist.

There are many countries suffering from US imperialism today. Here are just a few:

Syria: Every president since the 1940s has sought to dominate Syria and has had specific plans for regime change. The Syrian conflict, often misdescribed as a civil war, is a war of aggression by the US, Saudi Araba, and Israel. During the George W. Bush administration, documents show plans to undermine the Assad government through terrorism, chaos and other attacks. In 2006, the United States started to finance an external opposition to Assad. In 2007, a plan for regime change in Syria was agreed upon between the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. The US began to use “color revolution” tools, organizing opposition in Syria, training citizen journalists and urging an “insurgency.”

During the Arab Spring-era in 2011, arrests of anti-Assad youth in Deraa resulted in protests. The police used water cannons and tear gas to disperse the crowd, but on the third-day protests turned violent, even though Assad announced the release of the detained youths. The police fought armed protesters, resulting in the deaths of seven police. Protesters torched the courthouse and Baath Party Headquarters. Violent protests continued and escalated and the Syrian government responded with violence.

Robert Ford, the first US ambassador to Syria in five years, marched with the regime change protesters. He traveled through Syria inciting rebellion against Assad, according to this interview with a former CIA agent. He, Ford, had to flee the country out of fear.

The situation escalated into a seven-year war, which has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, mass displacement, war crimes on all sides and unproven accusations against Syria of using chemical weapons. This week, seventy Syrian tribes declared war on the US at a time when Israel and the US are increasing their military campaigns in Syria.

The US has multiple imperialist interests in Syria. The US would like to close Russia’s Navy base in Tartus, Syria on the Mediterranean. A gas pipeline from Qatar to Turkey is competing with one from Iran to Syria. With large finds of methane gas in the coastal waters of Israel and Lebanon, it is likely they also exist in Syrian waters.

Iran: US imperialism in Syria is tied to Iran. As with Syria, domination has been the goal of the US since the 1950s when the CIA engineered a coup that put in place the Shah, a dictator who ruled until the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The US has long sought to control Iran‘s vast oil resources.

The US used the same tools of regime change as in Syria and other countries; e.g., massive funding to build opposition to the government, supporting, building and manipulating protests, economic sanctions, and threats of militarism. These strategies have caused disruption but have failed to undermine the government.

Sanctions and the US violation of the nuclear agreement may backfire against the US as countries are fighting back against them and the US is being isolated in the UN. The US also conducts a false propaganda campaign, with the media playing along, about a nuclear weapons program that never existed and makes false claims of Iran sponsoring terrorism. And, as it did in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, Israel is urging war on Iran. This may lead to the US creating a Syrian-like war in Iran, threatening world security.

Venezuela: Another country with vast oil resources, Venezuela has been threatened with regime change, coups and war due to US imperialism that is supported by the elites in the US. The US uses the same regime change tools; e.g., a propagandistic barrage of lies about a “dictatorship”, economic sanctions, high-levels of funding to build opposition, violent protests, terrorism and attempts to foment a civil war.

Venezuela has faced a continuous coup since the election of Hugo Chavez. In 2002, a coup against Chavez was reversed by people’s protests. There has been an economic war since then. Wikileaks’ documents show Hillary Clinton sought to undermine and replace the Chavez-Maduro government. A coup in 2016 was foiled. In 2017, there was an embarrassing failed coup supported by the US. Trump is continuing long-term US policies seeking to dominate Venezuela.

The economic war creates challenges for the Venezuelan government. The US economic war blocks food, medicine, and essentials, while traitors inside Venezuela, from the wealthy class, do the same. These internal traitors even call for sanctions and war. The US falsely claims a humanitarian crisis exists in order to justify intervention to steal the nation’s oil and natural resources.

Sadly, this fools too many people who are not clear on opposing US imperialism, while it also unites many in Venezuela against US imperialism. The US-allied internal traitors admitted to 17 years of crimes in a proposed amnesty law in 2016, when they controlled the National Assembly.

In Latin America, particularly in Venezuela, Colombia plays the role of Israel for the US as the point of the US spear threatening war. Colombia has long-worked with the CIA for regime change in Venezuela. Indeed, Colombia just brought the imperialism military tool, NATO, to Latin America. The US and its allies are looking toward war, making war preparations, conducting military exercises and are calling for a military coup. The world is saying ‘no’ to war against Venezuela as is much of Latin America.

In Venezuela, democratic elections resulted in a landslide victory for President Maduro, which was really a defeat of US imperialism. The election was important as the US, Canada, and the European Union were threatening Venezuela. It was a decisive election for the Bolivarian Revolution, which will continue for now.

And, There Are More: These are three examples of many. In Latin America through non-governmental organizations and US agencies, the US funds oligarchy, opposition to democracy and support for neoliberal policies and has a long history of US coups. In Nicaragua, the same tools of regime change are being used. There has been a US-supported soft coup in Brazil and Honduras.

Coups and militarism are not limited to Latin America. During the Obama era, US coups in Ukraine and attempts in the Middle East occurred. Ukraine deserves special mention as this country, which borders Russia, was a long-term imperial aim of the United States. State Department official Victoria Nuland said the US spent $5 billion to build an opposition to the government and manage a coup. There are now proposals to arm Ukraine against Russia, so the danger is growing.

The dramatic protest against democratically-elected President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014 was a US coup spearheaded by violent neo-Nazis. This Obama-era coup was “the most blatant coup in history,” according to the corporate CIA-firm, Stratfor.  The US has taken over their gas industry, putting Joe Biden’s son and a longtime friend of John Kerry on their board, has taken over agriculture, has a former State Department official serving as finance minister, picked their Prime Minister and put in place the US’s “Our Ukraine Insider” president. In the US, media propaganda is constant, focusing on Crimea returning to Russia and demonizing Putin.

While there are more current examples of US imperialism, we will finish with a brief discussion of Africa, where the US seeks to dominate the land, resources, and labor of a continent which holds natural resources critical to 21st Century technology and oil and where $100 billion in US corporate theft occurs annually. Under Obama, AfriCom greatly expanded and the US now has bi-lateral military agreements across the continent, military bases, drone basesSpecial Operations Forces and a military presence in 53 of 54 countries creating an imperial-scale military presence.

The Congo, which has suffered 500 years of European and US imperialism and where four million people have been recently displaced, deserves special focus. The Congo has natural resources more valuable than the entire EU’s GDP. Tech companies violate human rights, such as children as young as seven mining cobalt for lithium batteries.  Africa is shaping up to be the center of 21st Century imperial US wars.

American Imperialism (from Countercurrents.org)

Anti-Imperialism: The Foundation For A Just Foreign Policy

These conflicts are all rooted in resource sovereignty in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Do these countries control their natural wealth or will US imperialism steal it from them? Peace and justice movements must build on a foundation of anti-imperialism and not be fooled by the lies of elected officials, militarists, and the corporate media.

Some will attack those clearest on opposing imperialism. At the Left Forum, a small group criticized long-time US human rights and peace advocate, Ajamu Baraka, for his stance opposing US imperialism in Syria.  The previously unknown group, the “League for the Revolutionary Party”, was made up of a small number of members of the International Socialist Organization and Democratic Socialists of America. They showed how those who do not make opposition to imperialism a foundation of their advocacy are easily confused.

They had to misquote Baraka and take his views out of context to justify their attack. By protesting Baraka, they attacked the leader of the Black Alliance for Peace, making their protest racist. They also protested someone who challenged the war party duopoly, as he was the vice presidential nominee of the Green Party. Their protest not only supported US militarism in Syria but sought to weaken the rebuilding of the black peace movement and challenges to the war parties.

If we ground ourselves in anti-imperialism, we will not be as easily misled. We must respect the sovereignty of other nations and support popular struggles without promoting US intervention.

The people of many countries unite in opposition to US imperialism, economic warfare and threats of militarism. It is our job in the United States to act in solidarity with them and say ‘no’ to US imperialism.

Communes and Workers’ Control in Venezuela

“Nobody surrenders here! Commune or nothing!” – a mural depicting Chávez and the commitment to building the commune (Photo: Venezuelanalysis)

“The communes should be the space in which we are going to give birth to socialism.” – these were the words of Hugo Chávez in one of his famous presidential broadcasts. To discuss the Venezuelan communes and the new forms of participation, as well as its successes, difficulties and contradictions, we have interviewed Dario Azzellini*. He has investigated and documented theses issues throughout the Bolivarian Revolution. His book Communes and Workers’ Control in Venezuela has recently been released in paperback by Haymarket Books.

*****

Ricardo Vaz: In your book you talk about a “two-track process” in Venezuela, from above and from below. Can you explain this?

Dario Azzellini: Traditionally, some people have a vision that change is coming from above, so you have to take over state power and the government and then you change everything from above. Others disagree and defend that you have to do everything from the bottom-up and the grassroots, and overcome the state.

I think Venezuela shows that the state is there, whether you want it or not. It does not go away if you ignore it. On the other hand, we also have the experience that if you try to change something from above without having the self-organised structures in society to sustain it, then the conscience of people is not really changed and everything can fall apart like a house of cards a few seconds after you lose state power.

A characteristic feature of a few recent processes in Latin America, and in Venezuela especially, with all their difficulties and contradictions, has been the combination between certain kinds of changes and reforms from above with a strong self-organisation on the ground. Also if we look at it, especially in Venezuela, many of the proposals that were successful, from the recuperated workplaces to the local self-administrations of communal councils and communes, were things that were created by the people, at the bottom, and then picked up by Chávez and turned into government policies.

Chávez visiting the El Maizal commune in 2009 (Photo: Minci)

The “two-track” approach means that you have at the same time these efforts for change from above and from below. From a logic standpoint, you can have a bottom-up logic in some state institutions as you can also have a hierarchical top-down conception in some of the grassroots movements. So it is more complicated than it seems.

RV: What are the contradictions that emerge?

DA: There are strong contradictions.  It still is a constant relationship of cooperation and conflict. Because these are two completely contradictory logics, even if they declare to pursue the same objectives.

The logic of an institution is always to measure everything with statistics, whereas the social logic is often not measurable in statistics. When I was working in Venezuela with communal councils, you could have the communities, for instance, starting to meet once a week to watch a film together and then discuss. Or they could start cooperating with the adjacent community council on some common issues, maybe solving some conflict that had long existed between the communities (and nobody remembers why!).

At the same time, from an institutional standpoint, a government body or a ministry that is responsible for the construction of these communal councils, has to prove its worth to the next institutional level, it has to measure something. Watching a film or cooperating with the neighbouring community cannot be fit into any statistic. But if this community builds 2 kms of a new asphalt road, then it is great! We can report the 2 kms of road, the cubic meters of asphalt needed, and the money spent, to show they have been doing something. However, from a social and political logic, it is much more valuable to watch a film or cooperate with the other community.

The logic of the institution is always a logic of representation and it is always questioning any non-representational body even if they formally agree with it. Someone sitting in an institution, who has to explain to his boss and institution what he has been doing, is weary of letting the people decide. What if the people decide wrong!? Thus he may feel inclined to decide himself what is best. You have these contradictory logics all the time.

Moreover, there is the contradiction of a power asymmetry. The institutions control the finances and have privileged access to media and other institutional levels. Therefore this power asymmetry has to be taken into account.

The hillside barrios surrounding Caracas have a long tradition of popular organisation (Photo: Ryan Mallett-Outtrim/Venezuelanalysis)

RV: What about situations in which the state was (at least in principle) on one side, like struggles for workers’ control?

DA: You still find these contradictions at play in cases like workplace occupations. For instance, workers would occupy a given company, and an institution that was very eager to support them would come in immediately, and after two weeks expropriate the workplace. But the workers did not have the time to form a collective, to grow in the struggle, to really figure out what they want.

This expropriated workplace would then hardly ever make it into a self-organised, worker-controlled workplace, because it could not grow organically. At the same time the institution that intervened or the new administration might have no interest in surrendering control to the workers, or even actively sabotage and hinder workers’ control. And once the workers’ councils were introduced, they tried to undermine them, co-opt them, or reduce them to consulting bodies without any real power, while workers fought and still fight for workers’ participation and control.

So that is why I say it is a constant logic of conflict and cooperation between these two: between the constituent power (workers, grassroots movements, etc.) and the constituted power (state institutions). And that is the motor of history.

Therefore with all the problems that have plagued recent Latin American processes, due to pressures from the outside, from the right, from the inside, from mistakes that were made, etc., what happened over the past 20 years has the imprint of both the constituent and constituted power. And it is based on the friction between these two powers.

RV: It is interesting that we are used to seeing class struggle for the state or outside the state, but here it is somehow brought into the institutions…

DA: It is both inside and outside. We could say it is “inside, outside, with, against and beyond” the state and the institutions! Which is really complicated and contradictory. We have to keep in mind that these are (at best) bourgeois institutions, so their tendency is to assimilate and co-opt everything, not to build socialism or participation, obviously. Therefore it is a very complicated and contradictory struggle, which has been an important element in countries like Venezuela.

In countries that are built around very few extractive industries, oil in the Venezuelan case, class struggle has not been direct but mostly about access to the state, which was the big distributor of the oil rent. This was true even before Chávez. You had private capitalists trying to get as much money as possible, while workers also directed their demands to the state. After 1998, with the election of Chávez, this struggle was moved also inside the state and it is still there.

Meeting of the national network of communes in 2011 (Photo: Red Nacional de Comuneros)

Unfortunately I think that huge pressure from the outside is silencing too many contradictions and struggles. In a moment when the threat from the outside is so strong many of the movements who would have critiques to voice have to close ranks. Because obviously if the opposition takes back power, or if the US intervenes militarily, directly or using Colombia as a proxy (which I think is more probable), then there is not even a chance to have these discussions because everything in the Bolivarian Revolution would be eliminated.

RV: Let us make a little detour. Whenever Venezuela is discussed in the media, or even within leftist circles, the focus is never on these struggles, or the new models of participation that we will get to, but always on the supposed shortcomings from the perspective of “liberal democracy.” But in the book you argue that this is not the proper, or the more relevant, “yardstick”. Why is that?

DA: The Bolivarian Revolution is a result of the failure of liberal democracy. This is not specific to Venezuela, liberal democracy has been a failure everywhere. We have seen in the recent past millions of people out on the streets because they think that liberal democracy is not democratic. All the new movements, progressive or leftist, that we have seen emerging, are a result of the non-democratic nature and the failures of liberal democracy. And the same is true for the right-wing populist movements we see in Europe, or in the US with Trump.

Even the term “liberal democracy” is a contradiction in itself, because we should remember that liberalism and democracy were two opposites. They had been fighting each other for hundreds of years. Liberal democracy came to be when the liberals managed to exclude from the democratic process the economic and social spheres, thus reducing participation to the political sphere through the act of voting for representation. Therefore liberal democracy has, in fact, very little to do with democracy.

The starting point for Venezuela and most of the movements in Latin America is the failure of liberal democracy, the failure of allowing for social advances, the failure of improving people’s lives, the failure of being democratic, the failure of making people feel that they have a say. If this is the starting point, we cannot be criticising or measuring what is happening with liberal democracy as the yardstick. Liberal democracy is what has to be overcome.

Chávez speaking at the closing of the 2012 presidential campaign (Photo: AVN)

RV: From the very start of the Bolivarian Revolution, and with the 1999 Constitution, there is a new emphasis on participation and protagonist democracy and there are several experiments, some successful, others not so much, until you arrive at the communal councils. Why were the communal councils the first ones to really succeed?

DA: From the very early 2000s the Bolivarian government was already thinking about mechanisms of popular participation in institutional decisions. The first examples mirrored experiments that existed in other places, like the participatory budgets. Then they started with experiments of creating bodies to bring together institutional (e.g. the municipalities) and grassroots representatives. And these failed, because those were still largely representative bodies with a very clear power inequality or asymmetry, like I described before. This made it impossible to have any kind of grassroots autonomy or decision-making.

These difficulties were not exclusive to opposition mayors or municipalities, they also happened with chavista ones. The communal councils were the first attempt to separate these structures as much as possible.1  A communal council is the assembly of a self-chosen territory. In urban areas it comprises 150-200 families or living units, in rural areas 20-30 and in indigenous areas, that are even less densely populated, 10-20, and they decide themselves what is the territory of the community. The communal council is the assembly of all people of the community that decides on all matters.

The communal councils form workgroups for different issues, depending on their needs: infrastructure, water, sports, culture, etc., and these workgroups elaborate proposals that are then voted by the community assembly to establish what is more important. Then they get the projects financed through public institutions. The financing structure that was created was no longer attached to the representative institutions at a local level, which would have brought them into this direct, unequal competition I had mentioned. Instead it was situated at a national or at least regional levels. And this created a possibility to have a more community-centred, more independent, projecting and decision-making.

Forming a communal council in the El Manicomio neighbourhood of Caracas (Photo: Rachael Boothroyd-Rojas/Venezuelanalysis)

RV: How many communal councils are there in Venezuela? And how do we get to the communes?

DA: Nowadays there are formally 47.000 communal councils. Obviously that is a huge number and I do not sincerely think that all of them work as democratic popular assemblies. There will be many of them that probably do not really work, especially with the economic crisis. Others will be driven by a few activists that have the support but not the active participation of the community, while many others are really working as community assemblies.

The next step was the creation of communes, which again started by self-deciding on the territory. They do not have to correspond to the official territorial divisions. They can stretch across different municipalities or even states. For example, in the outskirts of Caracas you have communities that formally belong to the state of Vargas on the coast, but because of the cordillera they do not even have a road connecting them to Vargas. Their infrastructure and cultural links are with the city of Caracas, so they form communes together with communities that are officially part of Caracas.

Communes in urban areas are usually made up of 25-40 communal councils, and in rural areas between 6-10 or 15. It depends. And also have the participation not only of the different community councils but also of other organisations existing in the territory. These may be peasant organisations, or the community radio, or organisations like the Corriente Revolucionaria Bolívar y Zamora. All organisations existing in the territory take part in the assemblies of the commune.

RV: How do the communes function?

DA: The commune is again only a place to coordinate proposals and take them further. The basic decisions are still taken in the communal councils. And the next step beyond that would be a communal city, which would not necessarily be structured as a city, but rather it is made up of different communes. There are a few communal cities, even if there is still no law about them!

This is a familiar pattern. The communal councils started being built from below, with different names, some even had institutional backing, and no law regulating them. Then Chávez saw these assemblies and named them communal councils, and by the time the law was drafted in 2006 there were already some 5000 of these councils running. The same thing happened with the communes. They started to be built exist because the communities needed a bigger structure to decide on bigger projects, and by the time the law of communes was passed there were already hundreds of them in existence.

And they had to pressure the institutions to recognise them and register them officially as communes, because during the first years the institutions were declaring all communes as “communes under construction”. From an institutional logic, it is in their interest to declare as many communes as possible as needing their support. Once a commune is declared as functioning that is no longer the case. So in the end the communes needed to force the institutions to register them.

Schematic depiction of the communes (Photo: Ministry of Communes)

RV: And how many communes exist nowadays?

DA: Now there are around 1600 registered communes. Again, as with the communal councils, I would say they fall into three groups. Some are not really functioning after state support disappeared because of the crisis, others keep on functioning because of some well-organised activists that do the heavy lifting, with the support of the communities but without the assemblies meeting regularly, and other ones that are still functioning well.

One thing that I would definitely say is that the communes that are working are the structures that are being more successful in confronting problems that people are facing. There are interesting experiments with huge community controlled production facilities, or closed-down workplaces that were taken over by the community and the workers to set up all kinds of production. During this very difficult crisis, that strains social networks by pushing people to more individualism. These things are very relevant.

RV: What has been the role of women in these participatory bodies?

DA: Women have been the driving force. In the community councils, especially in urban areas, I would say over 70% of the people taking responsibility and pushing the struggle are women. There are many reasons for this. On one hand the rentier model of Venezuela has generated lots of speculative and informal activities that do not always supply regular work, and this naturally becomes worse in times of economic difficulties. But while this affects men mostly, women retain the experience of regular work because of all the other responsibilities (children, domestic work, etc.).

Therefore women are very much the centre of the household, and the centre of community life. This also has historical roots. If you read anthropological literature, in Caribbean societies like Venezuela, the trans-Atlantic slave trade implied that men were sold more often, and thus women were the more stable part of slave society. This is some kind of late consequence of that, reinforced by the long-standing economic model.

RV: One of the features that you mentioned is that the communal councils and the communes emerged from the bottom-up and then there was legislation to follow. This contrasts a bit with the (media-pushed) perception that somehow everything was happening via a Chávez decree…

DA: I think that one of Chávez’s extraordinary capacities was that he was able to pick up what the people were doing, and what was working, and then function as a kind of loudspeaker! He would propagate these things that he saw as being successful, something that political scientists might call “good practices”, and make them widely known. And obviously because he was so charismatic and people trusted him, he was able to make them immediately discussed and propagated, so they would expand.

So contrary to the general perception like you say, most initiatives that Chávez launched and were successful, succeeded because they were practices that the people were doing already. He broadened them, made them better known and helped them expand, and at a certain point gave them a legal standing. This, of course, is not exclusive to Venezuela. For example, the workers of Rimaflow in Italy2 used to discuss how every law favouring workers in Italy came into being after the practice already existed, after different struggles and strikes had already forced them into place. So even in what can be considered as a favourable context like Venezuela, these “good practices” are often implemented first and later made legal.

Corn harvest in El Maizal (Photo: Prensa El Maizal)

RV: On the larger issue of the communes, Chávez stressed very often that communes were the “Venezuelan way to socialism”. How do communes help us reach socialism?

DA: Well, according to Marx, the commune is the finally discovered political form to emancipate labour.3 It is a step of decentralisation, of local self-government, that is connected to workers’ and community control, which is very important as a step towards socialism. It makes it possible to create different values, to create a different consciousness from the bottom-up, to create a self-organisation oriented towards the collective advancement of people in communities beyond capitalism.

The communes allow for a tendential overcoming of the separation between political, economic and social spheres, turning more resources into commons, to be managed by the community. (I say tendential because this is still a parallel structure amidst still existing representative, institutional structures, and capitalism in general.) This is what socialism was in the imagination of Karl Marx and many others.

RV: Can we see these advances of these participatory forms of democracy in a more global context, connected to the failure of liberal democracy that we discussed before?

DA: Indeed. The last huge uproar of council socialism were the workers’ councils in the early 20th century. After that the model of representation also took grip of the left and the communist movements, imposing itself as the hegemonic model even for socialist transformations.

So these currents become a minority while the Fordist model of production also reflected itself in an imagination of socialism as a representative, top-down paradigm. Now that Fordism is exhausted as a production model, liberal democracy as the political model serving Fordism is also at its limits. We should remember that the rights gained were not because of liberal democracy. They were forced on liberal democracy, they were won in struggle. For a while it was possible to push and advance progressive struggles within the framework of liberal democracy, but now it is clearly no longer the case.

This is the reason why we are witnessing a resurgence of socialist/communist/anarchist ideas, whatever you want to call them, models of self-administration, of council democracy, of self-organised socialism. The first internationally visible case was the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, we saw it in Venezuela like we have been discussing, but also in places like Argentina, Bolivia or even Kurdistan, always in different forms. We saw it in the workplace recuperations that occurred worldwide, we saw it in Occupy Wall Street and 15M, in Gezi and Tahrir, as well as plenty of other cases that we barely heard about, for example in Africa.

In summary I would definitely say that there is a resurgence of these concepts and ideas of socialism based on direct, council democracy, on self-management, on self-organisation – on this long history of people themselves organising their lives.

President Maduro meeting with comuneros in 2015 (Photo: Prensa Presidencial)

RV: Going back to the Venezuelan communes, one of the discussions/debates within this spirit of conflict and cooperation with the state is that once you create a Ministry for Communes, there is a risk that they start being seen as just a sector of society, and not as something that is supposed to replace the state in the long run…

DA: That is exactly one of the problems. Chávez was very clear about the idea of the council democracy replacing the institutional framework, and he coined this term of the “communal state“. Which is a bit of an oxymoron, because if it is communal it is not a state anymore! But this is a long-standing confusion in the whole socialist and communist movement. For example, Marx insisted that the Paris Commune was not a state at all, but a government, while the council communists of the early 20th century were mainly arguing that council democracy is not government (some of them later called it a proletarian state).

Chávez insisted and was adamant that the communes should at some point overcome the bourgeois state. It is not that clear whether the same view is held among government officials and institutional actors in the rest of Venezuela, there are many that see the communes as a kind of permanent parallel structure to the representative bodies.

RV: And at the local level there are often conflicts with the communes, which may be seen as a threat…

DA: Yes, definitely. Local and regional administrations are very often in conflict with the communes because they see them as a direct threat, and they are a direct threat! That is the point of the whole thing! They are representing structures that have to be overcome by the communal system. Of course politically they are supposed support it and not fight it, but this goes back to the clash between the participatory/communal and representational logics that I talked about before.

RV: Let us talk about workers’ control, which is a subject that you discuss in great detail in the book. How did this logic of conflict and cooperation affect the struggles for workers’ control, for example, in the basic industries in the state of Bolívar?

DA: It affected them in a very problematic way. The whole workers’ control struggle in Bolívar, in the heavy industries (aluminium, iron, steel), did not advance at all. Through the years there were a lot of efforts, but eventually they stalled, while at the same time the production also did not really advance. Corruption and sabotage involving local power structures, institutional resistance, and contradictions within the workers’ movement doomed the struggle to failure. The basic industries are in a really troubling situation today.

In other cases, like state-owned Lácteos Los Andes (a big milk, yoghurt and juice producer) and in Aceites Diana (the biggest margarine and oil producer) there were strong workers’ struggles in 2013, and as a result the government agreed that the gradual workers’ control would be introduced, but still the question did not advance. There have been successes on a smaller scale, for example, production facilities that have been taken over by workers together with communes. There is Proletarios Uníos, which used to be the Brazilian Brahma Beer producer. They are now bottling drinking water from a deep well. They have also set up animal food production, all in cooperation with the surrounding communes, for example, exchanging with another worker-controlled facility that raises chickens.

Workers’ assembly at Alcasa aluminium plant (Photo: Prensa CVG Alcasa)

RV: To conclude, there is a very clear economic crisis and economic war in Venezuela today. Where does that leave the model of communes and workers’ control? Is it still the way forward?

DA: I would say yes. With all the problems and contradictions that exist, the “new Venezuela” of the people, the new idea of socialism, of collectivism, is being developed in the communes and the communal councils and the recuperated workplaces. And this is not just an academic debate. We should remember, for example, that during the oil sabotage or lockout of 2002-03, the heavy industries and the oil industry were saved by workers taking control. The organised workers and communities have always offered the staunchest defence of the Bolivarian Revolution.

But obviously with the economic crisis and the death of Chávez the current context is not favourable for the communes and for workers’ control. A few years ago there might have been an expectation that the government would solve everything, but nowadays most grassroots organisations, movements and communes are convinced that they are the ones that will have to build socialism. They support the government in avoiding a military intervention, fighting against the financial blockade and economic war, they understand that they need to close ranks otherwise even the possibility of discussing more structural changes will disappear. But they do not expect any significant steps towards socialism to be taken from above. Rather, they hope to be afforded the space to keep building socialism from below.

* Dario Azzellini is a sociologist, political scientist, author and documentary filmmaker. He has worked and written extensively on the issue of workers’ control and self-government. Together with Oliver Ressler he has produced two documentaries about Venezuela and the Bolivarian Revolution, Venezuela from below and Commune under construction. His latest book on Venezuela, Communes and Workers’ Control in Venezuela. Building 21st Century Socialism from Below, has recently been released in paperback. More information on his work can be found on his website.

• First published in Investig’Action

  1. On this matter Chávez said “[…] a grave error was committed, the communal councils cannot be converted into extensions of the mayoralties […]. That would be to kill them […] before they were born.” (Aló Presidente 246).
  2. A former manufacturer of air-conditioning pipes for BMW in Milan, Rimaflow was taken over by the workers when abandoned by the owner and now engages in a number of activities, from recycling industrial pallets to producing artisanal liquor. For more, see our previous interview with Dario Azzellini, or the documentary “Occupy, Resist, Produce” (by Dario Azzellini and Oliver Ressler).
  3. Karl Marx described the Paris Commune in these terms: “It was essentially a working class government, the product of the struggle of the producing against the appropriating class, the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economical emancipation of labour.

American Anti-Soviet Union morphs into American Anti-Russia

Unpersons

One reason it’s so easy to get an American administration, the mainstream media, and the American people to jump on an anti-Russian bandwagon is, of course, the legacy of the Soviet Union. To all the real crimes and shortcomings of that period the US regularly added many fictitious claims to agitate the American public against Moscow. That has not come to a halt. During a debate in the 2016 Republican presidential primary, candidate Ben Carson (now the head of the US Housing and Urban Development agency) allowed the following to pass his lips: “Joseph Stalin said if you want to bring America down, you have to undermine three things: Our spiritual life, our patriotism, and our morality.” This is a variation on many Stalinist “quotes” over the years designed to deprecate both the Soviet leader and any American who can be made to sound like him. The quote was quite false, but the debate moderators and the other candidates didn’t raise any question about its accuracy. Of course not.

Another feature of Stalinism that was routinely hammered into our heads was that of the “non-person” or “unperson” – the former well-known official or writer, for example, who fell out of favor with the Stalinist regime for something he said or did, and was thereafter doomed to a life of obscurity, if not worse. In his classic 1984 George Orwell speaks of a character who “was already an unperson. He did not exist: he had never existed.” I was reminded of this by the recent sudden firing of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State. Matthew Lee, the courageous Associated Press reporter who has been challenging State Department propaganda for years, had this to say in an April 1 article:

Rex Tillerson has all but vanished from the State Department’s website as his unceremonious firing by tweet took effect over the weekend.

The “Secretary of State Tillerson” link at the top of the department’s homepage disappeared overnight Saturday and was replaced with a generic “Secretary of State” tab. When clicked, it leads to a page that informs visitors in a brief statement that Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan “became acting Secretary of State on April 1, 2018.” It shows a photo of Sullivan signing his appointment papers as deputy in June 2017 but offers no explanation for the change in leadership.

In addition to that change, links that had connected to Tillerson’s speeches, travels and other events now display those of Sullivan. The link to Tillerson’s biography as the 69th secretary of state briefly returned a “We’re sorry, that page can’t be found” message. After being notified of the message, the State Department restored the link and an archive page for Tillerson’s tenure was enabled.

The most repeated Cold War anti-Communist myth was, of course, Nikita Khrushchev’s much quoted – No, eternally quoted! – line: “We will bury you.” On November 20 1956 the New York Times had reported: “In commenting on coexistence last night Mr. Khrushchev said communism did not have to resort to war to defeat capitalism. “Whether you like it or not, history is on our side,” he said. “We will bury you.”

Obviously, it was not a military threat of any kind. But tell that to the countless individuals who have cited it as such forever.1 So, as matters turned out, did communism, or call it socialism, bury capitalism? No. But not for the reason the capitalists would like to think – their superior socio-economic system. Capitalism remains the world’s pre-eminent system primarily because of military power combined with CIA covert actions. It’s that combination that irredeemably crippled socialist forces in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Philippines, Guatemala, Haiti, Ecuador, the Congo, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Chile, Angola, Grenada, Nicaragua, Bulgaria, Albania, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, El Salvador, etc., etc., etc.

We’ll never know what kind of societies would have resulted if these movements had been allowed to develop without US interference; which, of course, was the idea behind the interference.

Political assassination. Political propaganda.

In the Cold War struggles against the Soviets/Russians the United States has long had the upper hand when it comes to political propaganda. What do the Russkis know about sales campaigns, advertising, psychological manipulation of the public, bait-and-switch, and a host of other Madison Avenue innovations. Just look at what the American media and their Western partners have done with the poisoning of the two Russians, Sergei Skripal and his daughter, in the UK. How many in the West doubt Russia’s guilt?

Then consider the case of Hugo Chávez. When he died in 2013 I wrote the following:

[W]hen someone like Chávez dies at the young age of 58 I have to wonder about the circumstances. Unremitting cancer, intractable respiratory infections, massive heart attack, one after the other … It is well known that during the Cold War, the CIA worked diligently to develop substances that could kill without leaving a trace. I would like to see the Venezuelan government pursue every avenue of investigation in having an autopsy performed. (None was performed apparently.)

Back in December 2011, Chávez, already under treatment for cancer, wondered out loud: “Would it be so strange that they’ve invented the technology to spread cancer and we won’t know about it for 50 years?” The Venezuelan president was speaking a day after Argentina’s leftist president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, announced she had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. This was after three other prominent leftist Latin America leaders had been diagnosed with cancer: Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff; Paraguay’s Fernando Lugo; and the former Brazilian leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

“Evo take care of yourself. Correa, be careful. We just don’t know,” Chávez said, referring to Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, and Rafael Correa, the president of Ecuador, both leading leftists.

Chávez said he had received words of warning from Fidel Castro, himself the target of hundreds of failed and often bizarre CIA assassination plots. “Fidel always told me: ‘Chávez take care. These people have developed technology. You are very careless. Take care what you eat, what they give you to eat … a little needle and they inject you with I don’t know what.”2

When the new Venezuelan president, Nicolas Maduro, suggested possible American involvement in Chávez’s death, the US State Department called the allegation “absurd” even though the United States had already played a key role in the short-lived overthrow of Chávez in 2002. I don’t know of any American mainstream media that has raised the possibility that Chávez was murdered.

I personally believe, without any proof to offer, (although no less than is offered re Russia’s guilt in the UK poisoning) that Hugo Chávez was indeed murdered by the United States. But unlike the UK case, I do have a motivation to offer: Given Chávez’s unremitting hostility towards American imperialism and the CIA’s record of more than 50 assassination attempts against such world political leaders, if his illness and death were NOT induced, the CIA was not doing its job. The world’s media, however, did its job by overwhelmingly ignoring such “conspiracy” talk, saving it for a more “appropriate” occasion, one involving their favorite bad guy, Russia.

If I could speak to British prime-minister Theresa May and her boorish foreign minister Boris Johnson I’d like to ask them: “What are you going to say when it turns out that it wasn’t Russia behind the Skripal poisonings?” Stay tuned.

Another of the many charming examples of Cold War anti-communism

Nostalgia is on the march in Brazil, a longing for a return to the military dictatorship of 1964-1985, during which nearly 500 people were killed by the authorities or simply disappeared. It was a time when the ruling generals used systemic brutality, including electric shocks, as well as psychological torture in their effort to cement power and ward off what they called “communism”. They also stole many of the very young children of their victims and gave them to their followers, whom the children then believed to be their parents.

Crime is the main problem in Brazil today, the leading reason for the desire to return to the good old days of dictatorial rule. An estimated 43 percent of the Brazilian population supports at least a temporary revival of military control, according to a 2017 poll, up from 35 percent in 2016. Fear of violence, whether it be terrorism or street crime, has fueled support for authoritarian parties and bolstered populist leaders with tough-on-crime, anti-immigrant platforms around the world, from President Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines to Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in Austria to a fellow named Trump in the good ol’ US of A.

“Thanks to you, Brazil did not become Cuba!” the crowd chanted at a recent demonstration in Brazil, some snapping salutes.3

This is indeed the height of irony. In all likelihood many of those people were not strangers to hunger, struggling to pay their rent, could not afford needed medical care, or education; yet, they shouted against a country where such deprivations are virtually non-existent.

The United States, of course, played a significant role in the 1964 overthrow of the Brazilian democracy. How could it be otherwise in this world? Here is a phone conversation between US President Lyndon B. Johnson and Thomas Mann, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, April 3, 1964, two days after the coup:

Mann: I hope you’re as happy about Brazil as I am.

LBJ: I am.

Mann: I think that’s the most important thing that’s happened in the hemisphere in three years.

LBJ: I hope they give us some credit instead of hell.4

Does the man ever feel embarrassed?

In his desperation for approval, our dear president has jumped on the back of increased military spending. Speaking to the presidents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania he said that he should be given “credit” for pressuring countries like theirs to give more money to NATO. None of presidents had the nerve to ask Mr. Trump why that is a good thing; perhaps pointing out that some of the millions of dollars could have been used to improve the quality of their people’s lives.

A few days later, at the White House Easter Egg Roll the president “bragged to a crowd of children about increasing military spending to $700 billion.” One can imagine what their young minds made of this. Will they one day realize that this man called “The President” was telling them that large amounts of money which could have been spent on their health and education, on their transportation and environment, was instead spent on various weapons used to kill people?

The size of the man’s ego needs can not be exaggerated. The Washington Post observed that Trump instructed the Lithuanian president

to praise him on camera, just as he said she had done privately in the Oval Office. She obliged, saying changes to NATO would not be possible without the United States and that its ‘vital voice and vital leadership’ are important. Trump pressed her: ‘And has Donald Trump made a difference on NATO?’ Those in the room laughed, as she confirmed he has made a difference.5

Thank God some of those in the room laughed. I was beginning to think that all hope was lost.

The stars we honor

Is it a sign of America’s moral maturation that numerous celebrities have been forced to resign or retire because of being exposed as sexual predators?

Maybe. To some extent. I hope so.

But I’d be much more impressed if talk shows and other media stopped inviting and honoring much worse people as guests – war criminals, torturers, serial liars, and mass murderers; people like George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Madeline Albright, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Henry Kissinger, Donald Rumsfeld, John Bolton, and many military officials.

  1. For a book-length discussion of cold-war anti-communist propaganda see Morris Kominsky, The Hoaxers (1970).
  2. The Guardian (London), December 29, 2011.
  3. Washington Post, March 16, 2018.
  4. Michael Beschloss, Taking Charge: The White House Tapes 1963-1964 (1997), p.306.
  5. Washington Post, April 5, 2018.

Preferred Conclusions: The BBC, Syria And Venezuela

As the late media activist Danny Schechter wrote, when it comes to the corporate broadcast media: ‘The more you watch, the less you know.’

Schechter’s observation only fails in one key respect: ‘mainstream’ output does tell us a lot about which foreign governments are being lined up for regime change.

In 2013, it was remarkable to see the BBC reporting claims from Syria on a daily basis in a way that almost always blamed the Syrian government, and President Assad personally, for horrendous war crimes. But as the New York Times reported last month, the picture was rather less black and white. The US was embroiled in a dirty war that was ‘one of the costliest covert action programs in the history of the C.I.A’, running to ‘more than $1 billion over the life of the program’. Its aim was to support a vast ‘rebel’ army created and armed by the US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to overthrow the Syrian government.

The BBC’s relentless headline stories were mostly supplied by ‘activists’ and ‘rebels’ who, in fact, were militants attempting to overthrow Assad, and whose claims could not be verified. Veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn described the problem afflicting virtually all ‘mainstream’ reporting on Syria:

All wars always produce phony atrocity stories – along with real atrocities. But in the Syrian case fabricated news and one-sided reporting have taken over the news agenda to a degree probably not seen since the First World War… The real reason that reporting of the Syrian conflict has been so inadequate is that Western news organisations have almost entirely outsourced their coverage to the rebel side.

There was a simple reason why ‘rebel’ claims were uncontested: they originated from ‘areas controlled by people so dangerous no foreign journalist dare set foot among them’. The additional point being that ‘it has never been plausible that unaffiliated local citizens would be allowed to report freely’.

This was obvious to everyone, doubtless including the BBC, which nevertheless produced a tsunami of ‘rebel’-sourced propaganda. Crucially, these stories were not balanced attempts to explore the various claims; they sought to establish a version of events justifying regime change: ‘rebels’ and ‘activists’ were ‘good’, Assad was ‘bad’ and had to go. Journalist Robert Parry explains:

The job of the media is not to provide as much meaningful information as possible to the people so they can exercise their free judgment; it is to package certain information in a way to guide the people to a preferred conclusion.

The BBC campaign was clearly inspired – whether consciously or otherwise – by a high-level decision to engineer regime change in Syria.

The key moment arrived in August 2013 when the US came very close to launching a major attack against Syrian government forces, supposedly in response to Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons in Ghouta, Damascus. Only the UK parliament’s rejection of the case for war and warnings from US generals on doubts about the claims, and likely fallout from regime change, prevented Obama from attacking.

Particularly disturbing was the fact that, as the possibility of a direct US regime change effort faded, so too did the steady flow of BBC atrocity claims. It was as if, with the goal temporarily unattainable, the propaganda tap was simply closed. It was later re-opened ahead of an anticipated, pro-war Clinton presidency, and then as part of an attempt to push president-elect Trump to intensify the Syrian war.

‘Well, Shock, Shock, It’s The Oil!

This year, we have witnessed a comparable BBC propaganda blitz on Venezuela centred around opposition claims that President Maduro has ‘eroded Venezuela’s democratic institutions and mismanaged its economy’.

The BBC campaign has again been characterised by daily reports from Venezuela presenting a black and white picture of the crisis: Maduro ‘bad’, opposition ‘good’. The BBC has again promoted the sense of an escalating crisis that will inevitably and justifiably result in regime change. It is no surprise, then, to learn from the Independent:

The head of the CIA has suggested the agency is working to change the elected government of Venezuela and is collaborating with two countries in the region to do so.

CIA director Mike Pompeo said he was ‘hopeful that there can be a transition in Venezuela and we the CIA is doing its best to understand the dynamic there’.

No eyebrows were raised in a US political culture obsessed with unproven claims of Russian interference in last year’s US presidential elections. Last month, Pompeo’s boss, President Trump, commented on Venezuela:

We don’t talk about it but a military option, a military option is certainly something that we could pursue.

Pompeo’s and Trump’s statements indicate a continuation of US policy that supported a 2002 coup that temporarily overthrew (then) President Chavez and which ‘was closely tied to senior officials in the US government’.

Political analyst Ricardo Vaz notes the ironic fact that ‘many of the opposition leaders’ denouncing Maduro’s alleged attacks on democracy, including Henrique Capriles, Julio Borges, Leopoldo López and Maria Corina Machado, ‘were directly involved in the 2002 coup attempt’.

US interest in Venezuela was explained with admirable candour in a classified US government document from December 12, 1978:

‘OUR FUNDAMENTAL INTERESTS IN VENEZUELA ARE:

1. THAT VENEZUELA CONTINUE TO SUPPLY A SIGNIFICANT PROPORTION OF OUR PETROLEUM IMPORTS AND CONTINUE TO FOLLOW A MODERATE AND RESPONSIBLE OIL PRICE POSITION IN OPEC…’

According to the respected BP ‘Statistical review of world energy’ (June 28, 2015), proven oil reserves in Venezuela are the largest in the world, totalling 297 billion barrels.

The US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, naturally shares Trump’s and Pompeo’s view of the country, commenting:

We are evaluating all of our policy options as to what can we do to create a change of conditions where either Maduro decides he doesn’t have a future and wants to leave of his own accord or we can return the government processes back to their constitution. (Our emphasis)

The fact that Tillerson was chairman and chief executive officer of the world’s largest oil company, ExxonMobil, from 2006-2016, having joined the company in 1975, might give cause for pause in considering the ‘change of conditions’ he has in mind. In 2007, the Evening Standard reported:

BP and the other majors are taking a hard line with Chavez, demanding conditions and compensation for [Venezuelan policy changes]… Exxon Mobil chief executive Rex Tillerson said that unless the negotiations produce a profitable proposal, “we won’t be staying”.’1

And, of course, Trump has left us in no doubt about who is the rightful owner of the world’s oil:

I wasn’t a fan of Iraq, I didn’t want to go into Iraq. But I will tell you – when we were in, we got out wrong. And I always said, in addition to that: “Keep the oil!”… So we shoulda kept the oil. But okay, maybe we’ll have another chance… But the fact is: we shoulda kept the oil.

Our search of the Lexis database (August 30, 2017) for UK national press articles mentioning ‘Tillerson’, ‘Exxon’ and ‘Venezuela’ over the seven months since Tillerson was made Secretary of State generated precisely three hits. None of these discussed oil as a possible motive driving US policy – a taboo subject.

Investigative journalist Greg Palast describes why and when Venezuela became an Official Enemy of the West:

Well, shock, shock, it’s the oil! Chavez, back in 2000, 2001, decided that he wasn’t going to give it away anymore… Big US oil companies were paying a royalty for Venezuela’s super-heavy oil of about 1 per cent – 1 per cent! – okay. And for the regular oil, the heavy oil, it was 16 per cent. So the oil companies were keeping 84 per cent, and Chavez said: “You’re going to have to pay 30 per cent, you can only keep 70 per cent of our oil… You gotta split off a bit for the people of Venezuela.” And, of course, that made him enemy number one – not to Americans, but to America’s landlords, the oil companies.

Regional specialist Mark Weisbrot commented recently on the Venezuelan opposition’s US allies:

These right-wing U.S. politicians – with much cooperation from all of the U.S. administrations of the past 15 years – have consistently fought to overthrow the Venezuelan government. This is all they can think about, regardless of the consequences of escalating violence, increased suffering, or even civil war.

Weisbrot’s overly-optimistic conclusion:

The U.S. strategy of “regime change” has contributed to the death of hundreds of thousands of people — mostly civilians — in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan. It has also had a hideous history in the Americas. Hopefully something has been learned from these crimes and tragedies.

The BBC’s Propaganda Blitz

In numerous ‘reports’, the BBC has presented damning criticism of the Venezuelan government, often with no or nominal balance. We will sample below from a large number of similar offerings with a few related examples from other corporate media.

On May 6, the BBC published a piece titled: ‘Venezuela protests: Women march against Maduro’. The article reported:

The US has also expressed concern about what UN ambassador Nikki Haley called a “violent crackdown”.

At least 36 people have died and hundreds have been injured in weeks of protests.

This gave the impression that a government ‘crackdown’ was responsible for the deaths. But the truth was more mixed. In July, Venezuela Analysis reported that since violent anti-government protests began on April 4, there had been 14 deaths caused by the authorities and 23 direct victims of opposition political violence, with 61 deaths disputed or unaccounted for.

Like so many BBC articles, this one focused on claims that Venezuela is a ‘dictatorship’:

“The dictatorship is living its last days and Maduro knows it,” former MP Maria Corina Machado told AFP news agency at the women’s march.

The BBC even included a comment presumably intended to remind readers of the infamous toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad (in fact orchestrated by US forces):

Meanwhile video posted on social media purportedly showed the pulling down of a small statue of Hugo Chavez in the western town of Rosario de Perija.

In similar vein, a May 9 BBC piece included the comment:

The secretary general of the Organisation of American States (OAS) likened the country to a dictatorship.

While recognising that the Maduro government certainly merits criticism for mishandling the current situation, ‘both economically and politically’, political analyst Greg Wilpert noted that ‘none of the arguments against the democratic legitimacy of the Maduro government hold much water’. Moreover, ‘polls repeatedly indicate that even though Maduro is fairly unpopular, a majority of Venezuelans want him to finish his term in office, which expires in January 2019’.

Western media devoted intense coverage to Maduro’s decision to hold elections for a Constituent Assembly in July. In response, the Trump administration extended sanctions. Mark Weisbrot commented:

The pretext for the sanctions is that the new Constitutional Assembly will essentially carry out a coup d’etat, abolishing the National Assembly – which the opposition won by a wide margin in December 2015 – and allowing President Nicolas Maduro to cancel presidential elections, which are due next year.

But as Weisbrot noted, such a cancellation ‘will not happen automatically’ as a result of the Constituent Assembly election, and so ‘it does not make sense that the sanctions should be triggered by the election itself’.

On May 11, the BBC published ‘Inside Venezuela’s anti-government protests’. The first comment relayed by the BBC:

There’s no freedom of expression here in Venezuela. There’s no freedom of any kind.

Media analyst Joe Emersberger describes the reality:

The biggest lie told over the past fifteen years about Venezuela is that its media is cowed by the government and that it has rendered the opposition voiceless.

He adds:

In fact the protests and the leading opposition leaders’ take on the protests are being extensively covered on the largest private networks: Venevision, Televen, Globovision. If people abroad sampled Venezuela’s TV media directly, as opposed to judging it by what is said about it by the international media and some big NGOs, they’d be shocked to find the opposition constantly denouncing the government and even making very thinly veiled appeals to the military to oust Maduro.

The BBC’s second quoted opinion:

‘e’re here to put an end to the dictatorship in Venezuela, so that our children can grow up in a free Venezuela.

There was no balance and there have been no similar compilations looking ‘inside’ Venezuela’s pro-government protests. One would hardly guess that Maduro was elected president on April 14, 2013 in a democratic election.

In a May 12 report, ‘Venezuela protests: a week in pictures’, the BBC included two successive photo captions, which read:

People angry with the government of President Nicolas Maduro have been taking to the streets almost daily since the beginning of April.

And:

Many have been injured, and there have been close to 40 protest-related deaths.

This again suggested that people ‘angry with the government’ had been killed. Opposition violence has included bomb attacks on police, grenades thrown at the supreme court building from a helicopter, a government supporter burned alive, shootings, attempted lynchings, and so on. This violence was not mentioned by Paul Mason when he condemned ‘Maduro’s crackdown’ in the Guardian. A New York Times op-ed under the title, ‘Venezuela Needs International Intervention. Now.,’ commented in similar vein:

President Nicolás Maduro has responded with an iron fist. More than 50 people have been killed, 1,000 injured, and 2,700 arrested…

The bomb attack on Venezuelan National Guard soldiers shown in this video, severely injuring several of the soldiers and cheered by people watching, would, of course, have been described by all US-UK media as a ‘terror attack’, if it had happened in the West.

The Guardian published a similar photo gallery of anti-government protestors, but not of pro-government protestors. The compilation came with remarkable captions of this kind:

Drawing inspiration from Ukraine’s 2013-14 revolt, young protesters in Venezuela carry Viking-like shields as they battle government security forces during protests against President Nicolás Maduro

One photo caption read:

‘”Miraflores on fire” is written on the front of this shield. Miraflores Palace is the president’s official workplace’

Another:

The opposition says President Maduro has created a dictatorship. The last parliamentary vote held in 2015 gave the opposition a majority but the government has repeatedly blocked any attempts to oust Maduro

The BBC’s May 16 piece was titled, ‘Venezuela: Teenager killed as mass protests rage’. A May 18 BBC piece maintained the sense of developing crisis: ‘Venezuela: Soldiers sent to quell looting amid protests’. On May 22, a BBC report opened with these words:

“Venezuela is now a dictatorship,” says Luis Ugalde, a Spanish-born Jesuit priest who during his 60 years living in Venezuela has become one of the South American nation’s most well-known political scientists.

The BBC later offered another ‘inside’ look at anti-government protestors: ‘Apathy to activism: Venezuelan students on why they protest.’ Mario Bonucci, rector of the University of the Andes, was quoted:

This is an institution where you can speak your mind freely without fear of repercussion and that’s uncomfortable for this government.

A remark that again ignored the fact that widespread criticism of Maduro’s government is published and broadcast by many Venezuelan media. The BBC offered no balancing comment.

The 2002 Coup: Telling Omissions

On July 9, the BBC wrote of opposition leader Leopoldo López:

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has praised the decision to release from prison one of the country’s main opposition leaders, Leopoldo López…

Mr López was serving a 14-year sentence for inciting violence during anti-government protests in 2014, a charge he has always denied. The Supreme Court said he was released on health grounds.

There is rather more to be said about Lopez. Venezuela Analysis commented:

Lopez is also well known in Venezuela for his active participation in the April 2002 coup against the democratically elected president Hugo Chávez. During the coup, using his authority as Mayor of Chacao, he led the illegal arrest of Minister of Justice Ramón Rodríguez Chacín.

The report continued:

In a joint appeal with Maria Corina Machado, López called on citizens to join his “La Salida” campaign (“The Way Out”), described the government as a “dictatorship” and called on Venezuelans to “rise up” emulating the example of January 23, 1958 (when a popular uprising overthrew the Perez Jimenez dictatorship). The message was clear: Venezuela was a dictatorship, the government had to be overthrown by force.

The Guardian also reported on Lopez:

Security agents have since seized two opposition leaders from their homes after they called for protests against the vote.

Joe Emersberger pointed out some telling omissions:

Umm no. Leopoldo Lopez – while already under house arrest – made a video in which he called for a military coup. Don’t try this while under house arrest in the UK, where you can get put away for Facebook posts advocating a riot (even if you are not under house arrest at the time).

Writing for OffGuardian, Ricardo Vaz asked of corporate media performance:

Why is there never a mention that the opposition leadership is full of protagonists from that US-backed military coup that ultimately failed? Quite simply because it would undermine the entire “democracy vs. dictatorship” propaganda narrative.

Numerous journalists have attempted to use the Venezuelan crisis to also attack Jeremy Corbyn as part of the relentless smear campaign against him. In The Times, David Aaronovitch wrote of the Venezuelan revolution:

I believe we need to know why you [Jeremy Corbyn] think it’s failed.

This from the columnist who has tirelessly backed wars of ‘liberation’ generating mass death and utter disaster in Iraq, Libya and Syria.

Conclusion:  Enforcing “The Truth”

The goal of a mass media propaganda campaign is to create the impression that ‘everybody knows’ that Saddam is a ‘threat’, Gaddafi is ‘about to commit mass murder’, Assad ‘has to go’, Corbyn is ‘destroying the Labour party’, and so on. The picture of the world presented must be clear-cut. The public must be made to feel certain that the ‘good guys’ are basically benevolent, and the ‘bad guys’ are absolutely appalling and must be removed.

This is achieved by relentless repetition of the theme over days, weeks, months and even years. Numerous individuals and organisations are used to give the impression of an informed consensus – there is no doubt! Once this ‘truth’ has been established, anyone contradicting or even questioning it is typically portrayed as a shameful ‘apologist’ in order to deter further dissent and enforce conformity.

A key to countering this propaganda is to ask some simple questions: Why are US-UK governments and corporate media much more concerned about suffering in Venezuela than the far worse horrors afflicting war-torn, famine-stricken Yemen? Why do UK MPs rail against Maduro while rejecting a parliamentary motion to suspend UK arms supplies to their Saudi Arabian allies attacking Yemen? Why is the imperfect state of democracy in Venezuela a source of far greater outrage than outright tyranny in Saudi Arabia? The answers could hardly be more obvious.

  1. ‘Oil giants face reserves blow in Venezuela grab,’ Evening Standard, April 30, 2007.