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LOCAL News :: Media Criticism : Peace & War

US attempts to defame President Chavez of Venezuela

Sentinel Newspaper dangerously highlights Administration "spin" while ignoring any genuine information on Venezuela.
Ruth I Valdez
Watsonville, CA 95076

rvalde (at)

January 16, 2006

Santa Cruz Sentinel
207 Church St.
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Tom Honig, Editor
Donald Miller, Managing Editor

Dear Editors,

In the article “US Forbids Spain to Sell Air Transports to Venezuela� the Sentinel has chosen to highlight a few words in bold type, thus repeating and emphasizing the administration’s “spin� on Venezuela, that “despite being democratically elected, Chavez has undermined democratic institutions�. This increasingly obvious disinformation campaign started after the US backed coup failed in Venezuela in 2002.

Let’s look at Venezuela’s “anti-democratic� actions as cited in a proposed House Resolution by Connie Mack (R-Fl).

· Venezuela is “destabilizing� the region.

The truth is that the US has been losing its control over Latin America for some time. Latin Americans have seen the adverse effects of Washington’s economic policies and as a consequence Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela (and perhaps soon to include Mexico), have elected presidents who oppose the US neo-liberal policies, presidents who care more about their citizens than about the well-being of US corporations. Chavez is not alone in South America in supporting this shift.

· “President Chavez is supporting ‘radical forces’ in Colombia, Bolivia, and Ecuador�.

The only “radical forces� that Venezuela is supporting in Bolivia and Ecuador are their democratically elected governments. And he has close ties with President Uribe’s government in Colombia.

· Anti-democratic Action: Chavez’s win by 18 percentage points in the 2004 referendum “enabled him to virtually rid the political landscape of any official opposition�.

The opposition’s huge loss was in spite of their controlling most of the TV and newspapers in Venezuela, and largely due to their boycott of the election, as well as to the popularity of the social programs President Chavez has implemented. What could Chavez’s party have done to ensure that the “opposition remained on the political landscape�? A simple solution for the opposition would be to get in tune with the electorate and thereby win an election.

· Anti-democratic Action: The 1999 referendum on the new constitution, which passed by a wide margin, “has allowed President Chávez to increase his dominion over the democratic institutions of Venezuela and has given Chávez full control over every institution in the Venezuelan federal government�.

It’s true that the winning coalition members now dominate the executive and legislative branches as a result of elections, and that the National Assembly has appointed mostly MVR (Fifth Republic Movement) party members to the other three branches of government. However, this is different from Chávez himself “having full control� over every body; Chávez appoints only other members of the executive. The National Assembly members are elected by the voters, and it is the National Assembly that appoints the other three branches of government (Electoral Council, Supreme Court, and Citizen Power).

Chávez’s lack of control over other governmental branches is evidenced by major divisions between them, including the attorney general's challenge (using largely opposition arguments) to the controversial National Assembly penal code reform.

· Anti-democratic Action: “President Chavez has stacked the supreme court and lower courts with loyalist judges, severely crippling the independence of the judiciary.�

With the widespread and well-known corruption throughout the Venezuelan judiciary, pre-dating Chávez, there was no independence for Chavez to cripple. But still, it was the National Assembly, not Chavez, that expanded the number of judges from 20 to 32, after a highly questionable court decision that prohibited anyone from being charged for the failed 2002 coup! And judicial appointments and constitutional changes are made by the legislature, not the executive branch. So while judicial independence remains a problem, it is not a reflection of President Chávez “stacking� anything.

· Anti-democratic Action: Visiting dictators and controlling oil prices

Chávez made visits mainly to OPEC nations. Venezuela has repeatedly said that it wants to diversify its export of oil, and to quadruple the amount of sales to China. Increasing oil prices and diversifying oil markets certainly cannot be considered an anti-democratic move. The Venezuelan economy depends on the price of oil, and the social programs, which the oil pays for, are giving many Venezuelans healthcare, an education, and control over their lives, for the first time in their entire history.

· Anti-democratic Action: Chávez’s treatment of those who sought to overthrow the government, such as “using the legal system to persecute opponents�, amounts to “violating citizens’ civil and political rights.�

Chávez himself can’t use the court system to do anything. Rather it’s the Attorney General who brings charges against people. The courts have convicted one person for the oil industry shutdown and three more are in jail, pending trial, for their role in the coup. That’s the extent of Venezuela’s political prosecution.

Venezuela has shown restraint against those who, with the prior knowledge of the US, sought to overthrow its democracy using entirely illegal means. The two-day 2002 coup forcibly kidnapped and replaced the President, dissolved the National Assembly and the Supreme Court, and cancelled the Constitution which had recently been approved by a huge majority of the voters.

· Anti-democratic Action: “President Chavez undermines traditional labor unions in Venezuela by creating competing, government-affiliated unions within the same company�.

The new union, the National Union of Venezuelan Workers (UNT), is not “government-affiliated�—nor did Chávez “create� it. It is not government funded, nor are government officials among the leadership. However the fact that the UNT seems to be undermining traditional labor unions in Venezuela is a victory for workers’ rights.

Few blue-collar workers would question the need for an alternative to the country’s traditional labor union, the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV). That union is well known for its corruption and pro-management actions. A recent CTV president, for example, did not support government wage increase and non-layoff laws. In the mid-1990s the union came to a distinctly anti-worker deal with the Caldera administration.

Anti-Democratic Action: Maintaining a Sovereign Foreign Policy

· Anti-democratic Action: “President Chavez has developed a close relationship with Cuban President Fidel Castro.�

Cuba is providing Venezuela with medical teams, sports coaches, and assistance with intelligence and security services. It sends hundreds of doctors and teachers who provide free services to the citizens of Venezuela. Cuba offers free medical school training to Venezuelans, just as it does also to Americans. And Cuban assistance in developing Venezuelan intelligence services is not anti-democratic as long as the services are not being used to spy on their own citizens.

· Anti-democratic Action: Venezuela’s decision to update their armed forces by replacing their 50-year-old FAL rifles and buying ships for their Coast Guard.

This is a no-win situation. Venezuela is accused either of “anti-democratically� acquiring weapons in order to fight against drugs, or “anti-democratically� failing to fight against drugs.

But all of this raises the question of how Venezuela’s foreign policy is Washington’s concern. Venezuela, as a free democratic nation, can have relations with whomever it chooses. If the Venezuelan people object to their government’s foreign policy, it is their right to lobby, protest, and vote, until the policy or the administration is changed.

· Anti-Democratic Action: Accusing the US of Wrong-doing

Chávez’s insults to and disdain of G.W. Bush, and his accusations of US interference in Venezuela, embarrass the US Administration. But it’s true that the US did know about the impending 2002 coup, and said nothing. And the US funded NED does give money to organizations attempting to remove Chávez from power, contrary to international law.

The irritating part is that Chávez keeps talking about these and other transgressions! Why not? Freedom of expression is a right which everyone in Venezuela fully enjoys. Is free speech that doesn’t support the US agenda suddenly “anti-democratic�?

It looks like democracy in Venezuela stands a good chance of surviving in spite of Washington. The facts keep getting in the way of Bush’s demonization campaign. There is widespread support for President Chavez in Latin America, and there is not support for US policies. Poverty in Venezuela is steadily falling, economic growth is healthy, help for the poor with medical care and education is expanding rapidly, the country is continuing to sell its oil to the US, and Chavez’s popularity remains very high. So, defaming President Chávez is going to be hard work, maybe impossible.

I would hope that the Sentinel sees its mission as being that of giving its readers genuine information, rather than just parroting in bold print this administration’s “spin�; that the editors would recognize dangerous disinformation, unsubstantiated and calculated to whip up support for yet another bloody “intervention� in a sovereign nation that has a lot of oil.

Ruth Valdez

Electronic version is available upon request to Ruth at rvalde (at)

P.S. And maybe someone on your staff could research and explain how it is that the US assumes the right to “forbid� one sovereign nation to sell an airplane to another sovereign nation, and how that relates to international law.

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