There is a certain ebb and flow to defamatory journalism, but it does seem to coincide with US policy shifts. And by this measuring stick, President Hugo Chavez once again must be front and center at the State Dept., Defense Dept. and the White House. The Miami Herald published a story about Chavez entitled, “Hugo Chavez Tightens his Control by Silencing His Adversaries.”
While a gringo wrote the story, a Latino contributed to it, allowing me to say that this article is another shameful example of the press doing the white man’s bidding.
During the tabulation of results from the December 2007 Venezuelan constitutional referendum, the opposition, certain of losing, began distributing t-shirts emblazoned with “Fraude” or fraud. Obviously, if they lost the referendum, their Plan B was to charge Chavez and his supporters with tampering with the vote. Yet, when the announcement of the results came, the “NO” vote won by a razor thin margin. A shock went through both camps.
Immediately after the results were announced, President Chavez made a nationwide speech in which he congratulated the opposition and urged all Venezuelans to look to the future.
Many observers of Venezuelan politics think the “NO” win was a significant victory for the opposition. Actually, it was not the “win,” but the campaign in the run up to the election that provided the opposition with its most important gain: millions of US destabilization dollars poured into the coffers of various opposition groups for the sabotage of the referendum process.
Referendum or not, the opposition and the US’ biggest problem is getting rid of Chavez. In addition to Venezuelan oil, Chavez is an electric leader in an evolving left of center Latin America. The “socialist menace” must be stopped and Chavez is first in line that controls it.
The most powerful tool for furthering the goals of the opposition and the US to oust Chavez is extensive use of the media in Venezuela and, most especially, in the US — a “coalition of the willing writers,” if you will. Venezuela’s private media (read opposition media) has been running at full propaganda pitch for over ten years and its rhetoric will not change appreciably the relatively static numbers of pro- and anti-Chavez supporters. Nevertheless, the Venezuelan media can be very helpful to the US press by providing the base propaganda in the form of altered video and audio tapes and lies and innuendo for which it has become famous. During the coup in 2002, a private TV station “framed” Chavez supporters by juxtaposing TV angles to suggest that a violent confrontation on the streets of Caracas was started by Chavez supporters who fired on unarmed opposition demonstrators. In reality, the violence began with police sharp shooters allied with the opposition who fired on both Chavez supporters and opposition demonstrators. Some Chavez supporters drew their guns and shot back in self-defense and to provide cover for the many wounded on the ground who were trying to drag themselves to safety. When the video clip appeared on private TV stations, it showed only Chavez supporters firing. The TV station’s deceit was blown wide open by the reporter who covered the story.
The Venezuelan private media’s raw propaganda will form the basis of US media’s articles and op-eds to which will be added a layer of “interpretation” to help the public better understand events in Venezuela. The objective is to prepare the public to accept, cheer, and maybe even beg the US to take major action against Chavez. And who are the master “interpreters?” Increasingly, they are Latino journalists working for the most influential newspapers in the United States.
Over the years, journalists such as Simon Romero, Sergio Munoz, Pablo Bachelet, Juan Forero and others have maintained a stranglehold on coverage of Latin American politics at such newspapers as The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, Miami Herald, Washington Post, etc. In the days before and after the referendum vote, these journalists churned out articles and op-eds which “interpreted” President Chavez as a dictator who wanted to rule for life and opposition leaders as choirboys patriotically pursuing “democracy.” Of course both interpretations are untrue. Chavez has worked with the people and the National Assembly to produce one of the most democratic and dynamic political systems in the Western Hemisphere. The opposition’s drumbeat for “democracy” is straight out of the US’ destabilization handbook and is a cover for elite privatization of the country’s resources at the expense of the poor majority of Venezuela.
According to the Venezuelan ambassador to the US, in a statement released shortly after the referendum,
“The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and The New York Times dedicated over 11,000 words in 14 op-eds or editorials to attacking Venezuela just in the last month. The Miami Herald alone published more than 15 op-eds and editorials in that same period.”
A few decades ago, US media began hiring African Americans to cover the Black community and Latino journalists to cover Latin American issues. After thirty years, it is apparent that both Black and Latino journalists were brought to the big newspapers to provide cover for racist mainstream journalism. It’s a way of continuing business as usual, without being called on the public carpet. Many good and credible journalists of color became part of mainstream media in this way, but learned quickly their choices were limited: either fight for change from within the newspaper and risk possible dismissal or adapt. Adapt, in this context, means making serious compromises of journalistic integrity.
Because of familiarity with both the culture and language, Latino journalists are thought to have a “special understanding” of Latin America that gringos could never hope to possess. This is almost a given, but the question is what is the nature of this “understanding?” I think the answer lies in 500 years of racial hatred and class prejudice in Latin America.
Many of these journalists are either first or second generation Latinos here in the US. Those from privileged backgrounds are likely to have inherited attitudes of race and class prejudice which were integral to the success of their elite families back in Latin America or Spain or Portugal. Alternately, Latino journalists from far less privileged backgrounds are likely to have inherited attitudes about being on the receiving end of race and class prejudice.
By virtue of employment with prominent US news outlets, Latino journalists interact most frequently with elite business and government figures in both the US and Latin America. Increasingly immersed in a rich, powerful and overwhelmingly white world, the more privileged journalists find validation for their race and class biases. For Latino journalists from more humble backgrounds, entry into mainstream journalism is a much sought after “step up,” but often requires disassociation from their race and culture to prove that they can be trusted with their own by-lines.
Latin America is perhaps the most racist region in the world. Racism operates within a rigid pyramid featuring at the top, the numeric minority- European-descended people (including Arabs), followed by mestizo (mix of European and Indian) with Indians and Africans at the bottom.
Race is a pervasive and, therefore, destructive obsession in Latin America and nowhere is the neurosis more evident than in Brazil. Brazilians have at least 25 different characterizations to describe one another based on skin color. It is not uncommon for an Afro-Brazilian, upon obtaining a certain level of personal success, to begin referring to himself as white. In Latin America, white and sometimes non-white people, upon introduction to a foreigner, are quick to establish their “Spanish” or “Portuguese” heritage.
Of course, it was the European colonizers who authored this racial caste system to maintain control over a majority population of color. The Europeans knew, if red, black, and brown ever got together, they would be the ones massacred instead of the other way around.
Venezuela is also severely divided across race and class lines. If you have seen pro-government demonstrations you will note they consist largely of poor people of color while opposition demonstrations reflect a preponderance of white or mestizo who appear to be from class rungs well above the Chavistas. The movie, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” an extraordinary chronicle of the 2002 coup in Venezuela, bears witness to this race-class contrast. The filmmakers,two Irishmen were in Venezuela doing a documentary about Chavez when the coup unfolded. They were in the presidential palace, Miraflores, filming when opposition forces kidnapped Chavez. The next day, the filmmakers returned to the palace and stumbled upon a celebration by the coup plotters. As the camera pans the room, we see a crowd of very well-dressed people sipping champagne, grinning and giggling at the camera, and casting knowing winks at one another. Then it hits you like a ton of bricks: the number of women with blonde or red hair exceeds even the norm for “white” women in Venezuela. You begin to wonder how these champagne sippers, who had just violated both Venezuelan and international law with a coup against Chavez and the installation of President-select, Pedro Carmona, could be so stupid as to allow these unknown filmmakers access to a party where they were toasting each other over their crimes. The reason the Irishmen weren’t challenged is because the coup plotters assumed anyone white at the palace that day was on their side.
With such stark contrasts in race and class, political issues are like powder kegs. It takes little to set them off. In the hands of the US media’s Latino journalists, race, class, and leftist leaders are stirred into a dangerous combination and, when wielded as a chorus from many newspapers, is capable of crippling peoples’ movements and toppling governments across Latin America.
In the end, big newspapers don’t have to give an accurate picture of Latin America, they only need to use the “authoritative” voice of Latino journalists who have carte blanche to demonize, lie, and advocate overthrows.
What does all of this mean for US readers of these newspapers?
Readers will never learn that Latin America has been ruled by a minuscule minority of largely European-descended leaders who have been hell bent on sucking every resource from the land for personal gain and especially on behalf of corporate America. Readers will never learn that the US, in an attempt to sink its tentacles even deeper into Latin America, financially backed presidential candidates with less than Europeanized faces, thinking that by doing so they could ward off unrest or revolution. Yet, the people knew that these brown-faced candidates had the mentality of privatizing white men and the only reason they were able to hold on to power is because the US rigged their elections.
Without knowing about the details of the 500 years of oppression in Latin America, the reader can never understand that when opposition leaders in Venezuela call for democracy and justice it is a betrayal to both. It is a dual mantra repeated all over Latin America by the elites and represents increasing privatization, expansion of private property, and keeping the rest of the population in abject poverty. And, just like the days of the conquistadors, the only way the elite can obtain these things is through theft and murder.
What does this mean for peoples’ movements in Latin America?
For the first time, in both Venezuela and Bolivia, the people have elected leaders who not only look like them, but think like them. For the first time in 500 years the peoples of Venezuela and Bolivia are calling the shots. No wonder the Venezuelan opposition and US media have engaged in the most debased propaganda trying to destroy Hugo Chavez of Black and Indian descent and Evo Morales, an Indian. No wonder they are caricatured in the press as various animals with emphasis on their fuller than European features. And no wonder their supporters are variously demonized as stupid, violent, guerrillas, and leeches upon society. Having tasted what it is like to run the ship, it is clear that the people are not going to let the Europeans take their sovereignty away from them again. The stakes are high, the stances are intractable, and the battle will be bloody.
And what does this mean for Latino journalists?
Chavez and Morales and their massive numbers of supporters pose the biggest threat to elite domination of Latin America in 500 years. “Bringing down” Chavez and Morales will be the most important assignment that many Latino journalists will have and their rewards are certain to be high. Enough said.
And solidarity activists supportive of peoples’ movements in Latin America?
Over the next several months, everyone involved in issues concerning the sovereignty of Venezuela and Bolivia will be playing tough. Those of us in solidarity with peoples’ movements in Latin America must play tough as well. While there are many fronts on which to do battle. I suggest we start with journalists who are doing the white man’s bidding.