From Venezuela With Love
This letter, which is from a minister in the Venezuelan government to the Washington Post is rich in terms of teasing out the ways in which the media, while supposedly being an antagonistic institution in relation to the government, in reality regularly serves as its voice box. For instance, as this letter shows, even the so-called "liberal" media of the Washington Post is perfectly willing to accept the US government's talking points when it comes to Hugo Chavez, Venezeula and their neighbor Columbia. Venezuela is run by a thug and a dictator who is recklessly trying to cling to permanent power, while in Columbia the president is making similar moves yet somehow these actions don't merit the same attacks.
Furthermore, the idea that the media is supposed to be creative of critical about the state of the nation is pretty ridiculous, in fact as we can see all over the place, in the coverage of US history, the framing of different issues and the treatment of the rest of the world and its "problems," we can see that the real function of the media seems to be protecting the nation and its government from any critiques.
For example, the speeches of Reverend Jeremiah Wright which have caused Barack Obama so much problems lately, may be difficult to listen to, but except for a few statements, everything he said is right on and accurate in terms of the violence the United States has committed within its borders and the violence it exports elsewhere. The media however, in their covering of this "explosion of racial hatred" has worked tirelessly to take away any productive or constructive aspect of this issue, except for perhaps making it an episode where Obama can further distance himself from the divisiveness of "black" politics, people, history and rage. Any inkling that what Wright said about America and its history and contemporary traditions of violence, might be true or be relevant to a nation which is currently fighting a least two open wars at present, and providing the weapons for several more, is sucked out of the issue.
Here, the media is basically protecting the United States from recognizing itself in the violence it has caused or the violence it has committed and which has helped create its prosperity. Here, when Jeremiah Wright correctly calls out the United States government and people for wanting blood and revenge after 9/11 (thus making it possible for two different nations to be enthusiastically bombed and occupied), the media assures everyone that only a racist fanatic would think such a thing.
It is possible, that this issue is being pushed forward because of the limitations of the media and its format. I'm pasting a youtube video of a longer segment of the infamous "chickens coming home to roost" lecture, where you can see more of Jeremiah Wright's argument, and how what he is saying is not just rooted in an acknowledging of the violent history of the United States, but also in what the Bible warns against those who seek out revenge.
You can also see this in the way "frames" which are used by the media to interpret or make comprehensible other countries, other regions, are not used to understand or interpret the United States and its actions. The easiest way to understand this is that there is a double standard for frame, or that the media, like the government uses two lexicons of words and images, through which it discusses the United States and its allies, and the rest of the world.
This is most obvious in terms of "terrorism." When violence is prepetuated by the United States and its allies such as Israel, the United Kingdom or Columbia, it is named or described in ways which give it authority, legitimacy, which make clear that this violence creates security or stability. We can find this very clearly in the case of Iraq, where regardless of what violence the United States military is committing, it is always discussed in such a way that the security, safety and stability of Iraq is dependent upon this violence.
Meanwhile, for the rest of the world, violence is discussed through a collection of words and images which make clear its lack of legitimacy, or associate it with disorder, chaos, and the source of madness, the anathema to stability and security. Recently when the President of Iran visited Iraq, the made light of this interesting disconnect. When asked about possible interference in Iraq by his government and military, he redirected the question back onto the United States and its presence in the country, noting that Iran is not the nation who has more than 140,000 troops here.
There are a multitude of ways in which these sorts of frames are also "unusable" when thinking about the United States and its problems, crimes or just current situation. The media in the United States tends to accept the premise that everything here is better, more secure, etc. And so other countries may be described as having histories of genocide, problems with the democracies, voting problems or fraud, being corrupt, being backwards or primitive, engaging in aggression, yet we need not look far to find all of these things in large and small ways in the United States.
For Guam, what is always the most frustrating for me is the "corruption" frame, since Guam is one of the those "banana republic" colonies, which is barely clinging to life because its is always choking to death on its own corrupt existence. Where in these natural, almost assumed as obvious condemnations of the island, which comes from both within its borders and without, are the links or the mentions of American corruption?
To bring out more of this point, I'll paste below a piece of my post titled "How the Activists Hurt Guam (...and America)," which deals with the corruption issue and how when the government and the media positions itself in relation to Guam, through the frame of the corrupt little island government, the United States can actually escape any colonial entanglements and turn itself in the victim of the situation!
Connecting this to Guam and its power against the United States, the point is that power is maintained here by appearing to be powerless, to be the victim. As the victim, there is no question of motives, only well-intended innocence. For the perpetrator, who may have nothing (in terms of money, in terms of resources, in terms of military) in comparison to this newly christened victim, all the advantages suddenly appear to be theirs, they have all the power in the world, and have used it in this moment to wound and hurt the poor United States.
For instance, I often receive annoying comments and emails from people in the United States who yell at me condescendingly about all the pathological waste and corruption of Guam, and how it is given SO MUCH money from the United States, but can’t do anything else but squander it all and give it all to their cousins and their relatives. In almost all of these emails, the United States is positioned as a helpless, innocence thing, perfekto Tihun Sam. The United States is a kindly old man, who cannot help but give away money, and always seems to be cheated by Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Third World countries that it gives SO MUCH MONEY to (para u fanmanmåhan paki siha). But because he is always so nice, innocent and bumpkinish, the money keeps flowing and the poor bihu is continually taken advantage of by scheming natives, greedy dictators yan i manngekematai yan i manmamataiñålang. To these people, the innocence and good-natured and well-intended thoughts of the United States are the central issue, and because of the way this is being taken advantage of by corrupt and pathological Chamorros, this abuse of Federal money is the height of injustice! The most insane and destructive thing in the world!
Most here would respond, well some money is lost, wasted, or bribed away, but there’s corruption everywhere. This weak response leaves us in the same place, with the United States somehow victimized by the greedy and all-powerful Government of Guam! Oh, ai adai, kao siña un imahina? First it kicks the military about of Tiyan and then it takes all of its lunch money!?!?! Whoa che’lu, kulang un fotte’ gå’ga ayu na Guahan, no?
The point here is to insist on some perspective, and to not let the strategic victimization of the United States take place, especially at our expense. Here is one such response that I wrote to a comment which was entangled in this dynamic:
In the past few years, the United States government through is Iraq policies alone has squandered and wasted billions of dollars, which intensified through so many ugly layers of American corruption have led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis and Americans, and basically destroyed a country. I for one, feel very comfortable with Guam's level of corruption, because at least we don't invade countries, tell them we are liberating them and then take over their economy and basically turn them into client states for our own strategic and economic purposes.
The idea that both the United States and Guam have corruption cannot be the end, and if you stop the conversation there, then you basically allow that self-aggrandizing ploy to continue unscathed. The United States, its Government and its military are some of the most powerful, corrupt and violent entities in the world and to allow even for a moment, the Government of Guam to appear in this scene as their violator is ridiculous and masks and naturalizes their power. I am of course not endorsing per se Government Corruption, but only saying that you must be wary of those who are pathologizing you, those who are telling you what is wrong and what is right, and how you must exist and what you are doing. This is especially so, if they are your colonizer, and seek nothing more than making you responsible for everything they have done and they do.
I'm sure that the almost automatic response from many that read this post will be, "America is not so bad, and in fact its so not bad at all, its probably the best place in the world!" This is one of the reasons Obama's political reputation was so hurt by Jeremiah Wright. Because as Obama is one of the politicians who has been able to marry his "unlikely" and "impossible" story with that of the United States, he makes clear his belief that this country is the best place in the world. Wright's statements however flatly contradict this point, by removing the United States from its elevated castle in the sky, reminding it not only of its bloody history, but how its feelings of exceptionalism will lead it to confidently commit even more violence.
This is the issue. Whether or not America is a great place, is irrelevant. It has committed terrible crimes, and it continues to commit them today against people within its borders, crossing its borders and well removed from its borders, who are caught in crossfires of America's strategic military and economic interests. The issue is how the idea that America is the greatest place in the world, absolves it of its responsibility of what it has done, what its citizens and corporations have done, and how its prosperity is often predicated upon these forms of violence, displacement and oppression. You won't find any argument from me that America is a "free" nation or a "good nation," but my response when I hear this is always, "so what? Just because people here live great lives means that you have the right to destroy the lands, the futures of others? Just because America is prosperous and people here do enjoy fantastic levels of comfort compared to some other places in the world, means that its legacies of war, slavery and genocide should just be forgotten or that its contemporary problems shouldn't be addressed?
I should hope not. But I know from having read his editorial last week, that Pat Buchanan, says, absolutely.
Deputy Editor, Editorial Page
The Washington Post
1150 15th Street NW
Washington, DC 20071
March 25, 2008
Dear Mr. Diehl,
Over the past several years, we have informed you of our concerns regarding the hostile, distorted and inaccurate coverage of Venezuela in your newspaper, and particularly on the Editorial Page. Previously, we communicated our alarm at the unbalanced reporting and writing on Venezuela during the period 2000-2006, which evidenced one-sided analyses and false claims regarding President Chávez’s tendencies and events within the country. Since then, however, the Post coverage has gotten worse. More editorials and OpEds have been written this past year about Venezuela than ever before, 98% of which are negative, critical, and aggressive and contain false or manipulated information. We are therefore led to believe that the Washington Post is promoting an anti-Venezuela, anti-Chávez agenda.
President Chávez has been referred to in Washington Post editorials and OpEds during the past year as a “strongman”, “crude populist”, “autocrat”, “clownish”, “increasingly erratic”, “despot” and “dictator” on 8 separate occasions and his government has been referred to 7 times as a “dictatorship”, a “repressive regime” or a form of “authoritarianism”. Such claims are not only false, but they are also extremely dangerous. The U.S. government has used such classifications to justify wars, military interventions, coup d’etats and other regime change techniques over the past several decades.
Far from a dictatorship, President Chávez’s government has the highest popularity rating in the Venezuela’s contemporary history and Chávez has won three presidential elections with landslide victories and several other important elections, including a recall referendum against his mandate in August 2004, which he won with a clear 60-40 majority. Hugo Chávez is the first president in Venezuela’s history to include the country’s majority poor population in key decision and policy-making. The creation of community councils that govern locally and the increase in voter participation are clear signs of a vibrant, open democracy, demonstrating that Venezuela is far from a dictatorship.
The Editorial Page inaccuracies and distortions extend beyond the mere labeling of President Chávez. On more than 11 occasions, editorials and OpEds have falsely claimed that President Chávez “controls the courts and the television media”. Venezuela has five branches of government - all of which are autonomous from one other by Constitutional mandate: the Executive, the Legislative, the Judiciary, the Electoral and the People’s Power. Unlike the United States, which allows for the Executive to appoint supreme court justices, in Venezuela, the high court magistrates are determined through a selection process and a vote in the National Assembly. The Executive branch in Venezuela plays no role in the assignment of judges to the courts. Communications media in Venezuela continues to be majority controlled by the private sector, despite what the Post Editorial Page claims.
Post editorials and OpEds also erroneously referred to the constitutional reform package last December on more than 8 occasions as enabling President Chávez to “rule indefinitely” or become a “de facto president-for-life”. The Constitutional reform did seek to abolish term limits, but not elections. Venezuelans would still have the right and duty to nominate candidates and vote for them in transparent electoral processes. Interestingly, the Post made no similar accusations against President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia when he twice made moves to change constitutional law to permit reelection to a second term. Uribe succeded in 2004 and is now again seeking to amend that law so he can run for a third term. Where are the Post’s cries about dictatorship and de facto president-for-life in Colombia?
The Post has also severely manipulated and outrighted censored information about economic growth in Venezuela. Twice, recent publications on the editorial page described the Venezuelan government economic measures as “disastrous, crackpot economic policies”. Under Chávez’s economic policies, extreme poverty has diminished to an all-time low of 9.4% (2007) from a high of 42.5% in 1996. Unemployment has been reduced to 6.9% (2007) from 16.6% in 1998. Minimum wage has been raised substantially during the Chávez government to become one of the highest in the developing world, and there has been a significant reduction in Venezuela’s public debt. Chávez also paid off Venezuela’s loans to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and has increased investment in the nation’s agricultural production industry.
Nevertheless, the Post fails to reflect any of these positive, progressive advances in its coverage and statements on Venezuela. Instead, Post editorials are dedicated to accusing President Chávez of engaging in an “arms race” (4 occasions), “violating human rights” (3 times), “facilitating/endorsing drug-trafficking” (6 times) and “promoting an anti-American agenda” (6 times). Worst of all, despite Chávez’s own statements to the contrary, the Post continues to perpetuate the dangerous myth that Chávez is an “anti-semite” “aligned with terrorist nations or groups” (9 times).
Mr. Diehl, you should certainly know that the United States is currently waging an international war against terrorism. Within that framework, the Bush administration has clearly stated that those nations associated with or friendly to terrorist states or groups can be subject to preemptive invasion or intervention. Are you seeking such an end in Venezuela?
Your editorial on February 15, 2008, “Mr. Chávez’s Bluff”, goes one step too far. The piece is an outright call for a boycott of Venezuelan oil, an act that would irreparably harm both the peoples of Venezuela and the United States. As the Post applauds the mafia tactics of one of the world’s wealthiest corporations, ExxonMobil, it’s evident that its allegiance lies with corporate profits over people’s rights.
And your latest editorial on March 5, 2008, “Allies of Terrorism” is well beyond a mere criticism of President Chávez’s policies; it’s a direct threat to the people of Venezuela. By accepting at face value - with absolutely no investigation or verification - the documents alleged to have been found on a computer belonging to Rául Reyes from the FARC, the Post recklessly condemns both Venezuela and Ecuador as nations that promote and harbor terrorism and justifies the most violating, reviled and dangerous Bush doctrine of modern times: Preventive War. By comparing Colombia’s violation of Ecuador’s sovereignty to a US attack against al-Qaeda, the Post shamelessly validates the most irrational war in history and calls for its expansion into Latin America. We find the Post’s defense of the violation of Ecuador’s sovereignty and its satisfaction with such aggressive - and illegal - tactics, together with the warning that Venezuela is in “danger”, extremely disturbing.
We are outraged with the Washington Post’s editorial coverage of Venezuela. The Post was once the bastion of genuine investigative reporting and truth-seeking. Those days are well gone and the Washington Post has now become nothing more than a tabloid serving special interests. The noble principles Eugene Meyer envisioned for the Washington Post in 1935, including “telling the truth as nearly as the truth can be ascertained”, “telling ALL the truth so far as it can be learned, concerning the important affairs of America and the world and “the newspaper shall not be the ally of any special interest, but shall be fair and free and wholesome in its outlook on public affairs and public persons,” have been violated by editors like you, Mr. Diehl, who have chosen to promote a harmful personal agenda instead of ensure the ongoing greatness of your newspaper.
Minister of Communication and Information
Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela