BY ROB SEWELL |
DATELINE: Monday, 11 June 2007
Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State last week launched another frontal attack against the Venezuelan Revolution at the start of the general assembly of the Organization of American States in Panama City.
Hypocritically, Ms Rice hit out at the closure of Radio Caracas Television, whose demise drew opposition protests, calling it Hugo Chávez’s “sharpest and most acute” move against democracy.
Together with the rest of the howling pack, she pounced upon the Venezuelan government’s decision not to renew the broadcast license of RCTV, a television channel that was involved up to its neck in the Washington-backed coup against President Chavez in April 2002.
“Freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of conscience are not a thorn in the side of government”, she declared. “Disagreeing with your government is not unpatriotic and most certainly should not be a crime in any country, especially a democracy.”
After this lecture in “democracy”, the Secretary of State then called upon the OAS to send Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza to Venezuela to investigate the station’s closure.
This attack was followed up by the Big Boss himself, President George W. Bush. While in Prague, Bush declared: “In Venezuela, elected leaders have resorted to shallow populism to dismantle democratic institutions and tighten their grip on power.”
Furthermore, Rice also warned Russia against selling arms to Venezuela, but Moscow immediately rebuffed her criticism, saying a $120 million deal it has signed with Caracas violates no laws or treaties.
This concerted hue and cry by the arch representatives of imperialism against Venezuela was joined by America’s Senate, which passed a motion in support of RCTV. This motion drew the support from the two Democratic presidential front-runners, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, keen to prove their “democratic” credentials.
These broadsides were answered by Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s foreign minister, who attacked the Bush Administration for meddling in his country’s affairs and dismissed Condoleezza Rice for daring to lecture Venezuela about democracy. “The OAS should form a special commission to study the daily violation of human rights on the southern border of the United States,” he said. “How many prisoners do they have in Guantanamo? Where did they kidnap them?” He compared the US detention centre at Guantanamo Bay and secret prisons elsewhere to something not seen since “the time of Hitler.”
Maduro also said RCTV’s closure was “democratic, legal and fair” and accused the United States of repeated human rights violations, including at the US-Mexico border where immigrants “are chased and hunted like animals”
Not surprisingly, a number of stooge “human rights” organizations also participated in the witch-hunt against the Chavez government. This included the notorious “Reporters Without Borders”, which is financed by the National Endowment for Democracy, a CIA front-agency established to promote Washington’s agenda.
These attacks by the White House reek of hypocrisy. While attacking the Venezuelan Revolution for legitimately protecting itself, it is deathly silent over the actions of its partner in crime, General Musharraf of Pakistan, who has been engaged in attacking its opposition media. Musharraf has introduced laws which grant him blanket powers to close down media networks daring to broadcast the growing opposition over the removal of Pakistan’s chief justice. The opposition said freedom was being curtailed through such devices as denying “state advertising to non-conformist newspapers, threats to journalists and the latest tactic of blocking broadcasts of private television channels as seen during the prevailing judicial crisis”. For the US, Pakistan is a reliable ally in its “war against terror”, and is to be defended at all costs.
In contrast, the American imperialists have demanded that Chavez “reopen” RCTV and have given open encouragement to the opposition demonstrations inside Venezuela. They close their eyes to the fact that the withdrawal of the licence from RCTV is within the law. RCTV has not been shut down. Its licence expired and was not renewed. A new channel has been granted its space: Venezuela Social Television.
The key reason why the Chavez government refused to renew RCTV’s license was the counter-revolutionary role played by the channel during the April 2002 coup against Chavez. This was clearly portrayed in the independent documentary, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. At the time, while Chavez was under arrest and taken from Turiamo to the offshore island of La Orchila, the private TV channels were full of news that Chavez had resigned. In his place, Carmona, the head of Venezuelan big business, was declared President.
In the Miraflores Palace, Carmona called a meeting of media owners to express his gratitude. “Gustavo Cisneros of Venevision arrived at his office, followed by Alberto Ravell of Globovision, Marcel Granier of Radio Caracas TV, and Omar Camero and Andres Mata of El Nacional”, explains Richard Gott. “Cisneros suggested smoothly that the communications strategy of the new government should be left in their hands, a suggestion to which Carmona agreed.
“This should have been a moment of triumph for the media moguls, since this was the outcome they had so strenuously worked for. Yet as they arrived at Miraflores for the meeting, the palace was already surrounded by a huge crowd of Chavez supporters…” Within 48 hours, the coup had collapsed.
Gott continues: “Chavez, once returned to power, described the four privately owned television channels as ‘the four horsemen of the Apocalypse’ – with some justification. Their owners were among the wealthiest individuals in the country, and they wielded their power with an awesome lack of social responsibility. Venevision, the station with the highest ratings, was owned by Gustavo Cisneros, sometimes described as ‘king of the joint ventures’. An immensely rich man, intimately linked to political and commercial groups in the United States, Cisneros had built his empire through alliances with US-based multinationals, starting with Coca-Cola and Pizza Hut and ending up with AOL Warner.
“Radio Caracas Television (RCTV), a station famous for its soap operas, was run by Marcel Granier, a multimillionaire with a penchant for collecting Ferrari cars. A third channel, Globovision, was run by supporters of Accion Democratica. Globovision’s 24-hour news channel was unrelentingly hostile to the government, while its ordinary channel carried a series of discussion programmes similar to the commentary-propaganda of the newspapers. A fourth private channel, Televen, was owned by Omar Camero.”
These media owners were behind the preparations and coordination of the coup plot and were supported fully by the Bush Administration. The Americans were delighted the military had overthrown Chavez and established a dictatorship, where National Assembly, the Constitution, and all support for the democratically-elected government, were forcibly shut down. They immediately closed down Vive TV and Catia TV. So much for freedom of the press! Of course, there was no protest from the Americans or those protesting today about RCTV.
The owners of RCTV openly supported the sabotage of the Venezuelan economy and promoted the bosses’ lockout in late 2002 and early 2003. The press has even supported the idea of assassinating Chavez! They, together with the bulk of the private media companies, act as a fifth column in Venezuela, seeking to prepare the ground of a new counter-revolution against Chavez and the Venezuelan Revolution. They should have been arrested and closed down long ago.
The Venezuelan oligarchy has seized upon this issue of “press freedom” in order to resurrect the opposition movement, so badly beaten and demoralized after the historic victory of Chavez in December 2006. They are busy fanning street protests and demonstrations which have repeatedly ended in violence.
Ownership of the capitalist press and media is a key weapon in the hands of the capitalist oligarchy. Its fundamental aim is the defence of the capitalist order and its ruling position within society. We should recall that the private media was similarly used in Chile to undermine the Allende government and prepare the ground for the dictatorship of General Pinochet. The extraordinary daily barrage of lies and distortions had the desired effect of intensifying the opposition to Allende and magnifying the alarm of the middle classes. It is no accident that the Christian Democrats demanded that Allende sign a Statute of Guarantee in return for their “support”, which included a clause that “the press and the media should be free from state intervention”. A continual barrage was established from the first day of the Popular Unity government denouncing transgressions of the Constitution supposedly undertaken by Allende. Huge campaigns were conducted in the media about the government’s so-called attacks on “freedom of expression”, “defence of democracy”, etc. “The means of mass communication controlled by the opposition attacked the government systematically, continually and savagely”, states Roxborough, O’Brien and Roddick. “By publishing alarmist headlines, they contributed directly to maintaining social unrest, and even played their part in the general economic sabotage by artificially creating shortages of consumer goods.” Is this not the same role of the opposition media in Venezuela today?
Of course, after the coup by Pinochet, the Constitution was abolished and the leftwing press suppressed. The only newspapers allowed were those which supported the junta. 30,000 people were then murdered by the regime. The apologist bourgeois press outside Chile which supported and justified the military coup, such as The Times of London, The Economist, The Observer, the Daily Telegraph and The Financial Times, were forced to disassociate itself from the bloodshed. But the deed was done and the Popular Unity was crushed. Capitalism had been saved.
As for the newspapers and journals which had supported the Popular Unity, their premises were raided, their journalists arrested or killed and the papers closed down. So much for the opposition’s campaign about press freedom. Let us be warned!
The Chavez government’s removal of RCTV’s licence is a correct step. But why stop at this? The media barons are collectively culpable for their crimes in supporting counter-revolution. They try to hide behind the slogan of “freedom of the press”, which has nothing to do with freedom of speech and everything to do with the freedom of millionaire press barons to publish what they want. The mass of people have no access to the media. “The ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of the ruling class”, explained Marx. The private media attempts to control, manipulate and manufacture “public opinion”. The bulk of the private media in Venezuela is daily pumping out lies and filth about the Bolivarian Revolution. They are essential propaganda weapons in the hands of the Venezuelan oligarchy and foreign imperialists. In effect, given their huge resources, they have a monopoly, despite the heroic efforts of the small alternative media.
“For the bourgeoisie”, stated Lenin, “freedom of the press meant freedom for the rich to publish and for the capitalists to control the newspapers, a practice which in all countries, including even the freest, produced a corrupt press.”
The Venezuelan Revolution should not stop at revoking TV licences but proceed with the nationalisation of RCTV, Globovision, Venevision and Televen, under democratic workers’ control and management. The newspaper printing presses and paper mills should be brought into public ownership, as part of the programme to take over the “commanding heights” of the Venezuela economy.
Leon Trotsky once explained what should happen in a socialist America, which applies to Venezuela today: “While Soviet America would nationalise all printing plants, paper mills, and means of distribution, this would be a purely negative measure. It would simply mean that private capital will no longer be allowed to decide what publications should be established, whether they should be progressive or reactionary, ‘wet’ or ‘dry’, puritanical or pornographic. Soviet America will have to find a new solution for the question of how the power of the press is to function in a socialist regime. It might be done on the basis of proportional representation for the votes’ in each soviet election.
“Thus the right of each group of citizens to use the power of the press would depend on their numerical strength – the same principle being applied to the use of meeting halls, allotment of time on the air, and so forth.
“Thus the management and policy of publications would be decided not by individual cheque books but by group ideas.” (If America Should Go Communist by Leon Trotsky)
In other words, the ownership and control of the newspapers and media will be taken out of the hands of the privileged oligarchy and placed under control of society and accessible to all on the basis of their support. A new democratic system of running the nationalised media would come into being, allocating the editorial control of newspapers and media to workers’ and peasants’ organisations and other political parties in accordance with their actual support in the population. This would guarantee the genuine freedom of expression to all parties and groups, including the opposition, provided they did not take up arms or promote open rebellion against the revolution. This will mean the extension of real democracy, where the mass of people hold real power in their hands.
While Chavez has the overwhelming support of the masses, this campaign over RCTV represents a serious challenge to the Revolution. Behind the oligarch stands imperialism. While the media, banks, big industries and the land still remains within the hands of the oligarchy, they will use this power to constantly undermine the government. They will never stop until the Revolution is destroyed or they are overthrown. There is no middle course.
The imperialists have joined in the fray on an international scale. They are determined to defeat the Revolution in Venezuela, which poses a direct threat to their continuing domination of the Latin American continent. With the huge socialist mandate given to Chavez in December, it is time to complete the Venezuelan Revolution and eliminate the power of the oligarchy once and for all.
Rob Sewell is a member of IN DEFENCE OF MARXISM, a British left educational organization.