In an op-ed for Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi called Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro “the infamous left-wing dictator of Venezuela."
To back up his case, Taibbi cited Julio Borges, president of the National Assembly and a leading opposition figure and Henrique Capriles, the opposition governor of the state of Miranda. Didn’t Taibbi notice a huge contradiction in his piece right there? How does the opposition win major elections in a dictatorship?
It gets worse.
Julio Borges, as Taibbi also alludes to in his piece, has been using his position as head to the National Assembly to try to get economic sanctions implemented against Maduro’s government. Borges’ predecessor as president of the National Assembly, another opposition leader (Henry Ramos), boasted about having a lot of success scaring away investors – again by using his position as head of the National Assembly which the opposition won control over in December of 2015.
The idea is to make Venezuela’s already devastating economic crisis even worse in the hope that it will topple the government. The international media has been willing to question the morality of foreign investors buying Venezuelan government bonds, but not the morality of imposing economic sanctions on an economy in deep crisis - or the contradiction of the opposition pressing to make the crisis worse while also demanding “humanitarian aid."
Sticking with the dominant practice of the last fifteen years since Venezuela-U.S. relations have gone sour, the media has almost unanimously reported from the U.S.-backed opposition’s point of view. It certainly speaks to how close to unanimous reporting and commentaries have been when a prominent U.S. progressive like Taibbi chimes in from that perspective.
Borges, Capriles (and many other prominent opposition leaders like Leopoldo Lopez, Maria Corina Machado, Henry Ramos) all supported a military coup that temporarily ousted Hugo Chavez in 2002. Here is a video of Capriles and Lopez leading the kidnapping of a Chavez government minister during Pedro Carmona’s short-lived coup government.
The New York Times editorial board applauded the installation of Carmona, whom they described as a “respected” businessman who had rescued Venezuela democracy. The U.S. government funded groups involved in the coup before and after it took place. If Taibbi was aware of any of this, could he possibly have parroted the likes of Borges and the U.S. corporate media so faithfully?
What does Taibbi think would happen to Russian-funded politicians in the U.S. who worked to violently overthrow the government? Would they go on to hold public office, work to get economic sanctions placed on the United States, and (while appearing all over the TV and print media) complain that their right to free expression was being trampled?
Similarly, how many police officers and bystanders would a Russian-backed protest movement in the United States have to kill before it was no longer labeled “peaceful?" How many Black people would it have to lynch before virulent racism within its ranks was acknowledged as a problem?
It is easy tolerate dissent from people who lack significant media platforms, powerful friends, or the resources to have any real impact. Venezuela’s government has been very tolerant of U.S.-backed subversion, never mind dissent, from very wealthy enemies with a proven capacity to inflict tremendous damage. After the briefly successful coup, Venezuela’s opposition leaders led an oil strike that crippled Venezuela’s economy. Prior to the current crisis, it was the worst contraction the Venezuelan economy had been through in decades and, unlike the current crisis, led to double digit unemployment.
I don’t know how many Venezuelan TV newscasts Taibbi has ever watched, or how many Venezuelan newspapers he has ever read, but, judging by his piece, I am going to guess none at all. Here is an hour long news broadcast from May 26 that appeared on Venevision, a private broadcaster that as of 2013 had the largest audience share for news in the country.
You can see from the detailed notes I took on the broadcast that the protests dominated the coverage and that denunciations of the government – both for use of force against protesters and for the hardships resulting from the economic crisis – were given ample attention. A Reuters article quoted me on press freedom in Venezuela recently.
Quite predictably, the headline and framing of the article will lead most readers to miss a key point Reuters conceded – that the private broadcasters “do give broadly equal weight to opposition and government leaders and supporters in broadcasts - contrary to assertions by critics that they muzzle the opposition”.
That doesn’t happen in a dictatorship folks. Of course, serious criticisms can be made about Venezuela’s democracy. The same is true of every other democracy on earth.
Let’s consider the United States. How hard would it be to mislead people outside the United States who have never been there and who can’t speak or read English that the United States is basically a dictatorship? With a media willing to cooperate, it would be easy to do without even resorting to lies.
Focus exclusively on negatives like an incarceration rate that is so far off the charts that it rivals North Korea’s, on its racist trigger happy police, or, since 2016, simply focus on Donald Trump – the personification of everything rotten in U.S. democracy. Relentlessly feed people one point of view and they’ll come to accept it as true. That’s what the media has done with Venezuela. These vilification campaigns succeed best when they can get liberals like Taibbi to join in.
The U.S. and many of its key allies are democracies. They’ve also destroyed several countries in the twenty fist century (Iraq, Syria, Libya, Haiti) resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths and managed to keep their citizens in the dark about it – the most chilling example of the democratic deficits in powerful countries. Taibbi should know better than to trust the establishment media within this imperial club to define who should be labelled a dictator.