From 2006 to 2012, The Guardian's output on Venezuela was dominated by its Caracas-based reporter, Rory Carroll, who tirelessly demonized, ridiculed and lied about the government of former president Hugo Chavez as it made rapid progress on reducing poverty.
The Guardian recently published an editorial saying that President Nicolas Maduro's government must be threatened with “pariah status” by the “international community“ if it does not hold presidential elections by the end of 2018. This comes from a newspaper that continually attempts to rehabilitate former British prime minister Tony Blair, a man who played a key role in launching a war of aggression that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. But no pariah status for him.
The imperial hypocrisy on display is stunning.
The Guardian editors cited the New York Times editorial board to back up their stance on Venezuela. In 2002, the New York Times editorial applauded a U.S.-backed military coup that ousted Chavez for two days.
“With yesterday's resignation of President Hugo Chavez, Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator. Mr. Chavez, a ruinous demagogue, stepped down after the military intervened and handed power to a respected business leader, Pedro Carmona,” wrote the morally challenged “paper of record."
In fact, two of the opposition leaders The Guardian mentioned in its editorial, Leopoldo Lopez and Henrique Capriles, not only supported but participated in that coup. They led the kidnapping of government officials on behalf of Pedro Carmona. The Guardian, however, made no mention of the 2002 coup at all.
That coup continues to hover over Venezuela because so many of the opposition’s most prominent leaders either supported or participated in it. Julio Borges, head of the opposition-led Nation Assembly, supported the 2002 coup and routinely makes very thinly veiled appeals for the military to oust Maduro. Borges just did so in the pages of El Universal, one of the country’s largest newspapers, where he regularly publishes op-eds.
The other day, a news report in Venezuela’s largest TV network, Venevision, featured opposition politician Marialbert Barrios making a very similar appeal to the military.
The Guardian editors regurgitate a talking point that has been common in the western media: that Venezuela was “once South America’s richest country." That’s true if the measure one uses is gross domestic product, GDP, per capita adjusted by purchasing power parity, PPP. But that measure says nothing about distribution.
Venezuela had a poverty rate of 50 percent in 1998 when Chavez was first elected even though it was second in South America at the time by GDP per capita. By the United Nation's Human Development Index, HDI, a composite measure that takes into account life expectancy, education and national income, Venezuela ranked below several Latin American countries in 1998. Its HDI ranking then improved drastically until 2013, the year Chavez died. Using the U.N.’s most recent data and taking full account of the recent devastating recession it has experienced, Venezuela continues to rank above most countries in South America by HDI despite ongoing economic hardships.
There certainly are avoidable child deaths in Venezuela as The Guardian editors said. There always have been, but such deaths are more prevalent throughout the rest of the region, including Peru, whose right-wing government has loudly demanded that Venezuela deal with its “humanitarian crisis."
Then there is Colombia, a country that has millions of internally displaced people, rivaling Syria. Colombia is also a country with a military that is being investigated by the International Criminal Court for murdering thousands of innocent people. In The Guardian's universe, this arms client state of the U.S. and U.K. is just another "respectable" member of the “international community” that must straighten out Venezuela.
The Guardian is inexcusably sloppy in other claims.
It says inflation is at 800 percent. Torino Capital, a source that is very critical of the Maduro government, said inflation averaged 299 percent last year and projects it will average 434 percent next year. Unemployment was at 7.3 percent last year. Torino also projects a very small contraction of real GDP (-0.5 percent) next year and a return to growth by 2018. It has also commissioned polls from Datanalisis, an opposition-aligned pollster. Incidentally, the president of Datanalisis, Luis Vicente Leon, also criticizes the government in the pages of El Universal on a regular basis. As of March, according to Datanalisis, Maduro’s approval rating was 24.1 percent and has been steadily increasing in 2017. At the same time, the approval ratings of the most popular opposition leaders have fallen to 40 percent. These facts have been blacked out by the international press.
The Maduro government has not dealt with the root cause of the economic crisis, but, through direct deliveries of supplies to the poor (where its political support is concentrated) it has clearly alleviated the suffering of the poorest to a significant extent. Rachael Boothroyd-Rojas, and independent journalist based in Caracas for many years, noted that “there is a government store just below where I live and I haven't seen queues there for months! Last year they were awful."
Boothroyd-Rojas reports that there are still queues outside stores in Caracas but that they are nothing like they were months ago, and that government direct deliveries to the poor “have made a big difference to those who receive them."
It should be noted that in December 2015, Datanalisis said Maduro’s approval rating was 32 percent just before his allies won 41 percent of the vote in National Assembly elections. It is not hard to see why opposition leaders have decided to “up their game” in terms of economic and political sabotage. Opposition leaders have openly boasted of working to block the government’s access to external financing.
Boothroyd-Rojas, who lives in a poor Caracas neighborhood, has noted the contradictions the international press has embraced to put the best face it can on the opposition’s violence. Vandalism of public property, including hospitals in poor neighborhoods, is dishonestly pointed to as evidence that the poor are starting to turn on the government: a claim The Guardian editors make. But when the middle and upper-class nature of the protests is too obvious to deny, it is alleged that the poor are simply "too hungry" to join in.
The opposition has resorted to widespread vandalism, including the torching of a Supreme Court office, and marching into areas where they have not been issued authorization — precisely to prevent a repeat of the 2002 coup — to provoke confrontation which it then points to as “repression."
Honest, informed reporting would quickly expose those cynical tactics which are the same ones used in 2002 and again in 2014, but that’s clearly beyond what The Guardian editors are willing or able to do. We can only hope they won’t run an op-ed about Venezuela written by Blair any time soon.