Misinformation fed to the North American public

Venezuela Slips Past New York Times fact checkers

by Steve Ellner

A February 15, 2015, op-ed on Venezuela by Enrique Krauze seems to have slipped by the New York Times' fact checkers.

Krauze's thesis (a tired one, but very popular with Venezuelan and Cuban right-wingers in South Florida) is that Venezuela has not only followed "the Cuban model," but has recently outdone Cuba in moving Venezuela further along a socialist path even as Cuba enacts economic reforms. This idea is not merely an oversimplification--as it might appear to the casual observer of Latin American politics--but is largely misleading. To bolster his case, Krauze--a prominent Mexican writer and publisher--includes numerous false statements and errors, which should have been caught by the Times' factcheckers.

Venezuela does not follow Cuban model

Krauze begins by claiming that the Venezuelan government, first under President Hugo Chávez and then his successor Nicolás Maduro, has taken control over the media. Chávez "accumulated control over the organs of government and over much of the information media: radio, television and the press," we are told, and then Maduro "took over the rest of Venezuelan television."

A simple fact check shows this to be false. The majority of media outlets in Venezuela--including television--continue to be privately owned; further, the private TV audience dwarfs the number of viewers watching state TV. A 2010 study of Venezuelan television found that as of September 2010, Venezuelan state TV channels had just a 5.4 percent audience share. Of the other 94.6 percent of the audience, 61.4 percent were watching privately owned television channels, and 33.1 percent were watching paid TV.

A 2013 Carter Center report found that Venezuela's private TV outlets had about 74 percent of the audience share for coverage of "recent key newsworthy events."

The media landscape has changed little since. National opposition station Globovisión was sold in 2013, but to a private party; it was not "taken over" by the government. And opposition voices continue to appear on national TV outlets--even the ones that are often described as "pro-government"--free to make the harshest criticisms of the government and to encourage people to protest, as several prominent opposition figures did last year during the violent street blockades and demonstrations aimed at forcing Maduro to step down.

Media and freedom of the press

Globovisión, for example, aired interviews--following its change in ownership--with opposition leader María Corina Machado and Juan Guaido of Leopoldo López's Voluntad Popular party; during her interview, Machado argued that people have the right to overthrow the democratically elected government. And many other Venezuelan networks also frequently broadcast opposition voices.

In fact, the New York Times issued a correction last year after reporting that Globovisión was "the only television station that regularly broadcast voices critical of the government." It's a shame that the same standards for accuracy in the Times' news section apparently do not apply to the opinion page.

Krauze then says that Maduro "confronted" those "protesting students with arrests and gunfire," and that "many were killed" as, supposedly, Maduro "suppressed demonstrations by the opposition." A quick review of events last year--as covered by the New York Times, among others--reveals a wholly different story.

First, most of those killed were either pro-government or were bystanders. Many of those killed (at least 11, according to David Smilde of the Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights blog, who in turn cites the opposition paper El Universal)were National Guard officers, police or pro-government counter-protesters. A number of bystanders and motorists (at least 10) were also killed as a result of the protesters' violent tactics, which included stringing barbed wire across the streets in order to decapitate Chavista motorcyclists. (Two died this way.) Demonstrators fired on Guard and police officers, killing at least seven.

It is true that some security forces fired on demonstrators, killing at least three. Yet as over a dozen members of Congress noted in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, the Maduro government arrested some 20 security state agents in connection with these incidents. This was not a case of government-ordered crackdown on protests; if it were, the opposition's street blockades might have been cleared in days--instead, they remained for weeks--and motorists and cyclists might have been saved from decapitation, crashing into barricades, or getting shot when they got out of their stopped cars.

Having attempted to present the Venezuelan government as some sort of dictatorial regime where freedom of press and assembly are crushed, Krauze goes on to present a series of flawed statements about Venezuela's economic relationship with Cuba.

Flawed statements on economic relationship with Cuba

First, Krauze writes that "Venezuela absorbs 45 percent of Cuba's trade deficit." Official data on Venezuela/Cuba trade is opaque, so it is unclear where Krauze is getting his figure. In terms of its overall trade, Cuba does not have a trade deficit, but a small trade surplus ($697 million USD, according to the WTO). So this statement is false.

Krauze states, "Chávez-era economic agreements with Cuba were all highly favorable to the island nation." But that the agreements are favorable to Cuba does not preclude them from being favorable to Venezuela as well. They are complementary exchanges: Venezuela has a surfeit of oil yet lacks human capital in some sectors. It could be the case that what Venezuela receives is of a lesser value than what it sends, but unfortunately there is a paucity of information to prove this either way.

What is certain is that the services exported to Venezuela extend far beyond the services of 40,000 Cuban medical professionals. Venezuela sends hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans to Cuba for various operations (including Operación Milagro, which extends eye treatments to people in numerous Latin American countries at the joint cost of Venezuela and Cuba). Thousands of Venezuelans have been given scholarships, particularly for the study of medicine. Cuba also exports substantial quantities of pharmaceuticals to Venezuela. It also sends educators and other professionals.

In further arguing that Venezuela is somehow putting Cuba's interests before its own, Krauze claims, "The expenses for the Missions...involved Venezuelan payments of about $5.5 billion annually, of which the Cuban regime retained 95 percent, the rest going toward paying the doctors." But this ignores that Cuba provides other services to Venezuela. It also ignores the difficulties in comparing salaries with Cuba, given the vast subsidies for goods that exist in the Cuban economy. The salaries for medics on these foreign postings are vastly larger than normal public sector salaries in Cuba.

Krauze also writes that "thousands" of the Cuban doctors that Venezuela is paying for "have defected to other countries in recent years." Despite US government efforts to actively encourage such defections, which the New York Times has condemned, the overall defection rate of Cuban medics on overseas missions is less than 2 percent (as of 2011, using US figures on the number of defectors and Cuban figures for the number of medics on overseas missions). The amount of defections in Venezuela from 2006-11 was 824, which works out to a rate of about 1.1 percent--slightly less than the overall rate.

Krauze claims: "Oil was supplied at such low prices that Cuba could turn around and refine and export some of it at a profit." This makes something normal sound very conspiratorial--those two-faced Cubans, getting oil on the cheap from Venezuela then selling it out the back door! Actually, Venezuela has invested heavily in Cuba's downstream capabilities--renovating a moribund Soviet-era refinery in Cienfuegos, Cuba.

Venezuela's state-owned oil company, PDVSA, owns a 49 percent stake in the refinery and therefore shares in its proceeds. The aim of the investment project was to create a refinery that could help satisfy Cuba's domestic requirements but also turn Cuba into a hub for exports of refined products to the Caribbean. Thus it guarantees purchases of Venezuelan oil and allows Venezuela to better access Caribbean markets (i.e. it has a similar justification to Venezuela's ownership and investments in several US refineries).

Is Krauze writes, "Mr. Maduro's government insists that the crisis is an ‘economic war' conducted by the right and refuses to alter the nation's currency controls." Krauze may have missed the news last week, but the Times' fact-checkers shouldn't have: As reported by the Times, the Venezuelan government announced "an easing of the tightly controlled exchange rates that critics say have fed the nation's economic crisis."

About the economic war

Maduro's claim of "economic war"? While there's little doubt that most of Venezuela's economic woes stem from its problematic exchange rate regime, the government's recent documented busts of massive hoarding of essential items by private companies should not be dismissed out of hand, either.

Perhaps Krauze wouldn't have felt he needed to stretch the truth so far--and present so many inaccurate claims--if his thesis weren't so flawed. Chávez and Maduro have never claimed that they wanted to bring the Cuban model to Venezuela; this is a fantasy of the Venezuelan right. To the contrary, after announcing his plan for "Socialism for the 21st Century,"Chávez said, "Some are saying that we want to copy the Cuban model. No.... It would be a very serious mistake for Venezuela to copy a model like the Cuban, or any other."

For his part, Raúl Castro has also expressed support for Latin American countries pursuing their own respective economic and political choices: "Each [leader] is learning their own identity and finding their own identity within the continent. We aren't the godfathers and they aren't the heirs,"he told Oliver Stone in the 2010 documentary South of the Border.

Like or not: Venezuela is a democracy

The fact is, whether Krauze wants to admit it or not, Venezuela is a democracy, and the Maduro government was democratically elected--as were the Chavista municipal officials who won a majority of elections half a year after Maduro was elected, in a stunning defeat for the opposition. Krauze doesn't have to like the current Venezuelan government, but he shouldn't confuse it with an unelected one, as in Cuba.

Nor should he be so easily confused by the Venezuelan economic system--where th private sector enjoyed strong growth in the years after Chávez took office--versus the Cuban model of socialism. More worrying is that the New York Times opinion page would be so baffled by these important differences.

Steve Ellner has taught economic history at the Universidad de Oriente in Venezuela since 1977. His most recent book is his edited Latin America's Radical Left: Challenges and Complexities of Political Power in the Twenty-First Century(Rowman & Littlefield, 2014).

Canada's Irwin Cotler joins defence of Venezuelan terrorist

The Hypocrisy of Leopoldo Lopez’s New Lawyer, Irwin Cotler

Irwin Cotler is member of the Canadian Parliamentary Subcommittee on International Human Rights which declared itself in favour of the Venezuelan terrorist Leopoldo Lopez.

To these Members of Parliament, it is alright that 43 Venezuelans died because of Leopoldo Lopez' attempt to overthrow the democratic and legitimate government of Venezuela with outright street violence - violence that would not be tolerated in Canada.

Feb 9th 2015,
by TeleSUR/ Pablo Vivanco and Luis Granados

Venezuelan opposition figures were quick to gloat about their latest international ally. Irwin Cotler, a long-time Canadian member of parliament for the Liberal Party, reportedly signed on to become part of the legal team for former Venezuelan politician Leopoldo Lopez, who is currently jailed for his role in the deadly rioting that rocked Venezuela in early 2014.

Carlos Vecchio, a leading member of Lopez’s political party Popular Will, boasted that, “(Nelson) Mandela’s lawyer in considering going to Ramo Verde”, the jail where Lopez is being held. Quickly, the international press – who have been exceptionally busy of late printing any stories that puts the Venezuelan government in a bad light – picked up the story, also referring to the Canadian lawmaker as the lawyer for the famed South African liberation movement head.

Irwin Cotler was not Nelson Mandela's lawyer

Virtually no media picked up the declarations from South African leaders negating a connection between Cotler and Mandela.

"Irwin Cotler was not Nelson Mandela’s lawyer and does not represent the Government or the people of South Africa in any manner," the Ambassador of the Republic of South Africa to Venezuela Pandit Thaninga Shope-Linney said Thursday.

While these statement may make Cotler’s role in the struggle against South African apartheid hazy, his role in defending another country that has been accused of creating an apartheid system is clear.

Cotler, a vocal defender of Israeli apartheid

Cotler has long been one of the most vocal defenders of Israel in the Canadian Parliament and has deep connections to numerous Israel lobby organizations in Canada and the United States. The lawyer was one of three founders of the Liberal Parliamentarians for Israel group and was also the former president of the Canadian Jewish Congress which in recent decades has devoted an increasing amount of its focus towards Israel advocacy and painting pro-Palestinian activism as tantamount to anti-semitism.

In Parliament Hill, Cotler has been active in using his post to influence Canada’s foreign policy positions in favor of Israel. Cotler worked to undermine the credibility of United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, otherwise known as the Goldstone Report – ironically drafted by a South African judge – which accused both the Israel Defense Forces and Hamas of war crimes in the 2009 attack on Gaza.

“You can’t have a situation where you have special sessions targeting Israel and the rest of the world has immunity,” Cotler said. “Within the U.N. system, there is a basis now to alter what is the source of the problem: the singling out of one member state for differential and discriminatory treatment under the existing legal framework.”

Israel kills over 2,000 but Cotler blames Hamas

More recently, following the devastating attack on Gaza that left more than 2,000 Palestinians dead and over 10,000 injured, Cotler placed the blame on Hamas.

“Hamas is a uniquely evil expression of genocidal anti-Semitism,” said Cotler.

While paying lip service to preventing further “tragedies,” Cotler went on to outline 15 recommendations – all of them geared towards placing further restrictions on Palestinians. Nowhere did the “human rights” lawyer even acknowledge the devastating blockade on Gaza, let alone the continued illegal building of settlements as a factor in the conditions that Palestinians face.

Cotler’s Israel advocacy is perhaps one of the reasons why he is looking to align with Venezuela’s opposition.

Under former President Hugo Chavez, Venezuela took unprecedented steps in support of Palestinian rights to statehood on the international stage, becoming one of the first country’s in Latin America to set up full diplomatic relations in 2009. Three years before, Venezuela also recalled its representatives from Israel in response to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which lead Chavez to call Israel a “terrorist state.”

Venezuela stands for Palestinian freedom

Indeed, Cotler is also an advisory board member of the board of U.N. Watch, which also has disproportionate focus on monitoring activity at the United Nations relating to Palestinian rights. Unsurprisingly, the organization – which also counts former members of the U.S. government in its board – has historically been opposed to the governments of the Bolivarian Revolution as evidenced by the group’s intense lobbying efforts against Venezuela's bid for a seat on the U.N. Security Council and the declarations from the head of U.N. Watch who upon the death of President Chavez, called the former leader a “symbol of evil.”

With these connections and track record, it is hard to consider Cotler a neutral observer in Venezuelan affairs.

Cotler’s credentials on human rights and civil liberties in his own country are doubtful.

Having served as Justice Minister during the Liberal government of Jean Chretien, Cotler was responsible for Bill C-36, Canada's Anti-Terrorism Act which was passed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on New York in 2001. The law was condemned by a slew of lawyers, as well as civil and human rights organizations, and has been used to permit massive surveillance on activists since.

Even while in opposition, Cotler has been conspicuously silent during flagrant abuses of civil rights by authorities in Canada.

Cotler stands for violation of civil rights in Canada

In 2010 when Canada was hosted the G-20 Summit, the police arbitrarily arrested over 1,000 people in what the Ontario Ombusman Andre Marin referred to as "a time period where martial law was set in the city of Toronto, leading to the most massive compromise of civil liberties in Canadian history."

In addition to the mass arrests – which included accusations of physical and sexual assault on protesters by police – several activists were preemptively arrested after police infiltrated groups and discovered that they intended to cause property damage, e.g. breaking windows of banks, in Toronto. Two of the arrested were sentenced to jail time, even though their arrests did not even allow them to participate in any demonstrations.

Cotler and his Liberal Party did not condemn this mass violation of civil rights which took place in the country's largest city and in plain sight.

Two years later, as hundreds of thousands of Quebec post-secondary students went on strike to protest an increase in tuition fees, the government responded with heavy-handed police tactics on protesters, including attacks on restaurant patrons and several serious injuries of peaceful protestors.

The Quebec government later passed a law that specifically prohibited gatherings of more than 50 people. Bill 78 was condemned by students, trade unions, as well as the Quebec Human Rights Commission. However, the member of parliament from Quebec once again said nothing about this violation of civil rights in his home province.

Cotler drafts "anti-terrorism" intended to stifle free speech

In late 2014, Cotler announced he would not run again for a seat in Canada’s Parliament. With his new found free time, he would do well to stick to issues in Canada, especially in light of the Conservative government’s intention to build on the anti-terrorism act that he drafted, which many lawyers and civil liberties groups are saying will be disastrous for the people of Canada.

U.S. inspired coup attempt in Venezuela

Venezuela: Coup in Real Time

by Eva Gollinger

U.S. media is increasing its systematic negative coverage of Venezuela

There is a coup underway in Venezuela. The pieces are all falling into place like a bad CIA movie. At every turn a new traitor is revealed, a betrayal is born, full of promises to reveal the smoking gun that will justify the unjustifiable. Infiltrations are rampant, rumors spread like wildfire, and the panic mentality threatens to overcome logic. Headlines scream danger, crisis and imminent demise, while the usual suspects declare covert war on a people whose only crime is being gatekeeper to the largest pot of black gold in the world.

This week, as the New York Times showcased an editorial degrading and ridiculing Venezuelan President Maduro, labeling him “erratic and despotic” (“Mr. Maduro in his Labyrinth”, NYT January 26, 2015), another newspaper across the Atlantic headlined a hack piece accusing the President of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, and the most powerful political figure in the country after Maduro, of being a narcotics kingpin (“The head of security of the number two Chavista defects to the U.S. and accuses him of drug trafficking”, ABC, January 27, 2015). The accusations stem from a former Venezuelan presidential guard officer, Leasmy Salazar, who served under President Chavez and was recruited by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), now becoming the new “golden child” in Washington’s war on Venezuela.

Two days later, the New York Times ran a front-page piece shaming the Venezuelan economy and oil industry, and predicting its downfall (“Oil Cash Waning, Venezuelan Shelves Lie Bare”, Jan. 29, 2015, NYT). Blaring omissions from the article include mention of the hundreds of tons of food and other consumer products that have been hoarded or sold as contraband by private distributors and businesses in order to create panic, discontent with the government and justify outrageous price hikes.

Sensationalist and misleading information

Simultaneously, an absurdly sensationalist and misleading headline ran in several U.S. papers, in print and online, linking Venezuela to nuclear weapons and a plan to bomb New York City (“U.S. Scientist Jailed for Trying to Help Venezuela Build Bombs”, Jan. 30, 2015, NPR). While the headline leads readers to believe Venezuela was directly involved in a terrorist plan against the U.S., the actual text of the article makes clear that no Venezuelans were involved at all. The whole charade was an entrapment set up by the FBI, whose officers posed as Venezuelan officials to capture a disgruntled nuclear physicist who once worked at Los Alamos.

U.S. harbours criminal, Antonio Rivero

That same day, State Department spokeswoman Jan Psaki condemned the alleged “criminalization of political dissent” in Venezuela, when asked by a reporter about fugitive Venezuelan general Antonio Rivero’s arrival in New York to plea for support from the United Nations Working Committee on Arbitrary Detention. Rivero fled an arrest warrant in Venezuela after his involvement in violent anti-government protests that lead to the deaths of over 40 people, mainly government supporters and state security forces, last February. His arrival in the U.S. coincided with Salazar’s, evidencing a coordinated effort to debilitate Venezuela’s Armed Forces by publicly showcasing two high profile military officers — both former Chavez loyalists — that have turned against their government and are seeking foreign intervention against their own country.

These examples are just a snapshot of increasing, systematic negative and distorted coverage of Venezuelan affairs in U.S. media, painting an exaggeratedly dismal picture of the country’s current situation and portraying the government as incompetent, dictatorial and criminal. While this type of coordinated media campaign against Venezuela is not new — media consistently portrayed former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, elected president four times by overwhelming majorities, as a tyrannical dictator destroying the country — it is clearly intensifying at a rapid, and concerning, pace.

U.S. media campaign against Venezuela is not new

The New York Times has a shameful history when it comes to Venezuela. The Editorial Board blissfully applauded the violent coup d’etat in April 2002 that ousted President Chavez and resulted in the death of over 100 civilians. When Chavez was returned to power by his millions of supporters and loyal Armed Forces two days later, the Times didn’t recant it’s previous blunder, rather it arrogantly implored Chavez to “govern responsibly”, claiming he had brought the coup on himself. But the fact that the Times has now begun a persistent, direct campaign against the Venezuelan government with one-sided, distorted and clearly aggressive articles – editorials, blogs, opinion, and news – indicates that Washington has placed Venezuela on the regime change fast track.

The timing of Leamsy Salazar’s arrival in Washington as an alleged DEA collaborator, and his public exposure, is not coincidental. This February marks one year since anti-government protests violently tried to force President Maduro’s resignation. The leaders of the protests, Leopoldo López and María Corina Machado, have both been lauded by The New York Times and other “respected” outlets as “freedom fighters,” “true democrats,” and as the Times recently referred to Machado, “an inspiring challenger.” Even President Obama called for Lopez’s release from prison (he was detained for his role in the protest violence) during a speech last September at an event in the United Nations. These influential voices willfully omit Lopez’s and Machado’s involvement and leadership of violent, undemocratic and even criminal acts. Both were involved in the 2002 coup against Chavez. Both have illegally received foreign funding for political activities slated to overthrow their government, and both led the lethal protests against Maduro last year, publicly calling for his ouster through illegal means.

The utilization of a figure such as Salazar who was known to anyone close to Chavez as one of his loyal guards, as a force to discredit and attack the government and its leaders is an old-school intelligence tactic, and a very effective one. Infiltrate, recruit, and neutralize the adversary from within or by one of its own — a painful, shocking betrayal that creates distrust and fear amongst the ranks. While no evidence has surfaced to back Salazar’s outrageous claims against Diosdado Cabello, the headline makes for a sensational story and another mark against Venezuela in public opinion. It also caused a stir within the Venezuelan military and may result in further betrayals from officers who could support a coup against the government.

Venezuela is suffering from the sudden and dramatic plummet in oil prices. The country’s oil-dependent economy has severely contracted and the government is taking measures to reorganize the budget and guarantee access to basic services and goods, but people are still experiencing difficulties. Unlike the dismal portrayal in The New York Times, Venezuelans are not starving, homeless or suffering from mass unemployment, as countries such as Greece and Spain have experienced under austerity policies. Despite certain shortages — some caused by currency controls and others by intentional hoarding, sabotage or contraband — 95 percent of Venezuelans consume three meals per day, an amount that has doubled since the 1990s. The unemployment rate is under 6 percent and housing is subsidized by the state.

Nevertheless, making Venezuela’s economy scream is without a doubt a rapidly intensifying strategy executed by foreign interests and their Venezuelan counterparts, and it’s very effective. As shortages continue and access to dollars becomes increasingly difficult, chaos and panic ensue. This social discontent is capitalized on by U.S. agencies and anti-government forces in Venezuela pushing for regime change. A very similar strategy was used in Chile to overthrow socialist President Salvador Allende. First the economy was destroyed, then mass discontent grew and the military moved to oust Allende, backed by Washington at every stage. Lest we forget the result: a brutal dictatorship led by General Augusto Pinochet that tortured, assassinated, disappeared and forced into exile tens of thousands of people. Not exactly a model to replicate.

This year President Obama approved a special State Department fund of US $5 million to support anti-government groups in Venezuela. Additionally, the congressionally-funded National Endowment for Democracy is financing Venezuelan opposition groups with over US $1.2 million and aiding efforts to undermine Maduro’s government. There is little doubt that millions more for regime change in Venezuela are being funneled through other channels that are not subject to public scrutiny.

President Maduro has denounced these ongoing attacks against his government and has directly called on President Obama to cease efforts to harm Venezuela. Recently, all 33 Latin American and Caribbean nations, members of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), publicly expressed support for Maduro and condemned ongoing U.S. interference in Venezuela. Latin America firmly rejects any attempts to erode democracy in the region and will not stand for another U.S.-backed coup. It’s time Washington listen to the hemisphere and stop employing the same dirty tactics against its neighbors.