This piece is written in response to our Global Affairs article, Crisis in Venezuela, as part of our segment, Letters to The Blank Page.
There is no doubt that Venezuela is facing a profound crisis. The country is suffering from severe shortages of food and medicine, soaring rates of violence, corruption, economic distress, and anti-government protests. But much of the coverage we see in Western media seldom tells the whole story. This lens often outright ignores the current political, economic, and historical context that has led to the situation.
The view from the West
Nicolás Maduro is not a dictator–unlike many countries allied with Canada and the U.S. He was democratically elected in 2013 by a system that has been declared by many as one of the best in the world. Yet commentators and politicians repeat spurious claims of dictatorships. Dissenters have directed these claims toward the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) since Hugo Chavez was elected in 1998.
The shrill accusation of a dictator is a popular lie to undermine the legitimacy of the Venezuelan President. We seldom hear these accusations when discussing a leader that aligns with the political interests of the U.S.
U.S. Presidents can visit our friends in the Saudi Monarchy and lavish them with praise. Canada can finalize billions in weapons sales to the same autocracy to massacre thousands in Yemen with nary a whisper of the Democratic concerns that headline discussions of Venezuela.
Our NATO ally, Turkey, can essentially declare a dictatorship and Erdogan can brutalize and oppress journalists, academics, and his opposition, even on US soil. Yet the mainstream media barely makes a peep, particularly compared to their coverage of Maduro and Chavez.
The shrill accusation of a dictator is a popular lie to undermine the legitimacy of the Venezuelan President.
Often the U.S. and their allies try to lend legitimacy to their hypocritical words with decrees like the statement of condemnation issued by the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro. Meanwhile, OAS meetings aren’t even able to meet quorum (the minimum required attendance) to demand the expulsion of Venezuela unless they hold elections.
Right-wing governments rarely inspire statements about protecting democracy. But they are cause for immediate action when they involve left-wing governments. You would think such transparent attempts at disinformation would raise doubts about the motives behind OAS criticisms. But that doesn’t seem to be a problem for many in Western media.
The crisis in Venezuela is not as unique as some would have you believe. Many modern and past examples reflect a similar situation. Overthrown governments in 2009 in Honduras, 2004 in Haiti, and 2012 in Paraguay are recent incidents of left-wing governments forcibly removed once their policies of economic democracy, nationalization, and poverty eradication contradict those of local elites, corporations, and the interests of the U.S.
When speaking about these coups, many of the same voices that bit their tongues while U.S.-backed death squads roamed the Western hemisphere,and lent support to military juntas in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and much more, are suddenly emboldened champions of justice.
Brazil’s Congress illegally overthrew former President Dilma Rousseff just last year. They brought in an unelected and corrupt Michel Temer to replace her. Temer then implemented policies benefiting the oligarchs, corporations, and their imperial supporters. Congress now wants a second chance to appoint his replacement.
Massive protests are again filling the streets of Brazil to resist Temer and the Brazilian Congress. But the breathless coverage given to Venezuelan opposition–which is in support of U.S. interests–is nowhere to be found. Instead of treating the protesters as resisters against tyrannical governments fighting for freedom, they are portrayed only as violent insurrections that the government must put down to protect an embattled but legitimate leader.
The mainstream media discounts or outright ignores progressive movements in many countries. Meanwhile, they highlight and hold up protestors that serve or support U.S. and corporate interests as noble resistances against tyranny.
The Supreme Court intervening in Venezuela is seen as a crisis of democracy. But Congress in Brazil imposing an unelected president to carry out an austerity agenda, then wanting to appoint his replacement, is “democracy at work.”
A double standard for the West
It is easy for those in Canada and the U.S. to demand action in a country that has been vilified by their politicians and press. Especially when they ignore the historic impact of interference and imperial aggression by their nations’ government and corporations.
Many of the same voices that bit their tongues… are suddenly emboldened champions of justice.
Imagine if states in South America reacted the same way to political unrest in the U.S. Imagine the Standing Rock, Ferguson, or Baltimore protests – all protests that brutal, militarized police forces suppressed.
What if South American states responded by funding opposition parties? What if they interfered with the military, diplomatic, and economic institutions in the U.S.? Even the possibility of Russia helping Donald Trump in an election is dismissed as a gross violation. It is unthinkable and horrifying.
This is a regular occurrence for many nations around the world at the hands of the U.S. Nations in South and Central America, and the Caribbean have experienced such inference numerous times since the Munroe Doctrine, always with the implication that the U.S. is doing so for “moral purposes.” That is almost never the case. The real motivation is the expansion of the U.S. sphere of influence and their political, military, and economic interests.
Beginning a new discussion
This whole discussion should focus on sovereignty and freedom from political and economic interference and manipulation. Yet with over two centuries of imperialism, that doesn’t appear at all in the coverage.
Those who declare that we must do something ignore the historical context of coups, espionage, militarism, and colonialism. For those who say, “We should do something about Venezuela” – we have been doing something for decades. We should start by understanding that.
By Geoff Mosher
Author’s note: For more information on the history of imperialism and colonialism in South America, pick up Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent by Eduardo Galeano.
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