Venezuela Blitz (Part 2): Press Freedom, Sanctions and Oil
Press Freedom – Taking a Glance at a Newspaper Stand
7 Feb 2019 – In support of their claim that Maduro is a ‘tyrant’ who does not allow free elections, corporate media consistently point to a lack of press freedom. When British academic Alan MacLeod of Glasgow Media Group reviewed 166 Western media articles evaluating the state of press freedom between 1998-2014, he found that all depicted Venezuelan media as ‘caged’, or unfree. Last week, Canadian political analyst Joe Emersberger commented in The Canary:
‘The idea that Venezuela has a “caged” media has to be one of the most unforgivable pieces of Western propaganda about the country. And a simple analysis shows just how ignorant that allegation is. Indeed, just a few days ago, one of Venezuela’s most widely read newspapers, El Universal, published an op-ed enthusiastically applauding the efforts of the US-backed opposition to bring about President Nicolás Maduro’s ouster by recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s new president. The op-ed said Guaidó was managing his US-backed strategy “perfectly”. And it joyously stated that the US and its allies had Maduro surrounded, and almost ready to be ousted.’
In 2016, Emersberger wrote of earlier protests:
‘In fact the protests and the leading opposition leaders’ take on the protests are being extensively covered on the largest private networks: Venevision, Televen, Globovision. If people abroad sampled Venezuela’s TV media directly, as opposed to judging it by what is said about it by the international media and some big NGOs, they’d be shocked to find the opposition constantly denouncing the government and even making very thinly veiled appeals to the military to oust Maduro.’
The Venezuela Analysis website tweeted:
‘A cursory glance at any newspaper stand in Caracas will reveal that vast majority of Vzlan papers are anti-govt. Opposition also has massive social media presence – just search Twitter for “Venezuela” w/ Spanish filter. Intl journalists been lying re lack of media freedom for yrs’
Independent journalist Abby Martin did exactly as suggested and visited a Venezuelan newspaper stand. She offered this summary:
‘So, out of the seven papers, four are anti-government, two are pro-government, and one is neutral, can go either way. So, it looks like the press is not as controlled as we think.’
This is the kind of research even corporate journalists should be able to conduct for themselves.
Economic Warfare – Blocking Recovery
Just as they blamed Saddam Hussein for the devastating impact of US-UK sanctions on Iraq (1990-2003), corporate media are united in laying the blame for Venezuela’s economic and humanitarian crisis at Maduro’s door. In fact, Venezuela has long been subject to severe US sanctions. In 2017, political analyst Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) commented:
‘At the end of August, the Trump administration imposed harsh sanctions on Venezuela that prevent the country from borrowing or selling assets in the US financial system. The new embargo will exacerbate shortages of food, medicine, and other essential goods, while severely limiting the policy options available to pull the country out of a deep depression.’
Trump’s order ‘makes a sustained recovery nearly impossible without outside help—or a new government that is approved by the Trump administration’.
This week, Alexander Campbell, also of CEPR, reported:
‘Last week, the US formally adopted sanctions on Venezuelan national oil company PDVSA, as well as on CITGO, its US-based distribution arm, as part of its press for regime change in Caracas. National Security Advisor John Bolton estimated the actions would affect some $7 billion in assets and would block $11 billion in revenue to the Venezuelan government over the next year.’
Campbell summarised Venezuelan economist Francisco Rodríguez’s 2018 analysis of the impact of sanctions:
‘Rodríguez’s basic story: the oil industry is critical to the Venezuelan government; underinvestment and the rapid decline in oil prices caused a significant drop in revenue; then, as oil prices began increasing, Trump imposed sanctions making any international financial transaction extremely difficult and potentially “toxic.” Rodríguez explains… how Venezuelan and Colombian oil production both declined at the same rate, until the Trump financial embargo was implemented in August 2017. Then, Venezuela’s oil production collapsed…’
The US media watch website, FAIR, placed all of this in context:
‘Trump ramped up the Obama administration’s sanctions, an action that caused Venezuelan oil production to plummet (FAIR.org, 12/17/18) and the economy to nosedive. Furthermore, US economic warfare against the country has cut Venezuela off from global capital markets—with the Trump administration threatening bankers with 30 years in prison if they negotiate with Caracas a standard restructuring of its debt (AlterNet, 11/13/17). The UN Human Rights Council formally condemned the US, noting that the sanctions target “the poor and most vulnerable classes,” called on all member states to break them, and even began discussing reparations the US should pay to Venezuela.’
Last month, Alfred de Zayas, the first UN rapporteur to visit Venezuela for 21 years, told the Independent that US sanctions are illegal and could amount to ‘crimes against humanity’ under international law:
‘Former special rapporteur Alfred de Zayas, who finished his term at the UN in March, has criticized the US for engaging in “economic warfare” against Venezuela which he said is hurting the economy and killing Venezuelans.’
The Independent continued:
“Sanctions kill,” he told The Independent, adding that they fall most heavily on the poorest people in society, demonstrably cause death through food and medicine shortages, lead to violations of human rights and are aimed at coercing economic change in a “sister democracy”.
‘On his fact-finding mission to the country in late 2017, he found internal overdependence on oil, poor governance and corruption had hit the Venezuelan economy hard, but said “economic warfare” practised by the US, EU and Canada are significant factors in the economic crisis.’
‘Despite being the first UN official to visit and report from Venezuela in 21 years, Mr de Zayas said his research into the causes of the country’s economic crisis has so far largely been ignored by the UN and the media, and caused little debate within the Human Rights Council.’
Our ProQuest UK national newspaper database search for the last 30 days for articles mentioning:
‘de Zayas’ and ‘Venezuela’ = 1 hit
That is, one mention in the entire UK press, the Independent article cited above.
An idea of the extent of Western economic warfare against Venezuela can be gained from this thread of examples sent by tweeter Francisco Nunes.
In 2015, a minimum wage comparison across Latin America by Mexico’s Financialred.com.mx found:
‘Costa Rica has the second highest minimum wage in Central America and third in Latin America, US$516 monthly. Venezuela tops the list at US$885 and Panama US$667.
‘The average monthly minimum wage across Latin America is US$354.’
The study reported:
‘The lowest in purchasing power is Colombia, where the minimum salary covers only 49.57% of the Canasta Basica; in other words Colombians need more than 2 minimum wages to cover their basic needs. Colombia’s minimum wage is COP644.350 Colombian Pesos, while the cost of the Canasta Basica is COP1,300,000.
‘A similar situation is lived in Paraguay, Peru and Ecuador.’
Deep poverty is a problem across the region, but these crises never make the news. Even worse disasters are raging elsewhere, of course.
Since March 2015, a ‘coalition’ of Sunni Arab states led by Saudi Arabia, and supported by the US, Britain and France, has been dropping bombs on neighbouring Yemen. In 2016, the independent journalist Felicity Arbuthnot reported that in one year, 330,000 homes, 648 mosques, 630 schools and institutes and 250 health facilities had been destroyed or damaged. In December 2016, it was reported that more than 10,000 people had died and three million had been displaced in the conflict. According to Patrick Cockburn in the Independent, the death toll now likely exceeds 60,000.
In August 2016, Oxfam reported that in excess of 21 million people in Yemen, out of a total population of around 27 million, needed humanitarian aid, more than in any other country. In December 2016, a new study by UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, reported that at least one child was dying every 10 minutes in Yemen.
As far as we are aware, nobody in the UK parliament or press has called for the overthrow of the Saudi regime, nor indeed of the UK government, for creating poverty and suffering that far exceeds anything seen in Venezuela.
Indeed, in October 2016, Labour shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, placed a motion before the House of Commons that merely sought ‘to bring about a cessation of hostilities and provide humanitarian relief in Yemen’ and ‘to suspend [UK government] support for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces in Yemen’ pending an investigation of human rights violations. More than 100 Labour MPs – almost half the Labour Party – failed to support the motion. As a result, it was defeated by 283 votes to 193.
Similar indifference greeted the UN’s finding, in 1999, that the US-UK sanctions regime in Iraq had caused the deaths of 500,000 children under five. Senior UN diplomats who set up and ran the sanctions programme – and who later resigned in protest, describing it as ‘genocidal’ – were almost completely ignored by the UK press. One such senior diplomat, Hans von Sponeck, wrote a superb, forensic book detailing US-UK responsibility for this mass death, ‘A Different Kind of War – The UN Sanctions Regime in Iraq’ (Berghahn Books, 2006). The book has been mentioned once in the entire UK press and never been reviewed.
US Green Party Presidential candidate Jill Stein made the point:
‘The same blowhard politicians talking about “bringing democracy” to Venezuela have aided & abetted the Saudi dictators executing dissidents, murdering journalists & starving millions of kids in Yemen. They don’t give a damn about democracy or poor people’s lives. It’s about OIL.’
As Adam Johnson notes wryly, it is as if US liberals ‘keep a real-time report card on these Official Bad Regimes, and if these regimes—due to an ill-defined rubric of un-democraticness and human rights—fall below a score of say, “60,” they become illegitimate and unworthy of defense as such’.
Of course, no ‘real-time reports’ are kept on ‘us’ and ‘our’ allies. The result is propaganda, not journalism.
Oil – ‘We Could Have Had Anything We Wanted’
If Maduro is not in fact a tyrant, if Venezuela does in fact have a comparatively free press and fair elections; if the US-UK corporate press is not in fact concerned about the fairness of elections, press freedom, poverty and mass death, even when caused by their own governments – then what is their problem with the Maduro government?
A vague gesture in the direction of Truth was made by Channel 4’s Alex Thomson, who asked on January 27:
‘Curious how much Venezuela suddenly matters to the EU when the recent notorious election in Bangladesh didn’t register like this…nor the Catalan question… nor the host of murderous dictators it supports across the Gulf. Why Caracas guys?’
As we replied, the reason is hardly in doubt. We linked to a WikiLeaked US document:
‘US GOALS, OBJECTIVES AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT… VENEZUELA…
‘OUR FUNDAMENTAL INTERESTS IN VENEZUELA ARE:
‘THAT VENEZUELA CONTINUE TO SUPPLY A SIGNIFICANT PORTION OF OUR PETROLEUM IMPORTS AND CONTINUE TO FOLLOW A MODERATE AND RESPONSIBLE OIL PRICE POSITION IN OPEC’
RT’s Going Underground tweeted a list of the ‘Largest proven oil reserves in the world’:
‘2. Saudi Arabia
‘The US is pursuing regime change/executed regime change against 4 of these countries in 16 years’
On Twitter, redfish provided some detail on quantities of oil, showing that Venezuela is top of the list.
In an interview with Sky News, Peter Watt, lecturer in Hispanic Studies at the University of Sheffield, noted that ’90 per cent of Venezuela’s oil exports are destined for the United States, it’s about 700,000 barrels of oil every day’.
Marco Rubio, the US Senator for Florida, tweeted:
‘Biggest buyers of Venezuelan oil are @ValeroEnergy & @Chevron. Refining heavy crude from #Venezuela supports great jobs in Gulf Coast.
‘For the sake of these U.S. workers I hope they will begin working with administration of President Guaido & cut off illegitimate Maduro regime.’
A few days later, apparently with complete unawareness, Rubio tweeted again:
‘Blessed the man who sets his security in the LORD, who turns not to the arrogant or to those who stray after falsehood.
In 2011, before becoming President, Donald Trump lamented the outcome of the US ‘intervention’ in oil-rich Libya:
‘The fact is, what we should’ve done is, we should have asked the rebels when they came to us. We should’ve said, “We’ll help you, but we want 50% of the oil.” They would have absolutely said, “Okay!”, one hundred per cent. In fact, they would have said, “How about 75%?”… Isn’t it sad, we could have had anything we wanted. We could’ve had 50% of those oil fields. You know, in the old days when you had a war, it’s “To the victor belong the spoils.” So, we could have had some something special.’
Who cared that the oil belonged to Libya? Anyone who doubts that this same ‘compassion’ informs US concern for the people of Venezuela now, should reflect on the naming of Elliott Abrams as America’s special envoy for Venezuela. Abrams has a simply appalling record of brutalising Latin America and other regions as part of the Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush administrations. In 2002, the Observer reported of the coup that temporarily overthrew Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez that ‘the crucial figure around the coup was Abrams’ and that he ‘gave a nod’ to the plotters.
US national security adviser, John Bolton, has urged the Venezuelan military to overthrow the democratically elected government:
‘We also today call on the Venezuelan military and security forces to accept the peaceful, democratic and constitutional transfer of power.’
Bolton has also said:
‘It’ll make a big difference to the United States economically, if we could have American oil companies really invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela.’
The Independent reports:
‘Venezuela’s government-in-waiting will allow foreign private oil companies a greater stake in joint ventures with its state-owned oil giant, Juan Guaido’s envoy to the US has said.’
Conclusion – What We Are Supposed To Think
On January 26, the BBC reported:
‘Maduro given ultimatum by European leaders’
We tweeted in response:
‘An ultimatum? By what right?’
Our question was retweeted 369 times and liked 649 times.
Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Gaddafi in Libya also received ‘ultimatums’ from the self-designated ‘Rulers of the World’, who then went on to destroy both countries. Lessons learned by corporate journalists on ‘our’ right to act as moral arbiters? None.
Consider, for example, the moment on February 4, when Channel 4’s Jon Snow gave Labour MP Chris Williamson a piece of his mind:
‘Look, Mr. Williamson, you and Mr. Corbyn are in a very nasty corner now. You’ve got a country that is in terrible, terrible condition, and that is down to the people who ran it and the people you supported. Isn’t it time you changed sides and got behind what is happening now?’
As noted above, many countries are in ‘terrible, terrible condition’, often thanks to Western ‘intervention’, without journalists being the least bit concerned. And notice a key point: Snow was asking Williamson to get behind Trump’s policy in Venezuela. Yes, that Trump – the monster that ‘mainstream’ media have endlessly depicted as an out and out fascist. Snow’s comment was a perfect example of a journalist being swept up by the mindless conformity of a propaganda blitz – everyone always, always has to get behind ‘what is happening now’ when power is targeting Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Venezuela. To do anything less is irresponsible, shameful, is siding with ‘the Bad Guy’.
And what do the people of Venezuela – the people who have suffered so much under US-backed, right-wing tyrannies in the past – actually want? The Canary reports that ‘the vast majority of Venezuelan people oppose military intervention and US sanctions’:
‘The poll, conducted by Hinterlaces in early January 2019, found that “86 percent of Venezuelans would disagree with international military intervention”. More than eight out of ten Venezuelans also oppose US sanctions on the country.’
Corporate politicians and journalists are playing a very familiar game. We, the public, are supposed to think:
– Yes, there’s lots of oil, but maybe they really do know that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. Maybe they genuinely are worried that he might use them or give them to terrorists. Bush looks totally convinced, Blair seems honest and sincere.
In fact, Saddam Hussein did not have any WMD – it was fake news. In 2007, economist Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the US Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, wrote in his memoir:
‘I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.’ (Leader, ‘Power, not oil, Mr Greenspan,’ Sunday Times, 16 September 2007)
We are supposed to think:
– Yes, there’s lots of oil, but maybe they are worried that Gaddafi is going to commit a terrible massacre in Benghazi. Obama seems deeply concerned, so does Cameron.
In fact, Gaddafi was not planning a massacre – the claim was a fraud. In 2011, Real News interviewed Kevin G. Hall, the national economics correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers, who had studied the WikiLeaked material on Libya. Hall said:
‘As a matter of fact, we went through 251,000 [leaked] documents… Of those, a full 10 percent of them, a full 10 percent of those documents, reference in some way, shape, or form oil.’ (‘WikiLeaks reveals US wanted to keep Russia out of Libyan oil,’ The Real News, 11 May 2011)
Hall concluded: ‘It is all about oil.’
We are supposed to think:
– Yes, there’s lots of oil, but maybe they really are worried that Venezuelans are suffering terribly, maybe they really do believe they would be better off under a new leader. Trump seems deranged, but maybe he has a heart after all.
Time and again, we are asked to give the benefit of the doubt to famously cynical, greed-driven Western political leaders and parties. We can’t believe they can be simply lying to us, making it up – week after week, month after month – so that they and their powerful corporate allies can get their hands on oil. Time and again, too many of us defer to authority and whole countries are destroyed.
The final pages of human history before climate collapse may show that the climate-denying Trump regime trashed one more country in its determination to control and burn yet more oil, thereby guaranteeing its own destruction and the destruction of the entire human race, and most of life on earth. With all this the work of a groping, orange-haired, reality-denying reality TV billionaire selling himself as a ‘man of the people’.
A tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing, indeed.
Media Lens is a UK-based media watchdog group headed by David Edwards and David Cromwell. In 2007, Media Lens was awarded the Gandhi Foundation International Peace Prize. We have written three co-authored books: Guardians of Power-The Myth of the Liberal Media (Pluto Press, 2006), Newspeak-In the 21st Century (Pluto Press, 2009), and Propaganda Blitz (Pluto Press, 2018).
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