[Media Watch] Outrageous Evening Standard attack on Chavez

On Wednesday, September 14, the London Evening Standard published an outrageous article against President Chavez under the title of "Ken's "Big Brother" Deal with the Death-Squad President". Hands Off Venezuela Press Officer, Charley Allen, replies. You can send polite letters to the Evening Standard (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

To the Evening Standard:

Your latest attack on the democratically elected President of Venezuela Hugo Chávez (Ken's "Big Brother" Deal with the Death-Squad President, September
14 2006), while coming as no surprise, is yet another milestone in the type of gutter journalism that I have come to expect from the media on the subject of Venezuela.

Half-truth, smear and innuendo are used to full effect, while any semblance of balance is sacrificed in this crude attempt to portray Chávez as an authoritarian dictator who represses his opposition. This, of course, is entirely in line with the propaganda coming from the US government, which has spent millions of dollars trying to overthrow him.

Firstly, like any other government, Venezuela is indeed "in the process of assembling a database of everyone in the country," for obvious, bureaucratic, reasons. However, to say that this is "apparently to determine whether they are supporters or opponents" is completely absurd.

The only evidence that you provide for this is a quote by the notorious anti-Chávez fanatic Aleksander Boyd, which reads: "In November last year an audit of electronic voting equipment showed that a record of individual votes was being retained. They want to know exactly who is for them and who is against."

As you must already be aware, Mr Boyd is well-known for advocating violence against the government of Venezuela. There are many articles to this effect on his website1 and, when London Mayor Ken Livingstone denounced him as a terrorist supporter earlier this year, Mr Boyd threatened to sue, but soon dropped his case as he realised that he could not win.

Just to be clear, advocating violence against Chávez and his supporters is no idle threat. Many people have died at the hands of the US-backed opposition in Venezuela, most notably during the coup against Chávez in April 2002. These deaths were initially blamed on Chávez himself. Interestingly, there is no mention at all of the coup in your piece, even though it provides the crucial context to most of your allegations of him being an "authoritarian."

You quote Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to imply that Chávez using the security forces to repress dissent. Nothing could be further from the truth. Venezuela, like all other countries in the region, suffers from widespread corruption and violence within the police and security forces. However, this was the case long before Chávez and, since his election in 1998, Chávez has worked harder than any other Latin American leader to tackle this problem.

The case that you highlight of the three students murdered in June 2005 has received international attention and rightly so. However, you fail to mention that, at the beginning of this month, 24 soldiers and police were sentenced to between 10 and 30 years for this very crime. Could the reason that you omit this crucial fact be anything to with it not fitting in with your portrayal of a "death-squad president"? In any case, it is extremely sloppy journalism.

You repeat allegations that Chávez has taken "action against newspapers that criticised the regime" and that he had made moves to "pack the judiciary with pro-Chávez judges." A little context, not provided by your newspaper, is needed here.

The private media, which is overwhelmingly hostile to Chávez, played a crucial role in the 2002 coup against the government, with several media barons hosting meetings with the coup-plotters both before and during the coup itself. The media was used to fabricate the lie that Chávez "resigned," after ordering his supporters to fire on unarmed protesters. Both of these accusation have since been proved false.

After the coup, the opposition-controlled judiciary ruled that, in fact, no coup had taken place and, therefore, no-one could be held responsible. In the face of such criminal absurdity, Chávez has had no choice but to reform the judiciary, though no-one who has looked at their recent record could pretend that they slavishly follow a government line.

To say that Chávez "has infuriated the US government by refusing to co-operate in moves against Colombian drug cartels" and that he "has also supported Iran in its confrontation with the West over nuclear weapons" again completely misses the point.

It is true that Chávez, once elected, told the US that they could no longer fly over Venezuelan airspace as part of their "war on drugs." However, according to the U.S. International Narcotics Control Strategy Report of 2005, Venezuela has increased the amount of drugs seized from 8.6 tons in 1998 to 19.07 tons in 2004. Also in 2005, Venezuela signed an accord with France and Spain to process satellite images that detect illegal airstrips and airplanes carrying drugs.

In 2006, foreign officials from Britain, the Netherlands and Spain congratulated Venezuela for successfully challenging drug smuggling operations. Just last month, Venezuelan authorities captured Elias Verde Peña, a notorious Colombian paramilitary wanted on drug charges in the US and Colombia.

Regarding his position on Iran, Chávez has made it clear that he supports Iran's legal right to develop nuclear power. To turn this into an issue of "nuclear weapons" is to follow the unproved and disputed line coming out of the US government, which is more interested in Iran's oil than its capacity to produce nuclear energy.

But it is near the end of your piece that the lies become more concentrated. For example, you write:

"He awarded himself sweeping powers of decree and introduced new laws that which carry serious penalties for anyone convicted of showing 'disrespect' to him or the military, which supports him. The authorities decide what 'disrespect' entails. In 2002 he tried to impose control on Venezuela's oil industry, the world's fifth largest producer. Its employees went on strike, so Chávez sacked them all."

These "sweeping powers" were granted to him by the 1999 Constitution, which was introduced democratically after a series of referenda and other elections. The new "disrespect" laws are in line with most other countries in Latin America and were introduced, primarily, to stop the media from publicly calling for insurrection and Chávez's assassination, which they had been doing for years.

To say he tried to "impose control" on the oil industry is even more ludicrous. In case you are not aware of it, Venezuela's oil has been nationalised since 1976. The oil industry which you refer to is, in fact, wholly owned by the Venezuelan government. In truth, though, for many years it had been run as a private fiefdom by a select elite, with massive corruption leading to as much as $40 billion being stolen from the government every year. Chávez announced he would put an end to this and that is why the so-called "strike" was launched, which was completely illegal and included many acts of potentially deadly sabotage. It lasted over 10 weeks and cost the country around $10 billion.

Under such circumstances, and with the oil managers refusing to operate under the new legal structure, sacking them would seem to be a very reasonable response.

Your piece is nothing more than a hatchet job on a democratically elected and very popular - both in Venezuelan and London - leader, who has dared to stand up to the US government by using the oil wealth for the benefit of the many, rather than the few. The fact that he wants to share the wealth with poor Londoners should be a cause for celebration, not an outpouring of right-wing lies and smears. You owe it to your readers to tell the truth and not follow such a hate-filled and mean-spirited agenda.

Yours sincerely,


Charley Allan,

Hands Off Venezuela


1  From Boyd's website Vcrisis: ‘The more the time elapses, the blunter the constitutional violations of the regime, the more I become convinced that the sole way of effectively opposing Chavez is through violence.’ (10/10/04) http://www.vcrisis.com/?content=letters/200410101107

‘Yesterday I had a conversation with someone about Venezuela and its problems. Given the peculiar characteristics of our crisis, my interlocutor asked “what’s the solution then?” And I replied “when elected politicians treat one as an animal, how on earth can be expected that one behaves as a gentleman? The solution in my view is clear and simple: violence.’ (2/11/04) http://www.vcrisis.com/?content=letters/200411020559

‘The other question that daunts me is, how can democracy be protected from itself? What mechanisms has the layman to simply kick out of office pariahs such as Chavez? The answer is none, and since there is no democratic mechanisms in place, violence is the only recourse left.’ (2/11/04) http://www.vcrisis.com/?content=letters/200411020559

‘Re: advocating for violence yes I have mentioned in many occasions that in my view that is the only solution left for dealing with Chavez.’ (21/3/05) http://hurryupharry.bloghouse.net/archives/2005/03/21/two_parties.php


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