Biased Macleans article on Chávez - letter writing campaign

Macleans magazine, one of the major current affairs magazines in Canada, has recently published one of the most biased anti-Chavez articles ever seen in the country. HOV Canada has taken up the article, along with organisations in the US, in an effort to combat the distortions and out-and-out lies.

Macleans magazine has just written one of the most biased anti-Chávez articles ever seen in Canada. Unfortunately this is a pattern in the Canadian media. Earlier this year the Ontario Press Council upheld a complaint against the Toronto Star for a series of articles on Venezuela that "lacked balance." Macleans was the largest circulating current affairs magazine in Canada, but it has gone into decline after taking a right-wing stance in recent years. HOV is demanding that the magazine print a lengthy response to their yellow journalism, especially as the article mentions Hands Off Venezuela specifically. We believe that if many people send letters to the editor it will make it impossible for them to ignore us and will help redress the balance.

Send letters to the editor to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and please forward a copy to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., we will put the best ones online.

The offending article can be found here:

Response from Hands Off Venezuela Canada

It is amazing that when confronted with the most significant expansion of democracy in a generation, Western political elites see a "mad dash to dictatorship." Michael Petrou's October 29th article, "Hail comrade Chávez!" lacks balance and perspective. In this article, the democratically elected president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, is called totalitarian, autocratic and fascist and is accused of stifling dissent. The only proof of these assertions are the statements of well known opposition figures such as López and Petkoff, who all supported the bloody 2002 right-wing coup against the Venezuelan government. This, in itself, should lead us to question the "democratic" credentials of these people.

In reality, Venezuela is seeing an extension of democracy that the West should be envious of. At the same time as the electoral system in Canada, the USA and Britain is facing a crisis of legitimacy (witness the 52% turnout in the recent Ontario elections), Venezuela has massive participation. 63% supported Chávez in the 2006 Presidential elections, which were called free and fair by all credible sources. Venezuelans have gained the opportunity to recall their president, an opportunity that US citizens opposed to the Iraq war would love to access. And in the newly proposed constitution, if it passes a democratic referendum later this year, Venezuelans will enjoy a 6-hour workday and the expansion of power to community councils that allow normal people to control their own neighbourhoods. Imagine what the cash-strapped citizens of Toronto could do if they had similar power to run their communities.

Readers of Macleans should ask themselves, what kind of dictator expands healthcare, education, social services and democratic rights for the mass of the population? And why all the fuss about Venezuela while US support for dictators, such as Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf and the reactionary Saudi royal family, are passed by in silence?

Alex Grant

Hands off Venezuela Campaign Coordinator

Toronto, ON

Reply from the Venezuela Information Office in Washington

Dear Michael Petrou,

Please allow me to share some impressions of your recent article on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, which I found extremely biased.  It is alarmist and resembles some of the least educated perspectives on Chavez that can be found in the U.S.  I was dismayed to see that a major publication in Canada - a country known for more level-headed foreign policy - would label a democratically elected president who has a high degree of legitimacy in Venezuela and abroad as "authoritarian," engaging in "intimidation," "stifling dissent" and "seeking alliances with tyrants and dictators."  This just is not the case, as you would have known had you used government sources for anything else than self-fulfilling Chavez soundbytes and getting officials to "confirm" out-of-context claims made by the opposition.  A glimmer of openness comes when you meet local politicians of Bolivarian persuasion, but this is too quickly effaced by more Chavez stereotypes.

It is true that President Chavez will have the opportunity to seek reelection if and when constitutional reforms developed by the National Assembly that are subject to a national referendum on December 2nd get a "yes" vote from citizens.  Even then, though, Venezuelans can stage a recall referendum during any presidential term.  This is an important check on power.  The Secretary General of the Organization of American States recently said of the reforms, "I do not believe that the multi-party system in Venezuela is at stake."  In other words, electoral competition will remain a centerpoint of democracy there.

The political scene in Venezuela is extremely complex, and I believe you may have been taken in, for you present the virulent and often bigoted criticisms of Chavez that are the instruments of discredited opposition politicians as though they are hard-and-fast truths.  For instance, you quote someone who advocates assassinating the President as though it were the most natural thing in the world.  Nor do the intricacies of class, race, and politics in Venezuela appear to be grasped at all in the article.  First you suggest that Chavez has support in the slums, among the poor majority that was neglected for decades by prior administrations, but then you go on to say that Chavez supporters are fat cats who hang out at glitzy nightclubs.

In reality, Las Mercedes - like all of the wealthiest parts of Caracas - is opposition territory, governed by opposition mayors.  Hence, it is not a coincidence that the only interview you found in Las Mercedes at the club you call "a gathering place for high-rolling Chavistas" was from an "anti-chavista oil investment consultant."  You don't seem to have ventured out of this elite territory, nor considered other perspectives.  It is very inaccurate to take Alexis Vive as emblematic of Chavismo, as the group is extremist and possibly violent, not widely known or well respected, and entirely unrecognized by the government.  The claim that militarism is common among the poor in Venezuela is false and unwarranted.

Finally, chief informants Lopez and Petkoff are not Venezuelan "everymen," as you would have them be.  They are two of the most prominent opposition politicians in the country.  Petkoff may have been a guerrilla in the '60s, but he was also Minister of Planning for the neoliberal administration of Rafael Caldera, who was Chavez's immediate predecessor (1993-98).  He was also a candidate in the last presidential elections.  Lopez is a Harvard-educated mayor who makes frequent trips to Washington, founded a political party, and was a major contributor to the campaign of the presidential candidate who lost to Chavez in free and fair elections last December.  As politicians, Lopez and Petkoff have their own, very specific agendas, and unfortunately, they just found a megaphone in Maclean's magazine.

I found the article very disappointing, lacking even a modicum of balance, and I think Canadians will, too.


Megan Morrissey

Venezuela Information Office

Washington, DC

Letters to the editor by HOV supporters

I found Michael Petrou's article on Venezuela to be a prime and disturbing example of yellow journalism. Facts are distorted, sources seem chosen for their political slant rather than their credibility and Petrou's personal opinion is clearly dripping from every paragraph.

I lack the space to correct all the half truths in this article as there are too many. So allow me to use an anecdote instead. I am a member of the NDP Youth, an organization mentioned in Petrou's article as having declared its solidarity with the Venezuelan revolution. I was, in fact, one of the main movers of the policy that had this effect. This is because in Venezuela I saw more hope, more democracy and more potential than I have ever seen in the political and economic life of this country.

Here, we young people see jobs lost, pensions eroding and our futures disappearing. We see politicians who all sound alike and who deliver nothing. We see apathy on a scale larger than ever before (and not without good reason). And yet, in Venezuela I saw workers taking over their closed down factories and reopening them themselves. I saw communal councils functioning in communities to provide services and political enfranchisement to people who have had nether. I saw a way forward.

I understand Macleans is a corporation out to make a profit and that the example of a socialist revolution threatens that profit. And so I can understand why you feel pressured to slander what is going on. But you should understand as well, that the system that you use to make those profits leaves many of us youth with no future. From our perspective, if the choice is socialism or destitution, then the choice is obvious.

Julian Benson


Despite being elected and re-elected in an electoral process which international observers called clean and fair, Chávez' government is labelled 'autocratic' because they resisted an attempted coup d'état orchestrated by Washington. Would it be 'democratic' for a government not to resist being overthrown by a foreign power? Would any government allow a TV station that supported a military coup against it continue to operate freely? Canada did more to restrict freedoms (including the press) under far less real threat during the October crisis. Mexico, with a far more dubious electoral process than Venezuela, systematically uses its army to repress peasants, indigenous groups and community organizations in Chiapas and Oaxaca. By joining the international smear campaign which unfairly singles out Chávez' government, Michael Petrou's article on Venezuela was one of the most blatantly biased pieces of "journalism" I have ever seen. McLean's owes the Venezuelan people a formal apology and retraction.

David Heap

London, Ontario

Dear Editor

I am surprised that an article like the one from Michael Petrou could appear in your magazine, I think it is one of the most misleading pieces of journalism that I have had the misfortune to come across. How is it possible to describe Hugo Chavez as moving toward dictatorship when his government and program has been democratically supported in 12 electoral tests in the last 9 years. These elections have been declared free and fair by such bodies as the Carter Centre, the European Union and the Organisation of American States, Hugo Chavez is also subject to the right of recall. I think that any journalist should at least make an attempt at fair honest reporting, this article is so far off the mark that it discredits journalism in general, few readers will give it any credibility.

Keith Wyatt



As a member of the New Democratic Party Youth and a supporter of Hands Off Venezuela, I take great offence to this extremely biased article by Michael Petrou's October 29th article, "Hail comrade Chavez!" This is precisely the reason that the Young New Democrats passed a resolution in support of the Hands Off Venezuela campaign, in order to battle the false image of the revolution being promoted by the mass media around the world.

I am quite sure that Mr Petrou knows full well the reality of the situation in Venezuela, but is simply presenting his own class interest in defending the oligarchy of capitalists and landlords. The fact is that the Venezuelan government is one of the most democratic in the world. Not only has Chavez been elected with a huge majority of 63% of the vote, but with a voter turnout of around 85%! Compare this to the Canadian reality where the Conservative government rules with around 38% of the vote and a turnout that was one of the lowest in history. The recent Ontario elections saw the worst voter turnout in history, at just around 50%. Furthermore, the president or any elected official can be recalled at any time by the electorate, a change which Chavez himself put into the Venezuelan constitution which was overwhelmingly approved democratically in a referendum.

The new constitutional changes that are being put forward expand democracy past anything which we have in Canada. A reduction of the work day to 6 hours, with no loss of pay and no layoffs and an expansion of power to community councils so that average people can take direct control of their own communities. How exactly Mr Petrou thinks that empowering average people, the ability to recall any elected official and improving the quality of life of working people is totalitarian is beyond me. The fact remain that Mr Petrou is simply looking out for the interests of the extremely wealthy, who could stand to loss profit, power and prestige as average people finally have a chance to take things into their own hands.

Adam Fulsom

Ottawa, Ontario

You start off alright, but the piece is grossly biased as I read into it.  Every foreign leader who tries to improve the lot of the poor gets vilified in the mainstream press in the U.S. and Canada.  This story seems to be part of that effort.

What dictator would concern himself about the welfare of the poor?  What dictator would work to eradicate illiteracy in his country, and achieve it!?  What dictator would work to build a health care system for poor people regardless of race or ethnic background?  What dictator would offer relief to the victims of hurricane Katrina when it wasn't even his country, or cheap heating oil to poor people outside of his own country?

We can't listen to what people write and say about Chavez.  We must choose to measure him by what he does and what he doesn't do.  He has done all the things above, and he has not started unprovoked wars to gain control of oil in other nations.  He has not set up a worldwide network of torture camps.  He has not run his country so far into debt that they'll never be able to pay it off.

He has stood up to the U.S. when the easy thing to do would be to sell out his people to American corporate domination. like his predecessor, and sit back and let the wealth role in while his generals get training at the School of the Americas in how to torture and make people disappear.  That would be what a dictator would do.

Why didn't the previous government, lauded by Washington, not deal with illiteracy?  Why did they run the country so poorly that large segments of the population never got to see a doctor?

MacLeans is coming down on the wrong side of this issue.  With Washington threatening Venezuela so strongly, Chavez does have to make a great effort to ensure his country's sovereignty.  I wish we had someone with his character and courage here in Canada.

Fred Williams