"Chavez: from hero to tyrant" New Statesman readers deserve better

This week's edition of the New Statesman carries a front-page article on Venezuela by Alice O'Keeffe under the title "Chavez: from hero to tyrant" . Hands Off Venezuela's Press Officer Charley Allan complains that this is just "standard Washington propaganda".

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has certainly politicised the population, but it's unfair to accuse him of polarising it. A "cold" - and sometimes not so cold - civil war has been waged since long before he was elected.

thisissue_300.jpg Alice O'Keeffe ("Chávez: From hero to tyrant", 12 July 2007) reports on the current 21st century class war entirely from the point of view of the rich right-wing opposition - and it's a totally deluded point of view.

RCTV has not been "shut down," although many government supporters have been calling for that since its participation in the bloody failed coup of 2002. Its public-broadcast license has quite simply not been renewed in a perfectly legal and constitutional manner. The channel is still transmitting on cable and satellite.

Chávez is hardly "power-crazed" - in fact, he has done more than any other Venezuelan president to devolve political and economic power to the people. He's survived the country's first ever recall referendum, renationalised major utilities and regenerated huge sectors of the country.

The rich have always been heavily armed and paranoid about the poor rising up. Chávez has started a peaceful and democratic process to bring about more equality in Venezuela, a country with enough natural resources for everyone. The problem is that the rich just don't want to share.

At a time when the Venezuelan elite are seeking to exploit the issue of RCTV to destabilise the country and perhaps incite a violent civil war along the lines of Chile or Nicaragua, it is sad to see a progressive publication repeating the standard Washington propaganda. Your readers deserve better.

Charley Allan, press officer Hands Off Venezuela, Britain

Hands Off Venezuela member Dan Morley also replied in the New Statesman on-line edition:

I am a regular reader of New Statesman because it offers an alternative news source to that of the mainstream media. However, unfortunately on this occasion the journal has completely succumbed to the agenda of those who control the mainsteam media: capitalists.

First of all, as 'Picoroco' correctly stated above, this article is itself guilty of misinformation. Chavez did not close RCTV, he did not renew its licence, a completely legitimate act of the state against a company that had blatantly violated the terms of its licence. The hue and cry over the death of the 'freedom of expression' does not stand up against the fact that the vitriolically anti-Chavez opposition still has its main media outlets untouched, and is using them to full effect. It is interesting to note that at the same time as this hysteria, the Pakistani government, which is certainly not democratic but is a friend of Bush et al, has viciously clamped down on all dissent and freedom of speech in the press, using violence freely, but not a word has been expressed on this matter in our 'free press'.

The whole of this article misses the fundamental point - there is not a civil war in Venezuela, but an open class war. Until this is understood, we will limit ourselves to pointless complaining about the 'unpleasantness' of public debate, which is in reality an effect of the class war between the poor and disposessed, who now finally have some political power, and the rich, the oligarchy, who fearing the loss of their privilege use every excuse to attack the government - the RCTV case being the latest excuse. In relation to this, the author would do well to refrane from eulogising about the students aiming for 'reconciliation' (something unimaginable in a class war - the viciousness of the 2002 coup is testimony to this), considering the recent evidence showing that their protests were orchestrated by the very same imperialist media that feels threatened (manuscripts of their speeches were found to have been written by certain corporations, who were obviously 'sponsering' the protests). These students may be sincere, but those who play them to their advantage are not, and are very dangerous.

The article is littered with emotive and unreliable anecdotes ('With a power-crazed Chávez at the helm' - it remains to be shown how he is power hungry, it is merely stated emotively), and where it does refer to facts these have been shown to be false or misleading. Furthermore, the quotes featured, which appear to be exclusively anti-Chavez, ironic in a nation that recently gave 63% support to him, show a deep misunderstanding of Chavez's role - he is not manufacturing the situation, but is responding to it, and reflects the mood of the masses. That his support is real, that his position is based on a mass movement, is shown by the fact that Chavez was only saved from a coup by a spontaneous movement of literally millions. Thus such comments 'Chavez has not learned you cannot create solidarity by decree' are ludicrous - Chavez's entire power is based on a very real solidarity that existed prior to his presidency - from 1989 to be precise, a year when the then government not only viciously suppressed dissent, causing the deaths of unknown 1000s, but also liberally employed press cencorship in relation to its actions, something that Chavez has never done, nor is it ever reported in such articles as this.

The reality is that the fact that you are 'forced to be on one side or another' is not some manufactured dictate of Chavez, but a consequence of the class struggle, something Chavez exists in relation to but did not create, and the unpleasant aspects of which should be blamed not on Chavez but on the reactionaries.

This article has shown it is entirely victim to the agenda of said reactionaries, and proves that 'The freedom of the press belongs to those who control the press'.

Daniel Morley, Hands off Venezuela (personal capacity)