In Defense of Chavez

Behind the Washington-Media Hate Campaign

by Ike Nahem
published on September 27, 2006

“With skillful manipulation of the press [the US government] turns the victim into the criminal and the criminal into the victim. -Malcolm X”

The big-business media in the United States has seized upon remarks
directed against President Bush by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in
his warmly applauded speech at the United Nations, and before an
enthusiastic packed house at the Mt. Olivet Baptist Church in Harlem,
New York, as a pretext to launch a highly orchestrated hysterical
campaign against Chavez and the Venezuelan government. Screaming
headlines in the two right-wing New York City tabloids, the Daily News
and the New York Post, have called President Chavez “crazed,” “el loco,”
“crackpot,” and “jerk.” (The last time these flag-waving, war-cheering,
gossip-mongering, celebrity drunk, anti-labor paragons of the “free
press” went so ballistic was during the December 2005 strike of New
York’s subway workers where Transit Workers Union President Roger
Toussaint was the foil that Chavez is cast as today.)

Liberal New York Times columnist Frank Rich called Chavez a “menace” on
an ABC News Sunday morning pundit panel. Ultra-right Wall Street Journal
columnist, Mary Anastasio O’Grady, in her weekly Friday rant, wrote of
the “kook from Caracas.” For several days in Cable TV-land Chavez was
pummeled by conservative and liberal talking heads. (What Chavez did at
the UN, in a short reference intended to be humorous, at the onset of a
major address full of substance and challenging ideas, was to refer to
President George Bush as “the devil.” “Yesterday, ladies and gentlemen,
from this rostrum, the President of the United States the gentleman to
whom I refer as the devil, came here, talking as if he owned the world.
Truly as the owner of the world.”)

As is usually the case, the big-business media gaggle is following the
lead of and promoting the views of the Republican and Democratic
politicians who serve the interests of the US ruling class
internationally. To these forces Hugo Chavez and the ideas he promotes
indeed represent a threat to their interests. But the interests of the
US super-wealthy minority of business executives and bankers are not the
same as the interests of working people in the United States. The
anti-Chavez media blitzkrieg aims to fabricate a caricature which will
prejudice and manipulate public opinion and create conditions for more
direct aggression against Venezuela. On Saturday, September 24, as the
media hysteria mounted, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro was
forcibly detained for 90 minutes at JFK International Airport, causing
him to miss his flight for which he had a ticket. Maduro was physically
manhandled, threatened with frisking, handcuffing, and a strip search,
after he had announced his diplomatic position and shown his diplomatic
credentials, by Department of Homeland Security authorities in an
egregious provocation-for which the US State Department was forced to
publicly apologize and which UN authorities have pledged to investigate.
Prior to President Chavez’s trip to New York to address the UN,
Washington refused to issue visas to his personal physician and chief
security, forcing them to remain on the aircraft upon his arrival.

Democratic and Republican elected officials across the liberal to
conservative political spectrum put aside their election-year theater of
attacking each other over whether Republicans or Democrats can best
promote the interests of the US Empire, to unite in a patriotic fever
against Hugo Chavez and the temerity of his remarks at the United
Nations. Liberal Congressman Charles Rangel, who has in the past
presented himself as a strong opponent of the US invasion of Iraq and
embargo against Cuba, and who represents Harlem in the US Congress,
became overnight the darling of the tabloids and right-wing commentators
when he said to reporters, “You don’t come into my country, you don’t
come into my congressional district and you don’t condemn my president.”
In a further statement to the Daily News, Rangel huffed and puffed,
“George Bush is the President of the United States and represents the
entire country. Any demeaning attack against him is-and should be viewed
by Republican and Democrats and all Americans-as an attack on all of
us.” The Daily News ran a lead editorial entitled “”Attaboy, Charlie!”
praising Rangel after his statement. (It would be interesting to poll
Rangel’s Harlem constituents as to whether George Bush “represents the
entire country,” and whether Chavez’s speech at the Harlem Church, where
he announced an expansion of his government’s program of supplying
heavily discounted heating oil to Harlem and other working-class
communities in the US, was an “attack on all of us.” ) Not to be
outdone, liberal Congresswoman and Democratic Party minority leader in
the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, who represents the city of
San Francisco, was also praised across the bourgeois political board
when she said, “Hugo Chavez fancies himself as a modern-day Simon
Bolivar, but all he is is an everyday thug.” (We can all look forward to
hearing more of Nancy Pelosi’s no doubt deep and profound understanding
of the history and ideas of Simon Bolivar!) US Ambassador to the United
Nations John Bolton shamefacedly lied about the existence of free speech
in Venezuela when he said, “You know it’s a phenomenon of the United

States that not only can he say those things in the General Assembly, he
could walk over to Central Park and exercise freedom of speech in
Central Park too and say pretty much whatever he wanted. Too bad
President Chavez doesn’t extend the same freedom of speech to the people
of Venezuela.” New York Republican Governor George Pataki echoed the
same deceitful theme when he said, “The best thing he can do is go back
to Venezuela and try to provide freedom for his people instead of what
he’s done here in New York.” New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer
called Chavez “despicable and disgusting.”

The purpose of this bipartisan, arrogant venom directed against Hugo
Chavez is, of course, to divert attention from the content of what he
actually said at the United Nations, to bury the truth about US policy,
under the Bush administration, toward Venezuela, and to bury the reality
of the political transformations taking place in Venezuela and
throughout the Americas today which is becoming a major crisis for US
foreign policy as Washington’s historic economic and social domination
continues to erode.

Hugo Chavez, to the great consternation of both conservative and liberal
US policymakers and officeholders, has become a popular and prominent
voice for the oppressed and exploited masses throughout the Americas who
are fighting for their rights and interests. Those interests of working
people are in direct conflict with the so-called “Washington Consensus”
policies, promoted by Bush and both US big-business parties, of
austerity, permanent debt slavery, privatization, unequal trade (which
they call “free”), low wages, mass unemployment, and servility to US
foreign policy dictates.

That, not any infelicity of Chavez’s use of religious idioms and
gestures-not exactly alien to Bush and US political discourse-in words
directed against President Bush, symbolically casting him as “the
devil,” is what is really behind the anti-Chavez eruption in the US
big-business media. The purpose is to prevent and cut off a discussion
and debate over the ideas articulated by Chavez in 99% of the content of
his speeches given in New York City. Because it is the unspinnable fact
that behind the ideas articulated by Chavez stands mounting waves of
struggles and demands by Latin America’s workers, peasants, indigenous
peoples. women, and youth for governments, and an economic and social
order, which represents their class interests and an end to Latin
America’s historic relationship of servility to and domination by US

It is obvious that the unleashed anti-Chavez furor also aims to
prejudice working people in the US against-and bury knowledge and
awareness about-the progressive political and social transformations now
taking place in Venezuela. These include massive expansions of free
medical care and education, aided by over 20,000 Cuban doctors, nurses,
teachers, and athletic trainers. Already illiteracy is being wiped out
in Venezuela, as it was done in Cuba after the triumph of the Cuban
Revolution. Already 10 million Venezuelan working people have received
free medical care. It also includes the beginnings of a planned massive
redistribution of land to landless farmers in a country where the large
majority of potentially productive land is in the hands of a tiny
minority of semi-feudal landlords. The government of Hugo Chavez has
given workers and peasants-the overwhelming majority who have been
impoverished by the traditional social order defended by the Venezuelan
oligarchy backed by Washington-the space to fight for their rights and
class interests. That is why the Chavez government has overwhelming
popular support as registered in six democratic electoral processes
since Chavez’s initial election as president in 1998. And that is why
Washington not only hates Chavez and his government, but has actively
worked for its overturn.

This is the framework in which Chavez’s UN remarks of a seemingly ad
hominum nature against George Bush should be seen. The US government,
under the Bush Administration, promoted and supported an aborted
military coup against the democratically elected Chavez government in
April 2002. The coup leaders, immediately recognized by the Bush
Administration (and the editors of the New York Times), kidnapped and
was preparing to put in place a military unit that would murder Chavez,
who was guarded by sympathetic soldiers. Only a dramatic, massive
mobilization of working people, who poured into the streets demanding
the return of the president they elected, led to the collapse of the
coup “government,” which had suspended constitutional rights and
democratic freedoms, tried to set up a military dictatorship, and had
begun organizing death squads to hunt down Chavez government leaders.
The defeat and rout of the coupsters forced the Bush Administration to
retreat and deny they supported what the entire world heard them support
(for their part the New York Times editors to issued a pathetic mea
culpa). (The US-backed coup attempt in Venezuela was fully consistent
with Washington’s historic record of promoting blood-soaked military
dictatorships in the Americas throughout the 20th Century-from Nicaragua
to Guatemala to Cuba to Chile to Argentina to Haiti to Brazil to Uruguay
to the Dominican Republic.against democratically elected, progressive,
nationalist, or revolutionary governments promoting popular policies
that ran counter to US business and financial interests. These overt and
covert military interventions were always accompanied rhetoric about
“freedom,” “civilization,” and “democracy,” and media vilification
propaganda campaigns against the leaders and governments in Washington’s

The following year Washington, under the Bush Administration, supported
a failed employer’s lockout of workers, shutdown of much of retail
distribution, and massive sabotage of the oil industry in Venezuela,
which only the heroic actions of oil production and other industrial
workers defeated, at a great cost to the economy. In 2004 Washington
pressured the Organization of American States and many Latin American
governments to force a recall referendum, provided for in Venezuela’s
Constitution, in yet another attempt to depose Chavez. Washington was
confident that this time Chavez would be “peacefully” dispatched,
because of the intensity of post-lockout economic difficulties. Despite
fraudulent means used to gather signatures by the US-backed and funded
anti-Chavez opposition, the recall vote was allowed to take place, and
Chavez won handily with 60% of the vote. Chavez is heavily favored to
win a large majority in presidential elections scheduled for December 3
of this year. Bush Administration officials have for years slandered and
lied about the Chavez government, including personal attacks. Last year
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld compared Chavez to Adolph Hitler!

What most bothers the big-business politicians and their media is the
enthusiastic reception President Chavez received in New York City among
ordinary people in Harlem and in the historic Cooper Union in Lower
Manhattan. That reception would be repeated in any major city in the
United States. Despite the incessant drumming in the corporate media
that Chavez is “anti-American,” it is clear to those who are not
consciously promoting a false reality and agenda that Chavez never
attacks the abstraction “America” or the American people, but the
policies of the US government and the Bush Administration, in the world,
and against Venezuelan and Latin American sovereignty in particular.

It should be underlined that the alliance of Venezuela with
revolutionary Cuba is particularly unacceptable to Bush and all of
official Washington. The vital economic, financial, and political
interests of the US Empire are at stake in the developing popular
struggles in Latin America today. And it is in the Americas, primarily
due to the existence and example of Cuba, joined by Bolivarian Venezuela
and the new anti-imperialist government of Evo Morales in Bolivia, that
Washington faces it’s most serious political opposition with the
emergence of leaderships that do not bow down and know how to answer and
respond to Washington’s propaganda campaigns and, most importantly,
present an attractive and resonant example and know how to appeal to and
win allies among the US people. Washington is especially concerned that
Venezuela will be successful in its bid to gain a seat for a two-year
term, in the UN Security Council, a forum where it can promote policies
in opposition to Washington’s war drives and economic threats. The vote
for that will take place in October 2006 in the UN General Assembly, a
further cause to bash Hugo Chavez and paint him as a lunatic and a kook.
The truth is that Washington is afraid to engage the ideas and political
program on which Chavez stands, which is an articulation of the
anti-imperialist consciousness and mounting struggles of millions, tens
of millions, and hundreds of millions of working people throughout the
Americas, and even inside the United States, who believe that “A Better
World is Possible.”

In Defense of Chavez: Behind the Washington-Media Hate Campaign

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