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Palast on Venezuela

by Greg Palast (repost - with color) Monday, Apr. 22, 2002 at 1:43 AM

Here's what we read this week: On Friday, Hugo Chavez, the
unpopular, dictatorial potentate of Venezuela, resigned.
When confronted over his ordering the shooting of
antigovernment protestors, he turned over the presidency to
progressive, democratic forces, namely, the military and the
chief of Venezuela's business council.

Greg Palast
Guardian Unlimited

Wednesday April 17, 2002


Here's what we read this week: On Friday, Hugo Chavez, the
unpopular, dictatorial potentate of Venezuela, resigned.
When confronted over his ordering the shooting of
antigovernment protestors, he turned over the presidency to
progressive, democratic forces, namely, the military and the
chief of Venezuela's business council.

Two things about the story caught my eye: First, every one
of these factoids is dead wrong. And second, newspapers
throughout the ruling hemisphere, from the New York Times to
the Independent to (wince) the Guardian, used almost
identical words - "dictatorial", "unpopular",
"resignation" - in their reports.

Let's begin with the faux "resignation" that allowed the
Bush and Blair governments to fall over their own feet
rushing towards recognition of the coup leaders. I had seen
no statement of this alleged resignation, nor heard it, nor
received any reliable witness report of it. I was
fascinated. In January, I had broadcast on US radio that
Chavez would face a coup by the end of April. But resign?
That was not the Chavez style.

I demanded answers from the Venezuelan embassy in London,
and from there, at 2am on Saturday morning, I reached Miguel
Madriz Bustamante, a cabinet member who had spoken with
Chavez by phone after the president's kidnapping by armed
rebels. Chavez, he said, went along with his "arrest" to
avoid bloodshed, but added: "I am still president."

The resignation myth was the capstone of a year-long
disinformation campaign against the populist former
paratrooper who took office with 60% of the vote. The Bush
White House is quoted as stating that Chavez's being elected
by "a majority of voters" did not confer "legitimacy" on the
Venezuelan government. The assertion was not unexpected from
a US administration selected over the opposition of the
majority of American voters.

What neither Bush nor the papers told you is that Chavez's
real crime was to pass two laws through Venezuela's national
assembly. The first ordered big plantation owners to turn
over untilled land to the landless. The second nearly
doubled, from roughly 16% to 30%, royalties paid for
extracting Venezuela's oil. Venezuela was once the largest
exporter of oil to the USA, bigger than Saudi Arabia. This
explains Chavez's unpopularity - at least within that key
constituency, the American petroleum industry.

There remains the charge that, in the words of the New York
Times, "Chavez ordered soldiers to fire on a crowd [of
protesters]." This bloody smear, sans evidence, stained
every Western paper, including Britain's newest lefty, the
Mirror. Yet I could easily reach eyewitnesses without ties
to any faction who said the shooting began from a roadway
overpass controlled by the anti-Chavez Metropolitan Police,
and the first to fall were pro-Chavez demonstrators.

I have obtained a cable from the CIA to its station chief in
the Capitol: "Re: Coup. Activities to include propaganda,
black operations, disinformation, or anything else your
imagination can conjure... "

Admittedly, this is old stuff: written just before the coup
against Salvador Allende. Times have changed. Thirty years
ago, when US corporations demanded the removal of a
bothersome president, the CIA thought it most important to
aim propaganda at the Latin locals. Now, it seems, in the
drumbeat of disinformation buzzwords about Chavez -
"dictatorial", "unpopular", "resigned" - the propagandists
have learned to aim at that more gullible pack of pigeons,
the American and European press.

Greg Palast is the author of The Best Democracy Money Can
Buy, out this month from Pluto Press.

Guardian Unlimited
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