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Corporate media hides that the crisis in Venezuela is a class struggle, and whatever its faults, the Bolivarian revolution is a struggle for equality and democracy – Paul Jay joins host Jacqueline Luqman

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JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Hi, I’m Jacqueline Luqman. Welcome to The Real News Network.

Are we getting the real story about Venezuela from corporate media? We’re going to talk about this today with our guest, Paul Jay, who is the Editor in Chief of The Real News Network. And we’re going to ask you some really, really pointed questions, I think, about the history of Venezuela, the role of the media, and why it matters that we’re not getting the whole story. So thanks for joining me today.

PAUL JAY: Thank you.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: What we’re hearing in corporate media about Venezuela is a very specific narrative about Nicolas Maduro being a bad guy, socialism being evil, socialism in particular being the reason the Venezuelan society is collapsing, particularly the economy. Is that the truth?

PAUL JAY: And that’s supposed to explain why socialism couldn’t work in the United States, because of what’s happening in Venezuela.


PAUL JAY: Well, over the years, right from the time of when Chavez was first elected as president, at least from 2002 on, around the coup and afterwards, there was barely a report in the corporate media in the United States that didn’t use–every time they had to write the words “Hugo Chavez,” they would have to put the words “brutal dictator” in front of it, at least “dictator” if not “brutal dictator.” And of course, the same thing goes for Maduro. Now, Chavez won election after election after election. I can’t remember, it’s eight or nine elections, monitored elections, elections which the Carter Center, Jimmy Carter’s Center which does election monitoring and observing, said were free and fair and so on.

And I actually personally was on an observer mission in an election in 2004. And I went to forty polling stations and I interviewed the opposition person in every polling station. I said, “Is this thing fair, has there been any infractions?” Forty polling stations in Caracas, every single one of the opposition observers said everything was fair and done correctly. And in fact, in that particular election, the opposition actually won. It was on a reparo vote, a vote having a referendum to recall the president, and they wound up losing the actual election to recall Chavez. But election after election. But still, it’s “dictator Hugo Chavez,” “brutal dictator.” Now, when’s the last time you saw Mohammad bin Salman, the king of Saudi Arabia, a fascist who never got elected to anything, when’s the last time you saw “dictator MBS,” “dictator Mohammad bin Salman?”

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And we absolutely know that he not only orchestrates the murder of American journalists, but he orchestrates the murder of people in his own country.

PAUL JAY: People are getting beheaded for blog posts they don’t like. So it reeks with hypocrisy. And it becomes the standard inside corporate media and journalists start to internalize the language which the State Department hammers and hammers. Because if you don’t say “dictator Hugo Chavez,” someone’s eyebrow in your newsroom might go up and say, “Oh, you’ve got some sympathy for this?” It’s a continuation of the Cold War. It’s a continuation of the kind of scare-mongering in newsrooms after 9/11, that “you don’t come into line, you’re with the terrorists, you have some kind of agenda.” And so, the reality of Venezuela is so far from what’s been presented on corporate media.

Now, the other big distortion of corporate media’s coverage of Venezuela–now what I’m about to say applies to the United States equally, but let’s say Venezuela–is there’s a class war going on in Venezuela. The elites of Venezuela were raiding the publicly owned oil company. This is just before Chavez. They used to sell products to the public oil company ten, twenty, thirty times what the products were worth. And this is the way they soaked and siphoned off the oil revenues. And of course, the oil companies themselves, the royalties they were paid to the Venezuelan state were extremely low. The inequality was gross and vulgar and inflation was high before Chavez. All this idea of “Venezuela was the richest country in Latin America,” well maybe it was, but which Venezuelans were benefiting from being the richest country in Latin America? Well, obviously the top tier elites, because the barrios, the slums, were massive, unemployment was massive.

So without looking at the rise of Chavez, and the current situation, without looking at it as an attempt by the people’s movement to transform the situation, and they called this the Bolivarian revolution, to take on the elites, if you don’t look at it in that context, you can’t understand it. Like this idea of there’s no democracy in Venezuela and there hasn’t been, not only is it election after election, but let’s talk about what the heck is democracy? Democracy is a form of state, it’s a form of government. What is a state? What is a government? Laws and a coercive mechanism, army, police, to enforce those laws. And those laws have class content, a structure of laws that defended the elites’ ability to bilk the public oil company and maintain that kind of power. Just like you have in Baltimore, a structure of laws that maintains chronic poverty and a low wage workforce that the police enforce those laws.

This idea of democracy in the abstract, it doesn’t exist. What exists is a framework which people that can get control of the government, the section of capital that controls the government, uses that control to make money, to get richer, and to maintain their power. So Chavez represented a people’s movement that challenged that. So of course, the elites all over Latin America and the Americans and a lot of elites, including the Canadian, hated that idea. Because Latin America is supposed to be a place you can just go and plunder. Canadian oil companies can go and get gold mines and the Americans can control oil and markets and so on. So this Chavez, this Bolivarian Revolution, was a challenge to all of that. So they’ve been against it from the beginning, and clearly not because United States care about democratic rights.

Elliott Abrams has been running this Venezuelan policy back in 2002. Anyone can believe Elliott Abrams, the guy who was promoting the invasion of Iraq, who backed the vicious underground covert activities in Latin America, this guy cares about democracy? John Bolton cares about democracy? It’s beyond belief that corporate media, even as bad as they are, doesn’t see through this kind of crap. So the content of the Bolivarian Revolution was a challenge to the elites. They did it within the electoral process and using that kind of form. And I think one of the great lessons of the Venezuelan revolution is that the people’s movement can use these elections, you can win these elections. Chavez came to power with an election, won all these elections very fairly. The problems, the internal problems of Venezuela, the weaknesses of the revolution are there, and how they dealt with the economy, the way some of the reforms were implemented. But revolutions are messy things. And nobody had some grand scheme of a perfect scenario about how to challenge the elites, how to transform the Venezuelan politics and economy. They had to kind of make it up as they went along. When you actually look at the measures that Chavez was proposing in terms of healthcare, education and so on.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Education, housing.

PAUL JAY: Yeah. These are reforms that you would find in any kind of country with a kind of social democratic government. I don’t know of anything that Chavez proposed that was much different than you might find in Scandinavia or something.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So there was nothing that Chavez proposed that would have been so extreme that would have shocked the conscience of a nation, which is the narrative that we’re getting now about Maduro and how socialism in Venezuela is this big evil thing. But you’re saying it really wasn’t anything extreme, as in, let’s say, eliminating the free market.

PAUL JAY: Well, I would argue maybe they should have gone further.


PAUL JAY: Yeah. I think that Chavez allowed the elites in Venezuela, in some ways, to maintain maybe too much of their power. The idea that there was no free media is B.S. I’ve been down there many times, and newspapers were very anti-Chavez, television channels were very anti-Chavez. And they were allowed. I’m not saying they should have been suppressed. If you’re going to have this kind of democratic forum, you need to play by those rules.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: But there was a press and there was the allowing of opposition in the public.

PAUL JAY: Still is, still is. I think you ought to separate this thing into kind of buckets or categories. One, you need to understand that this Bolivarian Revolution, Chavez and then Maduro, it arose out of a process of the People’s Movement confronting the elites to have a more equal distribution of the wealth from the oil revenues and to create more democratic forums, people’s councils, all kinds of grassroots democracy was being developed. So that’s one thing. Second thing is, from very early on, including an overt coup in 2002 backed by the U.S. with Elliott Abrams involved, an attempt to overthrow the Venezuelan government. So the external pressure, the attempt to undermine and weaken the Chavez government and the Maduro government. A constant battle they had to fight, and with very strong Venezuelan elites who had a lot of money and were quite powerful, the Venezuelan elites, in sections of the society the elites were able to get on their side. So that’s another thing.

Third thing, I think–and it’s easy to sit here and say, but they made some serious errors in how the economy was developed. The sanctions played a very powerful role in undermining the economy. On the other hand, there probably were measures that could have been taken earlier on, during the Chavez years and during this Maduro presidency, that would’ve made Venezuela more resistant to the effect of these sanctions. I mean, one of the reasons the Americans are really piling it on now is because of the weakness of the Venezuelan economy. It makes them vulnerable. And so, because they see the vulnerability, they are trying to tip the balance and see if they can’t bring the government down.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Right. But it’s a vulnerability that the United States is–I wouldn’t say one hundred percent responsible for, but like you said, is significantly responsible for.

PAUL JAY: Significantly.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: We’ve manipulated, we’ve created a situation for our government and private sector, and those sections of capital, to manipulate at this very moment in time.

PAUL JAY: I mean, the role of the external pressure, the role of sanctions, it’s a very important factor. But if we’re going to learn the lessons, and this is especially for Venezuelans, but even for us to learn the lessons of Venezuela, we shouldn’t be afraid to discuss the weaknesses and what the problems were. But whatever the weaknesses were, any revolutionary process is going to be messy. There’s no scheme, there’s no playbook. How do you transform these kinds of modern capitalist countries, and especially one that is so dependent on oil, how do you transform that into a socialist, more progressive, a fairer society and all that? There’s no playbook for that. So as many problems as there were and are, mistakes were made, how could it be otherwise?

All that being said, from the point of view of people living in United States or Canada or other countries, our number one concern at this moment of time, is there going to be international law or not? The Venezuelan problems are Venezuelan people’s problems to sort out.


PAUL JAY: I remember an interesting conversation. I used to produce this show in Canada, CounterSpin. And this is in the lead up to the Iraq War, 2003 I guess, or late 2002, and it was a debate show. And Lewis Lapham, who used to be editor of Harper’s Magazine, was a guest and we had an Iraqi who was in favor of U.S. intervention and arguing for it. And he was arguing Saddam Hussein is such a terrible dictator and so on, which he was. And Lapham says, “I’m really sorry that you’re living under a dictatorship, but that’s your problem. Our problem is we want, we need international law.” Because without international law, if the United States or any big power can simply march in any place it wants and change the government, then the world is in chaos. Then we’re back into the pre-World War II days that could lead to another world war.

So as people hear “international law matters–” now yeah, it gets violated all the time. And the Iraq War was a great violation, of which there were no consequences on Bush and such. And Obama should have prosecuted Bush and Cheney for war crimes. He did not.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: He did not, to the great consternation of the progressive left in this country.

PAUL JAY: But that being said, we need to stand up and say, “international law,” this kind of international law against wars of aggression and interference. It came out of the lessons of World War II. It came out of the Nuremberg trials. It came out of the creation of the United Nations when people said, “We can’t have this kind of global slaughter again.” And that’s got to be our absolute, first interest. And number two, to believe that these people that can play footsie with Saudi Arabia, or frankly with Israel’s occupation of Palestine, or all kinds of similar types of reactionary governments and call them defenders of democracy somehow–

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: That’s hypocritical, and that’s putting it lightly. Actually, it’s much worse than hypocritical, it’s criminal. But what you raised about international law brought to mind the issue that we hear so much in the United States about our narrative, about how we’re not a perfect union, how we’re still learning from our mistakes. Like you said, there is no playbook, there is no manual on how to do democracy. And very often, when this country’s government makes enormous errors in the execution of our own laws, we can always find a way to excuse our less than perfect union and fall back on, “Well there’s no playbook, we’re a young country, we’re working toward a more perfect union.” But it seems that we don’t allow that very same trial and error for other governments. Instead, we go to the imperialist playbook, the capitalist playbook, the elite’s playbook.

And so, in the American media, not only is the history of the Venezuelan’s struggle for self-determination left out, but the fact that this is a class war, that this is, in Venezuela, a war between the working people taking control of their country and being at the forefront of their self-determination, and the elites. The same struggle we are having in this country. But I think we’re new to it.

Thank you so much for joining us today, for talking about the history of Venezuela, the Bolivarian Revolution, and the media’s role, corporate media and independent media’s role in telling the whole story. Paul Jay, thanks a lot.

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Paul Jay was the founder, CEO and senior editor of The Real News Network, where he oversaw the production of over 7,000 news stories. Previously, he was executive producer of CBC Newsworld's independent flagship debate show CounterSpin for its 10 years on air. He is an award-winning documentary filmmaker with over 20 films under his belt, including Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows; Return to Kandahar; and Never-Endum-Referendum. He was the founding chair of Hot Docs!, the Canadian International Documentary Film Festival and now the largest such festival in North America.