Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Alek Boyd, the creator of Vcrisis.com who started blogging about Venezuela in Oct. 2002. Since, he has worked as an independent researcher, reporter, lobbyist, civil and political rights activist, and has experience in strategic and political consulting throughout Latin America. In 2006, he became the first blogger ever to shadow a presidential candidate in Venezuela.
FP: Alek Boyd, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
I would like to talk to you today about the antics of the post-modern dictator and how character assassination thorough media has become the tool of choice.
Let’s begin with how foes of Chavez have been victimized in this way, by a very powerful propaganda apparatus.
Boyd: Let's start with politicians. At the end of 2006, Venezuela was gearing for a presidential election. Candidates, filed by different parties, are a requisite for such an event to take place. Therefore Hugo Chavez needed opposition politicos at the time, in order to give the world the impression that his regime is democratic.
After a period of close door negotiations between unelected party leaders and party-less politicians, such as Teodoro Petkoff, Manuel Rosales was announced to be the representative of the opposition to run against Chavez. And so the election took place and Chavez won.
Fast forward to the end of 2008, when governors, mayors, councilmen were to be elected. In this election Chavez basically lost control of Venezuela's largest cities: he lost Maracaibo's governorship and mayorship and the Miranda governorship. He suffered losses in Carabobo and in Caracas, the country's capital and seat of government, his candidates didn't make it to City Hall and sustained a humiliating defeat in Petare, arguably Latin America's largest shanty town.
Now people continue saying that Chavez is immensely popular, but when one actually breaks the unreliable electoral results down, one notices that Chavez wins in rural Venezuela, that is to say in places where the opposition has no way of knowing whether voting results are in fact a reflection of the electorate's will, whereas in urban Venezuela, where the majority live, he lost, and big.
FP: So what does a dictator confronted with this situation do?
Boyd: Quite simple, he orders his minions at the prosecutor's office to start fabricating all sorts of allegations against his political opponents. He did so with Manuel Rosales, who has since been granted political asylum in Peru. It must be borne in mind that this is the same Manuel Rosales - twice elected as Governor of Zulia, three times elected as Mayor of Maracaibo - that Chavez was quite happy to run against only three years ago, the bogus charges fabricated against him predate his participation in the 2006 presidential race.
But the use of the judiciary has its limits, so he goes and orders the legislative to pass new laws that effectively strip elected officials of all administrative powers, while at the same time he orders budgets to be deviated to new, unelected officials appointed by him, that seat over and above the administrative rank of elected officials. Case in point: Antonio Ledezma, Mayor of Caracas.
Therefore winning elections in Venezuela is actually meaningless, for the Executive has got plenty of power to turn those who have won the vote into sitting ducks. At the core of this issue is, of course, the prospect of having opposition politicians actually doing a better job while in office, which will undoubtedly dent Chavez's wishes to remain in power indefinitely.
FP: So how does the media serve Chavez’s despotism?
Boyd: Chavez is a product of the media. He, more than any political fiigure in contemporary Venezuela, knows the power of the media. In February 1992 Chavez was caught leading a coup d'etat against Carlos Andres Perez, a democratically elected president and a towering figure in the country's politics. But Perez miscalculated by allowing Chavez to talk his co-conspirators into surrendering on a nationally-televised address. In so doing, he catapulted the putschist to stardom. Chavez was sent to jail. Another important politician from the old guard, Rafael Caldera, profited from the occasion and delivered a crucial speech in Congress that would eventually take him, for the second time, to the presidential chair. Presumably grateful to Chavez, for having presented him with an otherwise non-existent opportunity, Caldera ordered his freedom, before going to trial. Thus Chavez, caught leading a coup, admitting to it in front of the nation, responsible for many deaths, was allowed to walk from it without even a criminal record.
All this was played by the media that would pick and chose sides to which to lend support. But what happens when the same media barons that propel a dictator into office start favoring the opposition instead? Broadcasting licenses are not renewed. Broadcasting equipment is confiscated and assets expropriated without compensation. Cable companies carrying their signal are strong armed to drop its content. Legislation is sought to force them to air official propaganda, despite the fact that broadcasting content is accessible only by subscription. Defense lawyers aren't allowed to present their case in court, much less to get access to prosecutors' files. Slander campaigns of global scope are launched against them. Thugs are ordered to attack and intimidate, not only media barons themselves and their families, but staff, journalists and people whose income depends on their companies.
All of this has happened, for instance, to Marcel Granier and RCTV. It is also happening to Alberto Federico Ravell and Guillermo Zuloaga, owners of Globovision, Venezuela's sole news-only channel.
FP: In doing all of this, one might ask: why would Chavez go to these lengths, why would he risk his multimillion dollar, carefully crafted, supposedly democratic credentials?
Boyd: Simple, before RCTV's open-air license was terminated, it had a 53% share of the audience, that is to say, it had a larger share than the rest of Venezuela's TV channels combined, included official ones. That's why, for Chavez knows only too well the effect that a message contrary to his socialist BS can have at the polls. Chavez has become wise. He ordered a media "hegemonic construct", modeled on the ideas of Italian communist Antonio Gransci, to be built.
For his character assassination plans, he now counts with TELESUR, a continent-wide 'news' channel that regularly presents the views of people associated with narco terrorism, TELEVEN, VENEVISION, VTV, TVES, AVILA TV, CANAL I, VIVE TV, ULTIMAS NOTICIAS (Venezuela's most read newspaper) and all media outlets belonging to the Capriles media group, PANORAMA, and this is just newspapers and TV.
Then there are hundreds of community radio channels spewing Chavez's propaganda on a rolling basis all around the country. Globovision is the only open-air TV channel still critical of Chavez, and for that reason they will receive the RCTV treatment, sooner rather than later.
In 2007, the student movement was instrumental in organizing rallies in Caracas and other cities, protesting Chavez's decision to not renew RCTV's broadcasting license. It built a lot of momentum, up until end of 2007, when Chavez's constitutional amendment was defeated at the polls. Since, its leaders have been assimilated by some of the established political parties. In any case, they have suffered all manner of persecution, violent attacks and assassinations, and are subject to systematic and chronic character assassination campaigns run in official media. Yon Goicoechea, one of the students leaders, has been accused of everything under the sun, beaten, persecuted and is subject to constant threats and intimidation, as this report shows.
FP: How about religious leaders and human rights defenders?
Boyd: They obviously do not escape Chavez's wrath. The recent desecration of a Synagogue in Caracas has rekindled allegations of anti-Semitism in Venezuela and brought increasing scrutiny on the inaction and actions of the Venezuelan government of Hugo Chavez.
One of the most important political mentors of Chavez was the Argentinean Holocaust denier Norberto Ceresole. Ceresole was of the opinion that political parties’ structures needed to be replaced, given the inherent corruption, inefficiency and irresponsible manner that had characterised the Venezuelan State, which had been governed under a power sharing agreement, reached in 1958 by the country’s two largest political parties (social democrat Accion Democratica and social Christian COPEI).
To attain his purpose, Ceresole wrote a book called “Leader, Army, People. The Venezuela of President Chavez” (Ceresole 1999), in which he lays the ideological foundations of what would become one of the most important contributions to the establishment of chavismo. In 2003-4, the Stephen Roth Institute of Tel Aviv University report concludes: “Since 1992 Chavez has had contacts with far right entities in Argentina, such as sociologist Norberto Ceresole and the Carapintadas movement, led by Aldo Rico and Mohamed Seineldin, who plotted a military coup after the recovery of democracy in the late 1980s–early 1990s.”
On November 29, 2004, a heavily armed group of police commandos wearing balaclavas raided, at dawn, the Jewish School in Caracas (Colegio Hebraica). Official sources informed that the raid was part of the investigation into the assassination of a prosecutor, Danilo Anderson, in which some members of the Jewish community were considered suspicious of plotting and hiding weapons in the school. The raid concluded after three hours. No weapons or evidence of any sort was found. No member of the Jewish community was found guilty of wrongdoing in relation to the case. In fact, the leading witness to Danilo Anderson’s murder investigation admitted that the Venezuelan government had paid him to implicate journalists and political opponents of President Chavez.
Venezuela’s commitment to support nations that have a declared intention to obliterate the State of Israel goes beyond simple posturing. In September 2005, Venezuela was the only country to vote against a UN motion, tabled by Britain, France and Germany, to refer Iran’s nuclear plan to the UN Security Council. Furthermore, in February 2006, Venezuela, Cuba and Syria voted in lockstep against the Implementation of the Non Proliferation Treaty Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
President Hugo Chavez has repeatedly referred to Israel in unquestionably anti-Semitic form. More recently, before the synagogue’s desecration, Chavez declared that what Israel was doing in Gaza amounted to a Holocaust, further stressing that Israel was like Hitler, that it had planned and executed the assassination of Yasser Arafat. Chavez's propaganda apparatus informed that the desecration of the synagogue was a product of common criminals, however, apart from hard disks containing personal details of Venezuelan Jews, nothing else was actually stolen.
The Catholic Church and its hierarchy have been also subject to vicious and constant attacks by Hugo Chavez, officials of his administration and publicly funded media. For instance, the website that has published more than 4,000 articles about Jews –with notorious anti-Semitic overtones–, Aporrea.org, posted a caricature of Pope Benedict XVI where he is depicted as a former Nazi with swastikas. The title of the post reads “The Church promotes violence.” One of the founders of Aporrea.org, Martin Sanchez, is the current Venezuelan Consul to San Francisco.
More than 15,000 articles written by so called collaborators of Aporrea.org exhibit, predominantly, hatred towards the Catholic Church and its representatives. The Vatican Office in Caracas has been vandalized and attacked on numerous occasions. In this instance the issue is, according to President Chavez, the fact that the Vatican granted political asylum to student leader Nixon Moreno in June 2008. As per human rights defenders, I shall defer to the findings of the Inter American Court of Human Rights, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Human Rights Foundation, one of whose collaborators in Venezuela, Monica Fernandez, was victim of a 'supposed' robbery that nearly killed her.
FP: How about bloggers?
Boyd: Being one of the first ones that started in the business, I have been attacked, openly, in state-controlled media, due to my political views and investigations. But the buck does not stop there. Chavez's international cheerleaders, such as the former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, are equally eager and prepared to abuse their power to advance Chavez's character assassination purposes, as I can, personally, attest. Media outlets, such as The Guardian or the BBC, are also part of the chavista merry go round, and have provided tribune to propaganda mouths to spew spurious allegations originated in Caracas. So it's not only Chavez's local media apparatus we're talking about here, it goes well beyond that. In the US, the Venezuela Information Office and its sidekicks make sure that a constant stream of tergiversations, fabrications and propaganda reaches editorial desks and journalists up and down the country.
FP: So what do we conclude?
Boyd: Well, it is pretty obvious: the post modern dictator isn't really hard pressed to physically eliminate his enemies, to kill their public personas is a much more efficient way of dealing with the problem. In this interconnected world we live in, once something gets out in the public domain, once a lie is indexed by Google, it is practically impossible to counter it, least of all when false statements come from presidents of countries and those victimized are private individuals.
FP: Alek Boyd, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.