163. Venezuelan narrative

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Occasionally I get pulled into politics. An inevitable side-effect of being a journalist is that I check stories for facts and objectivity.

The availability of unbiased, factually-based, well-researched reporting is decreasing, to my eye. Supposedly superior British newspapers such as The Times and Guardian are are no longer worthy of that accolade.

At the risk of repeating past blogs, the BBC has become untrustworthy, to the extent that I have stopped listening not only to Radio 4 but also to Radio 6, because of the news bulletins on the hour, every hour. Propaganda, one-sided reporting and artificial narrative does not constitute news. Because somebody in a suit speaks with ‘received pronunciation’ it does not validate the contents of their scripts.

Venezuela is a classic case in point. The BBC and other mainstream media report a country of starving people under the evil dictatorship of President Nicolas Maduro. Awful, if true, but there have been too many similar narratives spun down the years, about countries that do not wish to play by United States rules.

My reaction is always to seek out independent journalists who have visited the country, and who tell both sides of the story.

Seeking out those sources, the impression is that everything you read or see about Venezuela in mainstream media is so misleading, skewed and incomplete that it may as well be deemed a lie. People in Venezuela are not starving, from what I have read and seen through my own efforts. They live prudently but they have food. What is not reported by most Western media is that the government – this terrible dictatorship – distributes a monthly food package, for the equivalent of a few pennies, to everyone who needs it. And always, the explanation is missing that the country’s difficult economic situation is tied directly to the effects of long-standing sanctions from the US, and the hyper-inflation this has caused. Nonetheless, food – fruit, vegetables, meat and bread – is available everywhere. Meat is expensive but available. Most supermarket shelves are stocked, if not fully.

Nor is the country a dictatorship. Maduro does not appear to be widely liked, and is probably as corrupt as most global leaders. But he won the May 2018 vote, and looks to be far more popular than Juan Guiado, the West’s chosen one. Self-declared Guaidó, Donald Trump’s toy poodle, who announced himself as interim President of Venezuela in January, even though he resides outside the country, and has never won a popular vote.

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Seeing this, I wondered whether to step forward soon as the King of Chelmsford.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated in late February that his country “will take action” in Venezuela in order to support Guaido. “Maduro’s days are numbered,” he added. US National Security Advisor John Bolton chipped in on March 1 with his considered thoughts. “Those who continue to support a dictator that violates human rights and steals from the starving should not be allowed to walk around with impunity,” said Mr Bolton. This is the same altruist who helped mastermind the war in Iraq.

 The Trump administration has made no bones that it is working to overthrow the government of Venezuela. The insidious thing is the method. There is no military invasion, nor the funding and arming of thousands of militants inside the country, yet. Beyond the starvation sanctions quite plainly sits a tight control of the stories that everyone tells themselves about Venezuela.

Like I say, each story needs two sides. The first UN rapporteur to visit Venezuela for 21 years told The Independent that the US sanctions on the country are illegal under international law. Former special rapporteur Alfred de Zayas, who finished his term at the UN in March, stated quite openly that the US has engaged in “economic warfare” by killing Venezuelans and shredding the economy. “This is deliberate homicide, this is murder, this is a crime against humanity, and could be examined under article 7 of the Statute of the ICC,” de Zayas said in February.

Redress might also be made regarding the mainstream media story about the blockaded bridge, and the government’s determination to stop aid from getting through. The BBC was at at the forefront of this yarn, that Maduro is blocking all aid to Venezuela, because he wants to starve the hungry and kill the sick. In reality, the Venezuelan government has been taking in humanitarian aid from Russia, China, India, Turkey and Cuba. If the US were so keen on getting its $20 million of humanitarian aid to the people of Venezuela, it could have given that shipment to any of those nations. If it didn’t trust them, the UN or the Red Cross would have delivered it.

Good journalism always asks why. If that criteria was applied to each and every Venezuelan story, the question of why the US government is so preoccupied would make for good reading. If humanitarian reasons are the prime driver, then surely the BBC, New York Times, CNN and the other usual suspects should be screaming murder about Washington’s multi-faceted culpability behind the much greater humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

But no, it doesn’t fit the narrative. Nor does the compelling fact that Venezuela has the largest single proven oil reserves of any nation on the planet. With such a prize up for grabs, my guess is that narrative will continue to take precedence over fact.

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