Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Letter to Opposition Author Brian Nelson

Brian Nelson is an author and professor at John Hopkins University. He recently wrote a book about the 2002 coup d'état in Venezuela, which gave a very one-sided account of the events, and left out some very important pieces of evidence. After hearing him on the radio recently, I decided to write him this letter:

Mr. Nelson,

I listened via web to a radio interview that you did on public radio a couple days ago. I couldn't help but notice that many of the things you said are factually wrong. I don't have time to go into each and every one of them right now, but I thought I should at least point out to you the most obvious one (and perhaps the most important to you) regarding the 2002 coup attempt in Venezuela. Since you wrote a book on the topic, it surprises me that you could ignore some of the most basic pieces of evidence surrounding the events.

You said in the interview that the military decided to overthrow the Chavez government after they learned of the civilian deaths in the street. This is false, and even the coup leaders themselves have said as much. The day after the coup, the coup leaders discussed on national television their "plan", and how they had been planning it long before any deaths occurred. You can see parts of that video here.

Not only that, but you also ignore the testimony of Otto Neustadl and Mayela Leon, both journalists which were present when the military generals renounced support for the Chavez government on national television. Both of these journalists have given independent statements which reveal that the military generals were discussing the deaths in the streets hours before they had actually happened. Otto Neustadl even says that they told him the night before that there were going to be deaths at the march on April 11th. Those testimonies can be seen here and here.

An honest look at the available evidence shows that this coup was clearly planned in advance by opposition forces, and it also seems quite probable that the civilian deaths were planned and carried out by opposition forces. There is evidence that indicates members of the Metropolitan Police force, controlled at that time by opposition mayor Alfredo Peña, had infiltrated the La Nacional building and were, in their own words, neutralizing "los talibanes." Those audio recordings can be heard here.

As a scholar and professional, one would think you would be interested in including all relevant evidence about the events that day. However, I notice in your book that you fail to even mention any of the evidence above which contradicts your account. You also fail to mention anything about the media manipulation regarding the shootings on Puente Llaguno, or the overwhelming role of the media in the coup. I would be interested in hearing your explanation as to why you did not address these key pieces of evidence in your book, and why you continue to give a false account of what happened on April 11th, 2002 in your public appearances.

Thank you,


So, In my mind there are only two possibilities here. Either Mr. Nelson was unaware of these key pieces of evidence that refute his version of events, or he is simply dishonest, just like his friends over at CaracasChronicles. What's your guess? Wanna bet he doesn't respond?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Opposition's Idea of Free Speech

This is what you get for openly expressing your support for the Chavez government in Venezuela today. Chavez supporters have been violently beaten, and even killed simply because they dare to express their political inclination in public.

Despite all the opposition's pro-democracy slogans and protests about free expression, they have clearly shown their disdain for free expression over and over again. When the opposition briefly took power in 2002, they immediately closed pro-Chavez TV stations, while all opposition media maintained a total media blackout of pro-Chavez demonstrations. And more recently, they have shown their disdain for free speech as they have lent their support to the Honduran coup regime as it shuts down media across the country.

Can you imagine what opposition forces would be capable of doing if they ever got back in power in Venezuela?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Imaginary Repression... The Opposition's favorite game

Those who have followed events in Venezuela the last couple of years might have noticed what has become the Venezuelan opposition's favorite new game. I like to call it "imaginary repression."

The game basically goes like this: when the Chavez government does something that the opposition does not agree with, they use the occasion to act out, like a game of charades, dramatic scenes of state repression. They pretend that they are being repressed by the Chavez government, that all of their rights are being taken away, and many times try to model their charades after popular forms of resistance used in the past in other parts of the world. But their most recent charade, an attempt to imitate the Iranian protest movement, is perhaps the most ridiculous of them all.

To better illustrate how it works, let's take a look at a few examples. As far as I can tell, this whole game of charades began in 2007 surrounding the removal of RCTV from public airwaves. Leading up to this event, the Venezuelan opposition began pretending that the government was "closing down" the TV channel, when in fact everyone knew that RCTV would not be shutdown, and would continue to broadcast its programming by cable and satellite, as it does to this day.

However, this did not deter the opposition's game of charades. Employees of the TV station pretended the channel was going away forever, making an emotional scene to make the innocent viewer feel sorry for them, at times even using fake tears, clearly demonstrating their propensity to manipulate the emotions of the viewers to achieve political goals.

Opposition protesters began acting out dramatic scenes of "resistance" in the streets of Caracas, attempting to conjure up memories of events like Tiananmen Square in China, pretending that they were being silenced, even though, ironically, all the media (much of it under opposition control) gave their actions very detailed news coverage.

The largely white, middle and upper class opposition engaged in creative on-camera stunts to give the impression of a country under the control of a brutal dictator. In the photo, for example, you can see a lady who has chained herself up, covered her mouth, and is pretending to be repressed as the police attempt to get her out of the street. The lack of police repression forced the opposition groups to engage in violent acts of provocation, hoping to illitic a response from the authorites, but they were largely unsuccessful.

While the RCTV example is perhaps the most famous, opposition groups have since engaged in many other similar acts. Leading up to the 2007 vote for a constitutional reform, opposition students violently attacked pro-Chavez groups at the Central University in Caracas, only to later lead international media to believe they had been attacked by Chavista gunmen (all carefully detailed in the documentary Nuevas Caras). The event gave the false impression that the Chavez government had been involved in the shooting of anti-Chavez protesters.

Protests continued later that year against the 2007 constitutional reform, with the same pattern of imaginary repression, and similar attempts to illicit police repression. The charade continued with violent protests before the 2009 constitutional referendum, in which opposition students were caught with an arsenal of Molotov cocktails, later making the false claim that they were planted by the Chavez government. Another example is opposition mayor Antonio Ledezma's recent hunger strike.

But perhaps the most ridiculous and desperate attempt to give the impression of state repression in Venezuela has been the opposition's recent use of the internet communication tool Twitter.

Twitter became famous as a tool to subvert censorship after disputed electoral results in Iran last June. As protests erupted around the country, state repression was fierce, with hundreds of opposition politicians, activists and journalists jailed and tortured, shots fired on peaceful protestors killing dozens of people, and major media virtually blacked out around the country. Foreign correspondents were arrested, deported, and prevented from taking footage of the protests.

In this context of an almost total media blackout, the Iranian protest movement was forced to turn to other communication tools, such as Twitter, to organize further protests, get the message out to the world, and keep the movement moving foward. Under such total state repression of the protests, alternatives like Twitter actually made sense. In Venezuela, however, the use of Twitter is just another of the opposition's charades; this time in an attempt to emulate the Iranian movement.

In Iran, the use of Twitter was a last resort when protesters had no other means of getting the word out. In Venezuela, it makes no sense at all. The Venezuelan opposition still controls several major television stations, the nation's most well-known newspapers, multiple radio stations and internet news outlets where they have complete freedom to voice their criticisms 24 hours a day, and which obviously give them access to a much wider audience and much more freedom to express criticisms than the 140-character limit of Twitter. In addition, the international media has totally unrestricted access to the country, and its reports continue to be almost entirely critical of the Chavez government.

Twitter, if anything, would reach much less people than the regular avenues available to opposition voices through their very own media outlets. And while the Chavez government has made recent moves against some media outlets, the opposition still controls a relatively large portion of the media spectrum; easily enough to get their message out to most of the country.

So the use of Twitter in Venezuela really doesn't make any sense at all. That is, unless we consider the possibility that the Venezuelan opposition is not really interested in reaching out to Venezuelans, but more interested in creating a false perception of Iranian-style repression in Venezuela. Then it makes perfect sense. In other words, the only conceivable reason that the Venezuelan opposition would be using Twitter, an internet application that limits communication to 140 characters, and which is not very widely used in Venezuela, is because, once again, the Venezuelan opposition is playing their favorite game.