"The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum." – Noam Chomsky
By Manmeet Sahni
Humanitarian crisis, starvation, migration, repressive government, economic crisis, sanctions, resistance, Communist Party, Chavez, hyperinflation, crackdown on corruption, election fraud: just some of the keywords used by the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, Reuters and the Miami Herald to describe Venezuela as it heads to the polls on May 20 to select its next president.
While some of these words might give a glimpse into the current situation in Venezuela, Western media's hyper-sensationalism of the nation's domestic affairs falls far short of addressing the realities on the ground.
On a recent episode of Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver – a British comedian – attempted to shed light on the ongoing crisis by weaving some random anecdotes into a 20-minute segment. He outrightly dismissed crucial facts about Venezuela and its socialist history, coming perilously close to publicly endorsing the U.S. sanctions intended to prolong the crisis.
Critics, however, took note. Gabriel Hetland is a professor at the University of Albany who writes extensively about Venezuela. Writing in The Nation, she said: "The U.S. government has not only cheered and funded these anti-democratic actions. By absurdly declaring that Venezuela is an 'unusual and extraordinary threat' to U.S. national security, and pressuring investors and bankers to steer clear of the Maduro administration, the White House has prevented Venezuela from obtaining much-needed foreign financing and investment."
One of the main failings of the Western media is the refusal to acknowledge the history of the issues currently playing out in Venezuela.
In 2006, after Hugo Chavez was elected Venezuela's president for a second term, Nicolas Maduro – who would later become president – was named foreign affairs minister. Under Chavez, Maduro made strategic alliances with neighboring countries, forging and strengthening regional alliances with progressive governments in Brazil, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Cuba, Ecuador, Argentina and Uruguay, as well as with the Caribbean Community (Caricom).
Venezuela's foreign policy is notable for its multipolar vision: a geopolitical perspective unconfined to the binary, Cold War powers represented by the United States and Russia. It was Maduro who revitalized the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and established Petrocaribe as part of Venezuela's cooperation with other Caribbean nations.
Despite attempts by the Western power axis – the United States, Switzerland, Canada and the European Union – to overthrow Maduro's government, the president has sought to consolidate support with member states of the Non-Aligned Movement, including South Africa, Dominica, Iran and Cuba.
Maduro has made repeated calls to the mainstream media for fair, unbiased and accurate coverage, but to little avail. In April 2017, then Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said Venezuela was being exposed to a "very aggressive global media campaign" and called for "responsible management of information."