By Ewan Robertson and Tamara Pearson - Venezuelanalysis.com
Over the last few weeks the private English media has stepped up its
campaign against the Venezuelan revolution, spreading a number of lies
and misconceptions around President Hugo Chavez’s health, the politics
and legalities involved in his swearing-in for his new term, and the
Venezuelan government’s handling of the situation.
The media, often taking its line directly from Venezuela’s right-wing
opposition, is exploiting a sad time for the Venezuelan people. Media
Observatory journalist Mariclem Stelling, talking on public television
station VTV, called it a “combination of glee, irony, and
necrophilia...an attempt to remove [Chavez] from his political role”.
“They build the news from the economic and political interests to which they respond,” she said.
Here, Venezuelanalysis.com debunks the top five lies currently being spread by private media.
1) The Venezuelan government is being secretive about Chavez’s health
This charge has been made by international media since Chavez first
announced he had cancer in June 2011. Criticisms by the private media of
government “secrecy” around his condition have intensified as the
swearing-in date approaches, in part reflecting an increasingly
fractious Venezuelan opposition anxious for details they could use to
Mass media sources describe Chavez’s medical condition as “a mystery”, with outlets such as the Los Angeles Times
referring to government information on Chavez’s post-operatory recovery
as “sporadic and thinly detailed medical updates”. Outlets such as the
and the Australian have picked up the opposition’s call for the
Venezuelan government to tell the “truth” on Chavez’s health, implying
that the government is withholding information, or outright lying.
The argument that the Venezuelan government is keeping secrets feeds
into the discourse most mainstream media use in relation to the
Bolivarian revolution, recently describing the government as “despots” (Chicago Tribune) and “autocratic populists” (Washington Post).
Other media has put out its own versions of Chavez’s state of health, with the Spanish ABC
going to great lengths to describe even his bowel movements, and
reporting that he is in a coma, and the multinational Terra mistaking
its desires for reality, reporting that Chavez is already dead.
These media outlets have just one “anonymous” source for their reports;
they somehow, apparently, have an infiltrator (or an “intelligence
source” as they call it) among Chavez’s Cuban medical team.
The government has in fact released 28 statements updating the public
on Chavez’s condition since his operation on 11 December, an average of
around 1 per day. These statements are available in full text on the
internet, and are also being read out by communication minister Ernesto
Villegas on all Venezuelan public television and radio.
In the latest statement, released yesterday, Villegas said that
Chavez’s condition remains “stationary” compared to the last report,
where the public was informed that he has a respiratory “deficiency” due
to a pulmonary infection.
It is true however, that beyond mentioning the general cancer site;
the pelvic region, the government hasn’t revealed the exact type of
cancer that Chavez has, nor the exact nature of the operation that he
underwent on 11 December. This is possibly due to privacy reasons.
When asked directly about this issue in a recent interview,
Jorge Rodriguez, a doctor and key figure in Chavez’s United Socialist
Party of Venezuela (PSUV), said “I’d give the example of Mrs. Hilary
Clinton, who had a cerebral vascular accident. There are three factors
which influence these cases: the part of the brain where it happens, the
size of the affected zone, and if it produces a hemorrhage or
obstruction. Well fine, I’ve not seen any serious and decent doctor ask
in which zone she had the lesion. And I think it’s fine that they don’t
ask because that lady has the right to privacy. I’ve not seen Ramon
Guillermo Aveledo (the executive secretary of the opposition’s MUD
coalition) asking to know if her accident affected her in the frontal
lobe, in which case, of course, she couldn’t continue giving the
instructions she normally gives”.
Of course, when the international media report on the Venezuelan
opposition’s stance towards Chavez’s health situation, they invariably
fail to mention that the opposition’s approach has a lot less to do with
a crusade for truth, and more to do with its hopes of creating a
political and constitutional crisis over the issue. They make out that
the Venezuelan government is being deliberately misleading and
manipulative with information, but would never point the finger at
Western leaders such as George Bush or Barack Obama for not announcing
the exact locations of their frequent, long, and luxurious vacations,
2) It is unconstitutional if Chavez doesn’t take the oath of office on 10 January
This is another lie that takes a leaf straight from the opposition’s book. Most opposition leaders, and even the Venezuelan Catholic Church,
are arguing that if Chavez cannot be officially sworn-in as president
on 10 January then he will lose his status as president of Venezuela.
They say that in that case, Chavez should be declared “permanently
absent”, and the head of the national assembly, Diosdado Cabello, would
have to take over as president and call fresh elections. The opposition
also claim that the swearing-in ceremony cannot be postponed, and that
if Chavez continues on as president after 10 January it would be a
“flagrant violation of the constitution”. Their strategy is to use their
own interpretation of the constitution in order to try and depose
Chavez on a technicality while the president-elect lies in Cuba
struggling in post-surgery recovery.
Private media outlets have latched onto this argument, and
misinformed about the Venezuelan constitution. In a highly misleading
article, the Washington Post
claimed that a delay in Chavez’s inauguration ceremony would be “a
stretch of the constitution’s ambiguous wording”. Similar comments were
made in other U.S. outlets, with Time
arguing that Venezuela’s constitution is “a murky map that could send
the western hemisphere’s most oil-rich nation into precarious
governmental limbo this year”. Reuters
argued that the Venezuelan government is “violating the constitution”
and the country will be “left in a power vacuum”, and the BBC, which
maintained a more reserved tone, still portrayed interpretations of the
constitution as muddied debate between government and opposition.
However, Venezuela’s constitution is clear on the situation. The
conditions under which a president can be declared permanently absent
and new elections called are covered by article 233, and are, “death,
resignation, destitution decreed by the Supreme Court, mental or
physical incapacity certified by a medical council designated by the
Supreme Court with the approval of the National Assembly, abandonment of
the post, [or] a popular recall of the mandate”.
Currently Chavez’s status is that of “absence from the national
territory”, a status which is granted by the national assembly. This
could eventually be declared a “temporary absence” from the presidency,
which is granted by the national assembly for a period of ninety days,
and can be extended for 90 further days, as outlined by articles 234 and
235 of the constitution.
What the opposition are trying to do is use article 231 of the
constitution, which describes the presidential inauguration, to argue
for Chavez’s deposal. The article states that the president elect “will
assume their mandate on the 10th of January of the first year
of their constitutional period, through a swearing-in ceremony in front
of the National Assembly”. The opposition claim that Chavez’s inability
to attend that ceremony means that he has not assumed his term and his
“permanent absence” should be declared. However, as noted above, not
being able to attend the inauguration ceremony is not considered a
reason for “permanent absence” in the Venezuelan constitution, leaving
the Venezuelan opposition without a constitutional leg to stand on.
Rather, this situation is dealt with by the second half of article
231, which states, “If for any supervening reason the president cannot
take office in front of the National Assembly, s/he will do so before
the Supreme Court”. No date is specified.
Venezuelan constitutional lawyer Harman Escarra, an opposition
supporter who helped draft the 1999 constitution, explained in an
interview with Venezuelan daily Ciudad CCS
that constitutionally, even if the president can’t attend the 10
January ceremony, the new presidential term still begins, including the
constitutional mandate of the president’s council of state, the
vice-president, and government ministers. As such, he affirmed that in
Venezuela “there isn’t a power vacuum”.
The constitutional lawyer further explained that under both the
letter and spirit of article 231 of the constitution, “The President,
from the point of view of sovereignty, is the President. There’s no
other, and the mandate of the popular majority cannot not be overturned
because of the issue of a date at a specific moment, because that would
be to violate a sacred principle that is in article five of the
constitution, which says that power resides in the sovereignty of the
Therefore, it is erroneous for international media to report that
Venezuela is entering a constitutionally ambiguous situation in which
either the status of the president or the next constitutional step is
not clear. Further, it is not only misleading, but dangerous to wrongly
paint Chavez allies as looking to subvert the constitution to stay in
power, when the opposition is trying to question the government’s
constitutional legitimacy in order to provoke a political crisis and
depose Chavez as president. The opposition is not the “critical” and
“unbiased” democratic voice that the private media represent them as.
Such reporting also displays a certain level of hypocrisy, as one can be
sure that if the U.S. president or British prime minister were unable
to assume a particular inauguration ceremony for health reasons, such
outlets would not start casting doubt on their legitimacy, as they are
currently doing with Chavez.
3) Should elections have to be called, they may not be
“fair”, and opposition leader Henrique Capriles has a good chance of
This third myth adds to the previous two to create the impression
that the Bolivarian revolution is undemocratic. It is spouted by most
private media, but especially media from the US, which rarely points out
the utterly unfair conditions in which elections are held in its own
The Washington Post
claimed that if Chavez were to die and new elections had to be called,
“Chavez’s inner circle…may consider postponing the election or even
calling it off”.
“That’s why the first responsibility of the United States and
Venezuelan neighbors such as Brazil should be to insist that the
presidential election be held and that it be free and fair,” the WP
said, and even suggested that “Mr Chavez’s followers or military
leaders” might “attempt a coup”.
The US State Department has also called for any elections that Venezuela has to be “free and transparent” and the Chicago Tribune
in an article today said, “In October, Chavez vanquished his first
serious challenger, Henrique Capriles, despite being too sick to
campaign... Too sick to give speeches, he bought votes through political
stunts like awarding a free government-built home to his 3 millionth
The Chicago Tribune’s statement is a lie; Chavez attended one to two
huge rallies around the country in the month before the presidential
elections, including one in Merida the authors of this article attended,
as well as fulfilling his duties as president. And, of course there is
no basis or need for these calls for “fair” elections. None of the
private media will remind its readers of the 16 elections held over the
last 14 years, that 81% of Venezuelans voluntarily turned out to vote in
the October presidential elections, that Venezuela is building up
participatory democracy through its communal councils, and that
Venezuelans have access to completely free and widely available health
care, education, and even to subsidised housing—basic conditions
necessary for democracy to be practiced.
The Washington Post argued that the Venezuelan government “fears”
free elections because “a fair vote would be won by opposition leader
Henrique Capriles, who lost the October presidential ballot but is more
popular than Mr. Maduro.” This is wishful thinking, another example of
the media mistaking its desire for reality. The opposition did not
receive more votes than the governing PSUV in the recent 16 December
regional elections, despite Chavez’s absence. The opposition is weak,
divided, disillusioned after 14 years of losing election after election
(except the 2007 constitutional referendum), has no street presence what
so ever, and has no program or cause to unite around, beyond wanting
4) A split within the Chavista leadership between Maduro and Cabello is coming
This is another idea bandied about by the Venezuelan opposition and
propagated by the international media. The notion, or hope, is that if
the worst were to happen and Chavez were to die, Chavismo would
immediately become divided among itself and fall apart. In particular,
it is argued that national assembly president Diosdado Cabello would try
to seize the presidential candidacy of the PSUV from Vice-president
Nicolas Maduro. Some opposition figures appear to be actively
encouraging this, with opposition legislator Maria Corina Machado demanding that Diosdado Cabello take power on 10 January and that “distrust” and “fear” exist between Cabello and Maduro.
On cue, always backed by vague “analysts” or “observers”, the
international media has informed the public of, “A potential rift inside
Chavismo between Maduro’s more socialist faction and that of the more
pragmatic Cabello” (TIME), or, “Mr Cabello wields considerable power and is thought to harbour his own political ambitions” (BBC),
and that, “Chavez's death or resignation could set off a power struggle
within the party among Maduro, Cabello, Chavez's brother Adan and state
governors” (LA Times).
Such commentary has been slammed by Maduro, Cabello and other leaders
within Chavismo, who all stress the unity of different currents within
the Bolivarian movement in the current difficult situation. Indeed, the
scenario of a direct power grab by Cabello or any other figure within
Chavismo of Maduro’s role as successor if Chavez cannot assume his
presidential term is very unlikely. Just before Chavez flew off to Cuba
for surgery in December, he told the nation that, “If such a scenario
were to occur, I ask you from my heart that you elect Nicolas Maduro as
constitutional president of the republic”. Chavez has such strong
support and respect from among his followers that it would be almost
unthinkable for another leader within Chavismo to publicly go against
Chavez’s express wish that Maduro be his successor. Any attempt to usurp
Maduro’s leadership and candidacy in fresh presidential elections would
be seen as political suicide.
5) That the revolution is over without Chavez
Most private media have also subtly cast doubt that the revolution
will continue without Chavez, suggesting that the leadership will
collapse, that Venezuela is already in “economic chaos” and “disaster”,
that Venezuela is living a political “crisis” right now, and that the
revolutionary process can’t survive without Chavez. The Chicago Tribune
said that, “Whoever ends up running Venezuela will preside over the
mess Chavez made of a prosperous and promising nation” and there is
now “high unemployment, record inflation and rampant crime”. This is
despite Venezuela ending 2012 with 19.9% inflation, the lowest in years,
and unemployment lower than the US.
The media is ignoring the fact that the country has been doing fine
this last month without Chavez, that the PSUV leadership won 20 out of
23 states in the regional elections in December, without Chavez’s
presence, that there is no crisis here; schools started again as normal
today, the barrio adentro clinics are open, people are working,
shopping, returning from Christmas season vacations, as normal. There is
no panic buying, no looting, no political unrest.
Most importantly, the media is ignoring, is invisibilising the
biggest factor there is; the people of Venezuela. Chavez isn’t just a
person, or a leader, he represents a political project; of economic and
cultural sovereignty, of Latin American unity, of freedom from US
intervention, of all basic rights satisfied, and of participatory
democracy. The majority of Venezuelans have showed their support for
that project by turning out to vote en masse time and time again,
including in elections in which Chavez wasn’t running, with voting rates
generally increasing each year. In most other countries people would be
tired and would have gotten over so many elections by now. Venezuelans
have marched in the thousands and millions around the country again and
again, not just to support electoral candidates, but to march for
workers’ rights on May Day, as well as for other causes such as gay
rights, defending journalists against violent attacks by the opposition,
in support of various laws, and more. It was Venezuelans, en masse, who
helped overturn the coup against Chavez in 2002.
The list of gains over the last 14 years is a long one. To mention
just a few: complete literacy, broadly available and free university
education, free healthcare centres in most communities, free laptops to
primary school children, free meals for primary school children,
subsidised food, subsidised books, increased street culture and street
art, a range of new public infrastructure such as train lines and cable
cars, laws supporting the rights of disabled people, women, and so on,
government assisted urban agriculture, legalised community and worker
organising, nearly a 1000 free internet centres, music programs,
pensions for the elderly, and much more. These huge changes can’t be
quickly reversed, and the Venezuelan people have every reason not to let
Further, over the last 14 years, Venezuelans have woken up. They read
and know their laws, everyone, even opposition supporters, spends hours
each day debating and discussing politics and economics. Apathy still
exists, but is way down. There is a political consciousness and depth
that can’t be turned off overnight.
While it is true that after Chavez there will probably be
bureaucracy, corruption, reformism, and some internal disagreements,
these issues existed with him as a leader as well. Any change in
political circumstances is an opportunity to bring these problems to the
surface and to confront them.
The people of the Bolivarian movement are fighters, and are here to stay.
January 08, 2013