|Number 528||April 2, 2013|
This Week: The Threat of Venezuela in the Propaganda System
This may be the longest issue of Nygaard Notes I've ever published. Much to my surprise, I've been obsessed with researching the legacy of Hugo Chávez and the fascinating story of his Venezuela, and I think there are important lessons to be learned here.
Here's the main reason I'm spending so much energy on this subject: I think this story illustrates, better than any story in recent memory, how Propaganda really works. In this case, it's true that Hugo Chávez was hated by many powerful people in the United States, and that this hatred was reflected in virtually every media report ever published in this country since the time that Hugo Chávez came to anyone's attention. But virtually no one, outside of the planning and military circles that I quote extensively this week, has been willing or able to honestly state the real reason for their antipathy toward this man.
When Barack Obama first ran for President, his call for Hope and Change resonated with millions in this country. Dare we hope that our unfair and unequal system could actually be "changed"? As it turned out, it was mostly words, little change seems to be on the horizon, and the net effect of his presidency, I fear, may be a net increase in cynicism and hopelessness. I hope I'm wrong.
Hugo Chávez, on the other hand, spoke of hope and change and—although we'll have to wait for history to show us how much change his efforts will ultimately yield—he indisputably gave hope to millions of people in Latin America. And my hope is that this issue of Nygaard Notes will show that he put his money where his mouth was, using the power of oil to finance real efforts at regional integration. Those efforts were intended to, as one analyst quoted in this issue put it, "work toward the emergence of a multipolar world in which U.S. hegemony is checked." The result was, I believe, a net decrease in cynicism and an increase in hope among the people of countries from Mexico to Brazil and everywhere in between.
If that's true, and the legacy of Hugo Chávez is, overall, a positive one, then an obvious question presents itself: Why did U.S. leaders, and the media who take their cues from those leaders, come to hate him so?
One explanation might be that U.S. leaders are ignorant or confused. That is, maybe they really believe that he was incompetent, a vain dictator, a charismatic madman. Maybe, but I doubt it.
No, the explanation for the intense hatred of Hugo Chávez lies elsewhere. This issue of Nygaard Notes attempts to show the real reasons for the hatred, and the complex Propaganda that is aimed at obscuring those reasons.
The following words appeared in an article last October on Eric Draitser's website "Stop Imperialism. The article was entitled "Attacking Democracy: Chávez, the US, and the Destabilization of Venezuela," and this "Quote" is composed of the first three paragraphs under the sub-headline "Why They Hate Chávez."
I couldn't have said it better myself! Read the whole article HERE.
In Nygaard Notes #444, in December of 2009 I published a piece called "What is an Empire? Not What it Used to Be." In that article I said that "modern Empire is simultaneously less formal and more global than the traditional definition would have it. Less formal, in the sense that the structure of Empire is nowadays characterized not by literal rule by a viceroy or similar governor, but instead by ideology and latent power. That is, rather than maintaining a direct and overt governance, as the British did in India (for example), today's Empire relies on a general acceptance of, if not the legitimacy of the Imperial Order, at least the inevitability of that order. Countries that wish to 'get along' with 'the international community' must give evidence of their acceptance of the rules of the game. Or else. The acceptance of the rules is the ideology. The 'or else' is the latent power. (Which will certainly become actual use of military force if need be.)"
Which brings us to Hugo Chávez and why he has been portrayed so negatively in the U.S. media. The designation of Hugo Chávez as "bad guy" in U.S. media has little or nothing to do with the welfare of the people of Venezuela—the United States has a long history of, on the one hand, supporting non-democratic leaders and, on the other, demonizing democratic leaders. No, the demonization of Hugo Chávez has nothing to do with his treatment of the people of Venezuela, but rather has everything to do with his rejection of the rules of Empire. And that rejection, as this issue of Nygaard Notes aims to show, was not just rhetorical, but took very concrete forms. Forms that are seen in high places as being very threatening to U.S. power.
The basic lay of the land was summarized well by Eric Draitser in this week's "Quote" of the Week, and summarized even more succinctly this past January by the Russian weekly newspaper Moscow News:
The next article briefly summarizes those six regional initiatives mentioned by Moscow News. I present them in the order in which they came into existence. When seen all together, I hope that we will begin to see why U.S. planners came to have such an intense hatred of Hugo Chávez, both the man and the symbol.
Here are summaries of six regional projects initiated by Venezuela under Hugo Chávez. As you'll see, each was explicitly intended to empower the countries of South America and the Caribbean to set their own courses independent of U.S. wishes.
2004: ALBA, The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America
In 2004 Cuba teamed up with Venezuela to form what was called "ALBA." In English, that's the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America. It was explicitly started as an alternative to the Clinton-era "Free Trade Area of the Americas," or FTAA. The U.S.-backed FTAA was summed up briefly and well by the human rights group Global Exchange as "another example of the free-market fundamentalism that has created a global race-to-the-bottom that threatens the environment, families' livelihoods, human rights, and democracy." As one scholar put it in a speech given at the 2007 Meeting of the Latin American Studies Association, ALBA was a part of the struggle "against the forces behind FTAA, including the White House, the [International Monetary Fund], the Washington Consensus, and the neoliberal rationale behind a complex institutional, financial, and policy structural network."
ALBA has now expanded to include Bolivia (2006), Nicaragua (2007), and Ecuador (2009). Honduras joined in 2008 and withdrew after the 2009 coup. Caribbean members include Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. ALBA nations are in the process of introducing a new regional currency, the SUCRE. There's much more to say about ALBA, but for now I'll just offer the following fascinating paragraph, as I think it gives a "flavor" of what ALBA is all about. It was written by Teresa Arreaza in 2004 and published by Venezuelanalysis:
In other words, ALBA is more interested in the interests of poor people than in the interests of corporations. For more on the issue of generic medicines and poor people, see Nygaard Notes issues #220 and #221.
Called "An OPEC for South America," Raul Vasquez reported in 2004 that PETROSUR was "one of [Chávez's] favorite ideas—an alliance of regional state-run energy firms that would run like a South American version of OPEC." The alliance "could transform global energy markets if it became fully operational," says Vasquez, adding, "That's certainly Chávez's intention." Vasquez also noted Chávez's belief that "PETROSUR can help South American entrepreneurs develop resources to challenge U.S. firms on lucrative energy contracts." One can only imagine how this has been received in Washington.
Petrocaribe is an oil program for the Caribbean, where island nations receive oil and oil infrastructure at highly preferential financing rates. Conceived by Venezuela, and building on that country's enormous petroleum reserves, Petrocaribe was founded based on a "vision of solidarity, complementarity, and unity as a mechanism whereby countries of the region can free themselves from the enormous difficulties in gaining access to energy resources which heighten social inequalities and deteriorate the standard of living." At a summit of Caribbean heads of state in 2005, the then-president of the Dominican Republic, Leonel Fernández, stated that "Venezuela is teaching an impressive lesson to the world that solidarity and generosity can prevail over speculation, greed and unquenchable thirst for wealth."
2007: Banco del Sur (Bank of the South)
In a direct challenge to the international financial institutions (primarily the International Monetary Fund, or IMF, and the World Bank), a seven-country alliance of Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Ecuador in 2007 launched a regional development bank called the "Bank of the South." A 2011 report in the Venezuelan newspaper Correo del Orinoco International stated that "The Bank of the South will eventually replace funding, loans and credits provided by the IMF, with direct financing from the region's countries, based on a philosophy of integration, cooperation and solidarity. The bank's founding principles prohibit the use of funds to indebt or inslave member nations, but rather to provide them with a platform for sustainable development and growth."
Writing in 2007, Roberto Mallen of the Washington research group the Council on Hemispheric Affairs said that "The Bank of the South appears to be one of the region's most compelling projects leading towards authentic Latin American financial bolstering, as well as helping to allow for a new-found autonomy. It appears that for the first time in its history, the region actually will have its own entirely autonomous financial institution with each of its members having one vote and which is most likely scheduled to be capitalized from 7 to 8 billion dollars." [Initial capital actually came to $20 billion.]
Back in 2004, leaders from 12 South American nations—Argentina, Bolívia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Surinam, Uruguay and Venezuela—signed the Cusco Declaration. In it was announced the idea of forming a South American Community of Nations, or UNASUR, which would be modeled after the European Union. The intention was to promote regional integration by bringing together members of the already-existing trade alliances Mercosur and the Andean Community of Nations. Like the European Union, UNASUR was to have a common currency, parliament, and passport. In 2011, seeing how the European Union was suffering, the project was scaled back. Now, says the Argentine delegate to UNASUR, "A common currency is the last step. First we must integrate the economies, soften asymmetries. What we are involved in now, and we are working on it, is to have inter-regional trade compensated with local currencies."
At its founding, UNASUR stated its members' hopes that increased regional integration would "give [the region] a greater weight and representativeness in international forums." Also clearly stated was the members' conviction that "access to better standards of living for their peoples and the promotion of economic development cannot be reduced merely to sustained economic growth policies, but must also . . . ensure a more just and equitable distribution of income..."
Upon CELAC's creation in December of 2011, the Huffington Post reported that "The 33-nation Community of Latin American and Caribbean States [CELAC] includes every country in Latin America and the Caribbean. Unlike the Washington-based Organization of American States, or OAS, it will have Cuba as a full member and exclude the U.S. and Canada."
CELAC was conceived as an alternative to the OAS, which was organized largely by Washington in 1948. The intentions, and significance, of CELAC were ignored or ridiculed in the U.S., but such was not the case south of the border. Raúl Zibechi, writing for Mexico's center-left La Jornada newspaper said, "The creation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States is part of a global and continental shift, characterised by the decline of U.S. hegemony and the rise of a group of regional blocs that form part of the new global balance."
Fred Rosen of the North American Congress on Latin America, also writing in December of 2011, noted that "carefully crafted integration would give the combined countries of Latin America and the Caribbean a greatly expanded internal market, a stronger position from which to negotiate with the International Financial Institutions (the IMF, World Bank, etc.), controlled by the United States and Europe, and with other regional blocs of 'developing' countries. It would also offer the region's countries a much larger pool of internal investment capital with which to compete with foreign-based transnational investors."
So there you have a list of six regional initiatives in which Venezuela has taken the lead. Despite the importance of their implications for U.S. power in the region, each was virtually ignored in the U.S. media, making it much more difficult for the average USAmerican to understand the goings-on in our hemisphere.
This article consists of extensive excerpts from three military studies that have to do with the reasons why Venezuela under Hugo Chávez was seen in military circles to be a major threat, and one that "should not be taken lightly." Two of the excerpts are from the U.S. Army War College; the third is from the U.S. Navy Postgraduate School. I give the links for each one, if you want to read them. None of these documents were classified, and such studies are not necessarily the views of the official U.S. military establishment. But I think they offer a glimpse into the thinking of some of the people in charge of "Homeland Security," and thus are worth examining.
After each excerpt, I take the liberty of pointing out (in italics) some of the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that the language in such documents serves, intentionally or not, a Propaganda function. Here we go...
Although the Bolivarian revolution is mostly oriented toward domestic politics, it also has an important foreign policy component. Bolivarian foreign policy seeks to defend the revolution in Venezuela; promote a sovereign, autonomous leadership role for Venezuela in Latin America; oppose globalization and neoliberal economic policies; and work toward the emergence of a multipolar world in which U.S. hegemony is checked. The revolution also opposes the war in Iraq and is skeptical of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). The United States has worked fruitfully in the past with Venezuela when the country pursued an independent foreign policy, but the last three policies run directly contrary to U.S. foreign policy preferences and inevitably have generated friction between the two countries.
The Trinkunas paper can be found online HERE.
Fulgham notes that "Militarily and economically, Venezuela does not possess the capacity to threaten the homeland security of the United States." So what is the "threat"?
Well, Fulgham mentions several "points of contention" including "who will have the most Western Hemispheric influence." Significantly, he notes that "...Washington has been particularly concerned about the de-dollarization of international oil prices" and also about the fact that "Chávez is using non-monetary barters to bypass the dollar." These are among the reasons that Washington believes that Chávez "is playing a destabilizing role in the region," leading Fulgham to note that Venezuela's strategy in the hemisphere "does not constitute a direct national security threat but more of an indirect economic security threat. It is more of a war of ideologies."
The Fulgham paper can be found online HERE.
Manwaring sums up well the nature of the actual threat that U.S. military planners believe that Chávez posed to U.S. interests. "Hugo Chávez . . . is no 'nut case,'" says Manwaring, which may come as a surprise to those who have formed their opinions based on reports in the U.S. media.
Not only is he not a not a nut case, "He is, in fact," says Manwaring, "a 'wise competitor.'" Manwaring then spells out the nature of the threat posed by the Bolivarian Revolution developed by Chávez, known as bolivarianismo:
Manwaring states that Chávez is engaged in what he calls a "people's war" or "Super Insurgency," which "integrates the fundamental instruments of political, economic, social-moral, informational, and military power. And, like all others, this insurgency is intended to resist, oppose, gain control of, or overthrow an existing government or symbol of power—and bring about fundamental political change."
The Asymmetric Warfare which is the focus of Manwaring's paper is "is the methodology of the weak against the strong" and is defined as "acting, organizing, and thinking differently than opponents in order to maximize one's own advantages, exploit an opponent's weaknesses, attain the initiative, or gain greater freedom of action. It can have both psychological and physical dimensions."
After noting that the Chávez project is "resonating" with large numbers of people throughout the hemisphere, Manwaring states that
By "better" Manwaring obviously means better for the United States—"the strong"—and not the people of Latin America—"the weak." Hugo Chávez realized that his people, while certainly "the weak" in the military and economic senses, are not without power, as Manwaring spells out on page 10:
Nygaard Note: The threat of "altering the political-psychological factors" in the "targeted culture" of the United States is precisely the threat that U.S. Propaganda has worked so hard to address. The nightmare of U.S. planners is that the contagion of real Hope and Change might waft across the border and begin to infect the 77 percent of USAmericans who tell pollsters that they are "dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time." This is the power of the "words, images, and ideas" symbolized by Hugo Chávez, and this is the real threat that Venezuela poses to the United States. The fact that Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world makes the threat absolutely intolerable, which means that the future of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela is very much in doubt. U.S. Propaganda is aimed at keeping us ignorant of the possibilities for real change. This issue of Nygaard Notes is a small effort to pull back this curtain of ignorance.
The Manwaring paper can be found online HERE.
Here is a brief list of websites and specific articles and reports at which you may wish to look to counter the lingering impression of social and economic failure in Chávez's Venezuela.
The first thing I must recommend is my own series on Venezuela, which ran back in 2007-2008. Here are the titles of the articles that ran in that series, and I hope that reading these titles will entice you to go re-read some of the articles, as they include many details I haven't been able to include in this current series:
At the end of my earlier series I ran a piece, "Further Reading on Venezuela Today," which is still fairly current, and I recommend it to anyone looking to learn more about that country. And here are a few more general, and more current, things to look at in regard to the reality of modern Venezuela:
The Center for Economic and Policy Research has done good research on Venezuela for years. If you go to their website and click on "Issues," you'll see at the very end of the list "Venezuela." Lots of good stuff here.
If you read foreign news, the London Guardian often has information on international issues that you won't see in the U.S. press. Such was the case with coverage of Chávez's death.
The North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) is not only good for straightforward information on Venezuela, it's a good source of information on the entire region, which I think is one of the most exciting parts of the world right now. Read NACLA and you'll see what I mean.
Probably the most comprehensive single source online for information about every aspect of Venezuelan society is a website called Venezuelanalysis. From breaking news to deep background to opinion and analysis, it's all here. Their links page is unmatched.
This "Quote" probably should have gone in the last issue, as it summarizes some of the things I said then, but I couldn't fit it in. These words are from an article published by the Army War College in 2005 by retired Colonel Max G. Manwaring, whom I quote extensively elsewhere in this issue. Manwaring wrote:
Note that Mr. Manwaring refers to Chávez's Plan Bolivar as "amorphous"—which means "vague; unorganized; unclassifiable"—and then immediately follows that with a listing of no fewer than eleven specific programs that "offer tangible benefits to the mass of Venezuelans." That's life in The World of Propaganda!
The article is called Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, Bolivarian Socialism, and Asymmetric Warfare and it can be found online HERE.