Venezuela obscured by media prejudice

The crisis in the Ukraine became arguably the biggest news story in the world this past weekend, when a breakthrough deal was signed between protest leaders and President Viktor Yanukovych to end the violence in Kiev. Not 24 hours later, Yanukovych had fled the capital, leaving the Ukraine with dozens of dead anti-government protesters, three opposition parties with virtually nothing in common, and no active prime minister—I know this because the front page of virtually every major newspaper told me so. Meanwhile, in Venezuela, the biggest protests since the death of Hugo Chavez are spreading across the country like wildfire. President Nicolás Maduro has responded  with brutal repression, and at least thirteen people have been killed already. I know this because I have a friend from Venezuela who has been supplying me with updates—were it up to the media alone, I might have never known of the violent unrest unfolding due south.

The Western media has largely ignored the eruption of this political crisis in Venezuela. Many claim that this blatant lack of coverage stems predominantly from the fact that Maduro’s government is doing everything in its power to restrict information about the protests from being released to the media. This is partially true–according to The New York Times, at least seven journalists for CNN International and CNN Español in Venezuela reported that their press credentials had been revoked, after Maduro reportedly attacked CNN for broadcasting “war propaganda” (“Venezuela Battles Media, Social and Otherwise, to Restrict Press Coverage,” 2.21.14). The fact that a single American broadcasting network has been limited in its ability to report from directly within the country, however, is not enough to justify the systematic exclusion of the crisis in Venezuela from the pages of virtually every major newspaper.

Perhaps the explanation is as simple as news coverage being a zero-sum game: there is only so much room on the front page of a newspaper, so where one major story wins, another must lose. The images coming out of Kiev are much bloodier and more shocking than the reports of student protests and nameless victims flooding the streets of Caracas. The political turmoil in Venezuela has certainly taken a backseat to the events unfolding in the Ukraine, but to think that the media would be so easily quelled by a regime resistant to press coverage and/or a lack of paper space would be incredibly naïve. The crisis in Venezuela is being ignored because what is happening in Venezuela is far less critical to Western political and economic interests than what is happening in the Ukraine. And, deeper than this, the crisis in Venezuela is being ignored because the Western media is clearly more sympathetic to the disintegration of a capitalist, European democracy than a socialist, anti-American regime that has always identified more with the Third World than the First.

In this sense, the lack of press coverage of the events unfolding in Venezuela is largely the result of the internalization of the political animosity the United States has harbored against Venezuela since Chavez took office in 1998; an animosity that itself stems from the U.S. principled opposition to leaders that lean too left for its liking. For all of fifteen years, the United States has made every effort to marginalize Venezuela on the global stage, acknowledging it only long enough to greet bouts of social unrest with self-righteous statements about the inevitability of civic disillusionment in such a politically and economically backwards nation. After fifteen years of this, it is difficult to blame the media for internalizing this hostility and choosing to treat the crisis in Venezuela as just another negligible episode in a prolonged confrontation between pro- and anti-Chavismo forces in a politically tumultuous region with a history of coups and corruption–an episode to be expected, and therefore not worthy of renewed media attention.

The irony, however, is that the recent political unrest in Venezuela that the U.S. and the media has largely disregarded is a challenge to President Maduro’s dedication to Chavismo. According to The Atlantic, “Venezuela is now the world champion of inflation, homicide, insecurity, and shortages of essential goods.” With the largest oil reserves in the world, and absolute control over state institutions, Maduro’s government has used its immense wealth to push through “unsustainable populist policies, buy votes, and jail opposition leaders”–all at the expense of basic goods for its citizenry and efforts to reduce crime and inflation (“The Tragedy of Venezuela,” 2.25.14).

Over half of all Venezuelans, most of them youths, are opposed to the Chavismo that plunged their country into economic crisis and isolation, and it is this profound desire to loosen the grip of an abusive government and take the country back into their own hands that has driven the citizenry to face the soldiers and tanks of Maduro’s repressive regime head-on. When the media looks at Venezuela, it doesn’t see a story. If it were to look more closely, however, it would see a transformative social movement and momentous turning point in the political landscape of a nation that has long been wrongfully disparaged. My final word of advice to profit-hungry media outlets: Place the story beneath a photo of high-profile opposition leader and most eligible bachelor-dissident Leopoldo Lopez, and sit back as papers fly off the shelves.

 

—Natasha Bertrand ’14 is a political science and philosophy double major.

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