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April 15, 2002
A Narco News White Paper
Narco News '02
Authentic Journalism on the "War on Drugs" in Latin America
"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simón Bolívar
Three Days that
Shook the Media
Online Journalism's Finest Hour
Exposed and Reversed a Coup
By Al Giordano
Special to The Narco News Bulletin
Lea Ud. el Articulo en Español
The failed coup d'etat against Venezuela marks a turning point not just for authentic democracy in our América, but also for authentic journalism.
The remote-control attempt by Washington and commercial interests - including various media giants within and outside of Venezuela - to topple the government of President Hugo Chávez by force has only made him stronger.
In poetic defiance of all the official and commercial media declarations to the contrary, the "Bolivarian Revolution" has survived. On the third day it rose again: The Chávez government emerges as more popular than ever, and Venezuelan democracy the strongest in América to withstand future authoritarian ambushes like the failed plot of these three fateful days.
One of the news agencies that had been so dishonest in recent days, Associated Press (AP), reported today a fact that, only hours ago, its reports did not even consider as a possibility:
"Never before in modern times has an elected president been overthrown by military commanders, his successor inaugurated, and then the ousted leader returned to power on the wings of a popular uprising."
The story also enters the history books as a watershed moment in the Authentic Journalism Renaissance.
AP, Reuters, the New York Times, and CNN, the worst offenders in the English-language media among many others, have had to radically adjust their coverage of the events in Venezuela precisely because online journalists worked overtime in recent days to break the information blockade and get the true facts to the international public.
The same media professionals who cringe at the term "authentic journalism" are the ones who, for the sake their own future credibility, ought to pay close attention to what has just occurred. For there is going to be hell to pay over the professional misconduct by many of them in recent days.
Just as the Venezuelan majority - out-hollered, out-dollared, but not out-smarted - called the bluff of its nation's spoiled oligarchy and reclaimed its right to choose its own destiny, authentic journalism - in particular, the rapid response of independent online journalism - forced the mass media to eat its own dishonest words.
Let the banquet begin.
Countdown to a Coup
That an attempted coup d'etat was underway in Venezuela was evident months ago.
Long before last week's coup began there was a pitched battle to define its terms in advance.
After the December 6, 1998 landslide electoral victory by Chávez, New York Times reporter Larry Rohter began the charge of the lite brigade, tagging Chávez as "the populist demagogue, the authoritarian man." Rohter decried "his past disregard for the rule of law." Chávez, Rohter bemoaned, "seems inclined to govern on the basis of a mystical bond he claims to have established with Venezuela's 23 million people." He compared Chávez with "populist dictators of the past." Rohter's conclusions about the Chávez presidency were decreed before Chávez had served a single day as president.
Rohter's drumbeat of simulation continued right up until the final hour. As Narco News was reporting about the unraveling of the coup d'etat ("What dishonest spin will the inauthentic journalists place on the story when the Venezuelan majority begins to fight to restore its constitutional government?" we asked, concluding, "Anything can happen. Anything,") the NY Times' Rohter was no longer concerned, as of yesterday, with "disregard for the rule of law" now that his own favored coup-masters were abolishing Congress and the Constitution in Venezuela and going door to door rounding up political opponents to their putsh.
Rohter even dredged Plan Colombia author Michael Shifter from the polluted Potomac to justify the coup: "This provides another formula to solve crises for countries that are seen as not being governable," said Shifter, as Rohter chose to crow: "Mr. Chávez was a left-wing populist doomed by habitual recklessness."
Now, Mr. Rohter must eat that crow.
But even caught in his anti-democracy bias, he is without remorse. In today's Times, Rohter continued in damage-control spin mode: "There were no obvious American fingerprints on the plot that unseated Mr. Chávez, unlike coups in Guatemala in 1954 or in Chile in 1973," he claimed (in a double deceit, since it took years of Freedom of Information Act requests after the Guatemala and Chile coups to find those Yanqui fingerprints.)
However, in this age of fast-moving information, we remind: Mr. Rohter's own fingerprints on the attempted military coup of 2002 are archived in ink and pixels for posterity.
The July 31, 2000 elections in Venezuela - in which Chávez won reelection by an even larger landslide margin - were even more upsetting to the establishment press. There was, that summer, a wave of official hysteria at the thought that all the predictions of Chávez's demise would be proven wrong by the Venezuelan electorate. Three days prior, Mary Anastasia O'Grady wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal titled "A Chavez victory will only worsen Venezuela's problems." That same day, Brian Latell wrote an article titled "A Disguised Dictatorship" for the Washington Post.
And yet the predictions of "authoritarianism" by Chavez in Venezuela did not come true. To the contrary, Venezuela, with Chávez at the helm, has experienced the most rapid development of human rights, fair and free elections, and press freedom of any Latin American nation at any moment in history.
Human Rights Watch, in 2000, cited Venezuela as the only Latin American country where human rights had improved. The viciously anti-Chávez Organization of American States sent a team of election observers to monitor both the 1998 and the 2000 elections in Venezuela, and despite all motive to discredit the vote, was forced by the facts to conclude that the elections were scrupulously fair.
As for press freedom, Venezuela has stood alone among Latin American nations: Not a single journalist has ever been imprisoned under Chávez's watch (although the ideologically myopic Committee to Protect Journalists in New York has complained that Chávez speeches that have criticized the notoriously corrupt Venezuelan media and its financial conflicts-of-interest somehow constituted threats to press freedom. CPJ has thus become more concerned with words -- the very speech it purports to defend -- than with the real sticks and stones that break our bones.)
Meanwhile, as the major media was consistently, and in a knowingly false manner, getting the story wrong, the Internet media was reporting the facts.
An English-language online newspaper, Vheadline.com, edited by veteran journalist Roy S. Carson, reported the true facts day after day from Venezuela since 1996. More on Vheadline.com in a moment: its journalists played a central role in recent days to break the information blockade out of Caracas.
For those who have been misled by the simulators' who portray the Venezuela conflict as an issue of "left vs. right" (as opposed to what it really is: democracy or none), libertarian conservative columnist Justin Raimundo actually bothered to read Chávez's speeches and research his government's policy positions in January 2001. He concluded:
That Chavez doesn't fit into any of the formerly useful categories of "right" and "left" is the source of whatever confusion there is about what he believes, but this is due to the myopia of his critics, for the most part, and not - as we shall see - any fuzziness in his own thinking
Before Venezuela's 1998 presidential election, the US State Department denied Chavez a visa to visit the United States on the grounds - according to Albright - that he had once been the leader of a coup, and therefore a criminal unworthy of entry.
We wonder if the State Department will now apply its "no coup leaders allowed" to the band of oligarchs, military thugs (trained by the School of the Americas, like so many Latin American torturers and dictators), and media moguls, who were leaders of the failed coup of April 2002. (When he was arrested and charged with violating the Constitution on Sunday, the military-installed dictator-for-a-day Pedro Carmona was reportedly fleeing from Miraflores Palace en route to the U.S. Embassy to seek asylum.)
Narco News, for our part, has reported about Venezuela and offered media criticism of the professional simulators for the past two years. On September 18, 2000, we published "NY Times CIA Apologist Rohter Invades Venezuela Territory."
On February 1, 2001, we praised Chávez's unprecedented decision to place a civilian statesman at the helm of the nation's armed forces, after it was discovered that certain corrupt military leaders - from the same faction that deposed the elected president at gunpoint last week - were conspiring with Colombia's vicious AUC terrorist organization to form paramilitary death squads in Venezuela. We warned, more than a year ago, that the Bush administration in cahoots with rogue military officials and Colombian paramilitary groups had launched a plan "to destabilize the Chávez government from within."
Seven weeks ago, we went way out on a limb (and received no small amount of hate mail, as a result, from members of the spoiled brat elite classes of Venezuela) for a February 20, 2002 analysis we published by Narco News correspondent Kim Alphandary. It was titled: "Venezuela Faces U.S. Coup Plot: Washington Seeks End to World's Truest Democracy."
The Pre-Coup Show
In recent weeks, though, the simulators of the mass media controlled the microphone.
Narco News, Vheadline.com and other reputable online news agencies warned of a coup in progress. Those reports were ignored by the commercial press, and even by the "alternative" press.
But a whisper did begin among commercial journalists that eventually grew into a crescendo of shrieks, planting the seeds to harvest later: If there was to be a coup d'etat, it would not be called a coup, but, rather, a "popular" revolt.
It was on March 19 that there came a decided shift in the message portrayed by propagandists who call themselves journalists, led by Juan Forero of the New York Times, who was, by now, installed in Caracas. (Narco News, last year, reported that Forero allowed U.S. officials in Colombia to monitor his interviews with private-sector U.S. mercenaries there, without having disclosed that fact in his reports.)
It was no longer sufficient to call Venezuela's president "left-wing" or point out his disagreements with Washington over Plan Colombia, OPEC or other policy matters.
The big lie, orchestrated and sung in harmony by the mainstream media, was floated by Forero of the NY Times on March 19th: That Chávez's "autocratic style and left-wing policies have alienated a growing number of people."
"Although he promised a 'revolution' to improve the lives of the poor, Mr. Chávez has instead managed to rankle nearly every sector -- from the church to the press to the middle class -- with his combative style, populist speeches and dalliances with Fidel Castro of Cuba and the Marxist rebels of Colombia," claimed Forero.
Forero, along with other official "journalists" also began pushing heavily the spin that the "military forces" of Venezuela had turned against the Chávez government. It was then, in mid-March, that a slow drip of military brass was trotted out before the media. Forero quoted one colonel as saying that Chávez "has said the military forces were with him. I wanted to tell people they were not.''
"Mario Ivan Carratu, a retired vice admiral with close contacts in the military," wrote Forero, "said some active-duty officers had spoken of playing a more aggressive role. He said a few had even privately spoken of a need to stage a coup to oust Mr. Chávez."
''I have been in contact with many active officers, and they are of the belief that if society does not organize to take steps, then they are going to have to take control,'' said Mr. Carratu.
Forero, true to form, added the now-obviously fictional chestnut that the dissident military brass "are well aware that the United States has said it will not support a coup."
(As the Washington Post reported on Saturday, there had been a constant march of businessmen, media moguls and military officials in and out of the US Embassy in Caracas in the days before the coup.)
But this was Forero's story, and he reported:
''The armed forces do not want to gain a place in history with a coup,'' said one high-ranking military officer, who asked to remain unidentified. ''If they want to pass into history, then what they want to do is support civil society in its protests.''
From that moment on it was clear to the close observer: A simulation of "Civil Society" and "popular revolt" would be staged to "justify" a military coup d'etat.
The "Revolt" of the Spoiled Brats
By last Tuesday, April 9th, the ducks were all lined up. Forero, again, led the media charge when he wrote about the strange plans for a "labor" strike, supported by management and the national Chamber of Commerce and Industry, to shut down Venezuela's major cash cow industry - that of oil:
''This can only end with the president resigning,'' Humberto Calderon Berti, a former minister of energy and mines, told a throng of protesting executives from the oil company Petroleos de Venezuela in Caracas. ''All Venezuelans from all walks of life, from all social strata, from all the political and ideological sectors, must take part in the stoppage. This is about him or us. It is a choice between democracy or dictatorship.''
How many "protesting executives" makes a "throng"? It's going to take years to disassemble every slight-of-hand piece of rhetoric wielded by the mainstream media in trying to make The Revolt of the Spoiled Brats seem like a "popular uprising." (See the Q & A with Narco News by journalist Jules Siegel from our reports last weekend for details on the ingredients of the "astro-turf" that the inauthentic journalists tried to pass off as a grassroots rebellion.)
Forero's source, the oil executive quoted above, was right about one thing: The drama that unfolded would indeed become "a choice between democracy or dictatorship."
The journalistic crime of the new century was the mass media's Orwellian misrepresentation of which side of the conflict represented which D-word.
THURSDAY, APRIL 11, 2002: DEMOCRACY HELD HOSTAGE, DAY ONE
Last Thursday, April 11, the coup was officially launched.
Forero, by now, had left all pretext of journalism behind to become Minister of Propaganda for an illegal coup d'etat that almost turned the clock back 30 years on democracy in Latin America. He wrote in that morning's edition of the New York Times:
"Much of the opposition is rooted in widespread displeasure with Mr. Chavez's policies. White-collar workers view him as a left-wing autocrat. Unions resent his attempts to impose his control on them."
Forero and the rest of the official media chorus - including AP and Reuters upon which most daily newspapers, radio and TV stations rely on for international news coverage - did not explore the details of the oil workers union's real gripe with the Chavez government: That the union bureaucracy had been in direct disobedience of new laws requiring fair and free elections for union leadership. Does insisting on free elections constitute "imposing control"? Or does it constitute a necessary part of the democratization of a nation?
And what of the other vested interests of the Five TV chains, the national dailies, the Catholic Church, the military brass and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry who mixed themselves up into a Molotov cocktail of a coup? What of the role of the United States? These questions were never asked by the commercial media, much less answered.
Coup Central: The CIA Bunker in Caracas
A report would appear two days later in the daily Panamá América newspaper that shed light on how oil union boss Carlos Ortega, the number-two coup organizer (among the Venezuelans involved) second only to oilman-turned-dictator-for-a-day Pedro Carmona, became head of the oil union and consequently of Venezuela's equivalent of the AFL-CIO.
Translated by The Narco News Bulletin:
"Months ago, we warned that the U.S. government had put a plan in march to topple Venezuela's president Hugo Chávez. Working with agents of the CIA and with members of the military group that the Pentagon maintains in Caracas to supervise U.S. arms sales in the region, the strategies from the Potomac joined forces with the opponents of the president. Bankers, businessmen and politicians donated funds to creat the marches and protest that detonated the crisis. Money from the opposition served to influence union elections and the control of the petroleum workers union, the most important in Venezuela "
Narco News has learned that the CIA headquarters for organizing, distributing said cash, and engineering the attempted coup d'etat, was the office known as the MIL GROUP. That's the name by which the US Military Liason staff in Embassies - "usually a repository for fixers and grafters pitching Department of Defense sponsored weapons sales to third world satrapies," as one source colorfully explained to Narco News - had, according to another well-placed source, greatly increased its staff size in the weeks prior to the attempted coup.
We presume the increase in personnel - or individuals posing as personnel at the MIL GROUP - was not due to a sudden desire by Washington to sell more arms to the Chavez government.
Former National Security Agency officer Wayne Madsen, writing with Richard M. Bennett, reveal that the U.S. participation in the failed coup attempt was not only financial, but military. Reporting from the National Press Building in Washington, they have just blown the roof off of U.S. government denials of involvement in the coup with this Intelligence Report:
Under the cover of the COMPTUEX and a Joint Task Force Exercise (JTFEX) training exercises in the Caribbean the US Navy provided signals intelligence and communications jamming support to the Venezuelan military. Particular focus by US Navy SIGINT vessels was on communications to and from the Cuban, Libyan, Iranian, and Iraqi diplomatic missions in Caracas. All four countries had expressed support for Chavez and the plans for US military and intelligence support for the coup d'etat were brought upto date following President Bush's visit to Peru and El Salvador in March 2002. The National Security Agency (NSA) supported the coup using personnel attached to the US Southern Command's Joint Interagency Task Force East (JIATF-E) in Key West, Florida. NSA's Spanish-language linguists and signals interception operators in Key West; Sabana Seca on Puerto Rico and the Regional Security Operating Centre (RSOC) in Medina, Texas also assisted in providing communications intelligence to US military and national command authorities on the progress of the coup d'etat.
From eastern Colombia, CIA and US contract military personnel, ostensibly used for counter-narcotics operations, stood by to provide logistics support for the leading members of the coup. Their activities were centred at the Marandua airfield and along the border with Venezuela. Patrol aircraft operating from the US Forward Operating Location (FOL) in Manta, Ecuador also provided intelligence support for the military move against Chavez. Additional USN vessels on a training exercise in the Outer Range of the US Navy's Southern Puerto Rican Operating Area also stood by in the event the coup against Chavez faltered, thus requiring a military evacuation of US citizens in Venezuela. The ships included the aircraft carrier USS George Washington and the destroyers USS Barry, Laboon, Mahan, and Arthur W. Radford. Some of the latter vessels reportedly had NSA Direct Support Units aboard to provide additional signals intelligence support to US Special Operations and intelligence personnel deployed on the ground in close co-operation with the Venezuelan Army and along the Colombian side of the border.
The polemic in recent weeks in which the Narco-State government of Colombia (again, with NY Timesman Juan Forero as its press agent) accused the Chávez government of Venezuela of harboring Colombian rebels now seems particularly hypocritical given the confirmation that Colombian territory was used by US forces in the failed coup attempt. Also note that the cover for the anti-democracy military operation was "counter-narcotics operations" that "provide logistics support for the leading members of the coup."
In sum: the effort by US tax dollars to prop up Carlos Ortega as head of the oil union was intended, long ago, to provide a "working class" gloss for the Revolt of the Spoiled Brats. The oligarchy could not stand the fact that, for the first time, Venezuela had become a true democracy for the majority of its people who elected Chavez. Nor could it handle the reality that it was now seen by the Venezuelan majority for what it was: an oligarchy. So the corrupt union boss was brought in to provide a false image of class diversity.
Then the real expense to U.S. taxpayers (something especially timely to reflect upon on this date of April 15th) came in the form of a massive US military and intelligence operation.
But back to Thursday, for a moment: With the five TV chains running free advertisements every ten minutes urging the citizenry to join the march, the 40,000 member oil workers union, the National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Catholic Church hierarchy pulling out all the stops to create the illusion of a popular revolt, they only got between 50,000 and 150,000 people into the streets of Caracas to protest against Chavez. (Caracas has more than two million citizens and Venezuela, 24 million.)
The demonstration, purportedly in support of the business-backed oil workers strike, was initially advertised to march to the state oil agency's offices.
But once the leaders - with the help of the TV stations (upset with Chavez, as we reported on Saturday, over having to pay taxes like any other business for the first time in their history) - had the crowd assembled, they switched the parade route and marched their own lambs to a pre-plotted slaughter.
The march - puny in size compared to the multitudes that would take to the streets to oppose the Coup in coming days - was detoured by the coup plotters to head to the presidential palace known as Miraflores, where several thousand supporters of the Chavez government were already assembled.
As universally reported by the English-language media - including the Four Horsemen of Simulation; AP, Reuters, the NY Times and CNN - shots were fired, between 10 and 30 people died, and another 100 or so wounded. The question of where those shots came from looms explosively.
Eyewitness in Caracas Greg Wilpert reported on Friday in an article for commondreams.org - and linked immediately by Narco News - that the majority of killed and wounded were Chavez supporters. Wilpert has subsequently reported that, now that the Constitutional government of Chavez is restored, he expects the list of martyrs to finally be released (interesting, how the coup never released the names of the dead), and the list will show that the majority of those killed were Chavez supporters. Wilpert also comments that he expects videotapes to be released in the coming days that show the true culprits behind the shooting provocation: an extreme anti-Chavez group titled "Bandera Roja."
But AP, Reuters, the NY Times, CNN and many other English-language media sources reported, without sourcing their claim, that the shots came from the Chávez government. They repeated that unsubstantiated speculation as fact over and over and over again. And White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer claimed that Chavez "ordered" the shootings. All of this will come out in the wash in the coming days. Suffice to say, the mainstream media got the story wrong, intentionally wrong, to blame violent acts by Chávez opponents on Chávez.
Chávez Never Resigned
The Four Horsemen of Simulation - AP, Reuters, the New York Times and CNN - and virtually the entire commercial press reported that Chavez had "resigned" from office after the shootings.
All have subsequently been forced to change their stories, because the clearest fact that has emerged from this entire drama is that President Chávez never resigned.
They did not source their claim. They simply stated it as fact.
Some major media outlets went as far as to invent more extreme fictions, aimed at portraying Chávez as a coward and buffoon. On Thursday night, the Dow Jones Newswire reported a story titled "Venezuela President Chavez Seen Leaving Country-Report." The coup leaders had gone so far as to circulate a lie, repeated endlessly by the US press, that Chavez had behaved timidly, and had pled permission to flee to another country (many reports presumed it was Cuba.)
The Dow Jones Newswire - the press agency of the Wall Street Journal - repeated that headline NINE times before the night was done. Even after reporting that Chavez was under arrest in Venezuela, Dow Jones (knowing full well that local radio newscasters throughout the U.S. read the headlines aloud the next morning) persisted in titling the story: "REPEAT - Venezuela President Chavez Seen Leaving Country - Report."
Thursday night was a dark hour for journalism in our América. It's cynicism and simulation would only be surpassed by what was to come on Friday.
FRIDAY, APRIL 12, 2002: DEMOCRACY HELD HOSTAGE, DAY TWO
New York Times readers awoke on Friday morning to read what should herald, in retrospect, Juan Forero's resignation from a career as a so-called journalist. Forero wrote:
"Mr. Chavez, 47, a firebrand populist who had said he would remake Venezuela to benefit the poor, was obligated to resign in a meeting with three military officers about 3 a.m. today "
Forero was, by now, in full disinformation mode. He claimed that Chavez, during his presidency, had "seized control of the legislature," neglecting to clarify that Venezuela's electorate voted fair and square, the American way, at the ballot box for members of Congress who supported the Bolivarian Revolution of Chavez.
On Friday, the military junta that had arrested and imprisoned the President at gunpoint without having legally charged him with any crime, installed national Chamber of Commerce and Industry chairman, oilman, and number-one coup leader Pedro Carmona as "president."
Among Carmona's first acts: He abolished the elected national congress, disbanded the constitutionally established Supreme Court, and even changed the name of the country from the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to the plain old Republic of Venezuela.
Thus, in the name of stopping an "autocrat," a "dictator," an "authoritarian," a "strongman," and other epithets thrown by Forero and the Horsemen of Simulation, the coup installed a real dictator, Pedro Carmona: un-elected, mentally unstable, so mercurial as to demand the abolition of Congress, and who began a house-by-house witch hunt to round up cabinet members, congressmen and political leaders in Venezuela.
''We cannot allow a tyrant to run the Republic of Venezuela,'' said Navy Vice Adm. Hector Rafael Ramirez according to Forero. The Admiral was spouting those words... at the precise moment that he was installing a tyrant to run the Republic of Venezuela.
It was on this day that the owning class of the commercial media reared its true face as a vested enemy of democracy.
The Inter-American Press Association, dominated by the oligarch owners of newspapers in América whose definition of "press freedom" is their liberty run their commercial fiefdoms at maximum political and economic profit, issued a statement on this date:
"President Robert J. Cox said today that political developments in Venezuela demonstrate to nations throughout the world that there can be no true democracy without free speech and press freedom."
As with Forero's inverted dialectic of "democracy or dictatorship," the IAPA press release was positively Orwellian. Repeating its prior complaints that Chávez's "belligerent and intolerant attitude towards journalists and the news media" (read: the President's speeches criticizing the simulation by a media that serves only the wealthy and denies voice to the majority) somehow constituted interference with press freedom, the IAPA showed its true fangs in endorsing a military dictatorship over a democratically elected government.
"This is a classic example for the new government headed by Pedro Carmona, which hopefully will turn things around, respect freedom of the press and encourage the independence of the judiciary, and thus, ensure restoration of true democracy," Cox added.
Cox and his group of Inauthentic Journalists inverted the question of the day. In declaring "there can be no true democracy without free speech and press freedom," it forgot the inverse: There can be no free speech and press freedom without true democracy."
The IAPA lost all the illusory credibility it had with that savage endorsement of a military coup. The IAPA, instead of defending democratic values, became part of the coup.
As Mexican newspaper publisher and editor Mario Menéndez Rodríguez - the founder of the term "authentic journalism," the most experienced American journalist covering revolutions and counter-revolutions in this hemisphere, and our victorious co-defendant in the New York Supreme Court decision that established First Amendment rights for online journalists - said, "You will know the true character of a journalist by how he behaves during a crisis."
IAPA President Robert J. Cox - like many others - revealed his true character in these Three Days that Shook the Media. In a meritocracy he would be immediately demoted to beat reporter to learn the ropes all over again. We recommend that he and the others like him who turned their backs on the most important value of any free society - the protection of electoral democracy over military imposed dictatorship - go back to square one. Cox and the others can begin by reading our 24 Coup Questions for Journalists, and by doing the gumshoe work to answer those questions. After all, he'll have the time now: nothing he does as IAPA boss will have any credibility from this date forward.
In these Friday hours, the situation seemed hopeless. Absolute Power had strangled democracy in our América, and the commercial media had become handmaiden to a military junta.
And then, miraculously, the cavalry arrived.
The Counter-Coup by Authentic Journalism
Then, on Friday night, what history will call "the counter-coup by authentic journalism" began, as the Vheadline.com online newspaper and its editor Roy S. Carson, news editor Patrick J. O'Donoghue and 14 reporters throughout Venezuela began to break the information blockade.
Among many authentic journalists who turned the tide, Carson deserves the democratic medal of valor. At 11 a.m. on Thursday, before the coup occurred, his Vheadline.com website had gone into the shop for maintenance. When it rains it pours: Carson woke up Friday morning recovering from pre-ocular surgery he had received on Thursday, but upon learning of the coup he rose from his bed to change the history of América. His website was inoperative, but Carson, undaunted, began filing email alerts which were published by Narco News, Indy Media, and many others of the Authentic Journalism Renaissance.
At 7:30 on Friday night, Vheadline.com translated and distributed, via email the first decrees of the military-installed regime of oilman Pedro Carmona.
The global distribution of the "Transitional Junta Decree" on the Internet erased, in one fell swoop, all the fictions repeated in the mass media about who was the real dictator:
Caracas, Friday, April 12, 2002 -- 7:30 p.m.
Article 1 - Pedro Carmona Estanga is designated president of the Republic of Venezuela.
Article 2 - The name of the Republic of Venezuela is re-established.
Article 3 - Principal and substitute legislators of the National Assembly (AN) are suspended from their posts
The decree also delayed new presidential elections until up to a year from now and stated:
"The President in Cabinet will be able to remove and transitionally designate the officials of national, state and municipal agencies to guarantee institutional democracy and the adequate functioning of the stated The reorganization of public agencies is decreed for the purpose of regaining their autonomy and independence and to ensure a peaceful and democratic transition, "thus dismissing from posts illegitimately held by the president and magistrates of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ), Comptroller, Attorney General, OfficialOmbudsman and members of the National Electoral College (CNE)."
The decree also suspended 48 laws passed Constitutionally by the Chavez government and Congress in 2001
Dictatorship vs. Democracy, indeed.
The Vheadline.com archives of its email alerts from April 11th to 13th is now online (the website was back in action by Saturday afternoon) at:
The updates are archived in reverse chronological order (in other words, for a blow-by-blow account, scroll from the bottom up). Historians of the coup, and scholars of the Authentic Journalism Renaissance, will consult those Vheadline.com archives for years to come.
Then came Saturday, and the turning of the tide.
SATURDAY, APRIL 13, 2002: Collapse of a Coup
While New York Times readers awoke to a puff piece by Juan Forero about the new dictator - titled, incredulously, "Manager and Conciliator - Pedro Carmona Estanga" - in which Forero repeated the lie that Chavez "was forced to resign," the independent online media had begun to take back the microphone.
Among the factors that, in retrospect, caused news consumers from throughout the world to turn toward online news sources was that the official reports by Forero, AP, Reuters, CNN and others had become so obviously one-sided. Indeed, they had a gloating quality about what they errantly called Chávez's downfall. And the Times and others committed the faux pas of arrogance: They underestimated the public and overestimated its capacity to swallow their Selling of a Dictator - Carmona - as a legitimate "president."
''Carmona is not a mega-industrialist in his own right,'' a political consultant, Eric Ekvall, said. ''Carmona is a man who's always worked in and been involved in the business sector, but always as a manager. He's not one of the landed elite, with his own fortune, his own bank.''
(Here in the Narco Newsroom, we thought Forero's trotting out of Ekvall was shameless, though predictable: Ekvall - father of the former Miss Venezuela and an eccentric species of political consultant who is hostile to basic democratic values - had been one of the readers who had sent us hate mail after our February 20th report predicting the coup. He raged at us, and at author Kim Alphandary, and mocked our description of Alphandary as an authentic journalist. And now, during the coup, here he was, on the pages of the New York Times doing spin-control for an authoritarian dictator and a coup that seven weeks ago he swore would never happen, trying to portray the sleazy oilman Carmona as some kind of humble man of the people.)
While Forero and other English-language commercial reporters were relying on Embassy sources, oligarchs like Ekvall, and the slanted Venezuelan TV "coverage" of events, Vheadline.com and its team of reporters was driving a stake through the official censorship.
At 1:50 p.m. on Saturday, Vheadline.com broke the story that the Speaker of the National Assembly had rejected the dictator Carmona's decree abolishing the elected legislative branch of government (the "abolished" legislators later announced that come Sunday, they would hold a formal session anyway). Moments later, Vheadline.com reported that protests had erupted in the slums of Caracas against the military-installed dictatorship. (A polemic would later ensue because the five big TV chains of Venezuela had made a concerted decision to not report demonstrations against the coup; Vheadline.com was getting its information directly from the streets.)
Later that afternoon, Vheadline.com translated a statement by the major human rights organizations of Venezuela condemning the coup and the illegal arrests of elected and political leaders by the Carmona dictatorship.
And so it went: 4:38 p.m., disturbances break out in the popular neighborhoods of the capital. 4:56 p.m., a military junta leader admits on the radio that Chávez never resigned. 6:40 p.m. "Two national dailies and a private TV station have imposed an absolute news blackout."
And, the most crucial turning point of all: rank-and-file soldiers and officers at the nation's largest Army Base in Maracay reject the military junta and begin the counter-coup (Maracay is the base where Venezuela's F16 fighter planes are hangared, and a nervous Washington began worrying about the oil fields that supply 15 percent of the United States' imported oil.)
In the streets of virtually every city and town in Venezuela, the poor, as Chávez had predicted the day before the coup, "came down from the hills."
The ocean of bodies placed itself between the dictatorship and history. Carmona's troops began firing upon crowds indiscriminately, the very behavior it had accused the Chávez government of undertaking in creating a pretext for the military coup. Morgues and hospitals filled with the dead and wounded civilians. Rank-and-file soldiers throughout the country broke ranks with the brass, reclaimed the presidential palace for the Bolivarian Revolution, and forced the high military commanders to begin to backpedal from their imposition of Carmona.
"Oh, how the poor love each other," John Reed wrote in his early 20th century classic, "Ten Days That Shook The World." The poor majority of Venezuela, unseen and unheard by the English-language media, blacked-out by the five TV stations of the oligarchs in Venezuela, had come forward to make a lie out of months of disinformation by the establishment media, which had claimed that Chavez had lost popular support.
And is this not the story of our times? A media so concerned with pandering to wealthy consumers in order to draw even wealthier advertisers that it has forgotten the very motive for the First Amendment protections it enjoys: That in democracy, all voices must be heard.
And all ears must be able to hear those voices. And all eyes must be able to see: Is that not the stated mission of the news media?
Millions of people around the world have read Narco News, but we never forget that each reading is by one set of eyes at a time. The eyes of journalist Mari Ranut in the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago - just seven miles from the Venezuela coast, in the Caribbean sea - were looking for information as these events were unfolding. Unsatisfied by the news blackout of the commercial Venezuelan oligarch-controlled media, and the inauthentic reporting of the English-language media, she turned to the Internet, and found her way to these pages. Her newspaper, Trinicenter.com, like so many other online publications, helped turn one slingshot into a thousand stones fired from all directions until the Goliath lie - "Chávez resigned" - fell to earth with a thud heard 'round the world. Authentic Journalist Mari Ranut analyzed what had just occured:
Were it not for independent Internet news sources the developing story in Venezuela would not have been made public. Without the Internet Vanguards, the coup in Venezuela and the coup of information would have gone unchecked or buried below the prejudices of many with the attitude of "Another Central American Coup, what's new".
For 48 hours the mainstream media e.g. BBC, CNN gave very little news about the grassroots support for Chávez that had taken to the street demanding his reinstatement. They did not keep the public updated as to the fact that there were three changes in leadership. Instead they tried to hammer home that Chávez (the Democratically elected leader) 'resigned', a resignation that they did not confirm as Chávez was not allowed media access. A resignation at the barrel of a gun cannot be considered valid. This was another clear case of distorted propaganda...
Now that the independent Internet medias have done their duty to inform the public, the mainstream media has no choice now but to start bringing out the bits and pieces they have been hiding. Suddenly they are showing the Pro-Chávez supporters on the streets demanding his re-instatement and as we can see it is not hundreds but thousands, many thousands more than they were showing that called for his removal...
The lessons of the hypocrisy of the American and other European Powers are being learnt quickly because the Internet is proving to be the largest pressroom ever established. The U.S. cannot shut down all the websites in the World at once; they may bomb independent media buildings or support their big businesses in gobbling up these smaller media, but the small non-commercial activists Websites are the real challenge.
The Internet shows you do not need a building that can be bombed or any easily identifiable structure to provide alternative news and views. You just need a computer, a phone line and information, and guess what, you don't have to own it. Just check your local library or Internet cafe.
The coup in Venezuela has been foiled with the aid of small independent media outlets in support of the rights of ordinary people. People must always remember this.
The fledgling movement of Authentic Journalism - above all, online journalism - broke the information blockade and refused to allow the simulation to continue.
The Bolivarian Revolution of Venezuela's poor majority has won back more, so much more, than its own country. It has delivered Washington's policy of simulation against democracy its first major defeat, and the dominoes have only begun to fall.
But perhaps even more significantly, the people of Venezuela created the conditions under which Authentic Journalism has now wrestled the microphone from a discredited commercial mass media.
No victory is final. As journalist Bill Vann notes, "An armed uprising that failed preceded the September 1973 military coup that brought down the
Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende and inaugurated General Augusto Pinochets reign of terror against the Chilean working class. That abortive action, just like the recent move against Chavez, showed how vulnerable the government was to a coup. It also provided a dress rehearsal for a real confrontation with the masses and allowed the principal figures in the military to determine which units could be relied upon and which could not."
But what we have today is a fighting chance that democracy in América did not have in 1973: the now-demonstrated ability to rise up with a thousand informational slingshots and take down the big lie.
This is not a story about "new technology," but, rather, about people, human beings, journalists, authentic journalists... Not just Narco News, or Vheadline.com, or the now-online intelligence report by a courageous former National Security Agency officer, but most importantly a decentralized slingshot army - you know who you are - that now has the microphone and will never give it up to the commercially-driven usurpers of democracy again.
The revolution has taken back the media palace, too.
Welcome, kind readers, to the 21st Century. Like the dawn of an authentic sun, we come from below.
It's morning in América. Oh, this little light of ours
Al Giordano, journalist, reports from Latin America.
Read the June 2002 Sequel to this Story:
vs. The Media
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