Deception from the Dailies on the Eve of Venezuela Referendum

The day before Sunday’s constitutional reform referendum in Venezuela, one can just feel the frustrations of the commercial media’s big players that there is really not much they can do, despite all their supposed power, to affect the outcome. Nevertheless, their clamor about Chávez’ possible “constitutional coup” (so ironic given their lack of concern over the very real military coup there six years ago) has been on the rise all week. Here are some of the most notable lies, manipulations and half-truths from Saturday’s editorials and news articles:  - “Chances for Venezuelan reforms growing slim” reports the Miami Herald.  “[T]he latest poll, taken Monday through Thursday by Venezuela's Hinterlaces firm, showed the ‘no’ vote winning by 6 percentage points in the closest scenario, and 21 points in the most lopsided, depending largely on turnout.” While reporters Casto Ocando and Casey Woods briefly make the dismissive concession that “some surveys still predict a Chávez victory on Sunday,” they completely ignore the poll by the consistently accurate Consultores 30.11 firm that came out just before the Hinterlaces survey, predicting a lead of between seven and sixteen percent (depending on turnout) for the “SI” (that is, for Chávez). They also fail to mention that the director of Datanálisis, whose poll earlier this week has been widely cited in the press, has stated
that the Chavistas could still very well win, by as much as 20 percent, despite his own firm’s finding of a “no” victory by 10 points.

 - The New York Times Saturday editorial, “Saying No to Chávez,” speaks of how “thousands of university students have taken to the streets to protest, facing down armed Chávista thugs.” This romantic, heroic image is shattered by the truth that opposition protesters have been much more violent than the Chavistas.  In Merida, four policemen and a bystander were shot during an anti-Chávez rally on November 9. On November 27, 19-year-old José Oliveros was shot to death by an opposition mob. In Caracas, the Wall Street Journal reported on a group of pro-Chávez students forced to take refuge in a classroom until they were rescued by “armed civilians” just before the room was destroyed by fire. To say that the pro-government side has a monopoly on violence is more than an exaggeration.

 - The New York Times also makes the vague statement, “Earlier polling suggested his cause would be helped by a high abstention rate, with many opponents fearful of being tagged as foes and others planning to boycott the whole thing.” This echoed a claim made by Washington Post Deputy Editorial Page Editor Jackson Diehl on November 19:  “Many people will abstain from voting rather than risk the retaliation of a regime that has systematically persecuted those who turned out against Chávez in the past,” he wrote. Now, after the signature collecting process for the 2004 recall referendum, there were a number of disturbing reports of job discrimination at government agencies towards people whose names appeared on the petitions, which became public record. Regardless of whether or not this was actually true (to which I plead ignorance), how could such a thing happen after a vote in which the ballot is completely secret?

 - Never to be outdone in the anti-Chávez department, the Wall Street Journal Saturday editorial  portrays Chávez as an absolute dictator with no popular support and the referendum as Venezuela’s path to hell. “For their part,” it reads, “Venezuelans have so little faith in an honest vote that they boycotted the 2005 legislative elections; chavista candidates won 100% of the seats.” In the WSJ’s view of things, Chávez, who has won numerous elections and enjoys constant popular support, is not a legitimate leader, but the opposition party leadership (it was the parties who boycotted those elections; opposition voters would have voted for them if they’d run) is synonymous with “Venezuelans.”

 - “The President will gain new powers to suspend due process during emergencies,” the Journal editorial bemoans among its list of grievances. This “removal of due process” scare has been cited often in media reports, but is far from accurate. The actual article up for approval reads: “In such a case [of a state of emergency], the guarantees established in this Constitution may be temporarily restricted or suspended, except for the right to life, the prohibition of torture, being held incommunicado or forced disappearance, the right to defense, to personal integrity, to be judged by one’s natural judges and not condemned to more than a 30-year sentence.” Compared to the rights afforded to, say, the detainees in Guantanamo Bay, this sounds like a good deal of protection.

 - The Journal also raises the specter of fraud in Sunday’s election: “The National Electoral Council (CNE)… presided over a crooked and non-transparent August 2004 recall referendum… Polls show most Venezuelans are also opposed, but a genuinely fair vote may be impossible. The President's electoral council controls the voter rolls, the voting machines and the ultimate count.” But as even opposition blogger Francisco Toro (who alone among the opposition’s prominent voices ultimately rejected the opposition’s debunked claims of fraud) must concede, Venezuela’s uniform, electronic voting system is extremely transparent and any fraud would be easily detectable.

And of course, none of these papers have devoted an inch of space to a real, cool-headed evaluation of the referendum’s 69 proposals and why Venezuelans might support them (for something like that, one would need to check Greg Wilpert’s expert analysis).

Stay tuned… the lies and the truth continue tomorrow…

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About Dan Feder

I was a member of the Narco News team in various capacities, from webmaster to Editor-in-Chief, from 2002-2008. Since 2006 I have also been a member of the International Peace Observatory, which performs human rights accompaniment for Colombian campesino organizations in conflict zones. I am now living in Boston and working as a website developer for DigitalAid, Inc.