Saturday, August 18, 2007

The old Iran-Contra death squad gang is desperate

Democracy and hope in Latin America have been revived by Venezuela's leader. But the forces allied against him are formidable

John Pilger
Friday August 17, 2007

I walked with Roberto Navarrete into the national
stadium in Santiago, Chile. With the southern winter's
wind skating down from the Andes, it was empty and
ghostly. Little had changed, he said: the chicken wire,
the broken seats, the tunnel to the changing rooms from
which the screams echoed. We stopped at a large number
28. "This is where I was, facing the scoreboard. This is
where I was called to be tortured."

Thousands of "the detained and the disappeared" were
imprisoned in the stadium following the Washington-
backed coup by General Pinochet against the democracy of
Salvador Allende on September 11 1973. For the majority
people of Latin America, the abandonados, the infamy and
historical lesson of the first "9/11" have never been
forgotten. "In the Allende years, we had a hope the
human spirit would triumph," said Roberto. "But in Latin
America those believing they are born to rule behave
with such brutality to defend their rights, their
property, their hold over society that they approach
true fascism. People who are well-dressed, whose houses
are full of food, bang pots in the streets in protest as
though they don't have anything. This is what we had in
Chile 36 years ago. This is what we see in Venezuela
today. It is as if Chávez is Allende. It is so evocative
for me."

In making my film The War on Democracy, I sought the
help of Chileans like Roberto and his family, and Sara
de Witt, who courageously returned with me to the
torture chambers at Villa Grimaldi, which she somehow
survived. Together with other Latin Americans who knew
the tyrannies, they bear witness to the pattern and
meaning of the propaganda and lies now aimed at
undermining another epic bid to renew both democracy and
freedom on the continent.

The disinformation that helped destroy Allende and give
rise to Pinochet's horrors worked the same in Nicaragua,
where the Sandinistas had the temerity to implement
modest, popular reforms. In both countries, the CIA
funded the leading opposition media, although they need
not have bothered. In Nicaragua, the fake martyrdom of
La Prensa became a cause for North America's leading
liberal journalists, who seriously debated whether a
poverty-stricken country of 3 million peasants posed a
"threat" to the United States. Ronald Reagan agreed and
declared a state of emergency to combat the monster at
the gates. In Britain, whose Thatcher government
"absolutely endorsed" US policy, the standard censorship
by omission applied. In examining 500 articles that
dealt with Nicaragua in the early 1980s, the historian
Mark Curtis found an almost universal suppression of the
achievements of the Sandinista government - "remarkable
by any standards" - in favour of the falsehood of "the
threat of a communist takeover".

The similarities in the campaign against the phenomenal
rise of popular democratic movements today are striking.
Aimed principally at Venezuela, especially Chávez, the
virulence of the attacks suggests that something
exciting is taking place; and it is. Thousands of poor
Venezuelans are seeing a doctor for the first time in
their lives, having their children immunised and
drinking clean water. New universities have opened their
doors to the poor, breaking the privilege of competitive
institutions effectively controlled by a "middle class"
in a country where there is no middle. In barrio La
Línea, Beatrice Balazo told me her children were the
first generation of the poor to attend a full day's
school. "I have seen their confidence blossom like
flowers," she said. One night in barrio La Vega, in a
bare room beneath a single lightbulb, I watched Mavis
Mendez, aged 94, learn to write her own name for the
first time.

More than 25,000 communal councils have been set up in
parallel to the old, corrupt local bureaucracies. Many
are spectacles of raw grassroots democracy. Spokespeople
are elected, yet all decisions, ideas and spending have
to be approved by a community assembly. In towns long
controlled by oligarchs and their servile media, this
explosion of popular power has begun to change lives in
the way Beatrice described.

It is this new confidence of Venezuela's "invisible
people" that has so inflamed those who live in suburbs
called country club. Behind their walls and dogs, they
remind me of white South Africans. Venezuela's wild west
media is mostly theirs; 80% of broadcasting and almost
all the 118 newspaper companies are privately owned.
Until recently one television shock jock liked to call
Chávez, who is mixed race, a "monkey". Front pages
depict the president as Hitler, or as Stalin (the
connection being that both like babies). Among
broadcasters crying censorship loudest are those
bankrolled by the National Endowment for Democracy, the
CIA in spirit if not name. "We had a deadly weapon, the
media," said an admiral who was one of the coup plotters
in 2002. The TV station, RCTV, never prosecuted for its
part in the attempt to overthrow the elected government,
lost only its terrestrial licence and is still
broadcasting on satellite and cable.

Yet, as in Nicaragua, the "treatment" of RCTV is a cause
celebre for those in Britain and the US affronted by the
sheer audacity and popularity of Chávez, whom they smear
as "power crazed" and a "tyrant". That he is the
authentic product of a popular awakening is suppressed.
Even the description of him as a "radical socialist",
usually in the pejorative, wilfully ignores the fact
that he is a nationalist and social democrat, a label
many in Britain's Labour party were once proud to wear.

In Washington, the old Iran-Contra death squad gang,
back in power under Bush, fear the economic bridges
Chávez is building in the region, such as the use of
Venezuela's oil revenue to end IMF slavery. That he
maintains a neoliberal economy, described by the
American Banker as "the envy of the banking world" is
seldom raised as valid criticism of his limited reforms.
These days, of course, any true reforms are exotic. And
as liberal elites under Blair and Bush fail to defend
their own basic liberties, they watch the very concept
of democracy as a liberal preserve challenged on a
continent about which Richard Nixon once said "people
don't give a shit". However much they play the man,
Chávez, their arrogance cannot accept that the seed of
Rousseau's idea of direct popular sovereignty may have
been planted among the poorest, yet again, and "the hope
of the human spirit", of which Roberto spoke in the
stadium, has returned.

* The War on Democracy, directed by Christopher Martin
and John Pilger, will be shown on ITV on Monday at 11pm.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thank you, thank you. I hope for Democracy and direct popular sovereignty here in the USA.
--paul Staneslow