Chomsky on Chavez and Venezuela

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Chomsky on Chavez | 2007

‘Extreme Dishonesty’ — The Guardian, Noam Chomsky and Venezuela

The headline of last Sunday’s Observer article on Venezuela set the tone for the slanted and opportunistic piece of political ‘reporting’ that followed:

‘Noam Chomsky denounces old friend Hugo Chávez for ”assault” on democracy’.

Reporter Rory Carroll, the Guardian’s South America correspondent, had just interviewed Chomsky and set about twisting the conversation into a propaganda piece. (For non-UK readers who may not know: the Observer is the Sunday sister publication of the Guardian newspaper).

Carroll’s skewed view was clear and upfront in his article:

‘Chomsky has accused the socialist leader of amassing too much power and of making an ”assault” on Venezuela’s democracy.’

As we will see shortly, this was a highly partial and misleading account of Chomsky’s full remarks, leading him to declare afterwards that the newspaper had displayed ‘extreme dishonesty’ and that Carroll’s article was ‘quite deceptive’.

The news hook was the publication of an open letter by Chomsky pleading for the release of Venezuelan judge María Lourdes Afiuni who is suffering from cancer. Afiuni, explains Carroll, ‘earned Chávez’s ire in December 2009 by freeing Eligio Cedeño, a prominent banker facing corruption charges.’ After just over a year in jail, awaiting trial on charges of corruption, the Venezuelan authorities ‘softened her confinement to house arrest’.

Let’s begin with the headline: complete deception. That continues throughout. You can tell by simply comparing the actual quotes with their comments. As I mentioned, and expected, the NY Times report of a similar interview is much more honest, again revealing the extreme dishonesty of the Guardian.

In fact the very next day after Carroll’s article appeared, and no doubt stung by the rising tide of internet-based criticism, the Guardian took the unusual step of publishing what is presumably a full transcript of the interview. (Also unusually, the Guardian did not allow reader comments to be posted under the transcript.)

But the transcript only served to prove Chomsky’s point about the ‘deceptive’ nature of the printed article. His comparisons to the justice system in the United States – in particular, the torture and abuse of Bradley Manning – were edited out. Carroll had asked him about the intervention of the Venezuelan executive in demanding a long jail sentence for Judge Afiuni. Chomsky replied:

Venezuela has come under vicious, unremitting attack by the United States and the west generally – in the media and even in policy. After all the United States sponsored a military coup [in 2002] which failed and since then has been engaged in extensive subversion. And the onslaught […] against Venezuela in commentary is grotesque.’

‘I think what’s happened in Latin America in the past 10 years is probably the most exciting and positive development to take place in the world. For 500 years, since European explorers came, Latin American countries had been separated from one another. They had very limited relations. Integration is a prerequisite for independence. Furthermore internally there was a model that was followed pretty closely by each of the countries: a very small Europeanised, often white elite that concentrated enormous wealth in the midst of incredible poverty. And this is a region, especially South America, which are very rich in resources which you would expect under proper conditions to develop far better than east Asia for example but it hasn’t happened.’

Noam Chomsky Meets with Chavez in Venezuela

The nearly finalized deal to allow the U.S. to increase its military presence on Colombian bases ”is only part of a much broader effort to restore Washington’s capacity for intervention,” said Chomsky.

According to Chomsky, the region has the capacity to unite and form a ”peace zone” in which foreign militaries are forbidden to operate. ”Venezuela can help to advance this proposal, but it cannot do it alone,” he said.

”The transformations that Venezuela is making toward the creation of another socio-economic model could have a global impact if these projects are successfully carried out,” said the renowned author.

Historical Perspectives on Latin American and East Asian Regional Development

Actually, the comparison to East Asia is very striking. Latin America is potentially a much richer area. I mean, a century ago, it was taken for granted that Brazil would be what was called the “Colossus of the South,” comparable to the Colossus of the North. Haiti, now one of the poorest countries in the world, was the richest colony in the world, a source of much of France’s wealth, now devastated, first by France, then by the United States. And Venezuela — enormous wealth — was taken over by the United States around 1920, right at the beginning of the oil age, It had been a British dependency, but Woodrow Wilson kicked the British out, recognizing that control of oil was going to be important, and supported a vicious dictator. From that point, more or less, it goes on until the present. So the resources and the potential were always there. Very rich.

In contrast, East Asia had almost no resources, but they followed a different developmental path. In Latin America, imports were luxury goods for the rich. In East Asia, they were capital goods for development. They had state-coordinated development programs. They disregarded the Washington Consensus almost totally. Capital controls, controls on export of capital, pretty egalitarian societies — authoritarian, sometimes, pretty harsh — but educational programs, health programs, and so on. In fact, they followed pretty much the developmental paths of the currently wealthy countries, which are radically different from the rules that are being imposed on the South.

The neoliberal methods created the third world, and in the past 30 years, they have led to disasters in Latin America and southern Africa, the places that most rigorously adhered to them. But there was growth and development in East Asia, which disregarded them, following instead pretty much the model of the currently rich countries.

Well, there’s a chance that that will begin to change. There are finally efforts inside South America — unfortunately not in Central America, which has just been pretty much devastated by the terror of the ’80s particularly. But in South America, from Venezuela to Argentina, it’s, I think, the most exciting place in the world. After 500 years, there’s a beginning of efforts to overcome these overwhelming problems. The integration that’s taking place is one example.

There are efforts of the Indian population. The indigenous population is, for the first time in hundreds of years, in some countries really beginning to take a very active role in their own affairs. In Bolivia, they succeeded in taking over the country, controlling their resources. It’s also leading to significant democratization, real democracy, in which the population participates. So it takes a Bolivia — it’s the poorest country in South America (Haiti is poorer in the hemisphere). It had a real democratic election last year, of a kind that you can’t imagine in the United States, or in Europe, for that matter. There was mass popular participation, and people knew what the issues were. The issues were crystal clear and very important. And people didn’t just participate on election day. These are the things they had been struggling about for years. Actually, Cochabamba is a symbol of it.

Subordinate and Non-Subordinate States

K.M. – In one of his recent speeches, Hasan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hizbullah, spoke of solidarity with the resistance movement in the occupied territories and with “our brother Chavez.” Let us speak about the common link that brings people on different sides of the Atlantic, and of different ideological background, together.

N.C. – The common thing that brings them together is that they do not subordinate themselves to US power. Hizbullah knows perfectly well that they’re not going to get help from Venezuela, but the fact that they are both following a course independently of US power and, in fact, in defiance to US orders, links them together.

The US has been trying, unsuccessfully, to topple the Cuban government for more than 45 years now and it remains. The rise of Chavez to power was very frightening to US elites. He has an enormous popular support. The level of support for the elected government in Venezuela has risen very sharply and it is now at the highest in Latin America. And Chavez is following an independent course. He’s doing a lot of things that the US doesn’t like a bit. For example, Argentina, which was driven to total ruin by following IMF orders, has slowly been reconstructing itself by rejecting IMF rules, and has wanted to pay off its debt to rid itself of the IMF. Chavez helped them, and he bought a substantial part of the Argentine debt. To rid oneself from the IMF means to rid oneself from one of the two modalities of control employed by the US: violence and economic force. Yesterday, Bolivia nationalized its gas reserves; the US is only (only??) opposed to that. And Bolivia was able to do that partly because of Venezuelan support.

If countries move in a direction of independent nationalism, that is regarded as unacceptable. Why did the US want to destroy Nasser? Was it because he was more violent and tyrannical than other leaders? The problem was that it was an independent secular nationalism. That just can’t be accepted.