Dashiki Dialogues: A déjà vu political dialogue in Venezuela

2013-04-22 10:00

This week’s media reports of post-election violence in Venezuela put issues of media credibility on the dinner table in my circles.

It seemed many found it difficult to readily take the news as an honest reflection of events there.

To a degree, I understand why people are taking these reports with a pinch of salt. The privately owned media in Venezuela has a history of bias towards the interests of the elite.

A bit of context. Venezuela, which has the world’s largest proven oil reserves, voted last week to replace its late president, Hugo Chávez. This just more than a month since Chávez was laid to rest.

The election ended in a narrow win for his chosen successor, Nicolás Maduro. Against him was Henrique Capriles, the opposition leader who lost to Chávez in the previous elections.

Capriles and his allies are now demanding a recount. Eight people were reportedly killed and dozens more were injured in the clashes that followed.

I watched these TV images with a sense of déjà vu, as I remembered the failed anti-majoritarian coup of April 2002, when a constellation of business leaders, army generals and some opposition politicians toppled the government.

They installed the powerful businessman and then head of the Venezuelan Federation of Chambers of Commerce, Pedro Carmona, as de facto leader. He was president for a day – from April?12 to April 13 – while Chávez was kidnapped.

On April 11, the dominant and privately owned RCTV received information that Chávez had been kidnapped and was being held in a military prison.

But they chose to withhold that information from the public and instead celebrated Chávez’s “resignation”.

We know this thanks to a TV crew from Ireland’s national broadcaster, RTÉ, which happened to be recording a documentary about Chávez during the events of April 11 2002.

During their filming, the crew captured images of events that contradicted explanations given by Venezuela’s opposition politicians, the US state department, then White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, as well as the country’s private media.

They had been reporting news of state-sponsored violence when the truth was the opposite. Thanks to the combination of a massive public uprising and some military loyalists in the presidential guard, the democratically elected Chávez government was restored.

Carmona was arrested, but he escaped house arrest and fled, first to Colombia then to the US.

Maduro’s dashiki may not be the same as Chávez’s, but the political dialogue seems the same.

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