The Slanted Media Coverage of the Venezuelan Political Crisis
On February 5, 2019, evil dictator Nicolas Maduro blocked humanitarian aid from getting to his starving people, simply because he is an abhorrent, horrendous despot. The Tienditas Bridge, connecting Columbia to Venezuela, has become a microcosm of the broader conflict between good and evil, light and darkness, freedom and despair. Out of pure compassion for the impoverished and disfranchised, the altruistic United States waits for the bridge to reopen, so they can bring food and medicine to Maduro’s victims. If nothing changes soon, then Trump will be left with no choice but to intervene militarily, depose the tyrant and liberate the population from socialist terror.
That’s the narrative coming from the U.S. mainstream media, anyway. Whether it’s from CNN, MSNBC or Fox News, all of the legacy outlets have parroted more or less the same story about Venezuela for weeks. But what every damning headline forgets to include are four very inconvenient facts that completely flip the script and turn the benevolent humanitarians into nefarious aggressors.
Inconvenient Fact #1: The Bridge Has Been Closed for Years
Currently, the bridge is closed off by some fencing, a few concrete blocks, two containers and an oil tanker. It was first built in 2016, and the fencing and concrete have been blocking the entry and exit since at least 2017. All Maduro did was reinforce the barrier with the containers and oil tanker prior to the aid shipment arriving at the border—a politically motivated move, and symbolic statement to foreign governments. It only takes five minutes of investigation on Google Maps to discover this truth, yet almost every major American news anchor has framed Maduro’s actions as suddenly shutting down a previously active bridge to prevent Venezuelans from accessing food and medicine. Some outlets like the BBC even used the words, “reopen the bridge,” before correcting themselves weeks later. But the damage was already done.
Inconvenient Fact #2: Maduro is Willing to Accept Humanitarian Aid
Despite reporting from CNBC that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will not take part in a delivery effort because of its “shared principles of neutrality, impartiality, and independence,” the ICRC is currently providing aid to Venezuela. In fact, it has been operating there since 1966, and doubled its budget for the region in 2019. The ICRC website elaborates, “We are ready to bring humanitarian aid to Venezuela provided that all stakeholders agree on the ICRC’s and the Red Cross’ role, that it is strictly based on needs and delivered to all those who need it with strict impartiality. We will continue to work through our usual channels to bring assistance according to our principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence.”
So the ICRC refuses to participate in the U.S. political stunt because it is just that, a stunt, and the aid would almost certainly be delivered discriminantly to opposition forces disloyal to Maduro. CNBC wasn’t just being misleading, however. They outright lied when quoting political analyst Diego Moya-Ocampos, “Food has been used as a political weapon to control the population and [is] one of the many reasons Maduro has not allowed humanitarian aid into the country.” The ICRC aside, other contributors of aid include the World Health Organization, the UN Children’s Fund, the Norwegian Refugee Service, the European Commission, and the Russian government, among many others. The message is clear; if you genuinely want to provide aid without simultaneously ousting Maduro from office, then you are welcome in Venezuela.
Furthermore, the Trump administration unequivocally has ulterior, non-humanitarian motives. Alexandra Boivin, the ICRC delegation head for the United States and Canada, says the ICRC had told U.S. officials that whatever plans “they have to help Venezuela, it must be shielded from this political conversation. It is obviously a very difficult conversation to have with the U.S. We are there also to make clear the risks of the path being taken, the limits of our ability to operate in such an environment.” She admonishes the U.S. not to approach Venezuela in a politically charged fashion, and that’s exactly what they decided to do. If that doesn’t convince you of Trump’s lack of concern for the well-being of the Venezuelan people, maybe a statement he made just after entering office will. When senior White House officials informed Trump that a massive debt crisis would occur soon after the end of his second term if the U.S. did not change its trajectory, he bluntly replied, “Yeah, but I won’t be here.” If the president doesn’t care about his own people, why would he care so deeply about the Venezuelans?
Inconvenient Fact #3: U.S. Sanctions Crush Any Aid Package
The shipment of aid waiting to cross Tienditas Bridge is worth about $20 million. U.S. economic sanctions on Venezuela began under the Obama Administration and precipitated under Trump, costing the Latin American country approximately $30 million every day. Even if Maduro allowed the U.S. aid in, the benefits would be outweighed by the costs imposed by the same people sending the aid in less than one day. The sanctions did not cause Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis, but they have certainly exacerbated it. UN appointed Rights Expert and Special Reporter Idriss Jazairy said that, “Sanctions which can lead to starvation and medical shortages are not the answer to the crisis in Venezuela. I am especially concerned to hear reports that these sanctions are aimed at changing the government of Venezuela. Precipitating an economic and humanitarian crisis…is not a foundation for the peaceful settlement of disputes. Such ‘coercion’ by outside powers ‘is in violation of all norms of international law.’”
Additionally, a former UN reporter called the sanctions on Venezuela “economic warfare” that amounts to a “crime against humanity” and a “medieval siege.” But these are not the voices you hear on the mainstream media.
Inconvenient Fact #4: Elliott Abrams is a War Criminal
In January, Trump appointed Elliott Abrams as the U.S. special envoy to Venezuela, prompting a muffled outcry from any progressive with a memory of U.S. foreign policy in Latin America. Under the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations, Abrams served as an amalgamation of Joseph Goebbels and Heinrich Himmler for the State Department and National Security Council. His titles were commonly related to human rights or democracy, though he eagerly spat in the faces of both. When he first took office in 1981, he immediately got to work supporting and covering up the brutal genocide of 75,000 people by the Salvadoran government. When the U.S. deported refugees to almost certain death back home, Abrams denied any such danger. After the U.S. overthrew the democratically elected government of Guatemala in 1954, the country was tyrannized by a series of military dictatorships which slaughtered almost 200,000 people by 1996. Abrams called for the lifting of an arms embargo on Guatemala and fully supported the regime.
Abrams’ most poignant accolade was his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair. In 1986, he orchestrated the transfer of arms from Iran to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua, where the new Sandinista government ousted a U.S.-backed military dictatorship just seven years earlier. He subsequently lied to Congress about his involvement and was sentenced to 100 hours of community service in 1991, only to be pardoned by Bush. Now that he is influencing policy towards Venezuela, it seems he hasn’t changed a bit. On February 3, Venezuelan authorities claimed to have discovered a crate full of weapons in a cargo plane that flew from Miami to an international airport in Valencia. The plane was owned by 21 Air, a company with two planes who only began flying to Venezuela and Columbia in January. Before then, they stayed inside the continental U.S. This is already extremely suspicious, but it also has clear precedent. In the 1950s and 60s, the CIA used Air America, a cover company, to deliver goods to Southeast Asia covertly.
A Dark Future for Venezuela
The mainstream media does not function independently. Rather it is an arm of the state. Government officials serving corporate powers produce a narrative favorable to their interests, then funnel it down to CNN, Fox and all the others who propagandize to the public. Because we live in a liberal democracy, the state has two methods of enacting malignant policies: they can hide it from public scrutiny, or they can convince the public that it is a good idea. We are presently witnessing the latter take place in regards to some form of a military intervention in Venezuela, with news outlets manufacturing popular consent for such a measure by vomiting out the same soapbox sanctimony they used before the wars in Vietnam, Panama, Iraq, Libya, and Syria. Americans often refer to CNN as the “left-wing Fox News,” but it is this myth of a liberal media that blinds people to the most important biases slipped into their drink. While the media puts on a dramatic show of disagreeing over Trump’s tweets, you don’t notice that they agree on aggressive foreign policy. With bloodthirsty hawks littering the administration, Venezuela may be Trump’s war.
The American people are being primed for military action every day that Trump, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo and Mike Pence appear on millions of television screens to repeat the words, “All options are on the table.” Trump has made direct threats to the Venezuelan military, telling them that if they do not join the opposition they will “lose everything,” and they will find “no safe harbor, no easy exit, and no way out.” Bolton even went as far as writing the words, “5000 troops to Columbia,” on a notepad, which he was photographed holding in January. Although it can be frustrating to hopelessly watch the machine turn its gears, repeating America’s most shameful history once more, it cannot be stressed how important it is to remain vigilant and scrutinize distorted perceptions of the third world created by the corporate media and all of the institutions who back them.
Christopher Tolve is a sophomore writing major who’s not afraid to spill the tea on the mainstream media. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.