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June 2002 (Volume 54, Number 2)

» Notes from the Editors
June 2002 (Volume 54, Number 2)

In the May issue of MR, we published an article by James Petras, written in March, entitled “The U.S. Offensive in Latin America.” The article raised the issue of an impending military coup in Venezuela, then being actively promoted by Washington, aimed at replacing the democratically elected president Hugo Chávez with what the Bush administration had already been publicly calling a “transitional government” (or, as Petras termed it, a “transitional civic-military junta”). “Washington,” Petras wrote, “is implementing a civil-military approach to overthrow President Chávez in Venezuela….U.S. strategy is multiphased and combines media, civic, and economic attacks with efforts to provoke fissures in the military, all aimed at encouraging a military coup.” The object of the coup, from Washington’s standpoint, was threefold: to regain control of Venezuela’s oil industry which accounts for 15 percent of U.S. oil imports, to eliminate the indirect support that Venezuela has been giving to guerrillas in Colombia and to insurgent forces in Ecuador, and to put an end to Chávez’s attempt to break away from the imperialistic network—Venezuela’s step toward independence.

On April 12, while Petras’ May MR article was still at the printer, the military coup took place. It received the immediate backing of the U.S. government (with Otto Reich, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, giving advice to the head of the new civic-military junta over the phone) and the strong praise of the mass media in the United States. But then, in one of the most surprising and encouraging developments in recent Latin American history, a massive popular uprising, coupled with the actions of those segments of the military loyal to the elected government, restored President Chávez to power within less than forty-eight hours. According to the Wall Street Journal (April 15, 2002), “members of the middle class and business executives” backed the coup, while Chávez’s “core of supporters,” who through their widespread protests restored him to power, consisted of “poor workers from the sprawling shantytowns as well as peasants from the countryside.”

Eager to see Chávez overthrown, the U.S. corporate media establishment had wasted no time in voicing their support for the military coup against Venezuela’s elected government, declaring it a major step forward for democracy. The New York Times, as the paper of record, led the way, editorializing in its April 13, 2002 issue, that “with yesterday’s resignation [sic] of President Hugo Chávez, Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator. Mr. Chávez, a ruinous demagogue, stepped down after the military intervened and handed power to a respected business leader, Pedro Carmona.” Insisting that Chávez’s “removal was a purely Venezuelan affair,” the New York Times, let it be known from the very moment that the coup took place that there could be no thought of possible U.S. involvement. Indeed, rather than openly admit that a democratic government had been deposed by a military coup, the Times attempted to give Chávez’s removal legitimacy by declaring that he had “alienated virtually every constituency” and thus had forfeited any claims to be seen as a democratic leader. The fact that the new civic-military junta had within a few hours deposed not only the president but also the National Assembly, the Supreme Court, and nearly all local officials, setting aside the Venezuelan Constitution itself, was news not fit to editorialize upon—as if these were simply steps on the path to true democracy.

The events of the following day, during which popular uprisings swept Chávez back into power, caught the U.S. government and the dominant U.S. media outlets still supporting the failed military coup. Subsequently, the Bush administration and the corporate media did their best to backtrack and save face. By April 16, the New York Times, while still insisting that Chávez has been a “divisive and demagogic leader” (their words for a popular elected leader opposed to Washington’s imperial designs), acknowledged that it had improperly applauded the removal by military means of a democratically elected government. As the Times editorial page put it: “That reaction [the very positive response to Chávez’s removal from power on the part of official Washington], which we shared, overlooked the undemocratic manner in which he was removed. Forcibly unseating a democratically elected leader, no matter how badly he has performed, is never something to cheer.”

Nonetheless, the New York Times had cheered—and without for a moment “overlooking” the fact that Chávez had been militarily deposed. It would undoubtedly cheer again if there were another similar reversal in Chávez’s fortunes. How else to respond to a leader that, as the Times pointed out in the same April 16 editorial, has supported left-wing guerillas in an adjacent country, created an alliance with Cuba’s Fidel Castro, and increasingly allowed Venezuela, “one of the world’s largest oil producers” that “desperately needs a steady hand in the presidential palace,” to succumb to the “confrontational agenda” of its lower classes? To act in any other way would not have been in the interests of the U.S. ruling class, which the New York Times, along with the rest of the corporate media, so dutifully serves.

MR coeditor John Bellamy Foster will be giving a talk on “Capitalism and Ecology” at the Socialism 2002 conference in Chicago on June 15. Other speakers will include MR authors David Barsamian, Patrick Bond, and Leo Panitch (coeditor of The Socialist Register). For more information on the conference see http://www.socialism2002.org. John will also be speaking on the topic of “Marx’s Ecology” at the Marxism 2002 conference in London in July. For more information on that conference see http://www.swp.org.uk/Marxism/.

Public Broadcasting is now largely driven by the same commercial forces that determine programming on the commercial networks and cable stations. It has few openings for programs that offer opposing or radical views. But last year, an MR reader who had seen a documentary at the Socialist Scholars Conference on the history of the socialist and communist anthem, The Internationale, recommended it to the programmers of New York’s Channel Thirteen and it was aired. After its broadcast, a large number of calls were received by Thirteen’s viewer response line. As a consequence, the management of WNET rebroadcast this truly wonderful program and now PBS has picked it up for its optional national viewing schedule. Readers outside the greater New York area should ask their local public TV stations about it.

Newsstand copies of MR have been available over the years through two distributors, B. DeBoer Inc. (NewJersey) and Armadillo and Co. (California), with whom we have developed warm relationships. However, some bookstores (including used bookstores) that have indicated an interest in carrying the magazine have found it difficult to do so either for geographical reasons or because they do not normally carry newsstand magazines but would like to make an exception for MR. We are therefore happy to announce that one of the biggest distributors in this country of books and periodicals, Ingram, has recently taken on MR for distribution. Those interested in obtaining copies of the magazine via this route may contact Ingram at (800) 627-6247. For further information see the box on the inside back cover of this issue or contact Martin Paddio (mreview [at] igc.org) at (212) 691-2555.

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