Challenging the Media Distortion and Blackout on Venezuela: Interview with Venezuela’s Charge D’Affaires

Edit: Dae-Han Song (English Chief Editor, The [su:p])
Copy-edit: Zoe Yungmi Blank (Editor, The (su:p)]

On February 21, the International Strategy Center together with the Justice Party’s International Progressive Politics Forum invited Arturo Hill Pinto, Charge D’Affaires of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, to converse about Venezuela. Pinto was previously a professor of Mechanical Engineering and Automation at the Central University in Caracas and Vice Minister of the Ministry of Transport and Communication.

The purpose of our event was to provide a space to expose and correct the distortions and media blackout of the reality in Venezuela. We explored how to understand Venezuela amidst the media attacks, threat of military intervention, and economic sanctions. The following is a composite of a written interview and the contents of a conversation with the Charge D’Affaires.

* On Feb. 25, the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs recognized President of the National Assembly Juan Guaido as interim President despite the lack of any legal basis. The International Strategy Center opposes the US led calls for foreign intervention against the democratically elected Nicolas Maduro government and demands the repeal of the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ declaration violating Venezuela’s sovereignty.

Photo from the event in solidarity with Venezuela.  In the front row, third from the left is Arturo Gil Pinto, the Charge D’Affaires second from the right is  Park Jae-seong, the head of the International Progressive Politics Forum.

Photo from the event in solidarity with Venezuela.
In the front row, third from the left is Arturo Gil Pinto, the Charge D’Affaires second from the right is
Park Jae-seong, the head of the International Progressive Politics Forum.

Juan Guaido is a little known politician from the extreme right wing party Popular Will. On Jan. 5th he became the president of the National Assembly. On Jan. 23, he declared himself interim President of Venezuela. Why is this tactic of the opposition being used now? What were the events, dynamics, and background that led to this moment? How did a politician from a small extreme right wing party become president of the National Assembly? Not only is the opposition supporting Guaido but so is the US, Europe (e.g. England, France), and right-wing Latin American governments. Why do you think this is?

Venezuela is continuing the revolution it started twenty years ago. And the US has been opposing and repressing it ever since then. In 2002, the opposition protests against Hugo Chavez were led by the United States. Today is a repetition of what we had in 2002 but now with Juan Guaido together with the US.

Before announcing his presidency, few people knew who Guaido was: he was a mid-level figure in a small ultra-right violent party. The only reason he is receiving so much international attention and support is because of the US’s support. Despite being a relatively minor figure in Venezuelan politics, Guaido became president of the National Assembly due to an agreement among the opposition parties. The opposition had won a majority in the National Assembly in 2015 by forming a four party coalition (Democratic Action, Justice First, Popular Will, A New Era). As part of their coalition agreement, every year, each party would appoint the National Assembly President. In 2016, the head of the Democratic Action became National Assembly president and stated he would oust Maduro within six months. In 2017, a Justice First member was president. At that time, many people had gotten hurt by the large scale violent anti-government protests. After A New Era member was president, per the agreement, Popular Will’s Juan Guiado became president[1]. On Jan. 23, he declared himself interim president of Venezuela and began protests against Maduro.

Currently, Juan Guaido is declaring himself interim president and opposing President Maduro with the support of the United States. The Constitution states that in the absence of the president, the National Assembly president becomes an interim president. However, the Maduro government was elected in 2018 through democratic elections. Thus, Juan Guaido’s self-proclamation as interim president has no legal basis. This is the Juan Guaido that the United States and the rest of the world are supporting.

Why, then has Guaido declared himself president? He did so as part of a media manipulation strategy. Despite his baseless claim to the presidency, the US supports him and then the media announces his presidency as if it’s recognized by Venezuelan law and the Venezuelan people. Five minutes after Guaido declared himself interim president, US President Trump tweeted that he would recognize Guaido as interim president. Guaido’s move had been planned in coordination with the United States. Trump had already agreed to back Guaido. Furthermore, the next day, the United States stated that all the Venezuelan companies in the US would be seized and their accounts would be frozen. Meanwhile, Venezuelans wait in lines to sign the petition “Hands Off Venezuela” and the majority of Venezuelans oppose US military intervention — facts that are left absent from most news coverage.

The premise for much of the mainstream media’s calls for foreign intervention seems to be: 1) the economic crisis in Venezuela. 2) The illegitimacy of the Maduro government. Focusing on the economic crisis, Venezuela is facing very large inflation, sanctions from the US, and shortages of medicines and essential goods. What are the causes of and solutions to these problems? How would you counter the opposition’s claims that the Maduro government is illegitimate?

The elections were a result of four months of negotiations between the government and the opposition in the Dominican Republic mediated by former presidents of Spain and the Dominican Republic. An agreement was reached, but the opposition didn’t show up when it came time to signing the agreement. After the elections were over, the opposition stated that the 2018 elections were fraudulent and thus questioned the legitimacy of the Maduro government. However, Venezuela’s electoral system has developed over several years; international observers witnessed the whole process and stated that there was nothing amiss. Despite the lack of evidence of fraud and not just approval of international observers but the recognition that Venezuelan elections are some of the most secure in the world, the elections are still being labeled as fraudulent by the opposition and the US.

Furthermore, the opposition and the powerful countries that support it state that Venezuela’s current crisis is caused by the Maduro government. However, in 2015, the Obama Administration declared Venezuela a threat to the US and enacted sanctions through executive order. But, why has the US declared Venezuela a threat to US security? Venezuela is a small country. These sanctions continued after Trump came into office: Order 13808 (Aug. 2017) prohibits the trading of Venezuelan and PDVSA bonds, Order 13827 (Mar. 2018) prohibits trade with the Venezuelan cryptocurrency Petro, Order 13850 (Nov. 2018) prohibits trade of Venezuelan gold, Order 13857 (Jan. 2019) freezes all PDVSA assets and accounts in the United states.

The mainstream media reports on the anti-government protests, but hardly covers the pro government rallies. In this way, they are creating a distorted view of Venezuela. In what ways is the media misreporting and distorting the reality about Venezuela? What is the impact of the international media and public opinion on people in Venezuela?

Pro-government rally at Petare in Miranda State on Feb. 27, 2019.  Source: Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in the Republic of Korea (Venezuela Embassy)

Pro-government rally at Petare in Miranda State on Feb. 27, 2019.
Source: Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in the Republic of Korea (Venezuela Embassy)

I get angry when I see the current distorted and manipulated media coverage. The media currently just reports the protests by the opposition. This bias can even be seen with the issue of humanitarian aid. Using Venezuela’s economic difficulties, the US says it will provide humanitarian aid as a pretext, but that’s just a way of intervening in Venezuela.

To repeat again, Venezuela is being under full frontal attack. There is a psychological component in which the media plays an important role in. There is an economic component of the attack, and also military action. So it is a comprehensive attack. A few seconds after Guaido declared himself interim president, we saw how the big media of the world, like Reuters, were all reporting it. There is a big coordinated effort by the media and the United states against Venezuela.  

The mainstream media are right now in Cucuta the border city of Colombia, preparing a huge concert with many artists, and they are planning to broadcast internationally with the support of some of the biggest magnates of the media industry like Branson from Virgin. The concert wants to “get money” for the Venezuelan people. But right next to the concert, US military planes are arriving, without any international supervision or mandate of the UN or Red Cross. However, the media is just focused on the “humanitarian aid to Venezuela”. The same media that didn’t do anything when only a few miles away from Cucuta in the Guajira of Colombia more than 4,700 children died from hunger.

Amidst the opposition and foreign intervention, media manipulation and disinformation, and low oil prices, what policies has the Maduro government carried out for the people? What are its successes and challenges? Also, in the process of building a new society, one must defend from attacks but also push forward and progress. What is the Maduro government doing to go beyond defense and into offense that can progress the Bolivarian revolution?

The big problem for Venezuela in the last four years is the economic problem: we have very high inflation and shortage of food, so the government started implementing policies that give people access to food through the communal state, the communal council. These communal councils give essential foods to each of their families. 6 million boxes of food are delivered to families every 15 days, a program that has been implemented since 2013. This covers over 90% of families in Venezuela, meaning that while there might be a shortage of various goods, there is no shortage of essential foods. Right now inside the communal council there is a process called CLAP (Local Production and Provision Committees in Spanish). The people come together and organize the production and distribution of food. It was because the traditional markets started hiding food from the people as part of an economic war that the food shortage exists.

Distribution of CLAP boxes. Source: Venezuela Embassy

Distribution of CLAP boxes. Source: Venezuela Embassy

CLAP box. Source: Venezuela Embassy

CLAP box. Source: Venezuela Embassy

A lot of people in the social movements in progressive circles around the world were very inspired by the community councils. Part of the solution to the economic war is about coming up with alternatives to the market economy.  I think this hints as to what is happening inside the country. I’ve heard people say that if you are connected to the communal councils your situation is a little bit better because there is a system in which the government can reach out to people.  If you could talk a bit about the economic war.

The economic war is very complicated. There is a shortage of food. Due to financial sanctions, the government has to pay for food and medicine in cash, which is very difficult. Due to the UN sanctions, there are a lot of delays in the import and supply of food and medicine. With CLAP, the people have food despite these conditions. However, food and gasoline are often smuggled out of Venezuela illegally, across the border into Colombia, where the Colombian government accepts it. CLAP stops that by delivering food directly to the Venezuelan people.

The Venezuelan economy is dependent on oil. So, we have very weak economic and manufacturing sectors. We import everything. So, the government is incentivizing local production of manufactured products. There is a new council of technology to boost the local production of manufactured products.   

Recently, the Maduro government declared that it was willing to dialogue with the opposition. What kind of agreement do you think the government should reach with the opposition?

So far the Maduro government has publicly stated over 400 times that it is willing to dialogue with the opposition. However, we still haven’t achieved dialogue. The Maduro government is ready for dialogue. There are various possibilities that can be negotiated. However, the Maduro government’s guiding principle is clear: everything inside the constitution; outside the constitution nothing. For example, the president is calling for new elections of the National Assembly where all parties can participate; all the factions of Venezuela can then use this new structure to create a new agreement that includes all the political parties of Venezuela.

The greatest problem is not internal. The US is blocking all dialogue with the Maduro government. There is the Montevideo mechanism — Uruguay, Mexico, all the countries of Caricom and some of the countries of Europe are calling for dialogue. But the opposition of Venezuela says it won’t dialogue because the US is closed to the idea of it.

What does the Bolivarian government of Venezuela need from people around the world at the moment?

The most pressing thing is to lift the sanctions. That’s because they are the greatest impediment to fulfilling people’s needs. I hope that progressive people around the world press their governments to call on the US to end its sanctions. Please help us lift sanctions on Venezuela.

Secondly, let others know the truth about Venezuela. Find out what is really happening in Venezuela, analyze it deeply, search for the truth, and then let others know about it. It’s this way that we will be able to overcome our various hardships. Contrary to media portrayal, there is no danger from the military within Venezuela, and the Maduro government won’t collapse. We don’t need military excursions and economic sanctions disguised as humanitarian aid. Please stand in solidarity with us in Venezuela, educate others, and help us lift economic sanctions.

  1. Popular Will’s leader Leopoldo Lopez was under house arrest. The second-in-charge, Freddy Guevara, had taken refuge in the Chilean Embassy. Juan Guaido was ultimately selected over the next in line, Juan Andrés Mejía, because “Mejía is high class, studied at one of the most expensive private universities in Venezuela, and could not be easily marketed to the public the way Guaidó could” who has stronger Mestizo features like most Venezuelans.