Coup Attempt in Ecuador Defeated

I recieved this update from VSC on the situation in Ecuador last night:

Initial reports today inform that sections of the Ecuadorean Police are staging street demonstrations, ostensibly for economic demands but in reality trying to subvert the legal order, including through trying to occupy the National Parliament. Additionally, in open revolt against the government, some police officers have taken illegal control over their police stations.

There are also reports that members of the Quito army barracks in the capital city occupied these barracks in open mutiny against the government. In response, President Rafael Correa went to the barracks to talk to the rebels and was attacked by CS gas which exploded near his face. The President is now in the hospital of the Quito Regiment, with minor concussions but well. The armed forces have him under their control in the Quito barracks.

In a clearly orchestrated action of open rebellion, members of the armed forces also took control and closed the Mariscal Antonio José de Sucre airport.

In response to these developments, on live TV through TELESUR at about 18 hrs (GMT) President Rafael Correa said: “It’s a coup d’etat, a conspiracy organised by the opposition.” President Correa hinted that UNASUR was likely to hold an emergency meeting to defend the democratic order that is under threat in Ecuador and also said that police officers supportive of the revolt were trying to get to his hospital room to attack him. He added that he was standing firm in the defence of the democratic order in Ecuador and there was no way he would capitulate, and that he could only lose his life.

The Foreign Affairs minister has called upon people to march to the hospital to protect the life of the President. Mass demonstrations are now taking place in the whole of Ecuador in support of the legitimate and democratically-elected government of President Correa. People are currently congregating around the Quito barracks hospital to protect the President.

President Correa and his government have won every single democratic election since his election in 2006. The government has expanded democracy and implemented policies to redistribute income to the poor, benefiting millions of people hitherto socially excluded. The country has also had a new constitution overwhelmingly approved at a national referendum, which is deemed to be one of the greenest and most progressive constitutions in the world.

Venezuela Solidarity Campaign

Thankfully, the coup has since been defeated:

The military has freed Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa and the attempted coup in Ecaudor against the elected government is over. Troops loyal to Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa have freed him from the military hospital where he was previously held hostage by right-wing coup police. Five troops were injured during the rescue operation but no soldier was killed.

Thousands of people gathered in Quito in support of the president and against the coup. Once released, Correa addressed a large number of triumphant supporters gathered at the Plaza of Independence in Quito chanting: “El pueblo unido jamás… será vencido!” (“The people united will never be defeated!”).

“What loyalty, what support! This will serve as an example for those who want to stop the revolution not through the ballot box but with weapons,” said President Correa.

Additionally, Ecuador’s police commander General Freddy Martinez has now resigned. About 50 people, including Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino, were injured on Thursday during clashes between the rebel police and supporters of the Ecuadoran president.

Support for Correa has been strong internationally and regionally, with the Organization of American States making a strong statement and heads of state of members of UNASUR had planned on travelling to Ecuador if necessary. Hugo Chavez, the Venezulean president, described the unrest as “an effort to overthrow President Correa,” adding that “together with the people of Latin America and the Caribbean we will be vigilant and standing in solidarity [with Correa] in this historic moment.”

Venezuela Solidarity Campaign

The defeat of the coup should be celebrated. However, it’s also an alarming reminder that the social progress made in Latin America by the tide of Leftist governments needs our solidarity.


Venezuela and the Media

I recently spoke at a showing of Oliver Stone’s new film, South of the Border, in York. The opening scenes of the film comically highlight the delusional things that are said about Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan President, and the huge American media bias against him and the governing Venezuelan United Socialist Party (PSUV). The media distortions surrounding Venezuelan politics, particularly Hugo Chavez himself, are not just peculiar to Venezuelan and American television, but also the so-called Left/liberal media in Britain. In recent times, the views expressed have been far from the comedic “satire” constituting Stone’s introductory sequence, but supposedly serious critiques of Chavez’s alleged “dismantling” of democratic processes. Unfortunately, these “critiques” are often one-sided or neglect to mention the context to a particular event in Venezuela’s political history. Most interesting, and ideological, is the failure of these reports to accurately represent the relative power of the state, the government and the interests of private capital. Indeed, sometimes these power relations are represented as fantastically inverted.

A paragraph from Francisco Toro’s latest comment piece in the Guardian is a case in point:

The five state TV channels, the dozens of state-backed “community radio” stations and a slew of state newspapers are unembarrassed to act as the propaganda arm of the ruling party, openly campaigning for the ruling party. Meanwhile, people who oppose the government on TV find themselves facing obscure criminal charges and radio stations that broadcast critical content are shut down en masse.

The BBC, to whom Toro links with the words “themselves facing obscure criminal charges”, goes so far as to say the following in relation to the arrest of the businessman, Guillermo Zuloaga:

Mr Zuloaga owns Globovision, the only television channel to remain openly critical of the government.

The suggestion that there is only one television channel that remains “openly critical” of the government is a fantasy. The last report from the European Union on Venezuelan elections said the following:

The Venezuelan media display a great diversity of political opinions. However, considered individually, the main media outlets only exceptionally referred to the various political actors in a manner which could be considered both fair and balanced. Most of the private media tended to offer more space to the views of the political forces critical of the Government, and when expressing their political preferences, they often disregarded basic journalistic principles.

Even the measured words of the EU report to an extent belie the reality. RCTV, one of Venezuela’s largest privately owned networks was instrumental in the coup d’état of 2002. The coup ousted Chavez for a mere 47 hours, until nearly 1 million people marched on the Presidential Palace, many of whom came from the poorest barrios of Caracas, to demand his reinstatement (in 2009, it was my privilege to visit Caracas and meet some of these people). The private media actively militates against Venezuela’s legitimate government – the PSUV (both the Carter institute and EU observers have indicated Venezuelan elections are free and fair). In this respect, one can view the so-called propagandising of the state media as the ideological self-defence of the elected government. Without it, opposition propaganda would hegemonize all public discourse.

Of course, this charged and polarised public sphere is not a desirable feature of Venezuelan political life. However, it is an obvious corollary of the political struggles occurring in Venezuela. Before Chavez’s ascendancy to power, 80% of Venezuelan’s lived in poverty or absolute poverty. Since 1998, the Chavez administration has pulled 2 million people out of poverty and levels of extreme poverty have been cut in half. Extensive social programmes, including the implementation of universal healthcare and an education system free of charge all the way up to, and including, higher education, have also increased the living standards of Venezuela’s poor majority. This radical social agenda has relied heavily on breaking with IMF economic policies and redistributing Venezuela’s oil wealth. Naturally, this has ruptured the Venezuelan political and economic consensus and attracted the ire of elite interests – the same interests controlling Venezuela’s privately owned media networks.

It’s in this respect that Toro’s scathing reference to the ‘community radio stations’ is misleading. The state facilitates the creation of TV and radio stations run by independent groups of Venezuelans. More often than not, these stations broadcast into, and are managed by those living in, the barrios. In this respect, it’s understandable that they have a pro-government bias. The PSUV draws overwhelming support from the barrios, for the reason that Chavez’s social and economic reforms have made the lives of millions of poor Venezuelan’s infinitely better. Support for Chavez is a result of common sense reasoning on behalf of these Venezuelans. To equate the limited broadcast range of these stations, and the interests they represent, with the economic might of the Venezuelan private media is certainly gratuitous.

Venezuela’s polarised public sphere, then, is not a function of a belligerent government, hell bent on turning Venezuela into a dictatorship. The use of state means to publicise the Bolivarian revolution’s extensive achievements is a reaction to the already existing, overwhelmingly hostile media environment. The PSUV and the interests of big capital are in the middle of an ideological war – the former is using its limited propaganda arsenal to defend itself from the media Howitzers of the latter. As in 2002, this struggle can break into open physical conflict (although it is worth noting that this was initiated by the opposition). This is by no means an ideal situation, but it is a reality nonetheless – a reality engendered by the very material antagonism between Venezuela’s poor majority on the one hand, and private, elite interests on the other. Given this political reality the fundamental question – and the 2002 coup indicates this is by no means overly reductive – is: whose side are you on?