The United States government has revealed its contempt for human compassion and global solidarity by refusing to lift draconian sanctions on Iran and Venezuela during the Covid-19 crisis, director Oliver Stone has argued.
Iran has suffered immensely from the virus, Stone noted in an op-ed published by the New York Daily News, but due to US sanctions the Islamic Republic is “reportedly the only country in the world that cannot buy medicines needed to fight the pandemic.”
The outspoken Hollywood legend similarly condemned Washington’s decision to maintain – and in some cases, increase – its economic chokeholds on countries such as Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua as coronavirus strains healthcare systems across the globe.
In the case of Venezuela, US “coercion” led to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) denying the South American state’s request for a $5 billion loan to help fight the pandemic, Stone contended. The US has ratcheted up its pressure on Caracas amid the global health crisis, accusing the government of drug trafficking and calling for a “transition government” to replace President Nicolas Maduro.
The award-winning filmmaker and activist said that the health crisis has shown the inhumanity of Washington’s foreign policy.
The current pandemic is exposing not only our government’s utter failures to protect its own citizens, but also its profound lack of human decency in dealing with other nations
Stone called for “serious moral self-reflection” in the US, warning that countless lives were at risk unless there is an “immediate change in course.”
Iran has registered nearly 3,500 Covid-19 deaths, with 19,700 confirmed cases, according to a tally maintained by Johns Hopkins University. President Hassan Rouhani said last week that the crisis is “a great opportunity for Americans to apologize… and to lift the unjust and unfair sanctions on Iran.”
Days before the deal was finalized, however, Brazil’s former president, the left-wing labor organizer Lula da Silva, spoke out vociferously against U.S. meddling in Latin America, harshly criticizing Washington’s putsch against Evo Morales in Bolivia and its ongoing coup attempt against Venezuela.
“Europe and the United States can’t recognize a fraud who declares himself to be president,” Lula said, referring to Guaidó. “It is not right. Because if fashion takes over democracy, it is thrown in the garbage, and any scammer can declare themself president. I could declare myself president of Brazil, but where would democracy go?”
Lula was interviewed by Folha de S.Paulo, the most widely circulated Brazilian newspaper, which is owned by an elite family of billionaire media oligarchs.
When the paper pushed back against his comments, calling Maduro a “dictator,” Lula stressed that the Venezuelan president was elected, and has shown the kind of patience and restraint that no other leader would in similar circumstances.
“He [Guaidó] should be in prison,” Lula said. “And Maduro was so democratic and did not arrest him when he went to Colombia to try to instigate an invasion of Venezuela.”
“The one who is taking the initiative to talk is Maduro, not Guaidó,” Lula stated. “Guaidó would like the Americans to invade Venezuela — in fact, he even tried to force it.”
The newspaper pushed back again, saying Maduro has presided over an economic crisis in Venezuela.
“Whether his government is doing well or not, that’s another story. But you aren’t going to attack all of the countries that aren’t doing well,” Lula responded.
“People can’t criticize Maduro and not criticize the blockade. The blockade doesn’t attack soldiers, it doesn’t kill the guilty, the blockade kills innocents,” the former Brazilian president said.
These remarks from Lula received virtually no coverage in the English-language press, although they were widely covered in Portuguese- and Spanish-language media.
Lula defended Morales and his government against the newspaper’s claims that the Bolivian election was marred by supposed “complications.”
“Wasn’t George Bush complicated in his election against Al Gore? It was complicated, Bush took control of the government for eight years,” Lula replied.
“Was Trump not complicated? It was complicated, and he took power,” he said.
“Was Bolsonaro not complicated? Everyone knows the farce of ‘fake news.’”
US Coups Usher Extreme-Right into Power in Brazil
Remarks like these illustrate why Washington has backed coups and meddled in Brazil’s internal politics in order to overthrow Lula and his left-wing Workers’ Party and prevent them from returning to power.
Lula has not only been one of the most popular politicians in Brazil, he represents a regional buffer against U.S. hegemony. When he left office in 2010, after completing his second term as head of state, he had a staggering 87 percent approval rating — one of the highest in the entire world.
Lula’s successor from the Workers’ Party, President Dilma Rousseff, was ousted in 2016 in a parliamentary coup led by Brazil’s right-wing opposition and a collection of oligarchs that was backed behind the scenes by the United States.
“The U.S. created the Lava Jato investigation,” Lula added, referring to the supposed “anti-corruption” operation that was used to oust the Workers’ Party and install the far-right administration of Jair Bolsonaro, an extremist who has called for restoring the military dictatorship.
In 2018, Lula was campaigning again for the presidential election, and leading the polls by a huge margin. It was only then that he was imprisoned on false charges of corruption, providing an opening for Bolsonaro to take power.
The judge who oversaw Lava Jato and imprisoned Lula, Sergio Moro, was subsequently rewarded by Bolsonaro with a post as minister of justice.
“No Brazilian president had ever paid a visit to the CIA,” commented Celso Amorim, who served as Foreign Minister under Lula. “This is an explicitly submissive position. Nothing compares to this.”
Ben Norton is a journalist and writer. He is a reporter for The Grayzone, and the producer of the “Moderate Rebels” podcast, which he co-hosts with Max Blumenthal. His website is BenNorton.com, and he tweets at @BenjaminNorton.
In the middle of the current pandemic, you would think that the USA would develop compassion and revoke the sanctions against Venezuela and Cuba. Those sanctions were created unilaterally by the US, so why is the world following them anyway?
The US, UK, and EU, as well as Ukraine and Georgia, rejected a Russian draft declaration calling for unilateral sanctions to be lifted to fight Covid-19.
Moscow’s permanent mission to the UN issued a statement on Thursday questioning why Ukraine, Georgia, the UK, US, and EU had shot down its proposal, arguing that these nations “refused to cast aside politicized approaches and interests,” and that their decision could negatively affect “a great number of people” – especially in developing nations currently under sanctions.
The rejected motion called for broad international cooperation on combating the spread of Covid-19, as well as the “rejection of trade wars and unilateral sanctions adopted without the mandate of the UN Security Council, in order to ensure early access to food and medication.” The draft also called on member states to reject “stigmatizations of states, peoples and individuals with regard to the pandemic, and the need to circulate only reliable and science-based information about it.”
The declaration was co-sponsored by 28 UN member states, Russia’s UN mission said. The General Assembly ultimately passed a different resolution calling for “international cooperation” and “multilateralism” to combat coronavirus.
There are more than 1 million confirmed cases of the virus worldwide, resulting in more than 50,000 deaths, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.
Opposition leader Juan Guaido argues for National Guards to let him and all opposition lawmakers into the National Assembly, outside the legislature in Caracas, Venezuela, Jan. 7, 2020. (Matias Delacroix/AP)
A few months ago, I was fortunate enough to be offered a preview of Haiti Betrayed, a documentary by filmmaker and photographer Elaine Brière. The film, which concerns the lengthy history of interference, subversion and outright invasion by developed nations to undermine Haitian sovereignty, begins with a cri de coeur against one of the countries most responsible for Haiti’s current state of immiseration: Canada.
In the opening scene, a Haitian man, standing across the street from the Canadian embassy in Port-au-Prince, screams remonstrations against the edifice in Haitian Creole: “We don’t have anything against Canada! Why are you against us?”
The film makes a damning case for Canada’s role in facilitating the ousting of Haiti’s democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. This coup-from-without enabled the military regime that followed his overthrow; Canada has never apologized for the horrific violence committed by the RCMP-trained National Police against the Haitian protesters who rose up in response.
The film arrives at a rather fortuitous time, as today’s Liberal government continues the tradition of undermining the ability of oppressed people in foreign nations to achieve self-determination, while covering its actions in the gossamer-thin ruse of actually supporting those human rights abroad.
In late January, Juan Guaidó, the disputed leader of Venezuela’s National Assembly and self-declared “interim president,” embarked on a global tour to garner support for his year-long bid to militarily oust President Nicolás Maduro. He was received warmly by Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who addressed him as “interim president.” It bears mentioning that Guaidó did not run as a presidential candidate in the 2018 Venezuelan elections. Even if he had wanted to, he does not lead a political party, nor does he belong to one (Guaidó resigned from Voluntad Popular last year to “focus completely on the freedom of Venezuela”).
In fact, prior to Guaidó’s appointment as the head of the National Assembly in January 2019, he was practically unknown. And yet there he was in Ottawa, with our government lending support to another would-be coup regime…
“We like to think of journalists as plucky truth-tellers standing up to power. But this notion is horribly antiquated; in reality, most journalists are parts of enormous corporate machines with their own political interests and agendas, often directly linked to those of the US government.”
Journalists revealed to me the tactics they use to sell stories painting Venezuela as a socialist dystopia. One described himself as a “mercenary,” explaining how he aims to please his employer’s funders.
It is clear that mainstream US media correspondents are no fans of the Venezuelan government. But rarely do you hear them speak so openly about their biases.
One Caracas-based correspondent now working for the New York Times told me on the record that he employs “sexy tricks” to “hook” readers on dubious articles demonizing the socialist government of Venezuela.
Anatoly Kurmanaev made this revealing comment and many more to during an interview I conducted with him for my PhD and book on the media coverage of Latin America.
Describing himself and his colleagues as “mercenaries,” Kurmanaev was unabashed, boasting on tape that he essentially grossly exaggerates stories in the media.
“A couple of times from my experience you try to use, I wouldn’t call them ‘cheap tricks’, but yeah, kind of sexy tricks. Just last week we had a story about condom shortages in Venezuela. At the official exchange rate condoms were at like $750 dollars or something and the headline was something like ‘$750 dollar condom in Venezuela’ and everyone clicks it, everyone is like ‘Jesus, why do they sell it for like $750?’” he said.
Kurmanaev emphasized that his goal was to “hook” readers into a larger story about Venezuela’s purported demise under socialism.
The New York Times’ Anatoly Kurmanaev discussing Venezuela on France 24
“Once you click,” the reporter said, “the average reader is hooked and he’ll read about really important issues like HIV problems in Venezuela, teenage pregnancies, the social impact of lack of contraception, the public health impact, things that I do feel are important to tell the world. But you have to use sexy tactics for it.”
We like to think of journalists as plucky truth-tellers standing up to power. But this notion is horribly antiquated; in reality, most journalists are parts of enormous corporate machines with their own political interests and agendas, often directly linked to those of the US government.
And where Washington has skin in the game, a way to quickly advance in the field is to parrot American government positions, regardless of the facts.
One example of this is Venezuela, where the embattled socialist government of Nicolás Maduro is attempting to govern in the face of crushing US sanctions that are estimated to have killed more than 40,000 civilians from 2017 to 2018 alone.
The corporate media has dutifully ignored the US role in the country’s economic woes, laying the blame squarely at the feet of Maduro, omitting crucial political context on Venezuela’s economic crisis while keeping up a constant flow of content presenting the country as a socialist hellhole.
That latter piece of pseudo-news is based on deliberate distortions of the country’s admittedly byzantine currency regulations and has the effect of demonizing the government and socialism in general, advancing the idea that “something must be done” to help them.
Are we to believe that the journalists who deploy these “sexy tricks” don’t know exactly what they are doing?
From Venezuelan prophylactic to whitewashing Bolivia’s coup
On the back of his coverage of Venezuela, Anatoly Kurmanaev has risen rapidly through the ranks of his industry to a post at the supposed newspaper of record, the New York Times, whose editorial board recently applauded the US-backed military coupin Bolivia that ousted Evo Morales.
In the New York Times, Kurmanaev soft-pedaled those events as Morales’ “resignation” – not the military coup that had unfolded in plain sight. According to the correspondent’s narrative, which conveniently echoed Washington’s official line, the ouster of Morales left a “power vacuum” that a reluctant Añez was forced to fill with a “transitional government.”
As the Bolivian junta cuts down and jails its opponents in droves, the Times has resorted to increasingly contorted language to avoid using the apparently forbidden term: “coup.”
“Violent protests over a disputed election that he claimed to win, and after he had lost the backing of the military and the police,” was the reporter’s most recent attempt to characterize the events that forced Morales from power.
In whitewashing a putsch and subsequent campaign of repression waged by avowedly racist, right-wing forces, Kurmanaev was far from alone. Across the mainstream spectrum, media outlets have welcomed the coup, framing the military’s ouster of an elected head of state as a “resignation” while downplaying the massacres as merely “clashes.”
As The Grayzone contributor Wyatt Reed reported from La Paz, a crowd of journalists harassed and detained an independent reporter, handing him over to the death squads that have been terrorizing the country for the last two weeks, in retaliation for his refusal to tow the junta’s line.
Reed called this “a complete betrayal of what it is supposed to mean to be a journalist.”
The whole time I’ve been in Bolivia I’ve heard about the “prensa vendida,” aka the sellout press. Watch here as they harass an independent journalist, keep him from doing the job they *should* be doing, then hand deliver him to the army!
Anyone who shows this gets shut down.
The whole time I’ve been in Bolivia I’ve heard about the “prensa vendida,” aka the sellout press. Watch here as they harass an independent journalist, keep him from doing the job they *should* be doing, then hand deliver him to the army!
Anyone who shows this gets shut down. pic.twitter.com/wY5dwgu4lS
In Venezuela the local media actually led the coup attempt against President Hugo Chávez in 2002. “Not one step backwards!” read the front page headline of El Nacional, one of the country’s most important newspapers. The headquarters of the putsch was at the mansion of Gustavo Cisneros, owner of the Venevisión TV network.
One coup leader appeared on television after what appeared to be a successful operation saying, “We were short of communications facilities and I have to thank the media for their solidarity and cooperation.”
“We had a deadly weapon: the media. And now that I have the opportunity, let me congratulate you.”
How US media recruits opposition activists
Due to budget cuts, the corporate press has outsourced their Latin America reporting to a collection of unabashed opposition activists.
Francisco Toro, for example, resigned from the New York Times claiming, “Too much of my lifestyle is bound up with opposition activism” that he “can’t possibly be neutral.” Yet Toro is now charged with providing commentary on Venezuela and Bolivia for the Washington Post.
Another local Washington Post contributor was Emilia Diaz-Struck, who founded the website Armando.info, an investigative news outlet that runs a constant stream of stories slamming the socialist government and advancing the opposition’s line.
These local reporters, who act as anti-government activists first and journalists second, greatly color the atmosphere of the newsroom, leading to a highly partisan hive mind where supposedly unbiased and neutral journalists unironically refer to themselves as the “resistance” to the government.
Those who do not run with the pack are generally made to feel unwelcome. Bart Jones, who covered Venezuela for the Los Angeles Times, told me that he felt he had to temper what he wrote because he knew exactly what his editors wanted.
“There was a clear sense that this guy [Chávez] was a threat to democracy and we really need to be talking to these opponents and get that perspective out there,” Jones recalled. One even told him “we have to get rid” of the government.
Matt Kennard, who covered Bolivia and Venezuela for the Financial Times (FT), explained how the political slant imposed by mainstream outlets forced even critical-minded journalists into submission:
“I just never even pitched stories that I knew would never get in. What you read in my book would just never, ever, in any form, even in news form, get into the FT. And I knew that and I wasn’t stupid enough to even pitch it. I knew it wouldn’t even be considered. After I got knocked back from pitching various articles I just stopped… It was complete self-censorship.”
‘You are a mercenary in a sense’
“Every journalist has an audience he caters for and in my case, it’s the financial community,” Anatoly Kurmanaev explained. “You are a mercenary in a sense. You’re there to provide information to a particular client that they find important and it’s not good or bad, it’s just the way it is.”
With pressure from all sides to serve as stenographers for right-wing opposition movements, many Western correspondents exist in a cultural bubble, almost entirely isolated from the poor and working-class populations that support leftist governments across Latin America.
Western reporters almost universally live and work in the richest areas of capital cities from Venezuela to Mexico, often in gated communities surrounded by armed guards, and rarely venture into the poorer areas where the majority of people live.
Some of the corporate media’s top correspondents confided to me that they could not even speak Spanish for months after they got there, and were therefore unable to converse with the bottom 90 to 95 percent of the population. They are essentially parachuted in to opposition strongholds to work with opposition activists and naturally take that side in the debate.
With all of these factors in mind, the cheerleading across the US press for regime change in Bolivia and Venezuela can hardly be seen as an accident. Too many journalists at corporate media outlets tend to see themselves as the ideological shock troops in an information war against supposedly tyrannical socialist governments.
Passing off regime-change propaganda as unbiased news is all in a day’s work for those embracing their role as servants of the empire.
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Alan MacLeod is an academic and journalist. He is a staff writer at Mintpress News and a contributor to Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is the author of Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting.
Almost a year on from the Trump administration’s failed bid to oust Venezuela’s socialist leader, the media is scrambling to make sense of where it all went wrong – and finally admitting that Nicolas Maduro is going nowhere.
When the “virtually unknown” US-backed opposition figure Juan Guaido declared himself “interim president” in January, he won instant support from Washington’s global allies as the “legitimate” leader of Venezuela. Western media was soon consumed with a sense of hopeful anticipation that Washington was on the verge of overthrowing another ‘bad actor’ and preparing to pat itself on the back for supporting the cause of “democracy” and “human rights.”
Change of tune
Now, nearly a year later, the sense is one of reluctant resignation and an admission that, despite best efforts, another attempt at ‘regime change’ has failed – and that Guaido’s opposition was not all it was cracked up to be.
In a recent lament for the failed coup, the Wall Street Journal admits that Maduro appears to be “in firm control” and bemoans that the Trump administration had predicted his “imminent downfall” too early. The WSJ admits that the White House showed “excessive optimism” and suffered from what critics called “unrealistic expectations that [US] pressure tactics” would easily force Maduro from power. The newspaper acknowledges that Maduro’s position is secure despite debilitating US oil sanctions and attempted international isolation.
It’s a common pattern and one analysts watching US regime-change efforts around the world know all too well. The same script played out in Syria as Washington and its allies predicted the swift downfall of President Bashar Assad as early as 2012, but are still waiting today, causing Foreign Policy magazine to admit recently that he is now Syria’s “best case scenario” after US efforts to install “moderate” jihadis into power failed.
What went wrong?
In Venezuela, US media is even starting to admit that the troubled economy is showing signs of improvement under Maduro, thanks to an uptick in oil exports and increased dollarization, while the Guaido-led opposition grapples with its own corruption scandal, proving to Venezuelans that it may not be an “honest alternative” to Maduro at all.
The WSJ points to the removal of former national security adviser John Bolton (one of Maduro’s “staunchest adversaries”) as part of the reason why US efforts failed. It also points to the eruption of anti-government protest movements across the region, in Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile, which it says allowed Maduro to distract from his own “misrule” and food and medicine shortages. Though there is no mention of how crippling US sanctions directly impacted the lives of ordinary Venezuelans, despite a study showing that they’ve caused “very serious harm to human life and health” including an estimated 40,000 deaths.
Determined not to admit defeat, top US envoy to Venezuela Elliott Abrams, whose career has been defined by repeated efforts to topple uncooperative leaders in Latin America, told the paper that it was “flatly wrong” to assume things were improving for “precarious” Maduro – but reality seems to tell a different story.
What to do next?
A recent piece published by Bloomberg gives an indication of where US policy on Venezuela may be headed next – and it’s another familiar road. When all options are exhausted and failed, it seems the next step is always to look to Russia for help.
Sources “familiar with the matter” told Bloomberg that the Trump administration is “losing confidence” that Guaido can ever topple Maduro and, as such, is considering “new and more aggressive strategies.” One of those strategies, they said, would be “an attempt to partner with Russia” –an ally of Maduro– in order to “ease out” the leader.
This has echoes of US policy in Syria, too, where Washington repeatedly demanded that Moscow change its strategy and abandon its support of Assad – before eventually seeming to admit that ousting him should no longer be a top priority.
Indeed, there was a time when Western media were suggesting that, under US pressure, Moscow could help push Assad out, too. There were even reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin had asked the Syrian leader to step down. Nothing came of that pipe dream and a US effort to partner with Russia to push out Maduro seems equally likely to fail, since Moscow has remained supportive of the democratically-elected leader and shown no indication that it takes “interim president” Guaido very seriously.
While US media is still largely reluctant to offer the perspective of pro-Maduro Venezuelans or analysts who point out that Washington’s policies have wreaked havoc on Latin America for decades – they are at least finally painting a picture closer to reality.
“It’s really scary that someone could be hauled out of his house by a team of cops, listed falsely as ‘armed and dangerous,’ and then jailed for two days and possibly put on trial because someone who doesn’t like their political views decides to level a false allegation against him,” he said. “There has to be some deterrence against this happening again.” Max Blumenthal
Journalist Max Blumenthal says assault charges against him have been dropped by the US government partially because the case would have turned into a great embarrassment for the Secret Service.
Blumenthal was subjected to an early morning arrest in October on a five-month-old warrant, which stemmed from an accusation against him and fellow activist Ben Rubinstein. A Venezuelan opposition activist said they attacked her when they were delivering food to people who took cover in the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington DC trying to prevent supporters of US-backed self-proclaimed president Juan Guaido from taking over the place.
The journalist says the charge was bogus from the start, but his defense took a surprising turn when Blumenthal’s lawyer requested exculpatory evidence in the form of logs from the US Secret Service, whose agents were present at the scene. If agents failed to call an ambulance after a violent incident resulting in an injury, a lack of such call would indicate that the allegations were false, he reasoned.
However, the logs for the day were completely missing. Blumenthal believes the Secret Service obstructed the request because the logs would confirm that they were acting hand-in-glove with the crowd trying to take over the diplomatic mission, he told RT.
“What I think could be the case here is that they are concerned that their collusion with this right-wing band of hooligans, who were used to do what the Secret Service was legally forbidden from doing, which is prevent food and medicine from getting into the embassy,” would have been exposed, he said.
[Releasing the logs] would have exposed that collusion and embarrass the Secret Service.
The Grayzone journalist said he was obviously targeted with a false accusation because he personally and his colleagues were vocal opponents of Guaido and his Washington-backed attempts to overthrow the Venezuelan government. The opposition activists simply used the friendly US government to harass their critics, and there needs to be a push-back against such malpractice, he believes.
“It’s really scary that someone could be hauled out of his house by a team of cops, listed falsely as ‘armed and dangerous,’ and then jailed for two days and possibly put on trial because someone who doesn’t like their political views decides to level a false allegation against him,” he said. “There has to be some deterrence against this happening again.”
The confrontation at the embassy happened between April and May, and resulted in the pro-Guaido crowd taking over the building. Two Grayzone journalists were covering the tense standoff from inside the embassy.
“Our citizens should know the urgent facts…but they don’t because our media serves imperial, not popular interests. They lie, deceive, connive and suppress what everyone needs to know, substituting managed news misinformation and rubbish for hard truths…”—Oliver Stone