GREG PALAST talks about VENEZUELA
LONDON 2003-4-25


Q: OK, Venezuela, and also is there a way - I'm part of the Stop the War Coalition here in London, Camden Stop the War Coalition, and we say, briefly, it's not about one war, it's the same war: Afghanistan, Iraq, Colombia, Venezuela, it's the same war. That's the war we've gotta stop. So if we can work out any way of tying the Stop the War Movement into helping Venezuela, Stop the War in Venezuela...

GREG PALAST: Well look, yeah, it's all fronts of one war which is the money war, that's what it's all about. In fact people talk about oil, which is obviously +the+ central core commodity, but it's all about money. And it could be everything from intellectual property rights to genetically modified organisms. It's one planet in battle and it's not always with tanks, unless there's a resistance and suddenly the tanks appear.

But in the case of Venezuela I'm very concerned that people have an understanding of the story. And it has to be explained in this hemisphere in a way that people can grasp. So for example, I say Hugo Chávez is the Nelson Mandela of Venezuela. It's very similar where you have a twenty percent white population versus an eighty percent brown population, and the eighty percent brown population have suffered from economic apartheid for five centuries. And now finally the brown people have got their guy in, and he's gonna say: that's it. Now it doesn't matter if you agree with every method or everything he's doing. It's very interesting, when you have a guy that represents the majority of the population, elected by the majority, and says, "Well, what I'm going to do is redistribute wealth," he's a demagogue, he's a would-be dictator, and at best he might be called a populist. But for the most part he's the would-be dictator, he's a demagogue, he's a class warrior, etc. But if a white guy says, "No, what I'm going to do is not redistribute wealth, I'm gonna keep the nice colonial order in shape," then he is a stablising influence, he is a moderate, he is a moderniser because of course he'll use the new methods of suppression of the eighty percent. And that's the danger, the control of the language. So we have to return to language that speaks to a wider group than, for example, the Left.

Like one thing I'm horrified by is - one way not to explain what is happening in Venezuela is to say, "Well this is just another edge of American imperial reach," or something like that. Middle England just shuts down, and Middle America won't hear you and you'll never get the word in anyway. So you have to speak in terms that people understand, and by the way that Venezuelans understand. While you'll see the activists will use terms like "American Imperialism" and "Foreign Influence" for the most part people, when you are there, they are concerned about things like - what excites them is they're being promised land, which they didn't have.

I think the most telling remark about Venezuela was when I interviewed one of the top television personalities there: very white, very rich. She was taking fashion shots against a tree in a park, lifting up her skirt, and I said, "Well, why do people like Hugo Chávez?" And she said, with a sneer on her face, "Because he gives them bricks and milk!" And that was to me the telling remark. Rebuilding the ghettos in the mountains, and for the average person that's the revolution. They don't want to "smash the capitalist state," they want to have their bricks and they want to have their milk. And if we keep things simple like that in explaining things, because most of the issues really are simple.

Q: I want to show you one thing about the war in Venezuela - I think you're right, I think they are planning for war. This was in the Mail on Sunday just after the big Peace Demo in February, it's a two pager...

GREG PALAST: Bin Laden - oh man! (reading) ...caught with a live grenade, may have trained in a bin Laden camp in Venezuela. Chávez encourages these immigrants because the country's on the brink of civil war and they can support him against the middle classes. An American oil company executive - unnamed - based in Caracas explained - oh, well why would an American oil company executive say anything negative against Hugo Chávez?! Look at this, you gotta look at this! OK, (reading) the Al Qaeda base in America's backyard. A Venezuelan airforce major who formerly worked as a private pilot for Chávez claimed last month at a Miami press conference that he was ordered by the Venezuela President to deliver $1 million to Al Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan - right, yeah sure! If Chávez had a million bucks to give away, you know, I can just see him giving it to Al Qaeda! So the problem is, and this is put forward as, you know, information, this is the type of complete crap lies and disinformation, this is awful. But what's even worse, see, no-one believes the Mail, this is crud, this is, you know, the Mail is asswipe...

Q: If that was in the Observer people would've laughed their asses off, that wouldn't appear, yet. But I think they're laying the groundwork.

GREG PALAST: But see, what happens is then it comes in a more sophisticated form. I originally was seeing stories even in The Guardian saying, you know, "Chávez is out of control," and he's disliked, etc. And why? Because you get reporters who speak only English to begin with, who don't speak Spanish, they stay at the Intercontinental Hotel, they hang out with people who speak English, they're all upper class, white and hate Chávez, and they're told, "Don't even dream of going up into the poor areas because, you know, they'll kill you and they'll steal your cameras." I can't tell you how difficult it was to overcome these objections, that you can't even talk to regular people, when I was down in Caracas. And that's a big problem, literally there is no contact. And they're told, "Well you can't have because they're terrible and fearful." So when they say things like, "Venezuelans don't like Chávez" - which Venezuelans? I bet everyone that they spoke to was white. I bet everyone in this article is white. It's race war, you see.

...

In fact the interesting thing, until Bush came in and started helping destablise the government, Bill Clinton got along very well with Chávez. And there were no stories about "Chávez the nut" or "Chávez the would-be dictator." He seemed pretty normal and pretty much in the vein of the old Alliance for Progress liberals like Eduardo Frei. Frei had a huge land reform operation and was buying out, even before Allende expropriated the copper mines he was on track to take over the copper mines, for example, and have more control locally of resources. Just like Chávez is trying to take control of Venezuela's oil for the Venezuelan people. So if Clinton was still in power not only wouldn't you have the attack on Chávez, but you wouldn't be seeing these reports about the would-be dictator. Because he'd very much play into the Reformist mode. I mean, having met and spoken to Chávez now, and reading his stuff, you know, where is this great - in fact a lot of the Venezuelan Left is very disappointed, because he's not a Marxist, he's not a Socialist...

Q: You say he's not a Socialist?

GREG PALAST: No, he's a Social Democrat, he's a Reformist. He's not a big believer in massive state ownership, except to the extent that we have in the United States. Like in the US, of course, we have almost all government water systems, and basic services like transport are government-owned in the US, and he falls in that line. And of course he wants Venezuelan ownership of Venezuela's oil, that's the key to any possibility of giving the brown people of Venezuela some chance. So he's a kind of old-style Reformist: land reform, control of resources, nationalism. Nationalist, but...

Q: The rich of Caracas seem to be totally paranoid that they're gonna come down and take their houses away, and it's gonna be another "Castro-Communist..."

GREG PALAST: Well they want to use the Castro thing for lots of reasons. One is that Communism in Latin America is seen as against the Catholic Church, you see, it's seen as unreligious. And Castro as an atheist, that's the most dangerous thing about him in the way that they sell it. So the idea is to take a fairly religious guy like Chávez and make him seem irreligious. So you give that image, that's very vital in the context. So it's this type of smear and rumour, but it's unfortunate that even the British press, which should know better - well the crap, Right British press is not surprising.