TCS Daily

Hugo Chavez's Latin Al Jazeera

By Robert Mayer - August 8, 2005 12:00 AM

Dressed down in their best proletarian duds, sympathizers of the FARC Marxist paramilitary take to the streets brandishing their best hammer and sickle flags. Manuel Marulanda Vlez, chief leader of the terrorist group, makes an appearance. An ominous voice takes the screen: "Who will judge the U.S. military personnel caught trafficking drugs and arms in Colombia?"

This isn't a commercial for Al Jazeera, but that would be a close guess. It's a promotional campaign for a continent wide, pan-American satellite news channel that made its debut on July 24.

Witness Telesur, the brainchild of Cuban communist Fidel Castro and his ideological spawn Hugo Chvez. They say that it was created to both compete with foreign media conglomerates and offer a side of the news that is uniquely Latino. Independent, they say, from any voice but that of the people. The truth, however, is far from their propaganda platforms. Telesur is being funded by the leftist governments in Uruguay, Argentina, and Cuba, with Venezuela alone controlling 51% of the company. It will be housed in Caracas at the headquarters of Venezuela state media, where Chvez regularly opines for hours on end about impending imperialist invasion to the delight of only 2% of the Venezuelan public.

The regime maintains, despite its majority control, that it will not use Telesur to promote its socialist agenda; that the content will be determined by a diverse editorial board of five people independent of ownership. But the direction of the programming is obvious even before the station begins broadcasting on a 24 hour time table. Chvez's recently resigned Minister of Information [and Propaganda] Andres Izarra will head the corporation, and the board will indeed be diverse. Pakistan-born British leftist Tariq Ali and French Le Monde Diplomatique editor Ignacio Ramonet will join the likes of Uruguayan writer by day, Marxist by night Eduardo Galeano. In another assurance of indisputable quality, Danny Glover, the star of such world-renowned films as "Lethal Weapon," will be in on the act.

Contributing last is infamous Marxist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel, perhaps the most revealing of them all. He penned a letter to President Bush in April 2003, a perfect summary of Telesur's "independent" editorial policy: "You hide the true motives of the Iraq invasion and seek to justify massacres in order to seize the oil resources of Iraq, and to dominate the Mideast, and to impose your plans of world hegemony and global dictatorshipYou have transformed the United States into a terrorist State."

Chvez himself is well-known for his vehement opposition to the United States and his belief that capitalism is the root of all poverty in Latin America. He also believes in uniting every Andean country under a single socialist government, throwing all of his support behind a so-called "Bolivarian Revolution." At the end of April he met with Castro and hundreds of regional communists in Havana before flying to Brazil for the first ever Arab-Latin America summit, where he met with the Qatari delegation to work on a deal to exchange footage and material with Al Jazeera, with whom Tariq Ali is connected. The deal is finally getting attention, earning Telesur the name "El Jazeera," for good reason. Does it sound like anyone on this editorial board would seriously refuse anything the regime asks of them?

It is ironic then that the populist president continues to laud his project as a beacon of press freedom when Telesur is everything but, and given that Chavez is systematically destroying local Venezuelan media. For example, many stations and newspapers are practicing self-censorship because of inane laws making it constitutionally illegal to "offend or show disrespect for the president." Opposition-aligned Globovisin was recently indicted on 20 violations of constitutional law, with a separate harassment for simply forgetting to refer to the Republic of Venezuela as "Bolivarian" in a newscast. Of course, these strict standards hardly apply to himself when he forces all stations in the country to carry his foxy fireside phone calls with Fidel.

This is exactly the danger with Telesur; it is a state-funded proxy for socialism, serving as Chvez's direct mouthpiece to all of the Americas -- and more, when it begins broadcasting in Europe and North Africa. Even worse, it will be the only candidate to fill the cracks of a withered and beaten local media. The United States has responded by passing legislation that would allow the creation of Radio Free Venezuela to counter the propaganda machine, though it may be too little, too late. An early sign of hope is Venezuela's own state-run media disaster, but Telesur is much bigger and much badder.

Ultimately, he may indeed be right. The voice of the people will be heard from every country on the continent, and their choice will be known by the behest of the remote control. Latin Americans will have to choose between a free press or terrorist television. I expect we'll see more people going outside to play ftbol.


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