While most Western media coverage of the current Venezuelan crisis has emphasised the growing discontent at the incumbent President Nicolas Maduro, a small group of unlikely figures have emerged to defend him and the Chavist government. They employ a range of moral arguments and radical alternative narratives, and consist of a broad spectrum of voices that vary in the strength of their commitment to the current Venezuelan government. One way or another, they are all interconnected, and have shared one another’s sympathy for Maduro, suspicions about the “corporate media” and opposition to what they dub an “American coup.” The puzzling question I have is: why are they staking themselves on Maduro, and more pressingly, do they have a point?
At the centre of this network is American journalist, Abby Martin. A one-time Russia Today figure, her own podcast The Empire Files was previously hosted by Telesur, a Venezuelan-based television network. She has reported both in and outside Venezuela on the current crisis and regularly shares pro-Maduro content. She denounced the American support of rival, President Juan Guaido, as “criminal”, a sentiment she shares with The Empire Files producer/writer, Mike Prysner, who has railed against accusations that the most recent Venezuelan elections were rigged. A strand of anti-establishment mistrust of the main-stream media is shared by both Martin and Prysner, as indeed it is among all the members of this network. But I don’t understand why this scepticism doesn’t ever enter into their own reporting.
Connected to this pair is comedian, Jimmy Dore, often seen on the YouTube channel ‘The Young Turks.’ He has shared Prysner’s claims that Maduro has in fact expanded democracy, debunking “Pentagon propaganda.” Dr. Jill Stein, the Green candidate for presidency in 2016, has publicly shared Dore’s posts. She is even more strident in her defence of Maduro, claiming that he earnt 31 per cent of the Venezuelan vote, higher than Trump’s 25.7 per cent (a deeply misleading figure) while denouncing Guido as hailing from “the most violent faction” of the opposition.
A perhaps more sympathetic figure is the progressive commentator, Rania Khalek. She’s shared comments by Martin and Prysner. Another ex-Russia Today figure, in her recent video for ‘In the Now’, she critiques American meddling in Venezuela as hypocritical, and she is undoubtedly right in her observations that the Western media avoids or glosses over the millions of Venezuelans that voted for and still support Maduro. She too attacks the “corporate media” clamouring for a war, referring vaguely to the Chavez government “making it difficult for the Americans to make money from the country’s oil”; a funny way of describing the expropriation of ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips assets in 2007.
These figures, so committed to anti-interventionism, and all sharing noble beliefs in free healthcare, a green new deal, a clamp down on money and corruption in politics, and of course in their opposition to Trump, have ended up defending a kleptocrat with inherited (and failing) socialist reforms. A man whose rule has seen a collapse in the standard of living, an expansion in his and the military’s power to exploit key industries, and the creation of a new legislature without an opposition.
Object to this narrative as much as you like, indeed more could be said about the impact of debilitating American sanctions. Merely observe Maduro’s allies. Putin has been supporting the Chavist government for over a decade, is he truly seeking a better lot for the Venezuelan people? What of President Erdogan of Turkey? Xi Jinping? The Castro’s? All are strongmen happy to prop up the regime in return for its lucrative oil wealth.
Perhaps the biggest lesson this network can teach us is to be mindful of even our most passionately held stances. Perhaps paradoxically, the Venezuelan crisis should make us reflect more on our relationship with Saudi Arabia, and our role in promoting democracy itself.