Saturday, September 13, 2014

Venezuela - All News Is Good News

I have a little section on my Google news aggregator page that collects Venezuela news. The three or four articles that appear there at any given time are almost exclusively from what you'd call "mainstream," major, US or European, English-language news sources, and all the articles, with rare exceptions, are negative in content and tone. Coverage of Venezuela in mainstream Western media has been negative since Venezuela's immediate past president, Hugo Chavez, who was first elected in 1998 and died in office in 2013, began taking Venezuela down a Socialist path in 2005, and especially after Chavez began openly denouncing US imperialism and aggression.

Cuban doctors in front of a free Venezuelan neighborhood clinic
Western, especially US media news coverage of countries that are trying a Socialist path, and which therefore the US government is actively trying to undermine and cause to be unsuccessful, is traditionally overwhelmingly negative. There are, I think, a number of reasons for this, some having to do with the fact that some of these countries are indeed struggling to get by, and some having to do with the way news is gathered.

Mainstream news organizations in the US are generally pretty ethical, but they are also free to publish whatever they want to, and the personal biases and inherent nationalism of editors and reporters, and their reliance on official US government sources for information, all play a role in slanting news of Socialist countries toward the negative.

One of the most egregious cases was that of Rory Carroll, who during much of the Chavez era was The Guardian's Latin American correspondent. Carroll's articles seethed with his hatred of Chavez, and of Socialism. He was notorious among Venezuela followers for his wildly inaccurate reporting, but was in some ways laughable, reporting on the Venezuelan presidential elections one year from a Caracas country club. During the US-backed, US-funded street protests by well off Venezuelans earlier this year, Carroll, who has long since moved on from the Latin America beat, returned to write a breathless and as it turned out very inaccurate account of the protests from afar, attributing to the police, for example, deaths caused by protesters, in which Carroll excitedly predicted, as he has many times now, that Venezuelan Socialism was in the process of collapsing.

Venezuelan public school classroom - Radionoticias Venezuela
Carroll though has had a lot to do with setting the tone for current mainstream Venezuelan reporting. When you see the way the same sets of information appear in different mainstream outlets, often presented in almost the same way, it's obvious that reporters not only use the same sources -- the US embassy for example -- but read each other's work. Having been a reporter I can say that reporters don't like to "go off the reservation" very far except in certain specific ways, such as to break new news. Reporters see each other all the time at events like press conferences, and often socialize at the same bars and parties and clubs, and are in important ways a social group. No one wants to be the outlier or to get caught being the only one who is wrong. When you hear the term "conventional wisdom" used to describe coverage of Washington politics, it's this aspect of journalism, not only the narrow ideological range of US politics, that accounts for much of that.

I follow other news sources for Venezuela, which are mostly written from an advocacy standpoint; they want to point to the successes. By comparing and assimilating all the news I read it's possible to get a sense of what's going on in Venezuela, but short of going there myself, and first learning Spanish, it's kind of difficult to say with much precision what's going on in Venezuela, or Cuba, or anywhere for that matter. The United Nations does gather some information about member countries, and I posted a chart a few weeks ago comparing what are commonly called "quality of life" measurements in Cuba and the US that show that in many ways people living in Cuba are better off than people living in the US. (To be fair, some of this has to do with the relative decline of the quality of life in the US under the ongoing Neoliberal, or Reaganomics, economic model that Democrats  and Republicans both ascribe to now.)

Below I've copied a weekly email I get from some people in Tuscon who are advocates for Venezuela, and other countries, mostly in Latin America, that are trying alternative paths and don't receive accurate mainstream news coverage, the Alliance For Global Justice. The email gives some stats on Venezuelan health and education that come primarily from the Venezuelan government. (Where it says "Bolivarian" government that's the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Venezuela's official  name.)

This information is probably comparable to press releases from US politicians or the White House, meaning it's fairly accurate but only talks about the good stuff -- the bad stuff will be in mainstream media reports. It's safe to say, however, that Venezuela spends a lot of money on social programs, because when a Venezuela-hating reporter tries to explain the Socialist government's popularity, they say it buys it by spending a lot of money on social programs.

In other words, that crazy Venezuelan government is doing what the people want it to do, unlike ours.

Venezuela Weekly 9.12.14

This weekly email contains a few useful articles on Venezuela that contain bite-sized dose of the truth so that you can fight the disinformation in your own community, that so much of the media, including alternative media are putting out. 
It is AfGJ's conviction that we in the US defend Venezuela's sovereignty and recognize that the Bolivarian Revolution has improved the lives of its citizens, led the movement toward Latin America integration, and is building participatory democracy structures that are an example for us in the US as well. -AfGJ staff



Improving the provision of health services to a majority of the Venezuelan people has become a key priority of the Bolivarian government.
Despite Venezuela’s great natural resource wealth, the poor and rural citizens historically lacked access to basic health services. The new Constitution of 1999 states that healthcare is a fundamental human right that should be guaranteed to all. To make this mandate a reality, the Bolivarian government has increased spending on healthcare – it currently stands at 4.2% of GDP – and created free clinics in poor urban and rural neighborhoods, as part of the program “Barrio Adentro” (“Inside the Neighborhood”).
As of January 2009, Mission Barrio Adentro has made the following accomplishments:
  • 24,884,567 Venezuelans have benefited, about 88.9% of our population.
  • 630,491 lives have been saved.
  • 6,531 People’s Medical Clinics, 479 Integral Medical Diagnostic Centers (CDIs), 543 Integral Rehabilitation Centers (SRI), 26 High Technology Medical Centers (CAT) have been opened.
  • 13 People’s Clinics, 459 People’s Opticians and 3,019 Consultation Centers and Dental Clinics have been opened.
Due to these ambitious measures, nearly 90% of the population currently benefits from some type of government-funded healthcare.
Another impressive achievement is the significant reduction in infant mortality, which fell by 50% in the period between 1995 and 2005 [i]. Venezuela currently has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in Latin America and is well on its way to reaching the UN Millennium Development Goals for 2015 [ii].



One of the main achievements of the Bolivarian government of Venezuela has been the expansion of educational opportunities and resources for the majority of the Venezuelan people. Beyond increasing access to existing basic and higher education, Venezuela has instituted programs aimed at sectors of the population who have been left out of the formal education system. These programs, known as “missions,” have served millions of Venezuelans, allowing them to gain basic literacy, complete basic or higher education, and enter the workforce.
The education missions have benefited millions of Venezuelans through alphabetization, basic, middle and higher education programs, which has set the stage for including citizens in the country’s labor force.
Today, the Venezuelan state allocates 7 percent of its GDP to education, while in 1998 the contribution was barely 3.9 percent. Without including the socialist missions that target those left outside of the formal education system, enrollment in 1998 stood at 6.2 million and has now increased to 7.5 million in both public and private institutions.
According to a report by UNESCO, Venezuela has Latin America’s second-highest rate of enrollment in higher education: 83 percent. This figure rivals that of developed countries like Finland (92 percent). The average rate of enrollment for the region stands at 29.6 percent.
Investment in higher education: Funding for university has increased by 814 percent, up from less than $300 million in 1999 to $2.6 billion in 2011.
2010 marked the year when the most universities were created in the history of Venezuela- a total of nine universities.
Student admissions: the policy of inclusion was consolidated in 2010, when 128,382 people were admitted to universities through the National Enrollment System (RUSNIEU).
The Bolivarian Government of Venezuela increased higher education enrollment by 170 percent, up from 785,285 students in 1998 to over 2.12 million in 2009.
Public and free access to higher education has been boosted under the Bolivarian Revolution. Enrollment in public universities was at 61 percent in 1998, while in private universities it stood at 39 percent, but by 2009, the enrollment in public universities reached 75 percent, and 25 percent in private universities.[1]
Special Education: In 2012, Venezuela’s National Assembly authorized the executive to approve about $40 million for the Ministry of Education to build 1,200 special classrooms in Bolivarian public schools for children with disabilities.[2]
The education missions, created to assist the population excluded from the formal education system, showed the following figures by late 2011:
Mission Robinson II (basic elementary education): 437,171 graduates, among them 81,000 indigenous people.
  • From 2003 to March 2011, Mission Robinson, a social program eradicate illiteracy, has taught 710,196 people how to read and write.
  • Mission Robinson is also aimed at providing primary education among sectors excluded from the traditional education system, and it has allowed 577,483 Venezuelans to complete sixth grade (the last year of elementary school).[3]
Mission Ribas (high school education):
  • By 1998, about 5 million Venezuelans had not finished high school due to the privatization of the education system developed in the last decades of the 20th century. As of November 2011, 630,000 people had graduated through this mission.
  • Additionally, as part of the free and universal education policies at all levels, beneficiaries of this mission have been able to continue their education through the 24 training programs of Mission Sucre and different academic options available nationwide through universities under the Association of Bolivarian Rectors (ARBOL).[4]

Mission Sucre (college and graduate-level education):
  • As of September 2011, Mission Sucre has benefited 560,000 people, graduating 140,000 new professionals and has helping Venezuela achieve the world’s highest rate of university enrollment (about 3 million), according to UNESCO. 
Access to Education For All
By March 2012, 2,600 Bolivarian computing and information technology centers (CEBITs) have been established throughout Venezuela to boost access to education technologies. Other achievements include providing technical support for the more than 1.5 million laptops of the Canaima Plan – a program through which the Ministry of Education distributes laptops with educational material to schoolchildren – as well as a new project on technologies for children with disabilities.[5]
To learn more about the efforts of the government in education, please see “The Bolivarian Revolution in Higher Education” (Spanish).
For more information on education policies implemented by the government, please visit the website of the Ministry of People’s Power for Education (Spanish).
[1] Ministry of People’s Power for University Education “Achievements of the Bolivarian Socialist Revolution,” June 2011. Accessed on May 17, 2012.
[2] Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to the U.S “National Assembly Approves Almost 40 Million to Build Especial Education Classrooms”. March 7, 2012. Accessed on May 17, 2012
[3]Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to the U.S “Mission Robinson Teaches Close to Two Million People to Read and Write,” March 3, 2011. Accessed on May 17,  2012.
[4] Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to the U.S. “Over 800,000 Venezuelans Have Benefitted from Social Missions “Ribas” and “Madres del Barrio,” March 3, 2011. Accessed on May 17, 2012.
[5] Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to the U.S. “2,600 Bolivarian Computing Centers Bring Technology to Communities,” March 20, 2012.  Accessed on May 17, 2012.

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